The ATHENA Program: Grand Rapids

ATHENA Grand Rapids supports, develops, and inspires women leaders as well as honors the men and women who empower women in leadership. The program offers the ATHENA Award and ATHENA Young Professional Award, annual scholarships to women over 30, and bi-monthly leadership forums based upon the tenets of the ATHENA Leadership Model® from ATHENA International. This model identifies eight distinct attributes that are reflective of women’s contributions to leadership: Authentic Self, Relationships, Giving Back, Collaboration, Courageous Acts, Learning, Fierce Advocacy, Celebration and Joy.


Once upon a time, women didn’t even have the right to vote or to drive. Today, after years of fiercely fighting for their rights, they are challenging, re-inventing, and innovating their communities and are a strong force for economic change.


ATHENA International is a non-profit organization that aims to support, develop, and honor women leaders in local communities all around the world through scholarships, leadership forums, and recognizing women of excellence. The ATHENA Leadership Award and the ATHENA Young Professionals Award have become the country’s most prestigious awards for women, honoring those who achieve professional success, while also giving back to the community.

In Greek Mythology, Athena was the goddess of wisdom, war, and the arts. Favorite daughter of Zeus, her birth was unique in that a mother did not bear her, but instead sprang out of Zeus forehead fully-grown and dressed in armor. Fierce and brave, it’s no wonder that this award is named after her! Celebrating, inspiring, and advocating for women warriors who possess these goddess’ qualities is central to what the ATHENA Program represents.



Women make up 50.8 percent of the U.S. population and earn about:

  • 60 percent of undergraduate degrees
  • 60 percent of all master’s degrees
  • 47 percent of all law degrees
  • 48 percent of all medical degrees


Gender diverse companies are 15% more likely to outperform their respective national industry medians. (McKinsey)


They lag substantially behind men when it comes to representation in leadership positions.

According to a 2014 report by the Center for American Progress, despite the fact that women hold almost 52 percent of professional-level jobs, they are only:

  • 14.6 percent of executive officers
  • 8.1 percent of top earners
  • 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs

Women of color face an even wider gap regarding representation in leadership roles, with only 11.9 percent in managerial or professional positions, despite making up about one-third of the female workforce.

The ATHENA Program aims to empower women to seek out and succeed at leadership positions, despite the challenges the country faces regarding these issues. By supporting and recognizing them in a great number of ways, the hope is that they are inspired to succeed, make an impact, and are encouraged to guide future generations to do the same.

ATHENA: Grand Rapids

The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce ATHENA Award Program is affiliated with ATHENA International. The Grand Rapids ATHENA Award program began in 1989 and exists to honor women and men for professional excellence, community service and for actively assisting women in their attainment of professional excellence and leadership skills. Twenty amazing women have received the prestigious ATHENA Award in Grand Rapids.

In 2000, a Scholarship component was added to the program, funded by corporate sponsorships and individual donations. To date, we have given more than $30,000 to women in our community who are over 30 and have returned to college to complete their degrees.

2008 marked the first presentation of the ATHENA Young Professional Award in our community, and we became one of the first programs in the country to do so. This award recognizes an emerging leader in the community for her/his community service, leadership, and for being a role model.

The ATHENA Awards Program

The ATHENA Awards Program and ATHENA Young Professional Award are founded on the ATHENA Leadership Model® from ATHENA International, which identifies eight distinct attributes, called the ATHENA Tenets, that are reflective of women’s contributions to leadership: Authentic Self, Relationships, Giving Back, Collaboration, Courageous Acts, Learning, Fierce Advocacy, Celebration and Joy.

Learn More

ATHENA Scholarships

The 2015 ATHENA Scholarship Recipients

Each year, the ATHENA Awards Program presents several scholarships to recipients of the unique ATHENA Scholarship, which assists women over 30 who are pursuing their higher-education dreams.

ATHENA Scholarships are unique in that recipients can use the money for whatever helps them achieve their degree, from tuition fees, to childcare or transportation expenses—building a brighter future for careers, family, and personal goals.

Direct donations to the ATHENA Scholarship Fund are always welcome. If you’re interested in contributing to the ATHENA Scholarship Fund and/or can’t attend the fundraiser event, please donate online or contact Megan Smith Jovanovic.

Learn More

Donate Now

“Being awarded this amazing scholarship from such a strong group of powerful women gave me the encouragement I needed to work towards my college education.” — Valerie Cook, 2014 ATHENA Scholarship Recipient

The ATHENA Leadership Forum

A snippet from March 2016’s ATHENA Leadership Forum

The ATHENA Leadership Forum fosters and supports the development of strong female leaders in our community. Rooted in the eight tenets of the ATHENA Leadership Model, the bi-monthly ATHENA Leadership Forum provides professional development opportunities for women of all levels.

