Women entrepreneurs significantly bolster the greater Grand Rapids area economy, but they remain a largely unseen and unrecognized force. These include the powerhouses of Gill Industries and Proos Manufacturing. Gill, a Certified Women’s Business Enterprise nearing $1 billion in annual sales, employs more than 2,000 people. Amy Proos, CEO of Proos Manufacturing, with 2014 sales at $13 million, was named Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 2013, among many other honors. Proos also is a Certified Women’s Business Enterprise. Both businesses are past multi-year Grand Rapids Business Journal Top Women Owned Businesses. Rita Williams, mother of the current, second-generation Gill Industries co-owners, is the namesake of the Business Journal’s top award for extraordinary success and service among all women-owned businesses, awarded in 2005.
The Business Journal will honor another group of women-owned businesses this week, continuing to assure their visibility in the larger business community. The group includes women (like Gill and Proos) who led their companies through the Great Recession and several younger women now leading several business sectors, including law, manufacturing, retail, finance and health care.
The Business Journal continues this focus to assure the general business community finds access to women-owned businesses for services, products and as clients. It’s about diversity and inclusion.
According to national survey results by American Express Open, the number of women-owned businesses in Michigan grew by 57 percent between 2007 and 2016, outpacing the national average of 45 percent growth. Such gains are unprecedented and deserve recognition. The survey showed 10.8 percent of all revenue is generated by women-owned businesses, equaling $38 billion of receipts. And in 2012, women paid their employees 8 percent more than they paid in 2007.
Most of them, like the Business Journal’s Top Women Owned Businesses luncheon speaker Rhonda Kallman, have tenaciously battled old-boy networks and gender discrimination. Kallman co-founded Boston Beer Company at the age of 24. The brewer of Samuel Adams quickly became the most successful craft brewery in the world — with a $3 billion market cap. She paved the way for women in the historically male-dominated beer industry, and the Institute for Brewing Studies honored her with the “Pioneering Woman in the Beer Industry” award in 1990. In addition to her many market innovations and workplace hiring and promotion of women, Kallman also is founder/CEO of the Boston Harbor Distillery. During an interview with the Business Journal she commented she faced too many challenges to count. “Luckily, I believe in myself and my abilities,” she said. “Try being part of a boys club. I never really wanted to be part of it but was accepted for what I knew. After we became more successful, it got a little easier, and I obviously wasn’t just another pretty face.”
The Business Journal salutes and offers community support for the women forging vital impact on the regional economy.