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SW Michigan First hosts leadership event

Building passion and executing beliefs are at forefront of the venture.

October 10, 2014
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In January, individuals from across all business sectors and organizations will convene in Southwest Michigan to be inspired to believe, follow their passion and share leadership knowledge.

Southwest Michigan First, a Kalamazoo-based organization of economic development advisors driving growth in the region, announced it will hold its fifth annual Catalyst University leadership conference Jan. 29, 2015, from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m. at Wings Stadium in Kalamazoo.

Ron Kitchens, CEO of Southwest Michigan First, said the leadership conference is designed to meet the growth needs of companies and organizations by connecting leaders across all sectors to share knowledge of techniques and strategies.

“That, for us, is the for-profit, nonprofit, faith-based, local government and education,” said Kitchens in reference to the sectors in the community.

“If we can have those all together in one place, we are not only lifting up great organizations that are doing amazing things, but also we’ll create a melting pot of leadership where people begin to meet others and realize leaders all have the same problems — it is not business-sector or organization specific.”

The annual day-long conference includes international and local speakers. Incorporating the words of Jim Collins, a former speaker at Catalyst University, the conference seeks to build a “great community” through lifting up all sectors rather than focusing solely on becoming prosperous.

For the 2015 Catalyst University conference, speakers will discuss what they “believe” and how they have made a difference in the lives of others through following their passion.

Speakers include: headliner Patrick Lencioni, founder of The Table Group; Bob Goff, president of Restore International; Brad Lomenick, former president of Catalyst; Dr. Tererai Trent, founder of Tinogona Foundation; Rich Sheridan, CEO and chief storyteller of Menlo Innovations; and David and Michael Radparvar, co-founders of Holstee.

Each year the conference theme is generated after speaking with corporate and community leaders and past attendees to discover which problems, issues and needs organizations are facing, according to Kitchens.

Upon meeting with approximately 700 corporate leaders and roughly 400 community leaders, the economic development team at Southwest Michigan First curates a theme based on the stories across all sectors.

“Belief for us is about getting the knowledge you need to empower yourself to find what you believe in and succeed in your beliefs. It is no longer that people are willing to just go to work, just buy a product, just volunteer, or just contribute because that is the social norm,” said Kitchens. “They want to be part of something they believe in, so we curated speakers who are clearly about building people’s passion and giving them the knowledge they need to execute on their beliefs.”

Originally established in 2011, the Catalyst University conference was developed to address an issue Southwest Michigan First heard from local organizations regarding the inability to send employees to leadership conferences or continuing education workshops due to limited staff or for financial reasons.

Kitchens said the name of the conference is derived from the community’s heritage in the life sciences and as a nod to the root meaning of “university.”

“Serving those five key groups to be a really great community and by mixing them together you get a result that is greater than the sum of its parts — and that is a catalytic event,” said Kitchens. “We wanted it to clearly denote that this isn’t some motivational conference where you have a bunch of ‘rah-rah’ speakers; this is about knowledge and the transferring of that knowledge.”

Launching four years ago with approximately 225 attendees in the audience, the conference grew to a sold-out crowd in 2014 of 900. Due to the growing interest, the conference was moved from the Radisson Ballroom to Wings Stadium to accommodate 2,000 attendees. With 900 participants already registered for the event only three weeks into ticket sales, Kitchens said the organization is anticipating a sold-out crowd.

The 2015 event is sponsored by various organizations, including: Consumers Energy, PNC Bank, Kalamazoo Community Foundation, 11Web, Adams Outdoor Advertising, AmeriFirst Home Mortgage, Borgess Health, Blue Cross Blue Shield Blue Care Network of Michigan, Chase Bank, Chemical Bank, Consumers Credit Union, CSM Group and CTS Telecom Inc.

Other sponsors include: Eaton, Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn LLP, HumaneX Ventures, Humphrey, Mercantile Bank of Michigan, Miller Canfield, Kalamazoo Gazette, Newell Rubbermaid, Owen Ames Kimball, Priority Health, State Farm Insurance, Varnum Attorneys at Law, Schupan & Sons Inc., Treystar and Harold Zeigler Automotive Group.

General admission for the 2015 Catalyst University leadership conference is priced at $375 per person.

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