Author Archives: Samantha Suarez

Samantha Suarez

About Samantha Suarez

Samantha is the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce’s resident Communications Specialist.

Five West Michigan Entrepreneurs & Professionals Share Their New Year’s Resolutions


For many, New Year’s Resolutions are strictly personal goals: exercise, eat healthily, travel more… finally sign up for that photography class. While those are great goals to prioritize for the year, a new practice worth integrating is to make resolutions for your professional life, as well.

There is always room for improvement in every organization, in every leader, entrepreneur or employee. The New Year is a great time to evaluate, set goals, and create a concrete resolution. If you actively make efforts to achieve it throughout the year, you might be surprised how it can impact your success!

The Grand Rapids Chamber asked five West Michigan entrepreneurs and professionals to share both their career-related and personal resolutions for the year.

Joshua Tyron
Owner & Lead Creative, SideCar Studios

Professional Resolution: To move faster and do more with less.  New tech is fun, but great work comes from the heart.  The best camera you own is the one you have with you.

Personal Resolution: 2018 will be a year of purging. I am focused on dropping any personal items that do not bring me joy.  Seriously, anyone need some tent stakes or one of the three corkscrews I have in my kitchen?

Tracy Fahselt
Digital Marketing Manager, AHC+Hospitality

Professional Resolution: My theme for 2018 is to streamline. The number of accounts we manage online continues to grow at a rapid pace. I am incorporating new software to make managing them smarter, not harder. Efficiency is my friend.

Personal Resolution: I want to travel more this year. Whether locally or globally, I enjoy visiting places I’ve never been and doing something I’ve never done before. What should it be this year? I can’t wait to see!

Brandon Voorhees
Co-Owner, Gray Skies Distillery

Professional Resolution:  Improve Time Management.  One of the many challenges of owning a small start-up business is deciding the most efficient and valuable way to spend time.  Every day there is a seemingly never-ending ‘to-do’ list, and if you are not careful, it is easy to get bogged down with the “low hanging fruit” tasks instead of diving into the more value-adding (yet more time-consuming) projects.  I look forward to improving time management efficiency in 2018.

Personal Resolution:  I know this is boring and cliché, but I must be honest.  My big resolution this year is to improve physical health by exercising more and updating my diet.  When life gets fast, it is easy to fall into a rut where both mentioned items can easily be neglected – which is exactly where I found myself the past couple years.  I’m more excited than ever to get back on track in these areas.  I have started a fitness challenge at a local training facility and have adopted a meal planning strategy to help achieve my goals.  Cheers to becoming healthier in 2018!

Elyse Wild
Editor-in-Chief, Women’s LifeStyle Magazine

Professional Resolution: I usually don’t make resolutions, but this year I set goals for what I want to learn. For my career, I want to learn basic code and start learning statistics. As a writer, interpreting data is essential, and I want to be able to “find the story in the numbers,” as they say.

Personal Resolution: I want to learn how to play the violin and how to knit. It is said that learning a musical instrument at any age improves your cognitive function, and I love the sound of the violin. As for knitting, my mom can make anything with a pair of knitting needles, and my great uncle was a well-known fiber artist; I admire their work and like the idea of training my hands to do something other than scroll through my news feed.

Javier Olvera
President & Co-Owner, Supermercado Mexico

Professional Resolution: We plan to focus on efficiency this year. If we’re more efficient, we’ll grow even faster – so we’ll be focusing on efficiency in terms of our employees and our standards.

Personal Resolution: I’d like to meet more new people and make new connections. I would also like to be healthier through exercise and playing basketball. Of course, I’d also like to spend more time with family! That’s important as well.

Like what you’re reading? Check out our Chamber Blog to read our Member Spotlights, feature articles, and other great content!

Outgoing City Commissioner Dave Shaffer Discusses What’s Next and Why the West Side is the Best Side


Grand Rapids has seen a drastic transformation through the years. From once living in the shadows of larger cities across the United States, Grand Rapids is now known as Beer City, USA and has been ranked among the top cities to start a business and the fastest growing US economy in 2017. Not to mention being recognized as one of the hottest hipster markets in the country! So why are those plaid-clad bearded hipsters flocking this way all of a sudden? A driving force behind this is the work of local government and the involvement of the business community.

Outgoing First Ward Commissioner, Dave Shaffer, has served Grand Rapids since 2010. Alongside working for local government, Dave is also a Commercial Banker at Macatawa Bank, an involved volunteer at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Grand Rapids, and a married father of four children – plus a dog!

Reflecting on his time in office, Shaffer sat down with the Grand Rapids Chamber to talk about his proudest moments, why the West Side is the best side, and why he believes the business community should be more involved in local issues. 

Interview with Dave Shaffer

What motivated you to take on the huge commitment of City Commissioner in addition to your job at Macatawa Bank?

Being involved and making a difference in the world was ingrained in me at a young age from my parents. I always had a desire to change things and try to make things better. I first ran for office when I was 26 years old and lost. It was a close election. That experience made me ask myself, “How else can I get involved? What else do I need to know?”

Did coming from a business background help you as City Commissioner?

Absolutely! For starters, it helped me understand issues from a business perspective. When I was elected in 2010, the city was facing a $30 million budget deficit and needed to make changes. Coming from the private sector, particularly the finance world, ultimately helped work towards a 15% rate of savings and a 10% rainy day fund. Because serving as City Commissioner is part-time, it allows you to transfer that experience from your day job as relevant areas of expertise in work on behalf of the city. 

What’s the best part of the job?

