Street Talk: Climate is a hot topic


In 30 years, West Michigan could find its winter weather more akin to that of St. Louis, Columbus or Cleveland.

That is according to Daniel Schoonmaker, executive director of the West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum.

Schoonmaker has been involved in two studies related to the expected local impacts of climate change and climate resiliency, also known as climate adaptation.

He said the West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum recently participated in an initiative to help organizations prepare for changing weather in the region.

WMSBF partnered on the study with the Great Lakes Integrated Sciences and Assessments Program, made up of partner organizations, the University of Michigan and Michigan State University, and housed in the U-M Graham Sustainability Institute’s Climate Center.

Spectrum Health, Grand Rapids Public Schools, Barfly Ventures and Perrigo also participated in the study.

Schoonmaker said West Michigan organizations are starting to look at how to prepare for the weather of the future.

He said a previous study was done on climate resiliency in 2013 and 64 factors were studied. Now, with this new study, WMSBF hopes to piggyback on the original study and begin to help businesses prepare by translating the scale of the conversation to the organizational level.

For instance, he said if a business is impacted by blizzards and blizzards will be more frequent in the future, that organization needs to prepare for how it will be affected and how it will operate.

“The basic objective is to take these general climate impacts previously identified and do a materiality or risk assessment with the organizations to determine what are these impacts — a blizzard, for instance — then we match up with historical and projected climate data, as well as other benchmarks and operational anecdotes, to define for them what that might look like going forward,” Schoonmaker said.

He said the hope is to start conversations with local businesses around becoming climate-resilient organizations.

Schoonmaker said the study results likely will be released later this month, but anyone interested can get a preview Feb. 13 during the WMSBF luncheon, which will include a conversation on the study as well as a presentation by featured speaker Jeff Andresen, professor and state climatologist for Michigan at MSU.

Andresen is the principal investigator for the Great Lakes Sciences and Assessments Program, which is funding the WMSBF project.

He will discuss climate change in the Great Lakes and West Michigan and why communities and organizations should consider adaptation within their response to climate change and environmental programs.

Andresen has professional experience as an agricultural meteorologist with the National Weather Service and with the USDA’s World Agricultural Outlook Board in Washington, D.C., where he was involved in international crop/weather impact assessment and production estimation.

Schoonmaker noted agriculture is an industry in Michigan that already is seeing the impacts of climate change and the need for climate resiliency.

Visit for tickets to the luncheon.

Taking advantage

Lakeshore Advantage had a busy 2016.

The Zeeland-based economic development organization released its year-end economic successes at a private investors meeting recently, revealing the nonprofit assisted with 26 business expansion projects resulting in $205 million in private investment and 1,052 jobs in Ottawa and northern Allegan counties last year.

Those projects included a $34.8-million investment in Kent Quality Foods' planned Jamestown Township facility and JR Automation's expansion in Holland Township, expected to create 250 jobs in the region.

Lakeshore Advantage also helped secure nearly $11 million in government funding for area businesses in 2016, and 34 Ottawa and Allegan companies received about $1.37 million in Skilled Trades Training Fund grants to improve the skill set of new and existing employees in the region, supported by West Michigan Works.

Additionally, the nonprofit launched to attract and educate potential talent to the region and officially achieved Holland SmartZone status, for which Lakeshore President Jennifer Owens was a co-honoree as a 2016 Newsmaker finalist by the Business Journal.

Lakeshore Advantage said for every dollar invested into the organization, $170 in private investment into the community was created. 

Speaking at the meeting, Michigan Economic Development Corporation CEO Steve Arwood praised the organization for its work over the past year.

“There’s a long list of projects that happen in this community, and that’s not by accident,” Arwood said. “West Michigan is setting the example through your local economic development efforts for the rest of the state.”

Food for thought

The entrepreneur behind a bakery in the region will speak at the Entrepreneurship Forum series at Western Michigan University’s Haworth College of Business.

Maria Brennan, founder of The Victorian Bakery, will speak at 8 a.m., Feb. 10, in Room 2150 of Schneider Hall on WMU’s Kalamazoo campus.

The event is free and open to the public and begins with breakfast at 7:30 a.m. Reservations are required and can be made by calling (269) 387-6059 or at

The Victorian Bakery started as a home-based business in 2004. Brennan was making healthy baked goods to bring to her son’s school when interest in her products skyrocketed.

Brennan, who began baking as a young child in Dublin, Ireland, specializes in scones, sourdough breads and other treats.

She started doing her own baking for family health reasons and applies the same philosophy to the baked goods she sells. Products from The Victorian Bakery do not contain artificial ingredients, such as food colorings, and are minimally processed. Brennan sources the majority of her ingredients from area companies and uses organic ingredients as often as possible.

The bakery sells products at its Kalamazoo location, 116 W. Crosstown Pkwy., Suite 102, as well as at local grocery stores and farmers markets. Naturally, the bakery will bring baked goods to the breakfast event.

Job shadow

As the groundhog looked for his shadow last week, West Michigan students were looking toward the future.

More than 600 Kent Intermediate School District students took part in “Groundhog Shadow Day,” which allowed students to shadow adults in careers and industries they might be interested in at nearly 100 area businesses.

Students looked at filmmaking to market businesses, production efforts behind a Grand Rapids Ballet production and the ins and outs of a construction project.

“The opportunities for students are tremendous,” said Lindsey Tilley, KISD Career Exploration coordinator. “These are all very in-demand fields, all facing significant talent deficiencies in the coming years.”

Among the businesses taking part was Associated Builders and Contractors of Western Michigan, a trade organization that is tirelessly battling a labor shortage in skilled trades in the construction industry.

It’s not just skilled construction trades which, as the Business Journal reported last week, potentially could bring development to a halt if more workers aren’t found, but in restaurants and manufacturing, too.

Grand Rapids-based C2 Group was tapped to help Louisville, Kentucky, area workforce development agency KentuckianaWorks to build, which uses big data to help people make sense of career choices and the earning potential of each job.

“It’s about using labor data and blending it all together to tell a story about what is available in Louisville for careers,” C2 Group Managing Partner Michael Kunzler said. “(C2 Group) is doing work nationwide to help solve the talent gap.”

Facebook Comments