Wide Range Of News Puts Its Stamp On 2005

December 23, 2005
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From a "lost city of stone" to the discovery of "black gold" to a sustainable business hub, West Michigan saw it all in 2005 — the year where there was something for everyone.


The New Year brought a new challenge for the Convention and Arena Authority. With construction wrapping up on the $212 million DeVos Place convention center, board members were left to focus on raising money to cover operating losses and capital replacement needs.

The Community Media Center also started off the year with a new idea: acquiring the Wealthy Theatre with the intent to maintain its operations while converting a secondary building into a multimedia facility similar to its current Bridge Street NW location.

Resolutions for 2005 took on many forms. For Grand Valley Metro Council Executive Director Don Stypula, better relations with businesses topped the list. At Alticor Inc., President Doug DeVos led the charge for its Optimal You incentive program designed to promote healthy lifestyles among employees.

Also new on the scene was GR's first downtown residential real estate specialist, Donna Dozeman of Second Story Properties, signaling the importance of — and market for — living quarters in the central city.

On the lakeshore, five years of research and development set the stage for Sordal Inc. to begin bringing new-age composite materials to the market for commercial application. The developer of lightweight, flame-resistant materials formed a spin-off company, Armarex Inc., to manufacture the product. CEO Dale Danver called the possibilities for the product "quite significant." Tragically, Danver died later in the year, but the firm continues to push ahead.

West Michigan began the New Year with a new title: sustainable business hub. The green building boom gained ground here, with nearly two dozen separate efforts representing all corners of the West Michigan economy.

The month closed with some disconcerting news for one of the area's newest focal points. A national study from the Brookings Institution indicated that the national convention business was failing, just as West Michigan was celebrating the completion of its new $212 million convention center.

On a positive note, the Meijer Heart Center and Lacks Cancer Center shared the Business Journal's Newsmaker of the Year honor.


Lawmakers took shots at public school employees' health benefits in a "discussion" that would rear its head throughout the year, going so far as to threaten legislation that would create a state-administered medical plan for public school and community college employees. While such a law never materialized, the debate raged for many months.

In a blow that had worldwide implications, West Michigan mourned the death of Community Media Center's founding Executive Director Dirk Koning, who died during a fairly routine surgical procedure. Koning's funeral attracted dignitaries from around the world who lauded him for his communications efforts that spanned the globe.

Calvin College officials spent much of the month prepping for what became the most-visited attraction ever to come to campus: "Petra: Lost City of Stone." By the time the exhibit closed in August, Petra had brought thousands of visitors and millions of dollars to West Michigan.

Officials from the Neighborhood Business Specialists Program reported that funds that support the city's 20 neighborhood business associations were drying up. In December, the program had announced it would close by March 1 and become a privately supported nonprofit entity.


Medicine took center stage when the Van Andel Research Institute uncovered a breakthrough in metabolic drug interactions, and the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine moved one step closer to relocating here.

VARI, as often happens, made its discovery while looking at something completely different: what triggers the metabolism of food, drugs and other substances in the human body.

As for the medical school, MSU President Lou Anna Simon told the Business Journal, "I'm going to put all the energy I can into making this happen as soon as possible, but only as rapidly as the community wants it to go." Year's end was apparently soon enough, as West Michigan entered 2006 expecting to welcome a full-blown medical school here.

The Business Journal recognized its inaugural class of woman-owned businesses, with Cynthia Kay Afendoulis, Irmgard Cooper, Juanita Briggs and Rita Williams taking home top honors.

Gerald R. Ford International Airport was looking at something new, too, with the possibility of installing a public Wi-Fi network.

With one year under its belt, the city's new Equal Business Opportunity construction program was termed an unqualified "success." More minority firms made more money under the program, which actually removed mandated participation goals for minority and women subcontractors.

After a long wait, Metropolitan Health Corp. finally went to market with its bond offering and was pleased when the $135 million issue sold within a week. Another $30 million in bonds was sold in a daily auction later in the year.    

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