Street Talk: A bigger bang for the buck


There is a new financial player in town that’s small but laser-focused.

Late last year, Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women received designation as a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), which came on the heels of opening its own microloan program.

Now, the women’s business ally is beginning to fill its war chest. GROW announced last week that it has received notice of its first grant from the CDFI program for $125,000.

“We worked very hard to achieve the CDFI designation late last year. And now with this first grant, we have more funds to build capacity for our CDFI fund,” said Bonnie Nawara, CEO of GROW. “This designation also gives us the ability to leverage Community Reinvestment Act funds from regional financial institutions. These important resources have been used for economic development and community projects across the country. CRA funds have also played a major role in support of our microlending program.”

As one of only a few CDFIs in the state, GROW will be able to partner with other local nonprofit organizations pursuing improved community and social impact. Nawara said GROW also now qualifies for additional federal economic development programs and can bring existing federal dollars into West Michigan.

“Achieving certification from the U.S. Department of Treasury as a Community Development Financial Institution is a game-changer not just for small businesses, but for the communities in West Michigan, as well,” she said.

Liz Ziesmer, GROW board president and principal at Rehmann, said the money will go where it’s needed most.

“These funds will not only provide GROW with more resources to support their clients but to also impact the communities where they are from, all of which have been traditionally underserved.”

In the past 4 1/2 years, GROW has provided more than $1 million in microloan funds to businesses in West Michigan. In 2016 alone, GROW helped local individuals create more than 62 new businesses and create 250 jobs in low- to moderate-income communities, according to Nawara.

CDFIs, like GROW, are deliberate in their economic development efforts in areas with higher concentrations of low- to moderate-income residents. West Michigan has strong economic growth and a vibrant start-up community, but there are many smaller communities that are not seeing these types of economic development, she said.

Nawara said GROW now is positioned to provide more investment and resources to rural and low-to-moderate-income areas in its nine-county service area, which includes Kent, Ottawa, Muskegon, Newaygo, Allegan, Barry, Ionia, Montcalm and Kalamazoo counties. She said this investment will further support businesses and entrepreneurs to improve incomes and the local tax base, and create more jobs in those communities.


More judicial reductions have been recommended to increase efficiency and save the state money.

State Court Administrator Milton Mack testified Sept. 27 before the Michigan Senate Judiciary Committee regarding the findings of the 2017 Judicial Resources Recommendations report.

In the report, the State Court Administrative Office has recommended the Legislature eliminate five judgeships by attrition (including a district judgeship recommended for conversion to a new circuit judgeship), reverse two judgeships pending elimination and allow two sets of district courts to merge.

The net result of the recommendations will be a reduction of two trial court judgeships statewide.

“Michigan courts are data-driven, and we use workload data to make sure the number of judges matches the cases to be heard,” Mack said. “Whether it’s the findings of our public surveys and other performance measures, such as recidivism data, we are measuring more and analyzing more in order to improve outcomes for the public we serve.”

These recommendations build on steps to re-engineer Michigan’s judiciary that were accomplished based on previous reports. As a result, 31 judgeships already have been eliminated, with 14 more slated for reduction. After accounting for the addition of five judges, the total net reduction is 40 seats, saving taxpayers $19.5 million from 2011 through the end of this year. Based on reductions already implemented, additional savings are almost $4.7 million annually. If enacted, the recommended new reductions will save an additional $316,880 each year.

The proposal is based on a detailed two-step analysis that first examines each court’s caseload followed by an extended consideration of local factors, such as population trends and travel between court locations.

The report’s methodology was developed by the National Center for State Courts and the Judicial Resources Advisory Committee.

Hall pass

Parking violators at Grand Valley State University will have a nonfinancial alternative to paying their fines for the next few days.

GVSU’s Parking Services department is partnering with Replenish campus food pantry to host Food 4 Fines, a program that allows people to donate items to the pantry toward payment for campus parking citations.

Donations are being accepted at the Grand Valley Police Department on the Allendale Campus. Citations issued after Aug. 16 are applicable to the program.

Replenish was founded in 2009 by two Grand Valley alums, Susana Villagomez-Barajas and Rachael DeWitt.

It started as two small bins in a file cabinet and grew to its current location in room 0074 of the Kirkhof Center. The pantry, which now resembles a small convenience store, provides food and personal care items for students who face financial struggles that affect their food access. There have been more than 1,000 visits to the pantry since it opened.

Several events are taking place in October to support Replenish. A 5K walk organized by Wesley Fellowship will take place Oct. 30 and a campuswide food drive is planned for Oct. 10-14. The pantry is looking for healthy foods, such as brown rice, oats, quinoa, dried beans and nuts.

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Roll call

The Grand Valley University Foundation elected new directors and advisory cabinet members at its annual meeting Sept. 26.

They join more than 110 foundation directors who will play a pivotal role in the Laker Effect comprehensive campaign, which began in June and will provide increased support for students and allow Grand Valley programs and facilities to stay current with changing needs of employers.

New foundation directors include Matthew DeCamp, Robert Roth, James Sebastian Jr., Elizabeth Welch and Steven Workman.

New advisory cabinet members include Robert Bernecker, Raleigh Finkelstein, Allen Hunting, Helen Hunting, B.P. “Budge” Sherwood III and Joyce Wisner.

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