The best part of the job is getting things done. It can be something as small as getting a stop sign up at a four-way intersection to large initiatives such as creating a new parking lot downtown. Or it can be working to create a better environment, as we did on the West Side, to make room for new development to happen. Accomplishing progress is the best part of the job; knowing you helped someone and made a difference.

You always say “The West Side is the best side.” What do you like doing on the West Side?

The West Side has a lot of fun things to do! Making rounds to The Knickerbocker (New Holland Brewing), Long Road Distillers, and Mitten Brewing is an important part of the job! There’s also sledding and ice skating at Richmond Park, which are great activities to enjoy this time of year. In the summer, I take my kids to John Ball Zoo every other week. It’s the best side of town!

Do you think people in the business community should get more involved with government affairs and local issues?

We definitely need that voice. If you’re running a business, you’re mostly focusing on that particular business – growing revenue, and cutting expenditures. However, what we’ve seen in both the city and state level, is that ignorance of the issues and the environment around you can impact your business. It’s important to stay up-to-date and understand what’s going on, but also to share your voice, your experience, and how it’s impacting you – especially regarding decisions being made in government. 

What advice would you give someone who is considering running for local government?

I would say to weigh all the costs. The job is a huge commitment and there will be long days where you’ll have to put in more hours at your day job because you just spent six hours at a meeting for the city. However, you’ll also gain a wealth of knowledge and experience outside the work that you have. Serving the city actually does create a better entrepreneur, if you own a business or a better employee, if you work for a business. Plus, we all live in this community, and we need people to give back and contribute their time. The ultimate time commitment is to serve for a term. We need competent and qualified people from all walks of life, but especially from the business perspective.

GR city commissioners Dave Shaffer and Jon O’Connor discuss the completion of a West Side street project. Photo from the City of Grand Rapids

Macatawa Bank is a member of the Grand Rapids Chamber. What value do you see in it as a Commercial Banker?

First off, the Chamber creates key networking opportunities for our employees.  It also offers educational opportunities, which can help you if you need to get up to speed in one area or another. Plus, you have a team of lobbyists you know is ready to advocate for you!

What’s next for you?

I will continue to stay involved. There are plenty of volunteer opportunities and ways to serve that don’t carry the same time commitment. For me, that means being involved in city boards, county boards, and nonprofit boards. I think 38 years old is a bit young to retire *laughs*, so you may see me again down the line, it’s a good fit. Right now, I’m taking a step back to evaluate.

Dave Shaffer & family

If you could have dinner with anyone (fictional or real), who would it be and why?

I would have dinner with Bono. And yes, I would wear the shades. I’ve always been a huge U2 fan and, since he takes on causes and has a good political bend to him, I think we would get along well.

Want to get more involved with the Chamber’s Government Affairs efforts? Click here to view our committees or contact Josh Lunger at

Like what you’re reading? Check out our Chamber Blog to read our Member Spotlights, feature articles, and other great content!

Member Spotlight: Eastown Veterinary Clinic

When you imagine a veterinary clinic, what probably comes to mind is a stale space with white walls, fluorescent lighting, and the strong scent of wet dog. With Eastown Veterinary Clinic, you not only get high-quality medicine for your pet but also a modern wellness center for your furry best friend. From the moment you enter, all the classic clinic stereotypes are broken: zero foul smells,  pops of orange and blue color, cute animal art on the walls, and a selection of colorful retail products. Safe to say, this clinic could make the cover of Vanity Fur Magazine.


Owner and veterinarian, Dr. Lynn Happel, can be thanked for the clinic’s vibrant look and feel. Before opening her practice in the heart of Grand Rapids’ eclectic Eastown area, this Michigan State University graduate worked at a clinic in Muskegon for two years, with another six years in Grand Rapids. “I like that, as the business owner, I get to make my clinic look cute and that I have the freedom to make my business physically feel warm and inviting,” said Dr. Happel. “If I were working for someone else, I would have no say in the culture or feeling of the clinic when you walk in.”


Need some LAB work? What about a CAT scan?

Many people have soft spots for animals, but Dr. Happel takes it to a whole new level. She and her staff are dedicated to practicing high quality, personalized medicine in a positive, caring environment while minimizing their pawprint on the earth. “In general, we do wellness care and promote preventative care. It’s easier to help a patient stay well rather than to manage sickness all the time,” said Dr. Happel. “We do vaccinations, dental work, consultations on diet and weight, and cold laser therapy for pain and inflammatory conditions. We even do grooming and puppy training classes!” To the Eastown Veterinary Clinic team, your pets are genuinely their patients, and the pet-owners are their partners in the treatment process.

Kitty, happy and well post-surgery!

The story that best demonstrates this is that of an eight-week-old stray cat initially named “Kitty.” A young man found her on the street and brought her into the clinic. On top of having severe respiratory issues, one of her eyes contained so much discharge that it was sealed shut. Even after prescribing antibiotics, the eye wasn’t improving, and it was clear that it ruptured and needed to be removed. Unfortunately, Kitty’s owner could not fully afford the surgery, so the staff voted to devote the funds from their “Roo Puppy Fund” to pay for 75% of the enucleation. The Roo Puppy Fund was set up in memory of a staff member’s dog that died during heartworm treatment and is meant to assist clients experiencing financial hardship. Kitty’s surgery was a success! However, her original owner could not keep her, so Brandy, one of their licensed veterinary technicians, gave Kitty – now named Kit – her new forever home.

Interview With Dr. Lynn Happel

How has being a member of the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce helped you in running your business?

