Street Talk

Street Talk: Boards: Only white males need apply

Cleaning up.

August 19, 2016
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A little diversity can go a long way. Apparently, it has to.

A new study by a pair of Grand Valley State University professors revealed that companies with boards composed of at least 25 percent women or minorities are more profitable.

Economics Professor Sonia Dalmia and Associate Professor of Economics Claudia Smith-Kelly looked at the board makeup of Fortune 500 companies across the country for the study, titled "Representation of Women and Racial Minorities on Fortune 500 Company Boards." Dalmia and Smith-Kelly were aided by student research assistants Kathleen Pedres and Kasey Setlock.

Despite finding a positive relationship between more diverse board representation and higher profit margins, the study also revealed that the majority of board vacancies in 2015-16 were filled by white males. According to the study, nearly 86 percent of male board members and 82 percent of female board members at Fortune 500 companies were white.

Additionally, while just 4 percent of Fortune 500 companies are headed by a female CEO, those organizations that are had greater diversity on the boards than those headed by male CEOs. Of the 14 Fortune 500 companies based in Michigan, only Mary Barra-led General Motors had a female CEO.

The average number of board members at most companies is about 12, according to the study.

The findings from the GVSU professors mirror similar studies since 2010, most notably from the Rockefeller Foundation, the American Association of University Women and including the observations of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, author and founder of leanin.org and Lean In Foundation. Biannual surveys by Inforum Michigan also show a bleaker picture in Michigan specifically when compared to country-wide findings.

Beer run

Excuse Rick Muschiana’s sigh of relief.

After nearly a year of delays, the first phase of his beer garden and restaurant, The Sovengard, is finally open on Bridge Street.

Muschiana, a former salesman for Brewery Vivant and Virtue Cider, said he will curate the beverage menu and help create a premium after-work cocktail bar. The food menu also will offer a new angle in town: Scandinavian.

The actual beer garden portion of the business still has a few weeks to go, but it should coincide with a few other major openings in the fall. One item to note about the coming breweries: the food menus range from continental European to German to Latin street food-inspired to Puerto Rican.

Across the street from The Sovengard, Brett VanderKamp will open New Holland Brewing Co.’s The Knickerbocker around the time ArtPrize kicks off. It’s a giant facility full of a variety of spaces to enjoy a beverage and nosh on some food.

Down the street at The Rowe, Mark Rieth is gearing up to open Detroit-based Atwater Brewery’s Grand Rapids taproom, ready to offer German-inspired beers and food in a historic building.

Grand Rapids is going through another mini-explosion of bars, breweries and restaurants.

Recently, Creston Brewery opened on Plainfield Avenue, and City Built Brewing in 616 Lofts on Monroe announced its opening date in September, similar to its neighbors in The Rowe.

Coffee shops are coming, as well, as Ferris Coffee & Nut Co., Rowster and Madcap Coffee are all set to open second locations by the end of the year.

One thing’s for sure: There’s no shortage of places to grab a beverage in Grand Rapids as entrepreneurs continue the move toward more specialty drinks.

Clearing the air

Residents in the Hall Street and Madison Avenue SE area can relax: evacuations are not forthcoming.

After testing the area for elevated levels of tetrachloroethylene and perchloroethylene, commonly known as PERC, Betsy Nightingale, federal on-scene coordinator with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 5, said evacuations would not be necessary.

Residents were concerned after the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality found elevated levels of PERC vapors in the area in May. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services asked for EPA assistance at the southeast Grand Rapids site, which required the evacuations of six residents and two nonprofit organizations: the Red Project, 401 Hall St., and Seeds of Promise, 1168 Madison Ave.

Those organizations and residents have been allowed to move back into their locations, which have been cleared of the possibly harmful chemical. Red Project staff got the word that they could move back in late last month, said Steve Alsum, executive director.

“We were gone for about two months. We did arrange a day when we could all move stuff. I think that was July 26 when our full staff moved back in,” he said. “Everything is fine. Actually, the basement is a lot cleaner and neater than it was (before). They did a ton of work on it, the EPA did.”

Nightingale had a busy two months, not only working to get those two locations back to acceptable PERC levels but also testing the rest of the neighborhood target area, which included about 60 properties lining Hall Street around Madison Avenue, reaching all the way to Lafayette Avenue.

“It went pretty well. We were able to get into quite a few of the properties we targeted,” she said.

The team sampled 58 properties in June and July. Of those, they identified nine properties where sub-slab air exceeded the action level and three properties where indoor air exceeded the action level, she said. Those three properties were a residential location, a church/nonprofit property and another nonprofit, she said. Due to privacy issues, she could not name the addresses.

“We ventilated as an emergency measure and have installed vapor abatement systems in the residential and church (nonprofit) property. Follow-up indoor air testing shows that the systems are working effectively,” she said. “The third property, another nonprofit, was redeveloped with a vapor abatement system that our testing showed is not functioning. We worked with an engineering firm to evaluate the system and are implementing their recommendation.”

There might be more work to do. Nightingale’s team expanded the initial target area further to the west as MDEQ conducted further groundwater investigation in July.

MDEQ identified PERC contamination in groundwater west to Euclid Avenue SE, but the plume is also narrower than the team initially suspected.

Nightingale has reached out to all properties in the target area on Euclid and is sampling those that granted her access.

“We would like to resample key properties within the target area in the winter as well to evaluate whether we see any seasonal changes in vapor intrusion in the neighborhood,” she said. “We are also planning to collect some additional data on the source area starting the week of August 29th. We will subsequently design and install a system to treat the contamination at the source area.”

The Red Project’s Alsum said he is pleased with the results but troubled by the whole experience.

“We’re glad to be back in our building and that they resolved the issue with this building. My worry would be … it’s been known for a number of years that there was contamination in this neighborhood. It took a number of years … with people living and working in this neighborhood, for us to be alerted and for people to do anything about it,” he said.

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