A 10-year ‘slog’ results in Newsmaker of the Year


Emily Loeks gives her acceptance speech at the 2019 Newsmaker of the Year Awards. Courtesy 616 Media

Some of the region’s best newsmakers have to slog for 10 years before making a powerful punch.

The Grand Rapids Business Journal’s 2019 Newsmakers of the Year Awards, held Wednesday at Frederik Meijer Gardens, showcased the heaviest hitters in the business sector.

This year’s winners represented the largest scale and impact to define the West Michigan business community in 2019, including Cecily McCabe, the face behind Woodland Mall’s $100 million redevelopment of Woodland Mall; Eric Foster, the co-founder of the first racial equity-focused lender in West Michigan; Bridget Clark Whitney, who led a $7.5-million capital campaign for Kids’ Food Basket, and many more.

As in previous years, Newsmakers were awarded by category, with one business leader taking home the crown for top Newsmaker in 2019.

“It was really an example of what the West Michigan business community is all about,” Business Journal Editor Tim Gortsema said during the awards ceremony. “These are the people who make West Michigan run.”

But there can be only one overall Newsmaker of The Year, and J.D. Loeks, president of Celebration Cinema, received the award after putting his $160-million stamp on the downtown entertainment industry last fall.

The most impressive news made by Loeks and his enterprise, Olsen Loeks Development LLC, was the arrival of Studio Park, a mixed-use project that took a decade to deliver because of how multifaceted it was. The first phase, which dropped in October, included the 200-seat concert venue dubbed the Listening Room and a nine-screen Studio C movie theater.

Emily Loeks, director of community affairs for Celebration Cinema, accepted the award on her brother’s behalf.

“A project this layered does not come together easily,” Emily Loeks said. “Where I sometimes tend to see obstacles as a closed door, J.D., almost annoyingly, seems to relish them as invigorating as a puzzle to be solved … and that has held him steady for 10 years of slogging through some interesting things.

“This is a great community in which to practice a business. It’s an incredible scale. It has the capacity to do great things, and it has a relational ability to have it be fun … our company exists to create space where stories happen … and this has been a year of taking some really big swings toward reinventing how it is that we accomplish that.”

2019 Newsmakers by category

Arts & Entertainment: J.D. Loeks, president, Celebration Cinema

Beverages: Jason and Kris Spaulding, owners, Brewery Vivant/Broad Leaf Local Beer

Economic Development: Brian Picardat, interim president and CEO, Gerald R. Ford International Airport

Education: Bill Pink, president, Grand Rapids Community College

Finance: Eric Foster, co-founder, Rende Progress Capital

Food: Dr. Andrew Maternowski and Dr. Monica Randles, founders, Nutcase Vegan Meats

Health Care: Mark Eastburg, president and CEO, Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services

Law: Ryan Leestma, owner, Information Systems Intelligence

Manufacturing: John Kennedy IV, general manager, Autocam Medical

Nonprofits/philanthropy: Bridget Clark Whitney, CEO, Kids’ Food Basket

Real Estate/construction: Tim Schowalter, president, Pioneer Construction

Retail: Cecily McCabe, marketing director, Woodland Mall

Sports: Steve Jbara, president and founder, Grand Rapids Drive

Startups: Jorge Gonzalez, co-director, Start Garden

Sustainability: Mike VanGessel, CEO, Rockford Construction

Technology: Garry VonMyhr, co-founder and CEO, Tech Defenders

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