I’ve been a member of the Chamber since we opened in 2011. I joined for the access to different resources and knowledge of what it means to be a small business owner. I love the fact that when I need something, I can reach out to the Chamber and find out how to get it. One of the first events I went to was specifically for new business owners and they taught us how to make a good impression and be memorable at meetings and other networking events. Being in the medical field, where all I know is science, it was awkward at first, but very beneficial since it taught me a skill I did not previously have.

Have animals always played a large role in your life?

I’ve always loved animals! I actually grew up with no pets inside my home, but I did have a horse. I showed horses all the way from age twelve until I was in veterinary school. Right now, I have two lab mixes, a husky mix, and a little black cat.

What’s the most satisfying part of your job?

What’s most satisfying to me is when I have a client that comes in and feels like they’re welcome and that the staff is passionate and truly cares about their pet.

What about the most challenging part?

The biggest challenge is that, ultimately, I’m responsible for everything. As the business owner, for example, if something happened and all the receptionists were sick, I would have to fill in as the receptionist for the day. That’s actually happened before!


Dr. Happel specializes in advanced dental work for animals and has done volunteer dental work at the John Ball Zoo – including extracting two broken teeth from a lion!

It’s all fun and games until someone ends up in the cone of shame.

Can you elaborate on what you mean when you say you want a partnership between staff, pet, and pet-owner?

Our primary goal is for the pet to be healthy and free of disease and pain – but the pet owners are with the pet day in and day out, so their knowledge of how their pet is behaving is vital to how I do my job. For example, if a pet comes in sick and the owner has a hard time giving them pills, I don’t just say, “Here are some pills.” If they can’t get the pills into their pet, that doesn’t solve the problem. We have to work together to find a solution to get their pet happy and healthy.

Was it a smooth transition from being a vet to being both a vet and an entrepreneur?

Absolutely not! *laughs* They do not teach you how to run a small business at veterinary school. I had to learn by seeking out additional educational opportunities, like webinars and seminars about doing QuickBooks and balance sheets. When I first started this practice, I was working as a doctor six days a week. I would only teach myself how to run this business at the end of the day after my kids went to bed!

Eastown Veterinary Clinic is located at 1350 Lake Drive SE, Grand Rapids, MI, 49506. For more information on their services, email or call 616.649.1075.

Like what you’re reading? Check out our Chamber Blog to read more Member Spotlights, feature articles, and other great content!

The Chamber’s Easy Guide to Giving Back During the Holiday Season

While we’re all drawing up our wishlists for the holidays, it’s important not to forget that this time of year is about more than just getting presents, eating your heart out, and family festivities. It’s also a time to be generous and compassionate, especially to those less fortunate than ourselves.

Small acts of kindness can have a more significant impact than you might think. Not only are you bringing joy to someone else, but you elevate your own mood, and inspire others to give back as well. It has a ripple effect.

Here are some little ways you can give back before the year ends:

  • Collect canned goods and donate them to a food bank
  • Gather old clothes and donate them to a homeless shelter
  • Run an errand for someone you know.
  • Give someone an unexpected and genuine compliment
  • Generously tip your next server or Uber driver
  • Leave a positive note on someone’s desk or windshield
  • Bring a box of toys to a children’s hospital
  • Have a nice photo of you and a loved one framed and send it to them
  • Bring pet food, toys or blankets to an animal shelter

Read more: The 2017 Chamber Guide for Supporting Local on Small Business Saturday

If you’re looking to donate to a local charity or nonprofit this holiday season, we’ve got you covered. To help make giving back more manageable, we asked members of our Chamber staff to tell us about the non-profit organizations and charities they’ll be donating to this year.

Anna Young
Digital Content Specialist

Chosen non-profit: A local non-profit that I love is the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan. They work to educate the community about recognizing mental health illnesses. The health of your mind is just as important as the health of your body, and the Mental Health Foundation is working to get past the stigma of mental health illnesses so people can seek the treatment they need!

Why she gives back: Giving is so incredibly important any time of year, not just during the holiday season. Everyone can find an issue that matters to them, and in a great community like Grand Rapids, there is probably an organization you can connect with that is working on what you care about!

Ashlie Johnson
Talent Development Program Coordinator

Chosen non-profit: The Boys and Girls Club is a great one to give to.  I believe that our youth are incredibly important because they are the future – PERIOD! Without them being encouraged and mentored, they stand the unfortunate chance of being left behind or falling through the cracks.  This organization makes it possible for youth, without immediate access to guidance, tap into their own genius to reach their full potential. It takes time, commitment, money, and resources for those who serve in this capacity to do so every single day.  Even if you do not have millions of dollars to give, you can be philanthropic with your time. Help someone else tap into their greatness!

Why she gives back: Giving back is something that we should do all year round, not just during the holiday season.  It should be a part of who we are at our core.  We should be constantly seeking ways to serve others. When you give back, it comes back to you through the positive change you make in the lives of those you helped.

Mary Beth Kenyon
Membership Coordinator

Chosen non-profit: I contribute to the United Way. They have a wide variety of Agency Partners, and you can designate who you wish to support. Everything from housing and family crisis needs to education and financial security.

Why she gives back: Giving back is something that was instilled in me ever since I was very young. I have been blessed with never having to worry about food or shelter so we try to do what we can all year round to help those that are not as fortunate, and especially during the holidays when the need seems to be greater.

Kenneth James
Talent Development Program Manager

Chosen non-profit: I always give to Angel Tree. They identify people in need over the holidays, and you can provide gifts to children that normally wouldn’t have any gifts under the tree. My family gets an Angel Tree tag, goes shopping together, and we pick something to donate that we would want to get as a present.

