Rice recalls experiences As a crucial global player

June 29, 2009
Text Size:
Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice addressed 1,500 largely supportive audience members at the Economic Club of Grand Rapids last week during its 22nd Annual Dinner and Awards ceremony. Her speech focused on foreign affairs, looking at the interrelationship of global events and leaders through the lens of her experience as secretary of state under President George W. Bush and as national security advisor.

The session included a question and answer opportunity carefully moderated by Econ Club Chair David Van Andel, who may have deflected some potentially inflammatory inquiries of Rice. In light of a lack of access to Rice by the media, some interesting topics, such as the current political turmoil in Iran, were left largely unaddressed. She wasn’t shy about talking football, however, telling the crowd that all the talk a out her becoming commissioner of the NFL was compelling, but her interest in the post has waned, particularly in light of the off-the-field legal issues the sport faces that are now in the capable hands of current NFL boss Roger Goodell.

Van Andel, who summed up his tenure as the club’s leader by recalling his trepidations in taking the post a year ago, said it turned out to b a good experience despite the wide-ranging nature of the group’s membership.

Rice’s appearance highlighted the Economic Club’s continued tradition as a venue for some of the most influential leaders in the world. Other keynote speakers in recent years have included former President Bill Clinton, U2 lead singer and humanitarian Bono, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Queen Noor of Jordan, Retired General Colin Powell, Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres.

The Economic Club of Grand Rapids presented its 2009 Business Person of the Year Award to John J. Wheeler, chair of Rockford Companies, founder of Rockford Construction Company, Inc. in 1987 and founding partner of Rockford Development Group. The award honors persons who have made significant contributions of time and effort toward the economic development of West Michigan.

The organization also presented the 2009 Slykhouse Lifetime Achievement Award to Dorothy A. Johnson, a nonprofit leader and philanthropist who was president and CEO of the Council of Michigan Foundations for 25 years. This award recognizes non-business executives for their time, talent and support of the community’s growth and prosperity.

“The philanthropic support and contributions of John and Dottie have been central to the foundation and their strengthening of the West Michigan business community,” said Economic Club Chair David Van Andel. “Their commitment and dedication to improvement of life within the West Michigan area reaches beyond our community and inspires others to follow the incredible example they have set forth.”

The Economic Club of Grand Rapids was founded in 1976 by the late George J. Slykhouse. For more than 30 years, the organization has promoted an interest in growing the economic health of Grand Rapids, providing information to its members on new and ongoing issues in government, society and the economy.

Art is the spark

DeVos Place, along with many other locations in downtown Grand Rapids, will serve as a host venue for ArtPrize artists to showcase their art. ArtPrize is an international art competition taking place in Grand Rapids Sept. 23-Oct. 10. The artist with the most public votes wins the $250,000 ArtPrize. Winners are selected by visitors who vote online at artprize.org or by text messaging while they view the art.

DeVos Place Assistant General Manager Eddie Tadlock thinks “ArtPrize is a wonderful competition that will truly showcase Grand Rapids to the international art community. We are extremely pleased to offer DeVos Place Convention Center as a venue during the event. Not only will ArtPrize help serve as a catalyst to put Grand Rapids on the map internationally, it will also afford us with another opportunity to invite the local community into the facility. They will be able to experience firsthand a unique display of art and culture in a building that has fast become a landmark in the city.”

Big group, big payoff?

Last weekend, the Convention and Visitors Bureau hosted the largest meeting in its history when the United Church of Christ filled DeVos Place with 3,000 attendees and the area’s hotel rooms by reserving 8,700 room nights — a very good sign for a sagging hospitality industry.

Another good sign came recently when the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Officials picked Grand Rapids over Philadelphia for its 2014 symposium. CVB President Doug Small said the NOBLE board of directors, comprised of a dozen members, unanimously voted to come here even though five of those directors were from Philly.

Small said board members were impressed with the cooperation they found on their site visit here, while hotels in the City of Brotherly Love were trying to undercut each other for the business.

Small also said per-room revenue at hotels across the country was down by 15 percent from last year and by about half that much here. He said predictions for next year all lean toward a tough 12 months. He said getting groups to visit the city, like NOBLE, is the key to booking meetings.

“The big conventions are going to be the economic driver for the next five years,” said Bureau Executive Vice President George Helmstead.

Sporting a secret

Well, the West Michigan Sports Commission is also trying to be an economic driver. The two-year-old organization will make an announcement Tuesday morning about a “major statewide sporting event to be held in West Michigan.” It must be a big event because all the commission’s heavy hitters will be there.

County Commissioner and WMSC Chairman Richard Vander Molen, WMSC Executive Committee member Tim Selgo, County Assistant Administrator and WMSC Vice Chairman Wayman Britt, the regional director of the governor’s West Michigan office Joan Bowman and WMSC Executive Director Mike Guswiler will all be on hand to make the announcement. So will Dan DeVos, Deb Kay, Bill McDonald, Bill Ryan and Rob VerHeulen.

The PR tease infers that WMSC has filled its mission of establishing a “signature” event that will enhance the region’s reputation as a “premier venue for amateur sporting events.” The release also noted that the event would have a “significant positive impact on the economy and quality of life of the region.” Can’t wait for this pitc

Editor's Picks

Comments powered by Disqus