Top Newsmakers Chart Area's Progress, Success

September 13, 2008
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Perusing the pages of the Grand Rapids Business Journal since 1983 offers a treasure trove of perspective on the economic life and vibrancy of West Michigan. This is even more evident when reviewing the publication’s Newsmaker of the Year selections since that program’s inception in 1992.

The first winner, Amway co-founder Richard DeVos, remains a stalwart in the economic fiber of this community. His philanthropy, which was already being saluted when he received the honor at a luncheon in January 1993, has made an indelible mark on West Michigan.

The following year’s winner, Steelcase CEO Jerry Myers, was honored for his leadership of the area’s largest employer and for such efforts as expanding Steelcase’s customer base to smaller companies, with lower-priced offerings.

Another success story was identified in 1994 when Lew Chamberlin and Dennis Baxter, after years of knocking on doors, cajoling supporters and debating detractors, brought minor league baseball to Grand Rapids. The West Michigan Whitecaps continue to be a success.

Perhaps exemplifying the spirit and fortitude of the Newsmaker selection as well as any, the Grand Action triumvirate of John Canepa, Dick DeVos and David Frey was recognized in 1995 for its leadership in building the Van Andel Arena. The project was hailed in the Business Journal for helping to “secure Grand Rapids as a major convention, sports, entertainment and visitors’ mecca.” The same trio went on to spearhead the DeVos Place and Grand Center renovation, the new county courthouse, and countless other projects pushed along by these business leaders.

The effectiveness of public-private partnerships was recognized when another threesome was honored in 1996. While Grand Rapids City Manager Kurt Kimball, Right Place President Birgit Klohs and then-Gov. John Engler didn’t win for one specific project, their overall impact on economic development in West Michigan outpaced other nominees. Kimball and Klohs embraced Engler’s Renaissance Zones as a valuable economic tool in attracting business and industry to previously dilapidated areas of the city. They also worked hard to make city government more proactive than reactive. It also marked the first time the city had partnered with private concerns (The Right Place Program) in creating the Urban Redevelopment Council, intending to retain current and attract new business.

The following year’s Newsmaker winner, the merger of Blodgett and Butterworth hospitals into Spectrum Health, faced a host of legal challenges in assimilating the area’s two major hospitals and their respective staffs. Fresh off a protracted legal battle with the Federal Trade Commission, which was concerned that Spectrum would have a monopoly on local health care, the merged entity pledged to save upwards of $160 million in five years through efficiency gains, a continuing effort that is still being closely monitored.

Sam Cummings and Dan DeVos were honored next for being the driving forces behind the West Michigan Grand Prix, the 1998 Newsmaker of the Year. But the road race that had brought so much enthusiasm and economic excitement to the region for two years did not have an encore performance.

The award for 1999 went to parking and transportation gurus Ted Perez, George Heartwell and David Cassard for their work to cure the region’s “growth issue” of parking and mass transit.

In 2000, the Newsmaker of the Year was the Van Andel Research Institute, led by CEO David Van Andel. The institute had already made its presence felt with breakthrough work in the cancer research and biomed fields.

The award went public again in 2001, with Kent County Board of Commissioners Chairman Pat Malone and Kent County Administrator Daryl Delabbio accepting the honor for the yeoman’s effort by county officials in making Kent a better place to live and work, ranging from parkland preservation for Millennium Park to the new courthouse to health plans for those who couldn’t afford them.

In 2002, for the first time, the designation went outside the Journal’s previous “core” coverage area and recognized the Siemens Corp./Grand Valley State University partnership on the SmartZone and alternative energy business park in Muskegon.

Grand Rapids’ then-new $212 million convention center, DeVos Place, was recognized as top Newsmaker in 2004. The Grand Action trio of Dick DeVos, Canepa and Frey was recognized, along with Grand Rapids Mayor John Logie, former Kent County Commission Chairman Steve Heacock and Downtown Development Authority Chairman Verne Barry.

The medical industry’s impact on Grand Rapids is reflected in the fact that the past four Newsmaker selections have focused on that phenomenon:

  • 2005: The Meijer Heart Center and Lacks Cancer Center, projects of Spectrum Health and Saint Mary’s Health Care, respectively.

  • 2006: Michigan State University’s West Michigan Medical School.

  • 2007: The partners of the $150 million Michigan Street Development.

  • 2008: Metro Health Village.

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