Why he gives back: Sometimes we take things for granted. Growing up, organizations with donation programs helped my family. Now that I’m in a position to give back, I make sure to do my part. There are people less fortunate than I am and I want them to experience a pleasant holiday if they can.


Like what you’re reading? Check out our Chamber Blog and read our Member Spotlights, feature articles, and other great content!

Barbara Rapaport Discusses Introspection, Peer Coaching, and the Makings of a Good Leader

Now in its 10th year, Leadership Advantage is the Grand Rapids Chamber’s intensive leadership coaching program designed to enhance the knowledge and critical thinking skills of emerging and established leaders. The unique aspect of this eight-session program is its focus on peer coaching and meaningful introspection. The fact that guest presenters are of national caliber doesn’t hurt either!

Barbara Rapaport has been the facilitator of the program for many years. After 20 years as an executive manager and leadership coach at Steelcase, she decided to start her own organization: Real-Time Perspectives. As its President and Founder, Barbara has coached hundreds of leaders and executives in real-time to reflect deeply on where they want to go and helped them break the barriers of what was getting in their way. With all of that under her belt, it’s no surprise that program graduates rave about their experience with Barbara and Leadership Advantage.

> Join Leadership Advantage

We decided to sit down with her and pick her brain about what makes the program unique and what good leadership means to her.


How does one coach and facilitate people into becoming better leaders?

There are two fundamental ways of learning: The first is learning what already exists from a body knowledge, like going on the Internet or going to school and acquiring knowledge on a subject. That’s technical learning. Then there’s adaptive or transformative learning: The knowledge doesn’t actually exist, but the person creates new knowledge based on their experience. That’s what I focus on in Leadership Advantage.

Can you expound more on transformative learning?

A concrete example I like to give is Captain Sully Sullenberger.  Years ago in the New York City area, a flock of geese flew into his plane’s engines, but he was able to land it in the Hudson River, and everyone survived. Sullenberger had the technical expertise as a pilot and knew how to fly a plane – but if you read his book, he says that there was nothing in this world that would have taught him to land it in the Hudson River. In minutes, he had to make some tough decisions, and even though he had no idea how to land the plane, he was able to through adaptive learning. He created new knowledge of how to do it and trusted his instincts. I try to do that at Leadership Advantage.

What is the value of introspection as a leader?

Many executives will tell you that the higher up you go in an organization, the more time you need to spend in deep reflection. At the core, I help people identify how they get in their own way. Leadership Advantage lets you do that in a very safe environment. If you change how you think, you’ll change what you do.

What is the value of the peer coaching aspect of the program?

I’ve worked with close to 400 leaders, and most of them say they are pretty lonely in their roles. Peer coaching gives them a group to rely on who they can share their greatest anxieties and greatest joys. It moves from a bunch of strangers in the room to a cohort of people who coach one another. By the end of the program, they’re calling one another and having happy hours. Over the eight sessions, they learn to become amazing listeners and responders rather than fixers. A lot of people value it.

FUN FACT about you?

I love scuba diving! I haven’t gone in years, but I love it. It’s the most serene and beautiful thing. The rest of the world goes away and you’re in that real-time moment!

Group shot! Rapaport and several Leadership Advantage alumni meet up at the 2017 CCL Annual Fundraiser.

What are the common challenges and anxieties of the leaders you meet?

A lot of leaders, especially younger ones, are anxious about being their authentic selves. They’re worried that if they demonstrate their true selves, they’ll be stereotyped as millennials and written off. People want to be this integrated human being – at work, at home, and in the community. There’s a lot of struggle around getting past those anxieties and the limitations you impose upon yourself. We try to help people reach courageous authenticity and have the conviction to be strong and open-minded, but not walked all over.

The most rewarding aspect of what you do?

The work I love most is watching human beings have that transformative moment when they say: “The thing that got in my way is me. I can choose to change that and I don’t see it in a negative light anymore, but a positive one.” We call that reframing. You take the same set of circumstances, and the reality doesn’t change, but your understanding of that reality changes. By the end of the program, each person has that transformative moment. Multiple people have come up to me and said: “You changed my life.”  And I always say that I didn’t change it. I just created a context for YOU to change it.

Top 3 traits of a good leader?

The first is patience – with yourself, with others, and how fast things can or can’t get done. You have to be a calming influence for yourselves and others, especially when things get overwhelming. The second is authenticity. Be someone who is true to themselves in all walks of life. Third, be humble in recognizing that you don’t know what you don’t know.

Join Leadership Advantage


“Leadership Advantage was a life-changing experience for me, but it was really just the start. There was a specific part of the program where we address vulnerability. Admittedly, this is an area of weakness for me.  During a break, I approached Barbara and opened up to her in a way that I had never done with anyone before in my life and, in turn, I was able to do the same with the group.  The most powerful part was that everyone simply listened. No one offered up any immediate advice; they just listened and said, you know, it’s okay, we empathize.”

– Mike Lomonaco
Director of Marketing & Communications, Open System Technologies

“I will be forever thankful for the opportunity I was given to experience Leadership Advantage. Barbara’s insight, her programming, and the lessons she provided and created are absolutely priceless. I am forever a different person, employee, spouse, and leader because of this program, which has provided me the tools to see and experience the world, my profession and all relationships through a different and more constructive lens. This program is a growing process that I wish everyone could experience.”

