Lakeshore Advantage honors Innovation Trailblazer


Jennifer Owens, left, president of Lakeshore Advantage, stands beside Fred Bauer, founder, chairman and CEO of Gentex, who's holding the Innovation Trailblazer award. Courtesy Lakeshore Advantage

The founder of a publicly traded diversified manufacturer has been honored as an innovator by an economic development nonprofit.

Zeeland-based Lakeshore Advantage presented Gentex Chairman and CEO Fred Bauer with its Innovation Trailblazer award at its annual Innovation in Action meeting this month.

Lakeshore Advantage CEO Jennifer Owens said during the presentation of the award that Gentex (Nasdaq: GNTX) had grown from the 10th largest manufacturing employer in Ottawa County in 1996 to the largest in 2016.

“Employers who innovate grow,” Owens said. “Gentex is an organization that embodies our culture of innovation in West Michigan. They continually improve and find new and different ways to research, discover, develop, implement and provide quality products that customers need, decade after decade.”

Innovation at Gentex

Bauer founded Gentex in Zeeland in 1974 as a maker of fire-safety products. He “revolutionized” the industry with the world’s first dual sensor, photo-electric smoke detector, which is less prone to false alarms, yet detects slow-building flames.

In 1982, Gentex introduced a rear-view mirror that adjusted to glare conditions, and in 1987, it introduced the first-ever automatic dimming mirror.

Today, the manufacturer develops products for the automotive, aerospace and fire protection industries.

“Continued innovation demands that the organization combat complacency by creating a culture of perpetual restlessness,” Bauer said. “You can never allow the organization to feel that it has arrived. Instead, everyone must be driven by and focused on the excitement of coming up with the next big thing.”

Innovation in Action

About 300 guests and investors were on hand for the Innovation in Action meeting held at The Pinnacle Center in Hudsonville.

During the meeting, there was a video presentation highlighting local companies and organizations, including Hamilton Community Schools, BizStream Academy, Ottawa County, Tiger Studio and Jolt Energy Storage.

An Innovation Showcase also put focus on some upcoming startups, namely Encoris, Fathom, PrograMax, Ring Cam, Tiger Tech and Volta Power Systems.

Lakeshore Advantage also shared an operational update with the crowd, which revealed a year-to-date return on investment of $151 for each dollar invested.

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