Legacies Build For The Future

September 23, 2008
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It is difficult to imagine what will fill these pages in September 2033. Few could imagine in September 1983 that within 25 years, computers would fit in a pocket, the human genome would be solved, and people would swallow tiny cameras for viewing internal injuries or disease. It was the era of Gov. Jim Blanchard, whose tenure saw double-digit unemployment rates leading to the often recited, “Will the last person leaving Michigan please turn out the lights.”

The nation was recovering from an inflationary period that wrought double-digit mortgage interest rates and gas rationing. We reported on the ’88 crash and its local ramifications; the ’91 recession and ad agency losses; the ’99 dotcom bust and its consequences; the millennium bug, the misery of Sept. 11, 2001; bank mergers and acquisitions; an evolution of manufacturing skill; and the ability of the community to pull itself together in partnerships to build an advancing “Medical Mile.”

In the first, then-monthly issues of the Business Journal, Varnum Riddering had only just merged with Schmidt Howlett and offered its expertise for the Legal Matters column. The firm’s partners are still writing Legal Matters. BDO Seidman also had seen change leading up to 1983, especially after founder Bill Seidman completed a tour of duty with former President Gerald R. Ford. BDO Seidman, too, has written Money Matters in the Business Journal every month for 25 years. Just a few years later, a local computer technology business owner — then, as now, one of few women in that business niche — began sharing her expertise in Technology Matters. The author, Jeanne Englehart, sold her thriving business and retired. She is now president of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce and primarily responsible for creating the first Regional Policy Conference to be held this week.

In 25 years, might employees and employers be teleporting? Will similar options resolve some of the energy crisis that continues to daunt the economy? The opportunity for invention is especially ripe now, given the considerable problems being addressed — problems that are fertile ground for an age of invention that rivals any in history.

The past 25 years have brought Grand Rapids to the epicenter of specific types of medical advancement. The Van Andel Institute has quickly become a leading cancer research center and has created a domino of related educational and commercial applications.

The legacy of Amway co-founder Jay Van Andel is astonishing. He created The Right Place Inc., invested with his business partner and school chum, Rich DeVos, to renovate the Pantlind, build the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel and later the JW Marriott — the last project Van Andel accomplished before his death. It was his dream to see the Van Andel Institute open; he hoped it would offer healing to humankind around the world. He also saw that preservation of this region’s history and people needed to be shared with future generations, and was the primary benefactor of the Public Museum’s new Van Andel Museum Center. He saw that accomplished just prior to funding the Van Andel Arena, which became an economic domino for minor league sports, a vibrant entertainment district and now reclamation and construction of the downtown neighborhood of homes and condos, river pedestrian paths, and Grand Valley State University’s downtown campus and school for medical professions across from the VAI.

The one-time chairman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce would likely be pleased to see formation of the policy conference this week, and would likely have approved of its stated agenda.

Grand Rapids Business Journal, which has been cited with three national journalism awards for investigative reporting and for its Street Talk column, will continue to keep readers informed. There are sure to be new mystery developments on which to report.

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