– Shannon M. Cunningham,
Director of Marketing & Business Development, Smith Haughey Rice & Roegge

“I joined this program with an open mind and a willingness to learn.  I hoped to pick up a few pearls of wisdom that I could live by on a daily basis.  Little did I know, the relationships that I developed and the new perspectives I gained helped me leap over so many hurdles that I was not consciously aware of.  How I make decisions and the way I view the world around me have forever been altered.  This program helped me take that next step in my lifelong development journey and not a day goes by that I don’t use the tools from this experience.”

– Thomas M. Blower, CFP®
Senior Wealth Planner, Legacy Trust

Questions about Leadership Advantage? Contact Ashlie Johnson at or 616.771.0310.

The Grand Rapids Chamber Celebrates 20 Years of Healing Racism

When was the last time you had an honest conversation about race with a diverse set of people?

Over the years, racism has become one of several highly sensitive topics that people avoid talking about in public. The sad truth is that racism happens every day, whether or not we choose to discuss it with our peers or coworkers. This silence likely even perpetuates racism, encouraging ignorance through a lack of understanding.

Racism can assume many forms. Whether it’s the explicit judgment of others because of skin color, telling a bad joke in the break room, or more subtle versions where the person doesn’t even realize they carry an implicit bias – like assuming someone is less qualified for a job.

Sonya Hughes, Vice President of Inclusion

To the Grand Rapids Chamber, racism is a disease – and like many other diseases, there is a cure. Take part in the healing process with the Chamber’s Institute for Healing Racism (IHR).

“For 20 years, the Chamber’s IHR has provided a facilitated process, language, and context to examine racism to help move equity forward,” said Sonya Hughes, the Chamber’s Vice President of Inclusion. “We’re proud to have put over 2,000 through the program and are thankful for the many volunteers, partners, and supporters that have contributed to the success and sustainability of the initiative. While we recognize progress has been made, there is still work to be done.”


Facing Racism, IHR’s 2-day program, ultimately teaches that we must bring racism to the forefront of our discussions and embrace it as both a personal and societal problem. Once this is accomplished, the framework is set for not only knowing how to identify racism, but how to take steps in eliminating it from both our workplaces and our communities.

Facing Racism, August 2017 Session

The program is designed to attack the disease of racism from all sides. Throughout the program, a racially diverse group of people commit to learning how to diagnose and heal the disease by first dissecting their own thoughts, feelings, and actions. Most importantly, each participant must be able to listen in a non-judgmental, objective manner.

Once this first step of trust and understanding has been taken, the members of the group are more receptive to open and honest discussions about some of the most understated and controversial topics related to racism. What does it mean to be a person of color? What does it mean to be white? How is this racism affecting my company? By the end of the session, each participant will be empowered with the knowledge and insight of how to combat racism in his or her workplace, personal life, and community.

“We talk about a difficult topic, but we do it in a safe space,” said Kenneth James, Talent Development Program Manager of the Chamber. “We’re not attacking any individual or a group of people. We do have to take a look at our past, and there’s some pain there, but it’s done safely and respectfully.’


We believe the most effective way to combat racism is to educate individuals by use of an honest and open dialogue. Together, we can rebuild our multicultural community into a place where people of all races can live and work in an understanding and affirming manner. Through our program, participants begin a learning process that will enable them to become a catalyst for racial unity, not only within their workplaces but throughout all aspects of their lives.

Kenneth James, Talent Development Program Manager

“I’m a big advocate of IHR. It gives you a lens that the average person hasn’t been exposed to and that’s phenomenal,” said James. “We also give it a business spin by discussing hiring policies and employer relations. A harmonious work environment will positively impact your company’s bottom line.”

Ensure the health of your company and community by becoming a healer of racism.

Questions? Visit or contact Kenneth James at

The 2017 Chamber Guide for Supporting Local on Small Business Saturday

Competing with the big boys at Target and Amazon can get tricky this time of year. Small Business Saturday (on November 25, 2017) is just one way we can show some much-deserved love to the local organizations that bring that special touch to our community while supporting our economy all year round.

As the big day approaches, we at the Chamber met up with six local West Michiganders and asked them about some of their favorite local spots that they’ll be hitting around the holidays. Forget Black Friday and Cyber Monday – support local this holiday season!

With the help of six West Michigan locals:

George Aquino
Vice President & Managing Director, AHC+ Hospitality

Favorite local spots: I can’t remember a time when I didn’t eat, drink, or shop at Aperitivo in the Downtown Market. How can anyone resist some wine and cheese and all the other goodness Aperitivo includes on their “Monger’s Choice” board? When you’re on the West Side, you have to try the ginormous roasted chicken at Butcher’s Union and the Spicy Supreme pizza slice at Fratelli’s on Bridge Street (preferably after 2 a.m.).

Holiday gift ideas: For the hip guy in your life, go to Apothecary Off Main. I bought a Bawston & Tucker “solid cologne”, an old school razor, and replacement blades that only cost three dollars. Nobody would turn down booze as a gift – so splurge on three bottles at Gray Skies Distillery, like their Utility Vodka, Michigan Single Malt Whiskey, and their BFH Gin. While you’re at it, why not throw in a shirt too?

Why he supports local: I love to support local as long as the quality is there. Fortunately, we have quite a number of local establishments that are worth supporting. But let’s not pinhole every “chain” as a foreign entity because a lot of these chains are owned by locals and employ locals like you and me. They are just as much a part of the local ecosystem as the small business retailer or food truck operator. Maintaining a balance is the key to a successful model for business success in downtown GR.

