Street Talk

Street Talk: A long death march

Sprouting seeds.

March 11, 2016
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Voting sign
What a choice! Photo by Pat Evans

Nothing is certain but death and … voting?

A local polling place had the unfortunate task of hosting both voters and a funeral during the March 8 Michigan primary, but it sure seems to sum up how many Americans feel in the run-up to November’s election.

With Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders winning their respective party’s primary in the Mitten State, it appears Michigan residents are fed up with the political establishment, a thought verified by a statement from Grand Valley State University the day after the election.

The release noted how many American voters are “anxious and angry about failures in Washington, D.C., the economy and with politicians, in general.”

Those feelings are reflected in many primaries across the country, said GVSU political science professor Erika King.

“I think we're seeing, with the Sanders victory in Michigan, a significant percentage of Democratic voters saying that they are very worried about trade and what this has done in terms of job losses, so to dump all of the negative sentiment out there in the voter ether onto Trump's head is unfair.

“I certainly think he has done a very effective job of capturing that voter sentiment and turning it to his benefit, but I certainly don't think he's creating it."

For many, though, the votes cast are for the lesser of all evils, and for some — no matter what happens in the election — it might feel like America is in the midst of a long death march.

Trade mission

Business leaders from 10 Michigan companies packed their bags to travel south of the border last week to meet with prospective partners, distributors and customers in Mexico to increase export opportunities with Michigan’s second-largest trading partner.

West Michigan-based companies that participated in the Michigan Economic Development Corp.’s International Trade Program included Lorin Industries and Michigan Spring and Stamping, both in Muskegon, and Trans-Matic in Holland.

Steve Arwood, chief executive officer of the MEDC, said Mexico is an important and viable market for a wide range of products and services since it is developing as a global player.

“This trade mission will open doors for these companies by helping them identify and enter into new relationships, ultimately growing their businesses and bringing more and better jobs to Michigan residents,” said Arwood.

The trade mission set up representatives from the Michigan-based companies with potential partners, distributors and buyers in “pre-arranged business matchmaking” meetings in Mexico City, Queretaro and Monterrey.

The visit to Mexico also allowed participating Michigan business leaders to hear an in-country briefing about doing business in the country and to attend high-level networking events.

Michigan exported more than $11.1 billion to Mexico in 2015, which is up from $10.8 billion in 2014. Through the MEDC’s International Trade Program, businesses reported more than $45 million in facilitated export sales to Mexico for the fiscal year 2015, and in the first quarter 2016, sales have reached $30.3 million.

Safety first

Let’s cross our fingers for no construction site accidents this week.

Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss recently cited Elzinga & Volkers Construction Professionals’ annual Alive 365: Safety Week program as a shining example for the industry.

“I strongly support safety in construction, which represents a critical issue in a vital industry for Grand Rapids and our entire region,” Bliss said.

“I am pleased to recognize Elzinga and Volkers and its Alive 365: Safety Week. I applaud the company’s leadership in safety education and its willingness to share its expertise with others to prevent injury and the related costs and community impact. Alive 365: Safety Week continues the focus on protecting workers both today and for years to come.”

In 2015, there were 29 construction work-related deaths in Michigan, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, marking a decrease from 40 deaths in 2014.

Sixty-seven companies attended E&V’s 2015 safety week event, and 26 of them received recognition for no lost time due to injuries.

“Alive 365 provides an opportunity to educate the West Michigan construction industry regarding operating a safe work environment and offering construction leaders new tools and training options designed to keep their workers safe,” said Mike Novakoski, E&V president and CEO, of the classes and events that will be offered March 14-18.

“Our program connects construction professionals in West Michigan who share the common goal of preventing the loss of life and eliminating injuries on jobsites while, at the same time, providing E&V a platform to recognize area contractors that are doing safety right.”

Change agents

If Darius Quinn and his cohorts in the Community Inclusion Group are going to change minorities’ perceptions about Grand Rapids, they are going to need some help.

Some of that help may be coming from Davenport University and Ronald Jimmerson Sr., this year’s winners of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce’s Diversity Visionary Award and Change Agent Award, respectively.

“It is a privilege for the Grand Rapids Area Chamber to recognize the strategic, intentional and visionary work of these two outstanding award recipients who are leading Grand Rapids forward with their diversity, equity and inclusion efforts,” said Rick Baker, chamber president and CEO.

“Both Davenport University and Ronald Jimmerson are changing the cultural dynamics of their respective communities and helping make West Michigan a top-of-mind region that not only welcomes diverse talent but also nurtures rich opportunities and supports local neighborhoods,” Baker said.

Both winners will be honored during an event held 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m., March 30, at Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park.

Davenport’s award is for its exemplary leadership, intentional behaviors and a five-component transformation framework that equips and supports faculty, staff and students in creating excellence in inclusion at all levels of the university, according to Baker.

Jimmerson, executive director and co-founder of Seeds of Promise, a faith-based nonprofit on Grand Rapids’ southeast side, is being recognized for his community-directed “bottom up” organization that uses collaboration to create self-sustaining, place-based urban prosperity initiatives, Baker said.

Previous Visionary Award winners include Goodwill Industries of Grand Rapids, Grand Rapids Community Foundation, Faye Richardson-Green of Steelcase and Bing Goei of Eastern Floral and the Goei Center.

Last year’s inaugural Change Agent Award went to Andre Fields and Eric Williams, co-founders of Alpha Beta Omega at GRCC. ABO is a society dedicated to providing young scholars with relational, educational and cultural experiences that will instill leadership qualities.

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