Grand Rapids’ Future Is In Good Hands

Former Ambassador to Italy and retired Chairman of Universal Forest Products Peter Secchia has long publicly expressed his concern for Grand Rapids’ ability to continue to thrive as a diverse, economically strong community, fearing mergers and acquisitions by “outside” corporations would starve GR, favoring the communities in which they are headquartered. A worrisome proposition in that a strong business community should also carry the responsibility for the welfare of its residents and philanthropic success. In Michigan’s second largest city the latter remains a hallmark, but what portends the future?

Last year Secchia found a small, old book with aged binding and cover. It was a turn of the century “mini series” of profiles of the giants among the Grand Rapids business community. He was shocked that he recognized few of the names and few of the companies.

Indeed, Grand Rapids has over the last century determined itself as a community of entrepreneurs, and the entrepreneurial passion remains exceedingly obvious — especially as readers consider the Grand Rapids Business Journal “40 Under 40” feature section in this issue. Grand Rapids Business Journal accepted more than 100 nominations, though some of those individuals elected not to be included in this public salute.

One thing remains constant (and became a selection criteria): The 40 individuals are as committed to community benefit as their predecessors.

One thing is distinctly different from past books highlighting historic business success: the number of women and minorities in these ranks of 2002.

Juanita Briggs, founder of Valor Industries, has such a passion for starting a business, she owns three and is partner in a fourth. Her businesses dot the landscape between Grand Haven and Muskegon.

Ed Fernandez was instrumental in the startup of Fox 17 news in Grand Rapids.

Vanh Miller, president of the $11 million Midwest Safety Products, was pleased to indicate his proudest moment was becoming a United States citizen last year and voting for the first time in 2002. Miller’s family fled Laos in the ’70s.

Leigh Murray Vander Molen said maintaining a small-town style, friendly environment has helped Kava House succeed even as the corporate “big boys” set up shop up and down the block.

The business community is well served by the unique expertise of John Armonda at the VanAndel Global Trade Center, the passion of attorney Bruce Courtade to assist others through creative pro bono work, and the dedication of urban revitalization shown by Sam Cummings.

The Grand Rapids business community may recognize some among these 40, like Alticor’s president for a new millennium, Doug DeVos, or the community dynamo and Varnum Riddering partner Patrick Miles.

Grand Rapids Business Journal salutes the 40 individuals profiled in this issue for their initiative, drive and scope of achievements. They are the reason Grand Rapids will continue to thrive. 

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