Street Talk

Street Talk: To B, or not to B is panel’s question

Worry lines.

February 14, 2014
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More than 950 businesses in 32 countries covering 60 industries have become B Corporations since 2007, and several more are moving in that direction.

Some of the better known names on that list include Ben & Jerry’s, Patagonia and Method Products.

Locally, Cascade Engineering and Gazelle Sports have become certified B Corps, which stands for benefit corporations.

B Corps are focused on making profits while serving their communities through responsible social and environmental policies.

B Lab, a nonprofit organization, is responsible for certifying the companies, which go through a rigorous audit process that examines the company’s social and environmental policies.

The audit looks at performance, accountability and transparency, and scores a company in the areas of governance, workers, community and environment, giving an overall score that determines if it will become a certified B Corp.

“We use that audit to measure our triple bottom line journey,” said Kenyatta Brame, Cascade Engineering chief administrative officer and services group vice president.

Keith Maki, Cascade’s director of corporate marketing, added, “We are one of the largest manufacturing company B Corporations in the world.”

Cascade Engineering and Gazelle Sports will be part of a panel discussion Thursday, Feb. 20, “B the Change,” at GVSU’s Loosemore Auditorium.

Panelists will include Fred Keller, CEO of Cascade Engineering; Chris Lampen-Crowell, co-owner of Gazelle Sports; Elissa Hillary, executive director of Local First, and B Lab’s Hardik Savalia. GVSU’s Michael DeWilde will serve as moderator.

The panel discussion is at 6 p.m., preceded by a half hour of networking. The event is free and open to the public, but attendees are asked to register ahead of time since space is limited. Registration can be found online at

Gazelle, GVSU and Local First are hosting the panel discussion.

“We work with 750-plus locally owned businesses that are uniquely poised to be change agents precisely because their owners live within the community and are directly affected by local issues,” Hillary said. “We’re excited to assist these businesses in expanding their ability to have an impact — by working with regional and national partners to help them measure their impact, connect them to peers, and develop learning opportunities that will support them in taking their business to the next level.”

A little skittish

When is a soaring stock market a bad thing? When it prompts abnormal behavior.

Dirk Racette and Bob Stark, two of the principal owners of Calder Investment Advisors in Grand Rapids, said they see some reasons to be a little nervous about the stock market over the next year or two.

Individuals and institutions “are borrowing against their stock portfolios to buy more stock. That is at an all time high,” said Racette.

“And that’s usually a bad sign. A contrary indicator,” added Stark.

They note that basing decisions on day-to-day fluctuations isn’t very practical. The year started out showing a short-term weakness, then bounced up last week.

The main thing is: “You need to position yourself,” said Racette.

Cigar stars

A local cigar retailer is celebrating 20 years in the business with some of the biggest names in the industry.

Mark Renzenbrink, owner of Tuttle’s Select Cigars and Tobaccos in Grand Rapids, is lighting up what he calls the Rockstars of Cigars series.

“This is such a rare and exciting opportunity for our customers,” Renzenbrink said. “Much like celebrity chefs, our guests for this series are bona fide celebrities of the cigar industry. Each created signature recipes from which their cigars are manufactured today.”

The series is composed of multiple event dates throughout the year when customers can sample premium, hand-rolled cigars and meet cigar manufacturer owners and senior executives.

It gets off to a smokin’ start May 23 with Nick Perdomo, founder of Perdomo Cigars. June and August events at the 28th Street SE location will feature Glen Case, owner of Kristoff Cigars, and Nish Patel, executive vice president of Rocky Patel Cigars. Three more guests will be added to the lineup at a later day, Renzenbrink said.

Tuttle’s lays claim to Grand Rapids’ largest free-standing humidor and the city’s first smoking lounge.

The worry list

Pity the folks in the HR department. When everything is going well, no one notices them. When the tide turns, they’re the first ones on the firing line.

So what keeps them up at night?

A new report by XpertHR, whose online service provides HR professionals with practical compliance tools and comprehensive guidance on federal, state and municipal law, compiles a list of headaches facing the HR crowd.

Medical marijuana, same-sex marriage, bring your own device (BYOD), immigration and health care reform are just a few of the issues that may cause real problems for employers in 2014, according to the report. It offers guidance on such issues as: Should employers restrict medical marijuana use during work hours? Are same-sex partners eligible for benefits? Can criminal history be considered in the hiring process? What are the laws regarding foreign workers?

Employment claims and lawsuits are among the most costly and time-consuming losses facing corporations today. Wage-and-hour litigation continues to be the fastest-growing area of employment litigation.

“Human resource departments are often overwhelmed with day-to-day employment and benefits tasks,” said Beth Zoller, an attorney and author of the report. “But they also need to stay on top of new laws and trends nationally and at the state and local levels affecting the workplace in order to protect their organizations against violations and class action suits.”

So, what tops the list of scariest issues employers may face this year?

No. 1 is medical and recreational marijuana use. In states that permit marijuana use, such as Michigan, employers need to clarify that marijuana is prohibited in the workplace, Zoller said.

Next up is same-sex marriage. She said employers should know the tax benefits provided to an employee’s same-sex spouse or partner, and whether the state follows or departs from federal law.

Technology in the workplace — specifically, the BYOD rules — comes in third. Employers should create specific policies that clearly explain what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable use of social media while at work.

Health care reform rounds out the top four issues, with employers planning now for the 2015 mandate of the Affordable Care Act. First up, of course, is deciding whether companies fall into the “large employer” category.

She said employers also should strike a balance between ensuring an authorized work force while avoiding discriminating against unauthorized workers while dealing with immigration and Form I-9 compliance.

Rounding out the worry list are: misclassification of independent contractors; minimum wage and overtime violations; curtailing background checks; emerging protected classes and curbing workplace discrimination; employee leaves and reason accommodations; and expansion of “Protected Concerted Activity.”

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