Business forum to be held in Kentwood

May 2, 2011
| By Pete Daly |
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A business forum on topics of crucial importance to small and medium-sized industrial companies will be put on jointly in Kentwood May 11 by the city’s Economic Development Corp. and the Wyoming-Kentwood Area Chamber of Commerce.

The issues will range from some of the pitfalls of doing business in China to an update on the Michigan tax on business presented by Mitchell Bean of the Michigan House Fiscal Agency, the non-partisan analysis staff of the Michigan House of Representatives.

Win Irwin of Irwin Seating will be the keynote speaker and will reveal why “Irwin Seating closed their facility in China and brought their operations back to Michigan,” according to the flyer put out by Kentwood officials.

Other topics to be explored are how to “make money while being green,” recruiting and training technically skilled employees, and the challenges and opportunities in providing health care coverage for employees.

Lody Zwarensteyn, president of the Alliance for Health and a member of both the Kentwood EDC board and the WKACC, will lead the breakout session that focuses on what employers can do regarding health care coverage for employees. “You can’t just take things for granted,” he said.

Joining Zwarensteyn in leading that session will be Robert Hughes and Jim Tuinstra.

Hughes represents Advantage Benefits Group, which arranges commercial health care coverage and serves as an advisor to employers. His information about options available in the commercial plans can empower management, said Zwarensteyn.

Tuinstra, president of nonprofit Kent Health Plan and Shared Care of Kent County, will have useful information for companies that can’t afford standard commercial coverage.

Shared Care of Kent County is “a very low-cost way to get coverage for start-ups and small businesses that didn’t have insurance before but would like to,” said Zwarensteyn.

Recruiting technically skilled employees and re-training them for specific processes that may be new to them is the forte of Maggie McPhee, a director at The Employers’ Association of Greater Grand Rapids, and Mary Hofstra of Grand Rapids Community College.

Some of the hardest jobs for manufacturers to fill are in high-tech areas such as software programmers and automation engineers. McPhee and Hofstra have had a lot of experience helping employers find those types of employees and training them, and will share their tips at the forum.

Norman Christopher, executive director of the Sustainable Community Development Initiative at GVSU, and Mark Lindquist of Rapid-Line will focus on the challenging topic “Make Money While Being Green.”

Rapid-Line was among the first companies to join the West Michigan Green Supplier Network and was nominated for membership by its customer, Steelcase. It is a metal fabrication and tooling shop that designs, manufactures and finishes metal products for office furniture, automotive and other industrial customers. Rapid-Line’s cost for natural gas had climbed from $3,500 per month to $12,000 several years ago, but then it launched an assessment of its operations to see where it could make changes. The result was a cost reduction of about $46,000 a year.

Perhaps the issue of taxation of business in Michigan will have the broadest interest at the forum. The situation is changing so rapidly in Lansing that any update should prove informative.

According to the Michigan House Fiscal Agency website, Gov. Rick Snyder is proposing a plan that would eliminate the Michigan Business Tax, cutting business taxes by $1.67 billion or 82 percent of the current net. It would impose a 6 percent tax on business income for C corporations only, and honor existing firm-specific tax credits including MEGA, the movie industry, new energy sources, battery manufacturing credits and more. Snyder’s plan would increase personal income tax on Michigan citizens by $1.48 billion.

According to the national Council on State Taxation, a nonprofit trade association of nearly 600 corporations engaged in interstate and international business, Snyder’s proposals would give Michigan the 16th best state and local business tax climate — up from 30th currently.

The Kentwood Business Forum starts with a continental breakfast and runs from 8 to 11:45 a.m. Wednesday, May 11, at the Kentwood Library, 4950 Breton Ave. SE.

Cost is $10 in advance; $15 at the door. To register, go to and check upcoming events.

Event sponsors are Miller Canfield and Express Employment Professionals.

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