Shlynn Rhodes
Administrative Manager, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan

Favorite local spots: My favorite is Parsley, the fabulous Mediterranean restaurant downtown. The two owners and staff are amazing. They work super hard and are nice to everybody. That’s what I appreciate about small businesses: You come in, and they remember you and what you like. Another one is Dear Prudence. It’s a beautiful little boutique. They have great jewelry, clothes, and other unique little things. I love the way they take care of their customers.

Holiday gift ideas: 6.25 Paper Studio always has unique items. I know I’m going to find something super cool as either a gift or for my own personal use. One time I bought these hilarious birthday cards with cuss words on it!

Why she supports local: I feel better spending my money locally because I feel like I’m supporting my neighbor, friend, or coworker. I’m helping somebody grow their business and hopefully helping them stay in business!

Tuan Tran
Supply Chain Guru, The Stow Company

Favorite local spots: Terra is a great spot for a healthy brunch. Emonae has amazing and authentic Korean food and it provides you with that whole indoor barbecue experience. Field & Fire is a lovely breakfast spot with fresh croissants and other pastries. For staying in shape, I go to FZIQUE for cycling and CKO Kickboxing when I really want to go all out.

Holiday gift ideas: You can’t go wrong with the Downtown Market. With all the shops there, you’ll get a wide variety of choices from fancy olive oil, pink sea salt, or even a selection of cheeses. If you’re feeling lazy, you can just get gift cards from basically any of the stores there, like Pho 616, Fish Lads, MadCap, or Aperitivo.

Why he supports local: Supporting local means supporting Grand Rapids, and I’m all about that.

Lisa Cooper
HR Business Partner, HR Collaborative

Favorite local spots: I love Sovengard as I’m of Swedish descent. It reminds me of my grandmother’s cooking – only better! The Rockwell Republic is another favorite. While they’ve been around for a few years, their sushi and cocktail menu is always on point!

Holiday gift ideas: Due to the proximity to HR Collaborative, I enjoy the West Side. It’s an up and coming area! I like shopping at Denym. There’s also a great secondhand store over there called the Conscious Collective.

Why she supports local: As the wife of a small business owner, I am pleased to support our local businesses. I think you can find the best hidden gems and unique items in smaller organizations. Amazon is great, but there are a lot of locally made and cultivated things that you just can’t find on Amazon!

Ace Marasigan
Banking Center Manager, Old National Bank – Downtown Grand Rapids

Photo by Two Eagles Marcus

Favorite local spots: The JW Marriott’s has incredible flatbread and excellent service. Angel’s Thai Cafe, right downtown, has delicious shrimp rolls. I can easily eat two orders of them in one go, with an extra side of shrimp rolls! Indian Masala has out of this world butter chicken and garlic naan. Cafe Boba is great for their tapioca pearl drinks if you’re looking for something sweet after a heavy meal.

Holiday gift ideas: Boxed GR gives you the best local items all in one neat box – delivered right to your doorstep! Vault of Midnight is a good spot if you’re looking for a present for one of your nerdy hipster friends. They have fun board games, comic books, and other cool trinkets. Eastern Floral is nice for when you want to impress that special lady in your life. For me, that’s my wife!

Why he supports local: Every dollar that you give to a local business owner feeds our local economy. $50 spent at Eastern Floral (vs a website like supports the local expert who arranged the flowers and the local clerk who handled my transaction. They both have jobs because of customers like you and me. They get paid by their local employer and, in turn, they hopefully go out into the Grand Rapids area and spend that money locally. In the end, that helps all of us.

Gricelda Mata
Owner, Lindo Mexico

Favorite local spots: El Pollo Loco is one my favorite Mexican restaurants. Another place I go to a lot is Bistro Bella Vita. My son loves it there! I also really admire Jason and Kris Spaulding of Brewery Vivant. To me, they’re an inspiration for being so involved with the community.

Holiday gift ideas: If you’re thinking of getting me a gift, I’d say go to Wealthy Street Bakery! It’s awesome. For ice cream and other sweet treats, Furniture City Creamery and Love’s Ice Cream in the Downtown Market are very good.

Why she supports local: All the money stays in the community! That is the most important thing. It allows us to grow together because the money doesn’t go somewhere else.


Over 80 percent of our 2,500 Chamber members operate companies with 50 or fewer employees? Check out our Business Directory if you’re looking for more local gems!

Don’t forget to hashtag all your new finds with #SmallBizSat, #ShopSmall, and #SmallBusinessSaturday when you post online!


Experience “Defamation, the Play” at the Chamber’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Summit

At first glance “Defamation,” is an old-fashioned courtroom drama – but look again, and it tackles subjects that many of us prefer to avoid: race, religion, class, gender, and our legal system.

Over the course of a business meeting, African-American woman, Regina Wade, is accused of stealing a watch by Mr. Golden, a white Jewish businessman. She then sues him for defamation, believing that the public accusation ruined her reputation, caused financial harm, and resulted in the loss of her business. Here’s the twist: Mr. Golden’s attorney is an African American female, and Ms. Wade’s attorney is a white male. Defamation’s plot in itself examines stereotypes in unexpected ways. And here’s another twist: the audience is the jury.

Written and directed by Todd Logan, the nationally-acclaimed play will be brought to West Michigan for the first time by the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce on November 17, 2017, as part of their D.E.I. (Diversity, Equity & Inclusion) SummitOther portions of the summit include educational breakout sessions and the Diversity Visionary Awards Luncheon.

Save Your Seat!

Watch the trailer below for a sneak preview:

“When race, religion, and gender collide – a conversation begins.”

