Editorial

GR builds community with people, not concrete

April 21, 2017
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“We have a narrative going on in this country that, if only we have the right person or the right party in the state house, we’d be OK. And I’d like to flip that around, because we really need to be able to own our own problems to be able to inform state and national policy of what works.” So said Cascade Engineering Chairman Fred Keller to an audience of Rotary Club of Grand Rapids members, as reported in the Business Journal.

The Business Journal has long noted the successes of private partnerships with local governments to spur growth in Grand Rapids and economic diversity, most notably in medical research and technology industries. But Keller’s emphasis has been less about building the Grand Rapids community with concrete and more about building community with people.

Keller was first to provide work programs and skills building at Cascade, hiring those on public assistance with the Welfare to Career program; he was the first to hire ex-offenders and those from prison release programs. Cascade was leading the way for elimination of the felony box on job applications and welcoming “returning citizens.” Cascade was among the first to initiate specific programs to employ military veterans — not just take résumés but match them to job openings.

Keller quietly led Cascade Engineering through the arduous process of becoming a certified B Corporation and was the first in Grand Rapids to do so. Guy Bazzani followed and pushed forward for B Corp certification of Bazzani Associates Inc. and then assisted Local First in establishing a comparatively thriving B Corp group now assisting other businesses in the process. No fewer than 12 local businesses have pushed through the requirements and process; just 950 companies in the country are certified as B Corps.

B Corporations measure success by the triple bottom line of environmental and social good in addition to monetary profits for the benefit of all stakeholders, not just shareholders. To do business so that, “through products, practices and profits, businesses should aspire to do no harm and benefit all” is in stark contrast to the 1919 court declaration of “shareholder primacy” that holds business responsible only for maximizing financial gain for shareholders.

Keller has provided plenty of examples and shares issues and methods openly. Cascade Engineering has inspired other local companies to pursue the triple bottom line.

Grand Rapids is building B Corporation businesses, and that is a sharp contrast to the national example of United Airlines (among others). “Because we really need to be able to own our own problems to be able to inform state and national policy of what works.”

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