Street Talk

Street Talk: The price of doing business with the polar vortex

Swimming with sharks.

January 10, 2014
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While everybody else was heroically fighting the snow and ice — or staring horrified out the window at the “Great Polar Vortex,” guys like Tim Walsh were seeing lots of dollar signs flying through the air.

Walsh is a risk management expert, executive vice president of Aon Risk Solutions’ construction services group, and he has a laundry list of what can go wrong with businesses when the weather goes crazy.

“First, obviously, is the loss of production,” said Walsh.

It could be a total loss or, more likely, a partial loss due to employees who decided not to risk their lives getting to work. The impassable roads also stopped many deliveries of raw materials and equipment — and outbound shipments of product, too.

And it’s not just getting to work. There are a lot of people whose work involves going someplace after arriving at the office: across town (doubtful), across the country (impossible), or just across the parking lot to an adjacent plant or office building (still risky).

The weather also impacted the power supply, with some companies closed temporarily and some employees coming in to work from their dark, cold homes (some un-bathed, no doubt).

Then there’re the frozen pipes, the extra expense of snow removal from parking lots and putting salt on sidewalks, and removing snow from roofs not designed to hold that much load.

(Incidentally, it was NOT a heroic company executive who fell off the roof at Mill Steel in Kentwood over the holidays. And, according to Mill Steel Senior Vice President Eric Lambert, the contractor who did get hurt wasn’t up there removing snow; he was working on the roof — despite the impression given by at least one TV news report.)

Walsh said he saw something on the Internet that estimated the cost of the polar vortex at $5 billion.

“Hopefully, it’s starting to warm up, right?” said Walsh.

By the numbers

As employment numbers continue to improve, Dematic, a global supplier of logistics systems for factory, warehouse and distribution centers, is doing its part. The company is growing its North American operation and recently announced the addition of nearly 400 jobs in fiscal year 2013.

“It is our goal to continue to hire employees that will carry forward our promise to develop, deliver and maintain tomorrow’s solutions required for changing business landscapes in ecommerce, retail, apparel, health care, 3PL, food, beverage, parcel and manufacturing markets,” said John Baysore, president and CEO of Dematic North America.

Over the past fiscal year, the company hired 398 employees across three of its North American offices in Grand Rapids, Milwaukee and Salt Lake City. The majority of this job growth took place at the corporate office, manufacturing plant and technology center in Grand Rapids, where there were 251 hires.

“The tremendous job growth we have seen this past year is a testament to our commitment to be responsive to the needs of our customers,” said Baysore.

The privately held company employs approximately 2,270 people in North America. In addition to career development, it offers employees the use of a state-of-the-art fitness center, diversified social activities, and wellness and employee enrichment programs. In 2013, the company was recognized as one of West Michigan’s 101 Best and Brightest Companies to Work For.

Fresh start

A bit late on getting to that healthy New Year’s resolution? It might be time to consider a bit of team encouragement.

Whole U GR is gathering holistic health experts and offering seminars at St. Cecilia Music Center from 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Jan. 25, as part of “Inspiration and Knowledge for a Healthy 2014.”

The goal of the expo is to integrate the body, mind, spirit and community of Grand Rapids in a unique space where attendees can gather information. Organizers expect more than 1,000 people to attend.

Martha Cudlipp, co-founder of Whole U GR, said she is inspired by how quickly interest is growing.

“As a new event, it is exciting to see the expo interest really begin to snowball, with an amazing exhibitor list of participants. From beautiful music at St. Cecilia, to body, mind and health experts in their field — this event will represent all that a health-focused person is looking for in a very welcoming environment.”

The St. Cecilia Music Center Grand Band will kick off the Whole U Expo with a performance in Royce Auditorium. Educational seminars include Jennifer Pohlman of SIP Organic Juice Bar speaking on living a plant-based diet; holistic health practitioner Beth Townsend discussing the Arvigo techniques of Maya Abdominal Therapy; and Pam Ditonto sharing holistic veterinary options for pets. Additional presenters include naturopathic practitioner Micah McLaughlin of Continuum Healing and Everbest Organics.

Exhibitors also include Margaux Drake with D&W Food Stores, Doorganics, Get Waisted and Simple Truth Chiropractic.

Tickets are $8 in advance and $10 at the door. For more information, visit

A little help here

Sports teams that share the same town are naturally competitors but often share an affinity for a region that goes beyond team colors. So it’s no surprise the Grand Rapids Griffins are reaching out to their brothers in Comstock Park, the West Michigan Whitecaps, in the aftermath of the fire that destroyed a good portion of the ballpark.

Hockey fans attending the Griffins’ recent home stand were invited to sign a card of support for the Whitecaps, according to Randy Cleeves, senior director of public relations for the Calder Cup winners. The card was a collaborative effort between the Griffins organization and FASTSIGNS of Grand Rapids.

As tragic as the fire was, social media was abuzz with comments. Some on Facebook and Twitter opined that club owners Lew Chamberlin and Denny Baxter should use the opportunity to move the ballpark into downtown Grand Rapids, where it would become another economic driver along with Van Andel Arena, DeVos Place and Downtown Market.

Poor timing? Probably. But it’s all about opportunity.

Jump the shark

Well, at least he’ll look good. Daymond John, investor on ABC’s “Shark Tank” and clothing entrepreneur (not to mention fashion icon) is the featured speaker at the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce’s 126th annual meeting on Tuesday. (Note to Rick Baker: Stand as far away as possible during introductions.)

John, aka The Shark, will present a keynote address and share the business insights and strategies he used to build his multimillion-dollar empire.

With an all-American success story and innovative marketing and branding techniques, John is one of the most successful fashion icons of his generation and a highly sought-after branding expert, author, consultant and speaker. He is the founder of the urban apparel and lifestyle fashion brand FUBU (For Us By Us), an investor on “Shark Tank,” and creator of his own branding and marketing consulting firm, Shark Branding.

The annual meeting also will include a look at what's ahead for the chamber in 2014, plus the installation of Doug Dozeman of Warner Norcross & Judd LLP as chairperson of GRACC’s 2014 board of directors.

Lawyers dress well, don’t they?

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