Smart, compelling, and provoking, “Defamation” was written to spur self-examination, challenge preconceived notions, and start a dialogue. From the moment the trial begins, the venue is transformed into a courtroom, and opinions that usually simmer below the surface come into play. “I was inspired to write Defamation after a personal experience that made me realize that, despite the many ways our society is more racially integrated than in decades past, we’re still very divided and afraid to breach that divide for fear of saying the wrong thing or being misinterpreted,” said Logan. “I wanted to write a play that was also a forum for civil discourse, a way for people to safely and honestly express themselves and move toward understanding.”

Read more: 5 Facts About Diversity in the Workplace that May Surprise You

Much like in real life, there are no dramatic confessions or amazing reveals in “Defamation.” There is only the final verdict decided by the audience. Following that verdict is a post-show discussion, where a facilitator invites the audience to further have meaningful discussions about race, class, and other social divides.

Photo by: James Yates

Since it first premiered on November 2010 in Illinois, “Defamation” has been performed over 375 times nationwide, leaving over 60,000 audience members discussing and debating from the car ride home, all the way to the office the next day.

“Participating in Defamation was one of the best interactive learning experiences I’ve had in a long time,” said Sonya Hughes, the Grand Rapids Chamber’s Vice President of Inclusion. “If you want to challenge your sense of empathy and rational response to a case that is full of real-time issues, this is a must-attend!”

To make West Michigan a more vibrant and open community, the Grand Rapids Chamber has made it a mission to fight social division and strive for diversity, equity, and inclusion. Through “Defamation” and the rest of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Summit, there is a great opportunity to engage in conversation about one of the most pressing social issues today. Only by bringing these issues to the forefront can we spark change and become a more welcoming and inclusive Grand Rapids.

Register here to take part in the exclusive “Defamation” experience at our DEI Summit this Friday, November 17th at the JW Marriott. 


OutPro Keynote Speaker Jeffrey Songco: On His ArtPrize Winning Entry & His Big Move from San Francisco to Grand Rapids

Why would a talented young artist leave San Francisco to move to Grand Rapids? The short answer: ArtPrize. The long answer? Well, we’ll get to that.

Jeffrey Augustine Songco was born and raised in New Jersey by his Filipino immigrant parents. Despite his devout Catholic upbringing, he is best known in the West Michigan art scene for his personal and sometimes controversial pieces that, as he puts it, “tells the narrative of an anxious American guy celebrating this contemporary world of race, gender, faith, and sexuality.”

Jeffrey has exhibited his artwork throughout the country, including the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco and the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts here in Grand Rapids. Most recently, his multimedia piece “The Society of 23’s Locker Dressing Room” won the $12,500 ArtPrize 2017 installation category Juried Award.

Beyond his work as an artist, Jeffrey also works for local digital design and development agency, Mighty in the Midwest. He has spoken at the Grand Rapids Chamber’s OutPro events, where LGBT professionals are welcome to gather, connect, and share their success stories and struggles.

The Chamber sat down with Jeffrey to ask him about his multiple ArtPrize entries, life as an artist and professional, and why, of all places, he decided to make the move from San Francisco to Grand Rapids.


How did it feel to win the ArtPrize Juried Award for the installation category, both as an artist and as an LGBT person of color?

As an artist, it felt great. It’s my fifth year doing ArtPrize, and it just felt really good to get that recognition. I know I want to continue making art and this is a great way to get more exposure for it. As a person of color and a gay person, it’s really validating to know my artwork has an impact and that my challenging subject matter can be appreciated.

What was it like when you first visited Grand Rapids? Did you fall in love with the city right away?

In 2011, I applied to Art Prize and got accepted by the Westminster Presbyterian Church. My piece (GayGayGay Robe) got great feedback and was controversial enough that Reverend Anne Weirich flew me in for a panel discussion – so I got to experience the city during ArtPrize. It was really exciting, especially because ArtPrize was still new at the time. Then I was invited by the curator of Kendall College to exhibit my work again in 2012. Because of that work, I spoke at an LGBT conference in Michigan State University in 2013. Then I did ArtPrize in 2015 and 2016. Finally, I was like, “I love it here! I’m gonna move here.”

Would you say that you actually like it more in Grand Rapids over a city like San Francisco?

I love it here! Number one, the opportunities are wonderful. I have a great job, and there are more exhibition opportunities for me. Number two is the seasons. In San Francisco, it’s always springtime. It was too consistent for me. Three, it could be very expensive to live in San Francisco and I started to feel the life cycle of startups there. Lastly, I had already created a network of friends in Grand Rapids through ArtPrize and UICA, where I showed in 2015, so it was really easy to drop myself into this new city.


Jeffrey’s boyfriend’s name is also Jeff, and they were born two years and two days apart.

Can you discuss your ArtPrize winning entry “The Society of 23’s Locker Dressing Room”?

It’s a mixed media installation made specifically for my room at the Waters Building. It’s a mashup of a sports locker room and a backstage dressing room. It’s sort of a commentary about American masculinity and the types of man you can be in America. There’s the obvious one, which is the jock. In the US, we want our boys to play sports and become athletes. The other is the performer, where I draw inspiration from RuPaul and drag queens. I understand what it feels like to come out and for someone to disrespect you for reasons you can’t control. I wanted to combine those two arenas of masculinity into one to show the brotherhood in the Society of 23. All the brothers have this mix of the different gender stereotypes. I’m basically saying that there’s not one way to be a man. It’s also my personal story. I’m in pain and suffer a lot as a person trying to navigate this world. The locker dressing room is like a safe space. I also hope that my story helps other people feel inspired as well.

