The Ins and Outs

Grand Rapids Chair Co., one of the rapidly growing small furniture companies highlighted in this week’s NeoCon coverage, has some special plans for the upcoming expansion of its manufacturing facility at

625 Chestnut St. SW

in Grand Rapids

The company already occupies an over 100,000-square-foot space, but as the adjacent Renaissance Zone property is cheap and vacant, it has no barriers to taking on more real estate for a new wood-finishing line and an expansion of its upholstery line. But taking parts of the plant off the grid have been a bit more difficult.

“When I started this business in my garage, people said I couldn’t do it,” said company president David Miller. “Well, now I’m saying I’m going to heat the ovens (on the wood-finishing line) with solar. And you watch me — I’m going to do it.”

Initially, engineers from Grand Rapids’ Beta Design who were tasked with the project told Miller it wasn’t possible.

“I told them I’ve got an acquaintance with a 100 percent solar house in Holt, Michigan, and that was built in 1975,” Miller recalled of a conversation that took place late last year. “This is 2006. Why can’t we do it here? So they came back and said we could do it for nine months out of the year. I said, ‘You’re three-quarters there.’”

Obviously, plans for the roughly 15,000-square-foot expansion are still on the drawing board, but construction is likely to begin this summer, pending permit approval.

  • Noticeably absent from this year’s NeoCon was Turion Bamboo Traders, the Holland sustainable flooring company that launched with significant fanfare a year ago.

The company last year won two Best of NeoCon awards. Its advertising agency, Fairly Painless, won a national ADDY award for the launch campaign. Its tradeshow firm, Exhibit Design Consultants, turned the custom tradeshow exhibit it did for Turion into the model for eco•systems, the exhibit industry’s first green product line and the company’s first entry onto the national stage.

But as for the maker of bamboo flooring and bamboo furniture veneers? Poof. Phone disconnected. Web site down. Office cleared out.

  • He said, she said … It’s just so confusing. Grand Rapids Business Journal reported last week that the plan to reserve the 19th floor of the new JW Marriott for female guests had not changed based on national media attention, some of which questioned the gender-specific “preferential treatment” (though the JW plans to up-charge for rooms on that floor). But on Monday last week, WOOD TV 8 reported, in what seemed to be an interruption during its news lineup, that the all-female floor had been scrapped. One of the local daily newspapers on Tuesday published an Associated Press report that “a spokeswoman for Marriott International Inc. said men and women will be allowed to rent rooms on what was planned as a women-only floor …”

The hotel will be managed by the Amway Hotel Corp., which also operates the AmwayGrandPlaza, whose president, Joe Tomaselli, last Thursday told the Business Journal the plan has not changed: The 19th floor is still planned for women only. “I’ve called Marriott and Marriott International and everyone in between; no one knows who this ‘spokeswoman’ is, no one had released any such statement, so I don’t know where (AP) got it from. We are planning to stay the course; our intent is to stay the course,” Tomaselli said.

The Amway properties chief added that Marriott was reviewing the idea, as it relates to setting a new brand standard. “If you are a member, for instance, of the ‘Cloud Room’ in one JW Marriott, you can expect to find it at all JW Marriotts, and the name is the same. It’s their branding.” Tomaselli gave credit for the women-only floor idea to George Aquino, named last year as the JW’s general manager, and said Aquino had spent a great deal of time researching the legal implications, the work of due diligence and vetting the idea.

Tomaselli told the Business Journal that “90 percent of all comment” on the plan has been favorable. The staff has previously indicated that in polling female guests at other properties, many said they prefer to stay in their rooms rather than dine alone or venture into hotel lounges, often citing security concerns related to unwanted “advances” of male clientele. Some guys …

  • Former President William Jefferson Clinton now holds the record as the largest ticket draw among all Economic Club of Grand Rapids annual dinner speakers. Club Executive Director Lorna Schultz said just over 2,100 people have purchased tickets for the dinner tonight, June 18. U2 lead Bono last year drew just under 2,000 for the event. Other guests have included British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, QueenNoor of Jordan, Colin Powell, and Israeli President Simon Peres. Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm also is expected to be a guest at the dinner.

Before anyone says “good for Grand Rapids,” Michigan’s Republican bastion, also consider that the ticket draw may indeed be 2007 Business Person of the Year Harvey Gainey, chairman, president and principal owner of Gainey Transportation, or the 2007 (posthumous) Slykhouse Lifetime Achievement Award for Richard M. Gillett, former Old Kent Bank CEO, a founding father of Grand Valley State University, and spur for the downtown renaissance that began after Gerald R. Ford became president.

Of those U.S. Presidents to have served a second term, Clinton held the highest approval rating at this point in his second term, and Ronald Reagan was second, according to Gallup polls, reported by America On Line. The polls researched went back as far as Truman, and were related to President George Bush’s current approval rating (the worst of the group, but perhaps not as bad as how Congress was polling last week).

“They” evidently still like Clinton, a lot. An Associated Press story last week counted more than $10 million paid to Clinton in speaking fees in 2006, including a $200,000 fee paid for a speech in New York to General Motors. We will note that Hillary Rodham Clinton has her own account, all due for scrutiny as she stakes claim to the Democratic nomination for president.    

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