StrumminUp Good Students

January 28, 2008
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For years, proposals for an arts-oriented school for Grand Rapids Public Schools have fallen and melted like snowflakes in the spring. Now Grand Rapids’ Grammy-nominated pastor, the Rev. Marvin Sapp, appears to have punched the winning ticket with his proposal for the Ellington Academy of Arts and Technology.

Some in the arts community, who floated similar ideas in the past, suffered ruffled feathers at the apparent ease with which the Ellington Academy gained good grades from GRPS leaders. But most say they are delighted local students will have this opportunity and are willing to throw their support to it.

T.A. ElAmin, chairman of the Michigan Black Expo, said he wonders if the academy will be able to use its performing arts orientation to boost academic performance of underachieving students. His group had been touting a plan with former Superintendent Bert Bleke to lure underachieving minority kids with hip-hop. “Opera is cool, ballet is cool, but that’s not for the masses,” said ElAmin, a long-time instructor in African-American history. “We were after the young, hip-hop, street-walking, trying-to-find-a-way kids. I’ve been to the opera and symphony and ballet, and normally, if I want to see a black person there, I look at my wife or one of my friends.”

ElAmin said MBE representatives plan to meet with the Sapps in February.

**Grand Rapids Parking Commissioners recently selected Lisa Haynes as their new chairwoman, after Commissioner David Leonard eloquently nominated her for the post. Haynes, who directs operations for the Grand Valley State University downtown campus, very well may be the first woman to head the commission. But having a female at the helm isn’t anything new for the city.

Pam Ritsema was the first woman to lead Parking Services. Kayem Dunn was recently re-elected to chair the Downtown Development Authority. Kara Wood is the city’s second female to hold down the economic development director’s job, after Susan Shannon left for Seattle last year. Suzanne Schulz is the city’s planning director. Terry Hegarty has directed the clerk’s office for years and will do so for about another month.

**Steve Miller, who directed sales for SMG and worked with the Convention and Visitors Bureau to draw groups here, resigned recently to manage an SMG-run building in Toledo. In addition to his sales work, Miller was an amateur baseball and softball umpire who sometimes subbed at West Michigan Whitecaps games. Lew Chamberlin, managing partner and CEO of the Single-A franchise affiliated with the Detroit Tigers, said the city was losing “a hell of an umpire.”

But Chamberlin also noted that Toledo is home to the Tigers’ Triple A franchise, the Mud Hens, so he said the move probably means Miller is working his way to the Major League. Maybe Miller will be honored someday by having Lou Pinnella kick dirt on his pant legs.

**Robert Israels, president & CEO of Israels Designs for Living, said the state extended the Renaissance Zone designation for the former Drueke Game Co. building he owns at Third Street and Seward Avenue NW. Israels plans to renovate the building and add a few floors to the structure. He is also considering moving Klingman’s into the building. If he goes with a southeast side location for Klingman’s, then the Drueke will likely be converted into a retail outlet featuring multiple tenants.

**Bill Stough was talking about sustainable business opportunities at the Press Club last week, even as a couple of thousand cows in Ravenna were providing sustainable fuel for what may be the state's first biogas energy plant.

Stough, CEO of a Grand Rapids consulting firm called Sustainable Research Group, noted that the U.S. gets most of its energy from fossil fuels. You know, the stuff that used to cost $2.00 a gallon, then $2.35 a gallon, then ….

Ninety-five percent of national energy is generated from burning coal, oil and natural gas.

"Can we do that forever?" he asked.

Stough made the point that there are a lot of consumers now who really care about the ethical, social or environmental impact of what they buy. A lot of people won't buy clothes if they know they are supporting a company that employs children in sweat shops. They don't want to buy something that is helping pollute rivers in Africa or destroying the Amazon rain forests, or cutting the tops off of entire mountains in the United States.

Stough cited a recent survey done in the U.S. and Europe, in which consumers were asked if they made a decision to buy a product based on that corporation's ethical, social and environmental responsibility. Forty-five percent of the respondents in the U.S. said they did. In the UK, it was 42 percent; 35 percent in Italy, 34 percent in France and 28 percent in Germany.

Savvy companies are aware of those consumers. Right now solar panels made in Michigan are being shipped to Germany, and wind turbine blades made in Grand Rapids are being shipped to Scotland, and equipment that can turn cow manure into electricity is being made in Austria and shipped to America. Ravenna, to be precise.

The slogan was, "got milk?" Now maybe it should be, "got sustainability?"

**As one of the 20 “Best Green Companies for America’s Children,” Herman Miller Inc. was named the top “eco-design innovator” in the November issue of Working Mother magazine. Stating HMI is “the largest user of renewable energy in the design industry,” the magazine indicates that “people who step into Herman Miller’s 15,172-square-foot Atlanta Design Center are amazed by its natural beauty … it shines as an example of what can happen when creative ingenuity meets eco-consciousness. But then, this company helped write the rules on green design.

**Grand Rapids native Nicole Dykstra has opened Lee & Birch on Seminole Drive in Muskegon, providing higher-end designer women's apparel. Dykstra, who owns an interior design business, Edge Design Group, wanted to combine her love of designer clothing with the home furnishings she uses for her interior design business.

Carla Zandstra, assistant manager of the store, said it offers clothing for women of all ages and also has great gift ideas for even those hard-to-buy-for people on a holiday shopping list.

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