Economic Development, Human Resources, and Real Estate

GRBCC lands developer as speaker

Joel Ferguson, who also chairs MSU’s board, will present on real estate opportunities.

September 2, 2016
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For the first time in the event’s four-year history, the Grand Rapids Black Chamber of Commerce will host a local entrepreneur to speak at its Entrepreneurial Speakers Series.

Following in the footsteps of nationally recognized speakers Claud Anderson, Margarita Anderson and George Fraser, Lansing real estate developer Joel Ferguson will be the keynote speaker at GRBCC’s fourth annual Entrepreneurial Speaker Series on Sept. 13.

Ferguson is president of Ferguson Development and F&S Development, chairman of the Michigan State University board of trustees and was elected into the Greater Lansing Hall of Fame.

Alexander Thomas Jr., a business developer with the city of Grand Rapids who also provides strategic planning for GRBCC, said Ferguson was selected because of his experience in developing successful real estate projects in Greater Lansing and in bringing more than 10,000 jobs to the area.

“If you just look around Grand Rapids, you see things happening around us all of the time,” Thomas said. “There’s a lot of activity with building and real estate development here, and that’s an area where this city is growing. And as an African-American community, we should be addressing it and learning as much as we can, find how to be involved in it, and that’s an area where Joel can help us.”

Thomas said the goal is to have a speaker each year who can expound on the message delivered by the previous year’s keynote. Following Claud Anderson’s talk on building lateral group economies in the inaugural event in 2013, Margarita Anderson delivered a speech on the importance of promoting and patronizing black-owned businesses. Fraser, the 2015 speaker, spoke on network building, and Thomas said GRBCC hopes Ferguson can impart some of his wisdom on earning a seat at the table when it comes to African Americans getting involved in the region’s explosive real estate growth.

“We know we should be at the table, but we shouldn’t have to read about (these developments) in the newspaper, because then, we’re already too late,” Thomas said. “So, I’m hoping that he will inspire people. We want to give some aspiration to be inspired — tell them what’s out there and inspire them to become a part of it.”

In the weeks following the event, Thomas said the chamber will, as it has done in previous years, look to develop specific programs and initiatives that tie into the message of the keynote speaker in an effort to continue the conversation. For example, in 2014, the chamber followed up Anderson’s speech with a community event featuring New York Life Insurance Company Vice President Eugene Mitchell and a discussion about wealth building through investments.

“We try to take cumulative messages, take what we learn from Claud and Margarita and Fraser and what we’ll learn from Joel, because those things are still relevant,” Thomas said. “We have to continue to develop programs and activities and find ways to keep that message going. There’s still better ways for black businesses to work together and support each other, and if we want to change our community, that’s where we’ll have to do it — in economics.”

The cost of the luncheon is $38 per person. The event is scheduled for 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m., Sept 13, at Brown-Hutcherson Fellowship Hall, 1065 36th St. SE. Attendees are asked to RSVP by Sept. 8 at, or in-person or mailing a check payable to the Grand Rapids Black Chamber of Commerce at 625 Kenmoor Ave. SE, Suite 301.

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