Street Talk: Metro businesses at the top


West Michigan’s entrepreneurial stock is on the rise once again.

If today’s Page 1 story about the local tech hub and its comparison to Silicon Valley needs more validation, the EY Entrepreneur of the Year finalists announcement late last week further cement the region’s reputation.

Of the 29 companies in the running for recognition as the top entrepreneur in Michigan and Northwest Ohio, seven of them are rooted in West Michigan.

Included on the roster are frequent Business Journal sources Birgit Klohs, of The Right Place, and Jason Wenk, of FormulaFolio Investments. Others bearing the West Michigan banner are Wade Wyatt of ITS Partners in Grand Rapids; Alan Mack of NxGen MDx in Grand Rapids; Denise Crawford of Family Health Center in Kalamazoo; Jeff Grasman of Grand Equipment Company in Hudsonville; and Steve Peacock of Pro-Vision Video Systems in Byron Center.

The awards program recognizes entrepreneurs who are excelling in areas such as innovation, financial performance and personal commitment to their businesses and communities. A panel of independent judges selected the finalists. Award winners will be announced at a special gala June 21 at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

The long run

A new beer has been released to celebrate the Gazelle Girl Half Marathon.

Brewery Vivant and Higher Grounds Trading Co. released Higher Grains, a farmhouse ale, in honor of the 2017 Gazelle Girl Half Marathon, held April 30.

The Grand Rapids-based brewery and Traverse-city based coffee roaster teamed up for the beer, which has a “bright aroma of lemon citrus” that “gives way to a fruity yet noticeable coffee flavor.”

The beer also uses Michigan wheat.

“Creating a beer for after a morning run, we definitely wanted something bright,” said Kris Spaulding, Brewery Vivant co-owner and sustainability director. “Augmenting it with coffee seemed only natural for the early hour. Higher Grounds worked closely with us to find a coffee that would complement that bright citrus note with DR Congo Muungano single origin beans.”

The two companies are B Corps, and this is the first time they’ve collaborated.

“As B Corps, we share similar values, such as producing products in a sustainable way,” Spaulding said. “When we had the opportunity to brew a special beer for Gazelle Girl, Higher Grounds was a natural fit as a collaborator. We are excited to release this twist on a favorite Brewery Vivant ale during an exciting weekend in Grand Rapids.”

The beer is available on tap and in 16-ounce cans at Brewery Vivant’s taproom, as well as at Little Fleet in Traverse City.

Something in the water

A pair of local college students has struck gold with their undergraduate research.

Nathanael Kazmierczak, a sophomore chemistry and music double major at Calvin College, was named a Goldwater Scholar, one of the top research awards for undergraduate students.

The award is given to 240 students nationwide each year.

Over the past decade, 17 Calvin students have been given the award.

“Our students have come to expect that they will receive the exemplary training and research that such a track record signifies. It encourages all of us to continue to do research that meets their expectations,” said Carolyn Anderson, a professor of chemistry at Calvin College and Calvin’s liaison with the Goldwater Scholar program.

In addition to Kazmierczak, Brianna Busscher, a junior biochemistry and writing double major at Calvin, was one of 307 students nationwide selected as a Goldwater Honorable Mention.

For Kazmierczak, the next step is using his Goldwater Scholarship — a $7,500 stipend — to continue his research with Calvin chemistry professor Doug Vander Griend, using mathematics and computer analysis to advance chemical understanding.

Busscher will work this summer in the lab of Dr. Piroska Szabó at the Van Andel Research Institute in downtown Grand Rapids, studying epigenetics in the context of development and reproduction.

“None of these invaluable experiences would have happened without the one-on-one training and commitment to undergraduate learning that Dr. Vander Griend has demonstrated,” Kazmierczak said.

Busscher credited her success to her professors, as well.

“They guided my research and helped me to understand my experiments and results, but they also trusted me to plan and conduct experiments on my own,” Busscher said. “I really value that blend of autonomy and one-on-one instruction.”

The Goldwater Scholarship Program, honoring former U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater, fosters and encourages outstanding students to pursue careers in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering. The one- and two-year scholarships cover the cost of tuition, fees, books and room and board, up to a maximum of $7,500 per year.

Gas pains

Does it matter which day of the week you buy gas? It does if you want to save money.

A study by the gasoline-pricing app GasBuddy shows gasoline is most often at its lowest price point on Mondays, and that trend has held steady for three years.

“The rise in average prices toward the weekend could be to blame on an influential report from the Energy Information Administration issued weekly on Wednesdays, which could push prices higher the day after, depending on if data in its report is as expected or a surprise,” said Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst at GasBuddy. “Since commodities trading isn’t active over the weekend, it typically allows stations to ‘let it ride’ over the weekend, culminating in lower prices by the start of the work week.”

To put the amount of savings into perspective: if every U.S. motorist bought gasoline on Thursday for an entire year, they’d collectively spend an extra $1.1 billion versus filling up on Monday — the lowest priced day of the week.

Tower power

The area surrounding landmark Nelis’ Dutch Village in Holland is changing and more adjustments could be in store.

The family amusement park, situated on James Street near U.S. 31, is opening for its 59th season without a couple of longtime neighbors. The former Queen’s Inn Restaurant, a longtime favorite with Holland residents that has sat mostly vacant since 1999, was demolished over the winter. Gone, too, is the former Superior Auto Wash, which closed in 2013, although the iconic windmill perched atop the building has been saved for future use.

Adding to the uncertainty is the Nelis family’s decision to offer the theme park’s northwest corner at James and U.S. 131 for sale. That’s the spot housing the park’s picturesque twin towers and would be included in any land sale, unless a plan emerges to save them prior to a sale.

“We do expect the corner to sell this coming year with Chick-fil-A going in right across the highway,” Dutch Village co-owner Joe Nelis said. “Once the property sells, the towers’ fate will be decided by the purchaser. We imagine the future use to be a restaurant, as that would be the best use of the corner.”

If the new owner can incorporate the towers into their design, Nelis said he would love it if they kept them.

Moving the towers would be costly, however, and there are no guarantees they would remain intact. Demolition remains a likely action, he said.

While maybe feeling a bit nostalgic, Nelis said he is taking a practical view on any transaction involving the corner lot. Taking down these two buildings and creating a corner lot for a new restaurant will provide the theme park with a new entrance drive and parking lot and will greatly simplify the flow of traffic of visitors going into the park, he said.

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