Wolthuis Touts NBA Family

December 22, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — Kelly Wolthuis will ring out the current year in her usual manner, nothing new here, as she will spend New Year’s Eve just as she has in recent years by sharing food, drink and a year’s worth of stories with friends at a hotel.

But shortly after 2007 makes its grand entrance, Wolthuis will find a brand new adventure waiting for her as she takes over the leadership reins of an organization that is vital to the success of the city’s 20 neighborhood business districts.

Next month, Wolthuis will become president of the Neighborhood Business Alliance, which has provided support and advice to small-business owners in the city for the last 17 years. She prepared for her new position by serving as NBA vice president this year, working closely with outgoing president Phillip Chaffee, and that experience has allowed her to attach a few New Year’s resolutions to her new role. But one really stands out above the others.

“I hope to ensure the NBA’s existence by promoting its benefits to its members and getting funders and city officials to recognize its value. During the last few years, the NBA fought pretty hard to weather these difficult economic times. I think the largest blow came when the city informed us that they couldn’t fund our program any longer. Since that time, we’ve spent a lot of time evaluating the program, its benefits to the members, and how to find sustainable funding,” she said.

City officials had given the NBA $200,000 annually in past years, money that came from federal grants. In turn, the NBA was able to transform those dollars into more funds, such as the $1.6 million it was able to leverage just a few years ago.

“In my opinion, the longevity of the program is a testament to its value, and it would be detrimental to the economic health of our city to let the program cease — especially when statistics show that small, local businesses are the largest employers nationally,” she said, while estimating that the NBA needs about $150,000 a year for operations.

“That’s probably my No. 1 goal — just to make sure that it continues on and that our members continue to see the benefits of it. Along those lines, I want to increase membership and membership participation.”

Wolthuis also said the NBA needs to become better known throughout the city. So board members — who are all volunteers with day jobs — have appeared at meetings of the business associations to explain the organization and to solicit comments.

“I think our real goal is to start marketing the NBA so people actually know what they are a part of and who is doing the footwork for them.

“The members are really hoping that the city, even in this difficult time, will take a look at the NBA and say, ‘We think that it should be funded.’ So, obviously, there is strength in numbers and they want to see this thing going.”

As for her day job, Wolthuis is a commercial real estate adviser and property manager for Gable Ventures. She has been with the firm since owner Ned Quinn opened the business about four years ago. She said the past year has been a good one for the two-person company located near the Van Andel Arena on Grandville Avenue SW.

“Things are going very well. It’s been a busy year for us. We’ve been doing a lot of leasing and we’re working on a development project in the Grandville area. We’re hoping to rezone the property from assisted living to office and that has been quite an adventure, trying to get that worked out with the city of Wyoming,” she said.

“The project has a Grandville address, but it’s actually in Wyoming.”

Although she is only 28 years old and has a long career ahead of her, without hesitation Wolthuis said the best professional move she has made was to join Quinn at Gable.

“I’ve never worked with someone who is as willing as he is to take the time to help me understand the ins and outs of commercial real estate development. I’m a very detailed person who has a lot questions, and I analyze things often, but Ned has never told me that he doesn’t have time to help me out,” she said.

“Ned has an open-door policy and if he didn’t have that policy, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

Quinn, though, isn’t her only adviser. Ryan, her husband, is a commercial lender with Kent Commerce Bank, and Wolthuis said he has helped her better understand complex financial deals from a lender’s perspective.

When she isn’t working, she jogs — and probably draws a lot of double takes from those who see her because she often runs with her identical twin sister, Kim. Wolthuis also gives of her time generously as she is an avid volunteer, and she tries to spend as much time as she possibly can with friends and family. But she readily admitted that a goodly portion of her free time is spent watching Ryan play sports.

“He plays any sport you can imagine. He plays basketball, baseball, roller hockey, ice hockey. He runs a little bit with me, as well. We’re a pretty athletic family,” she said.

And family is how Wolthuis sees the business associations. She said those groups are the “glue that holds the neighborhoods together,” as each one offers unique qualities that are geared toward their areas. In fact, she said each business district is distinct to its geographic location, and because of that each neighborhood could serve as its own small town.

So in the coming months, Wolthuis will help the associations retain the uniqueness that each district possesses. At the same time, she plans to help strengthen the NBA during its 18th year and continue progressing in her career track at Gable Ventures — and quite possibly bring another person into the Wolthuis household.

“For as long as they will have me, I’ll be volunteering for the Neighborhood Business Alliance and continuing to pursue my career here in commercial real estate, probably doing some developments,” she said.

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