Gathering around the table an all inclusive endeavor

February 25, 2011
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Last week’s public unveiling of The Metropolitan Government of the City of Grand Rapids and Kent County — the potential name a private sector group has chosen to represent its vision of what governance should look like here — wasn’t warmly embraced by Kent County officials.

Evidently, that’s no surprise to the organizers, who have been discussing the concept behind closed doors for quite a while.

“The fact that the One Kent effort lacks details should stir confidence, not skepticism, about the start of this complicated community conversation,” Andy Guy, a PR pro with Wondergem Consulting, posted on his Facebook page as word of the until-now confidential endeavor filtered through the community. “It’s pretentious to prescribe details before there's a table and everyone has a seat,” Guy wrote.

“We believe it’s time to update our governmental structure,” said Nyal Deems, a real estate attorney with Varnum Law and a spokesman for the One Kent Coalition, to county commissioners last week (see story, page 1). “Collaboration and consolidation just make sense, and the private sector should take a more active role.”

Thus far, the private sector’s “role” has been undertaken largely by those invited to the early stages of the project (despite Guy’s admonishment that no such table exists). That list of individuals was not immediately shared with the county commissioners, but Guy was all too willing to give it up.

“It’s more a list of ‘volunteers,’” Guy told the Business Journal. “One Kent really is in the startup phase, with much outreach and organizing currently ongoing to a variety of business, institutional and civic leaders,” he said. “At this time, we’re in the process of reaching out to some 60 private sector leaders across the metro area to brief them on the idea. This effort will evolve and expand. That said, below is a list of folks who have led, supported or otherwise helped to inform the early organizing of the coalition.”

The list he provided included himself and his Wondergem Consulting boss, Tim Wondergem, plus: Tom Butcher, Nyal Deems, Betsy DeVos, Dick DeVos, Jeanne Englehart, David Frey, Mike Jandernoa, Kurt Kimball, David Leonard, Greg McNeilly, Marge Potter, Jared Rodriguez, Milt Rohwer, Peter Secchia, Peter Wege and Kate Pew Wolters.

The inclusion of Deems and Potter, of course, harkened back to their charter efforts to form the Grand Valley Metropolitan Council in the early ’90s. Many believed at the time Metro Council would eventually lead to the formation of a local super government unit, much like what the One Kent group is now proposing. Deems, however, believes that effort started as a planning group, has remained on that track, and never intended to be the precursor to a full-scale government unification effort.

The puck stops here

If you’ve ever wondered whether ice hockey and leadership go hand-in-hand, you can stop wondering because they do — and the Grand Rapids Griffins are ready to prove it. The DeVos Graduate School of Management at Northwood University will offer its third installment of the DeVos Leadership MeNU (me and you) series at Van Andel Arena March 16 starting at 5:30. Griffins’ owner Dan DeVos is a Northwood graduate.

The upcoming one-hour installment will reveal the “Secrets to a Successful Strategy.” After learning those secrets, attendees can watch the Griffins play that evening. The leadership session and a game ticket go for $10. Visit for more information.

Women’s Expo coming

One of the Business Journal’s selected owners of the Top Women Owned Businesses, Denise Kolesar’s biggest event returns to DeVos Place March 11-13, when she will unveil her 13th Women’s Expo. The three-day event will feature products and services from more than 375 women-owned and women-focused businesses. The theme for this year’s expo is “Your Health, Your Home, Your Style.”

“Women’s Expo is the equivalent of spring break for women. It’s an opportunity to kick back, relax and have fun with friends. For many women in West Michigan, this is a destination weekend that allows them to connect with friends and family while recharging their batteries,” said Kolesar, president of Kohler Expos.

The expo runs 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday.

Good eats, awarding treats

Grand Rapids Magazine’s April issue is now on the newsstands, spotlighting its annual dining award winners. The top dining awards were presented during the Feb. 16 Grand Culinary Affair at the Secchia Institute for Culinary Education at Grand Rapids Community College.

Leo’s restaurant in downtown Grand Rapids — for the fourth time in six years — earned the top honor as Restaurant of the Year. Other honors included:

New American Award of Excellence: Cygnus 27, Marco New American Bistro, Bistro Bella Vita.

Classic American Award of Excellence: The Chop House, The Grill at 1913, Reds on the River.

Ethnic Award of Excellence — European: The 1913 Room.

Ethnic Award of Excellence — Mediterranean: Shiraz Grille.

Ethnic Award of Excellence — Asian: XO Asian Cuisine.

Ethnic Award of Excellence — Latin American/Caribbean: Beltline Bar.

The Greater Grand Rapids Chefs Association is one of 11 Michigan chapters of the American Culinary Federation, a national fraternity organization of cooks and chefs. The association presented the following 2010 awards at the Grand Culinary Affair:

Chef of the Year: (a chef who demonstrates commitment through personal and professional development, leadership and educational support of others): Kevin Vander Meer, Corporate Chef, Michaels & Associates.

Pastry Chef of the Year: Doug Orr, Assistant Pastry Chef, Amway Grand Plaza, and Chef/Instructor, GRCC.

Student Chef of the Year: Jake Allen Warnes, Noto’s Old World Italian Dining.

Chef Professional of the Year: Jamion Brunsting, Aramark, Grand Valley State University.

Chef Educator of the Year: Tom Brent, Michigan Career and Technical Institute.

Purveyor of the Year: (based on professionalism displayed and the support of local culinarians): Gordon Food Service.

Furniture firm reborn

There’s some interesting synergy between a new Holland company and the Detroit Lions.

A new company, Greystone Public Seating LLC, has set up shop on Logistic Drive in Zeeland, using the assets of the former Greystone International Inc. of Byron Center. The new company, also known as GS Seats, produces high-end upholstered seating for theaters, churches, performing arts centers, educational facilities and the home theater market.

A key investor in the venture is Larry Kooiker, president and owner of Agritek Industries Inc. in Holland. There are two other investors: One is Bill Maddox, Kooiker’s partner in DiffusionTek LLC (a galvanizing process). Maddox is also the principal of Manufacturing Enterprise Consultants LLC in East Grand Rapids. The third investment is from Key Portfolio LLC of Holland, which is headed by James R. Wiersma.

Agritek, which produces agricultural equipment, has come out of the recession in fine shape. Kooiker said the company is very busy. “There seems to be a lot of work coming in, new projects. We seem to be fairly competitive with offshore (manufacturers). We seem to be competing with China on a better basis than we were a number of years back.”

A couple of years ago when things were slow, Kooiker acquired a small bankrupt wire manufacturer in Muskegon — Lake Michigan Wire Technologies — and moved it to the Agritek location in Holland. It has done well in its new home.

“Our little investments grew up,” said Kooiker.

He modestly insists he is not a brilliant investor.

Kooiker said if you want to succeed in business, “have a passion for what you do and not make it about the money.”

“Our first objective was not to make a pile of money. Our first objective is to be innovative and creative in metal goods,” he added.

Kooiker said he saw potential synergism with his other companies and the revival of Greystone, which sources as many of its components locally as it can.

Heading up the newest company is Gaylord Stanton, who has 30 years of experience in seating, including Irwin and American Seating, according to Kooiker.

“He’s the one that really urged us to put it all together,” said Kooiker.

The original Greystone International was founded in 1991. Its high-end seating is installed in many venues across the country, including Ford Field, the home of the Detroit Lions.

There’s another Detroit Lions connection at GS Seats: Stanton has a son named Drew — the Lions’ backup quarterback and former Michigan State University standout.

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