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Street Talk: Stage presence

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January 27, 2017
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Newsmakers 2017
The Business Journal honored Newsmakers of the Year in 16 categories at a breakfast meeting on Wednesday. Photo by Johnny Quirin

One of the fun things about awards ceremonies where the winners are revealed at the event is the unscripted “acceptance” speeches from the honorees.

The Business Journal’s 2016 Newsmaker of the Year breakfast before a sold-out crowd at Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park featured many such instances when winners in 16 categories took the stage to pick up their trophies.

Some, such as Julius Suchy, village manager in Sparta, couldn’t resist the opportunity to address many of West Michigan’s movers and shakers who might be in the mood to expand or relocate to his tiny (but growing) town to the north of Grand Rapids.

“Come on up!” he urged. “You’ll love it!”

Others, such as Orion Construction’s John Wheeler, offered a bit of self-deprecating humor (in Wheeler’s case, referencing the flat-brimmed hat he wore on stage): “So, when I was riding my horse in today, I got to thinking…”

Wheeler’s comments turned serious, however, when describing his respect and affection for Grand Rapids and its business community. Born and raised here, Wheeler said when he’s done, “they’ll carry me out of here toes up. There’s no place I’d rather be.”

Greg Gilmore, whose 20 Monroe Live hosts its first concert downtown on Wednesday, thanked the Business Journal for being selected one of its “noisemakers” of the year and promised plenty of new entertainment in the coming months.

Perhaps the most heartfelt moment, however, came courtesy of Peter Secchia, who somehow was able to cram the definition of philanthropic responsibility given to him by Richard DeVos into less than five minutes of talk time.

“He has done so much for this town,” Secchia said of DeVos, adding the Amway family patriarch “knows how to do it right.”

The 2016 Newsmaker of the Year, Adam Kramer of Switch, said he “can’t wait” to become more entrenched in a West Michigan business community that has welcomed the tech giant here with open arms.

After all, that is how business gets done in West Michigan.

Pinch point

As noted in the Page 1 story about contractor outlook this year, worker shortages continue to play out as a major problem in multiple industries, and the Business Journal heard about it all over the place last week.

Grand Valley State University economist Paul Isely and SunTrust Bank Vice President KC Conway both stressed the skilled shortages in construction, manufacturing and pretty much any industry you can name.

“You don’t have a unique problem,” Conway said.

Isely said West Michigan is making its way back to pre-Great Recession levels with skilled labor, but the region is at an advantage as businesses became lean and mean prior to the Great Recession in Michigan’s own recession, giving them a head start against other regions in the U.S.

“Construction is particularly troublesome, started before the rest of country, a lot of trade people left and went south, Texas, Colorado,” Isely said. “So now, we’re starting to have this great need, and we don’t have the talent. We’re starting at ground zero and convincing them to come back, and that’s tricky.”

West Michigan contractors have been stressing the issue for several years and are trying to bring extra bodies into the industry through efforts in middle and high schools in the region.

“There’s a pinch point with people, we just don’t have enough craft professionals, management, estimators,” said Paul Lemley, vice president at Triangle Associates. “We’re attacking middle and high schoolers, but we’re still a few years from benefiting from that. There is more training available, and if someone says they would like to be a trade professional, there are companies willing to hire and training slots available.

“It’s much different than in 2009 and 2010; word needs to get out and, in many cases, shift careers. The need is now and supply is just going to lag.”

Part of the effort to attract new people to the construction is changing the image. Feyen Zylstra CEO Nate Koetje said the image students have today of a construction site is likely far from reality.

“We’re in a time that ought to be taken advantage of to attract people to the industry,” Koetje said. “It’s not your father’s jobsite. It’s iPads, 3-D drawings and virtual design. It’s not often you see blueprints on your job site.

“Short term, we want to attract the best. Long term, how do we change the image of construction to reflect today’s reality?”

Scholarly endeavors

Grand Valley State University is one of 11 universities selected to administer the Beckman Scholars Program.

The program, funded by the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation, will award two GVSU undergraduates $21,500 grants to conduct 15-month long research projects. Five students will be selected as Beckman Scholars during the three-year program.

Sok Kean Khoo, associate professor of cell and molecular biology, and Susan Mendoza, director of the Office of Undergraduate Research and Scholarship, will direct the program.

Robert Smart, vice provost for research administration, said the Beckman Scholars Program will help GVSU increase mentored undergraduate research.

“Being one of only a small handful of institutions selected this year reflects very favorably on the caliber of life-science research at Grand Valley, the quality of our faculty and undergraduate students and our university’s growing commitment to support collaborative faculty-student research,” Smart said.

Students majoring in chemistry, biology, biochemistry, cell and molecular biology, or biomedical sciences, who have a strong research interest and a GPA of 3.7 or higher, may apply to the program. The scholars will be mentored by an interdisciplinary committee of faculty members and will have the opportunity to travel to conferences and meet visiting scholars on campus.

The application deadline for students is Feb. 22; selections will be announced in March and students are expected to begin their projects in May.

Research will be conducted under the guidance of 12 Beckman faculty mentors: Bopi Biddanda and Kevin Strychar, Annis Water Resources Institute; Shannon Biros, David Leonard, Richard Lord, Rachel Powers and Brad Wallar, chemistry; Dawn Hart and Khoo, cell and molecular biology; Jennifer Moore and Amy Russell, biology; and Cynthia Thompson, biomedical sciences.

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