The Society of 23 (class picture), 2008. Inkjet photograph. Photo from:

You recently spoke at one of our OutPro events. What was that like and do you think you’ll participate again?

I need programs like these both as a professional and as an artist. I’m actively looking for safe spaces to connect with people who share similar stories, struggles, and successes. To hear those stories and connect with people is absolutely necessary and I’m excited that the Chamber is working on that and continues to do a good job at it.

The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce congratulates Jeffrey and wishes him continued success!

Questions about OutPro? Contact Megan Smith Jovanovic.
Be sure to visit the OutPro Facebook page for upcoming events and more!


Member Spotlight: Nothing Bundt Cakes

What’s the difference between cake and bundt cake? For some, it may just be the gaping hole in the middle. For bakers and foodies, they might know that bundt cake pans are designed to bake all sides evenly. For husband and wife team Scott and Christine Vogel, bundt cakes are the vehicle that made their entrepreneurial dreams come true.

In early 2017, the duo brought the first Nothing Bundt Cakes branch to Michigan, right here in Grand Rapids. As the name implies, all they do is bundt cakes. “We do one thing and one thing extraordinarily well,” said Scott.

Nothing Bundt Cakes aims for perfection in their craft. Each cake is handmade with premium ingredients, including fresh eggs, real butter, and their signature cream cheese frosting.

Flavors include: Chocolate Chocolate Chip, Classic Vanilla, Red Velvet, White Chocolate Raspberry, Carrot, Lemon, Marble, Pecan Praline, and Cinnamon Swirl. They also have a featured flavor that changes every month or two. This fall’s feature flavor is Pumpkin Spice. All bundts are available in larger 8 and 10-inch sizes, single serving “Bundtlets”, and bite-size “Bundtinis.”

The Grand Rapids Chamber had the chance to sample them – and we can honestly say that these guys take the cake. Or should we say take the bundt?


Founded in Las Vegas 1997 by lifelong friends Dena Tripp and Debbie Shwetz, the Grand Rapids branch will be the franchise’s 200th location. “We wanted to grow deeper roots here in Grand Rapids,” said Scott. “What’s really exciting is that West Michigan got to go first and that Grand Rapids is the starting point for Nothing Bundt Cakes in the Mitten State.”


Christine & Scott Vogel (Photo by Anna Young)

Out of all the places you could open “Nothing Bundt Cakes,” why Grand Rapids?

Scott: We like to think Grand Rapids is one of the best places on Earth. We’ve lived in multiple cities across the country and have had the benefit of living abroad as well. When we arrived here, after Bissell Inc. recruited me, the both of us looked at each other and said, “This is our forever home.” There’s so much going on within the community. It’s green, growing, and thriving. There are so many sectors that are advancing. Couple that with the great people here and this is the perfect place to open a business.

What’s so special about the cakes from Nothing Bundt Cakes?

Scott: It’s definitely the sweetest franchise we’ve worked with! [laughs] But the biggest thing for us is that we make everything by hand here. There’s no automation and we love the personal touch of it. We also love the business model. We always hope for love at first bite – that’s why we’re always giving samples. When you try the cake, you’ll start to see why it’s so special.


Although Christine is a talented baker and even studied baking and pastry making at the Illinois Institute of Art, she is not a cake person.  Until Nothing Bundt Cakes. “That’s just how good this cake is!” she said.

Let them eat bundt cake! (Photo by Anna Young)

What’s the most satisfying part of running and operating Nothing Bundt Cakes?

Scott: The biggest thing is that no matter how challenging a day is, there’s always something positive about it. We always joke that we may have all our money tied up in this business, but we sure as heck have a lot of cake! Because of that, we’re able to do awesome things like supporting all these amazing non-profits in the area, like Kids’ Food Basket, Gilda’s Club, and Spectrum Health Foundation. Whether it’s giving back, seeing the first time someone’s tried our cakes, or when we surprise someone by dropping a cake off at their office, there’s a lot of excitement and positive feelings towards cake. It’s hard not to feel good about it.

What are the biggest challenges?

Scott: The challenge is making sure your team is happy and performing well as well as taking care of the guests. We always say, “You never wanna mess up Johnny’s birthday!” People entrust their most special occasions to us, but we’re human, and we do make mistakes. We always try to rise above those mistakes as a team and maintain a good relationship with our guests.

What’s it like working with your spouse so closely?

Christine: The good thing is I’m only here part time! [laughs]

Scott: We always say that we’ve moved cross country several times, we have three awesome children – so why not pressure test the marriage a little more and start a business together? [laughs] We’ve learned a lot about each other. We’ve had to figure out roles and responsibilities and how we work well together. Our goal is to support our employees and guests as a good team and not one of those crazy husband-wife teams. I think we’ve found a really good even ground, but we’re learning every day!

Why did you join the Chamber and how has it helped you so far?

Christine: We joined because we’re a new business. We wanted to meet people in the area, network, and get help spreading our name out there.

Scott: Joining the Chamber was actually one of the first things we did. It’s been one of those invaluable resources that we signed up for not knowing what the benefit was, but we’ve been really surprised in a positive way of how supportive it has been. It goes beyond the ribbon cutting. The Chamber helped us with connection points, mentorship and even rules and regulation questions. We’ve been able to engage our team and network with others. It really helped propel our business forward. We’re new business owners, and we want to be fully adopted by West Michigan. We plan to be lifetime Chamber members. We’re smitten for the mitten, and we’re here to stay!


The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce congratulates Scott & Christine and wishes them continued success!

Do you know any members of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber that deserve a feature? Email Sam Suarez at and they just might be our next Member Spotlight!