Economic Development, Human Resources, and Lakeshore

Business Journal names Newsmakers of the Year

January 31, 2018
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Cindy Larsen
Cindy Larsen, president of the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce, accepts the overall Newsmaker of the Year award for 2017. Photo by Johnny Quirin

One billion is a big number, especially when it’s attached to dollars.

The Grand Rapids Business Journal's 2017 Newsmaker of the Year had the pleasure of touting that number during a year of significant economic development along the lakeshore.

Cindy Larsen, president of the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce, was honored before a packed house of nearly 600 this morning at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park for the more than $1 billion in investment in public spaces, new buildings and renovations on the books in and around Muskegon. She also picked up the Newsmaker award in the economic development category.

She was among winners in 16 categories who were recognized for their contributions to the West Michigan business community.

“I think Muskegon has gone through what it takes to really make a change,” Larsen told attendees. She pointed out manufacturers were making engines for Henry Ford in Muskegon before the automaker moved the entire operation to Detroit. Today, Muskegon boasts one of the largest aerospace clusters in the nation.

She said the "Watch Muskegon" campaign has been instrumental to success along the lakeshore.

“We know this recognition is not for the chamber, but for the entire community,” she said.

Business Journal Editor Carole Valade said the Newsmaker awards recognize the people behind the numerous projects and plans that make up the economic fabric of the West Michigan business community.

“This is, simply put, an annual report of regional business activity in a single year,” Valade said. “This is, straight up, the most significant business news in greater Grand Rapids — and the people who made it happen.”

Several Muskegon projects have been completed with more in development. Organizations that have contributed to the cause include Art Van Furniture, Fifth Third Bank, Lakeshore Art Festival, Mercy Health, Lakeshore Museum Center and Muskegon Community College.

“A lot of people are saying 2017 has been the year that Muskegon has turned the corner,” Larsen said. “We’re not done by any means, but you can actually see the difference.”

She said 100 public and private stakeholders are heavily involved in the initiative, as are “thousands of Muskegon County citizens.”

That sense of togetherness is what’s fueling the momentum behind the movement.

“Why did it happen?” she asked. “Because Muskegon is awesome!”

The Newsmakers of the Year

Arts & Entertainment

Scott Sprague, Gun Lake Casino

Beverages

Jon O’Connor and Kyle Van Strien, Long Road Distillers

Economic Development

Cindy Larsen, Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce

Education

Betsy DeVos, U.S. Department of Education

Finance

Sandra Jelinski, Lake Michigan Credit Union

Food

Rich Wolowski, Gordon Food Service

Health Care

Dr. Norman Beauchamp Jr., MSU Grand Rapids Research Center

Law

James Saalfeld, Kent County Mental Health Court

Manufacturing

James Keane, Steelcase Inc.

Nonprofits/Philanthropy

Ryan VerWys, Inner City Christian Federation

Real Estate/Construction

John Wheeler, Orion Construction

Retail

Hank Meijer, Meijer Inc.

Sports

Mike Guswiler, West Michigan Sports Commission

Startups

Feliciano Paredes, AgHelp

Sustainability

Dave Koster, Holland Board of Public Works

Technology

Dan Irvin, 123Net

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