Street Talk: Leading the way


Some of Grand Rapids’ more prominent business leaders will share the spotlight Monday night with the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

The Economic Club of Grand Rapids will present Birgit Klohs, president and CEO of The Right Place Inc., the Business Person of the Year Award, and the Meijer family will receive the Slykhouse Community Leadership Award at the club’s annual dinner June 19. The Right Honorable David Cameron will be the keynote speaker.

Klohs, who has led The Right Place since 1987, was nominated for the award for her leadership and contributions to the community. The Right Place Inc. is the regional economic development organization for the retention, expansion and attraction of businesses in the West Michigan area.

Under her leadership, The Right Place has created more than 44,000 new jobs and brought over $4.7 billion in new investments to the West Michigan region. She has organized numerous trade missions to Europe, the Far East and Israel. She also is a frequent speaker at national and international economic development conferences and seminars, having lectured in France, Great Britain, Germany, Sweden, China, Australia and Israel.

In 2014, she was appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder to serve on the International Crossing Authority, a joint authority between Michigan and Canada for the construction of the North American International Trade Crossing Bridge.

The Meijer family, Lena and the late Fred Meijer, along with sons Hank, Doug and Mark, were nominated for the Slykhouse Community Leadership Award for their contribution to the economic health of the Grand Rapids community. The award was designed to recognize those who contributed their time, talent and support to help the community grow and prosper economically.

At Meijer, Inc., more than 6 percent of the company’s net profit is dedicated to philanthropic investments. The company’s signature program, Simply Give, reflects the company’s mission as a grocery store and provides food to local food pantries. Since 2008, Meijer has provided more than $28 million worth of food to fight hunger in the Midwest.

The Business Person of the Year Award was instituted in 1988, and Richard DeVos, co-founder of Amway Corp., was the first recipient. Other recipients include Jay Van Andel, L.V. Eberhard, Peter Cook, Fred Meijer, Peter Secchia and Jim Hackett.

The Slykhouse Community Leadership Award, formerly the Slykhouse Lifetime Achievement Award, was instituted in 2000; George J. Slykhouse, attorney at Miller, Johnson, Snell & Cummiskey and the president and founder of The Economic Club of Grand Rapids, was the first recipient. Past winners have included Arend D. (Don) Lubbers, Peter Wege, Ralph Hauenstein, Kate Pew Wolters and Gerald R. Ford.

Pay up

As expected, the current political climate surrounding the uncertain future of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is having a ripple effect throughout the industry. But for the first time, the pinch that uncertainty has caused on a local insurer has a quantifiable number attached.

Last Wednesday marked the deadline for insurers to submit to state regulators their proposed 2018 premiums for plans sold on the marketplace. Many insurers are preparing for steep increases to individual premium rates, including Grand Rapids-based nonprofit health plan Priority Health.

Citing several challenges to the individual market, including a sicker population than expected and an "unprecedented" amount of uncertainty and lack of financial commitments from the federal government, Priority is seeking an average increase of about 17.7 percent for individual policies, or up to 19 percent if the ACA's government cost-sharing subsidies are not continued.

“With market challenges and uncertainty in federal funding, Priority Health has had to make significant changes to its plan offerings with rate increases averaging 17.7 percent," the company said in a statement. "For 2018, Priority Health will offer new plans and new narrow network options designed to lower costs and continue to help individuals across the state access high-quality health care.”

Power couples

Grand Valley State University is hoping to create a deluge of donations through a new fundraising campaign chaired by a Brooks couple and a DeVos couple.

GVSU leaders this month announced the launch of the Laker Effect comprehensive campaign. The campaign will increase financial support for students and allow university programs and facilities to stay current with changing needs of employers.

With a fundraising goal of $85 million, the campaign will address three primary areas of need: opportunity, achievement and relevance.

“Our strategic plan inspires and compels us to ensure our students are enabled and successful and our programs are relevant for their future and the future of our region and our state,” President Thomas J. Haas said. “We appreciate the investment from all our donors and supporters in this campaign.”

The first goal of the campaign, opportunity, is to increase donor-funded scholarships. The scholarships will help provide access for students. This goal comprises $25 million of the total budget.

The second goal of the campaign is to increase the resources and programs aimed at student success. Focusing on achievement through graduation, this goal represents $8 million of the total amount.

The final goal is to increase investment in academic programs and facilities so that GVSU meets the changing needs of students and the community. This includes the health campus expansion, initiated by the construction of Raleigh J. Finkelstein Hall behind Medical Mile at 500 Lafayette Ave. NE. This investment, dubbed relevance, represents $52 million of the total goal.

Campaign co-chairs include Jim and Donna Brooks, Grand Valley University Foundation general chairs; and Dan and Pamella DeVos, GVSU Foundation vice chairs.

The Brookses anticipate a significant outcome.

“We are excited to play a leadership role in this campaign that will help shape the future for Grand Valley students and the West Michigan community,” Donna Brooks said. “We look forward to working with (donors) to achieve our goals and grow the Laker Effect.”

The campaign extends beyond GVSU’s campus.

“As we look to the future for this community and the next generation of leaders, we can see that Grand Valley will play an essential role,” Dan DeVos said. “It is our responsibility to the citizens of this community to help the university address the changing needs of students and continue its remarkable growth.”

Pod partners

A national podcast recently shone a spotlight on people working at different ends of the Grand Rapids housing sector.

Staffing firm Express Employment Professionals released the fourth podcast in its new series called “On the Job: From Hired to Retired” on June 6. The series began May 17.

The fourth episode, “Gimmie Shelter,” featured two Grand Rapids-area professionals with very different backgrounds who have both found themselves working to help connect people with housing.

Janis Petrini, owner of the Grand Rapids Express Pros office, said the episode featured a leasing agent at Oakview/Southview Apartments in Grand Rapids and a VP of business development at Baruch Senior Ministries.

“This week’s episode of the ‘On the Job’ podcast focuses on Terrica Ellis, a rental agent, and Mitch McNeal, an executive at a faith-based chain of assisted living facilities, and how our office here in Grand Rapids was able to connect them with the perfect jobs for their next steps,” Petrini said.

“We are also excited that the national audience for this podcast series will hear about Grand Rapids, Michigan, and the promising career opportunities available in our area,” she said.

The full series, including the June 6 episode, can be found online at

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