Street Talk: A view of Grand Rapids from above


Grand Rapids’ reputation is reaching new heights.

This month’s digital edition of Delta Airlines’ traveler magazine, Sky, contains a lengthy feature on “Beer City USA” or “Best Beer Town in America,” whichever title strikes your fancy.

Regardless of the moniker, the city’s craft beer explosion is nice exposure for a heretofore staple of the country’s Flyover Zone.

“It’s adding to the conversation about Grand Rapids that we didn’t expect,” Ginny Seyferth, president of SeyferthPR, told reporter Jon Zemke. “CEOs are now talking about cities like Portland and Grand Rapids in the same sentence. That wouldn’t have happened 10 years ago.”

While beer takes center stage in the city’s Sky profile, there are enough tidbits from other fields (manufacturing, education and arts) to offer a more well-rounded look to potential visitors.

Mark Sellers, CEO of Barfly Ventures, even invokes the dreaded “Bland Rapids” reference popular from 20 years ago, but is quick to burst that stereotype by focusing on the significant expansion in downtown Grand Rapids over the last decade or two.

“It gives you pride,” he told the magazine. “It feels like you’re part of something larger than yourself. It’s growing and it’s exciting.”

Return on people

With so many “experts” offering their opinions on 2015 (most of which are unsolicited), we decided to ask someone we trust about what to expect for the coming year.

Chris Willis is CEO and “chief Xperience officer” at Media 1/Xperiocity in Grand Haven, and the winner of multiple honors from the Business Journal.

As usual, she was quite succinct when discussing the trends for innovative business strategy.

“Lines will continue to blur between learning, communications, and performance support. Everything is blended, mobile and social are givens, and terms like ‘formal’ and ‘asynchronous’ are fading away. Look to the eLearning Guild for thought leadership here, including their Learning and Performance Ecosystems conference in March 2015.”

Employers should also be thinking small. “New tools and technologies are paving the way for delivering and measuring quick, in-context learning experiences integrated with daily work activities.” Willis calls this “microlearning.”

“The business is seeking new ways to measure ROI on all HR and learning initiatives (Return On People). Savvy learning leaders will be looking for clues from Marketing, which increasingly over the past decade has been tasked with measuring the ROI of behavioral change.”

Willis calls the next big trend “gamification,” which is what she sees happening as learning leaders move farther from passive learning and seek innovative ways to measure and reward actions that drive strategic goals.

Mini vans for all

In the question-and-answer session during last week’s Comerica Bank regional economic forecast, Brian Harris of the Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority asked if the educated, professionally employed millennials, who now often prefer to live and work in downtown areas of large American cities — eschewing ownership of cars — are a positive impact on the value of municipal bonds.

Robert Dye, Comerica’s chief economist, replied to Harris with a question of his own: “What’s going to happen when they start to have kids?”

The millennials, Dye predicts, will then start looking for homes in other parts of the city or suburbs with schools they want for their children. And, presumably, they’ll have to buy mini vans as well.

Old but strong

Northwestern Mutual West Michigan is planning to celebrate all its years in Grand Rapids this year, but if they decide to have a birthday cake, a permit from the Fire Department might be required. The cake would have 150 candles on it.

The firm is part of Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company of Milwaukee, which opened its office in downtown Grand Rapids in 1865. Today its local address is 55 Campau Ave. NW.

Northwestern Mutual West Michigan has 121 exclusive sales representatives, plus a support staff of 75. The West Michigan network also includes offices in East Lansing, Portage, Traverse City and Grand Haven. The region has more than 83,700 policies in force with a face value of more than $18 million.

“We are the largest direct provider of individual life insurance in the United States. We also have the highest financial strength rating awarded to any life insurance company by all four of the major rating agencies: A.M. Best, Fitch, Moody’s, and Standard and Poors,” said managing partner Mitch Glover.

Because it is a mutual life insurance company, which means it is owned by the policy holders, Northwestern Mutual is known for its dividend payout. Last year that totaled about $5.2 billion, “which is more than triple our nearest competitor,” said Glover. The payout in the West Michigan region alone was $93 million.

The company also offers long-term care insurance, disability insurance, annuities, investment products, and advisory products and services, and it competes against the likes of New York Life and MassMutual. As far as we know, however, it does not offer fire insurance, so be careful with those candles.

Party crasher

When the Grand Rapids Rotarians gather on Tuesday afternoon, Jan. 20, the hope is that one of their own, Chuck Royce, will be able to attend.

Maria Royce Hesse, Chuck’s daughter, is planning a 90th birthday celebration for Chuck at St. Cecilia Music Center. The elder Royce has been in failing health for some time, but he’s recently rallied and is hoping to celebrate with many who have kept in touch and monitored his progress over the year. Happy birthday, Chuck!

Mark the date

Do you know the date of National Thank You Day? Which week is set aside for honoring nurses?

For HR types, managers and CEOs who are on a tight budget, but still want to recognize the efforts of their employees, a local company might have the answer.

The Terryberry Co., a global provider of employee recognition programs, has released its 2015 Employee Recognition Calendar.

It’s available as a free download from Terryberry’s website, The calendar compiles 12 months of employee recognition-themed holidays, such as National Thank You Day, National Nurse Appreciation Week, National Bosses Day, and other employee observance days. The calendar also provides monthly employee recognition ideas and tips.

“Appreciation is one of the best ways to boost morale and build positive workplace relationships," said Mike Byam, Terryberry managing partner. “Everyone wants to know that their efforts are noticed and appreciated. The Recognition Calendar is one resource in a manager's toolbox that helps him or her to say the right words at the right time to have the most impact.”

The 2015 calendar is the latest in Terryberry's library of tools designed to help organizations build a culture of employee recognition in the workplace. The calendar is also integrated with Terryberry's iRecognize app for Android and iPhone. Byam said the app allows users to send ecards and share recognition via Facebook and Twitter on commemorative dates.

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