Each ATHENA Leadership Forum features a brief presentation followed by a facilitated discussion around one of the eight ATHENA tenets—Authentic Self, Celebration & Joy, Collaboration, Courageous Acts, Fierce Advocacy, Giving Back, Learning, and Relationships.

Join us to learn valuable leadership lessons, interact with leaders in the community, and network with a diverse group of women through dynamic roundtable discussions.

Learn More


“When women succeed, nations are more safe, secure and prosperous.”
Barack Obama, 44th US President

Top 5 Reasons You Should Attend Our Business Exchange Luncheons

Networking is the name of the game at the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce’s Business Exchange Luncheons. If you haven’t been to one yet, you aren’t maximizing what the Chamber can do for you.

So bring out your business cards, build some connections, and read our top five reasons you should be attending our BEX’s:

1. It’s the Chamber’s #1 networking event!

Where else would you get the chance to meet over 100 different entrepreneurs in one room? If you haven’t been to one of our luncheons, you aren’t maximizing what the Chamber can do for you.

2. Over 80% of 750 business executives said that in-person meetings are better for long-term relationships.

At least, according to a survey by Forbes Insights!

3. Attending registered networking events that require a small fee actually encourages you to make the most of the opportunity (because you’ll suffer a monetary penalty otherwise.)

Don’t believe us? Ask TIME Magazine! Plus, regularly exercising those social skills will help you appear more confident in front of possible clients and partners… which will, in turn, help your business be successful.

4. As Jay Samit, Vice Chairman of Deloitte Digital, once said: “Networking is all about connecting with people. But then again, isn’t that what life is about? …

… The more time you can find to get out of the office and build true friendships, the farther your startup will go. Entrepreneurs need to remember to spend as much time working on their business as they do in their business.

5. A greater amount of original ideas are developed during in-person meetings over online or digital meetings.

Our Business Exchange Luncheons (BEX) aren’t just an exchange of business cards, but of insights and ideas too!


In short, if you’re not networking, then you’re not working enough to help your business!




Thursday, September 7, 2017
11:30 A.M. – 1:30 P.M.
Stonewater Country Club – 7177 Kalamazoo Ave.
$25 for members, $30 for future members, and late registration starting Sunday, September 3.


Don’t forget to bring your business cards!


Back to the Future … with Cheese

By Andy Johnston, Vice President of Government & Corporate Affairs

“The future is whatever you make it, so make it a good one.” – Emmet “Doc” Brown

In the 1989 time-travelling classic, Back to the Future II, Marty McFly travels to 2015. The future world imagined by the filmmakers got a number of things right (automation, biometrics) and other things wrong (internet, mobile phones).

Based on trends at the time, they did their best to predict 26 years into the future. While today’s society may not have hoverboards (real ones!) and flying cars, the filmmakers didn’t do too bad. And the inaccuracies? So, what! (They still might come true.)

As chamber leaders, we need to try our best to predict 26 years (or maybe just 6 at our current rate of change) into the future and develop a plan to position our organizations for success. To provide value for our members and the community, we must lead by anticipating what the future holds and doing our best to create and lead the change. In a world cluttered with noise and information, leaders must cut through, synthesize and actualize new information, or we’ll be left behind.

This brings to mind the lessons learned in the classic, “Who Moved My Cheese?” The world is changing and we need to keep our running shoes on.

It illustrates how we must be ready to change, to burn our current platforms early and mercilessly. We must paint the picture of the future for our members, know our stakeholders, reward innovative behavior on our teams and not get hung up on “who moved the cheese”.

A complimentary concept is to think about how to keep your organization on the “bleeding edge.” Defined as “the very forefront of technological development”, chambers can live in this space by demonstrating a willingness to take on a new development that is so new that it could be risky. Scary, right?

One of my Institute classmates had a great insight … She rejected the adage “fail fast.” Instead, she suggests we consider new initiatives “experiments.” I love this. It implies to the Board, staff and community that you are trying something new and sets that expectation that it may fail. And that’s OK.

Plus, I think it’s a concept that a scientist like Doc Brown would really like! He experimented and imagined what could be. When presented with new technology, like the ability to make the car fly, Doc embraced it and incorporated it into the DeLorean.

For Chambers, let’s continue to embrace new technology and trends. Our stakeholders are doing it and if we are leading the business community, we should be the first to do it.

With technology changing at faster pace, our organizations needs to be early adopters, so we can bring the lessons we learn to our members and communities. These efforts will maximize our value and provide a strong return on member investment.

To position your organization for success and get started planning for the future, ACCE’s report, Horizon Initiative: Chambers 2025 is a great reference for Chambers.

At the end of the first Back to the Future, Doc, Marty, and Jennifer are about to head 30 years into the future. Marty is concerned that Doc isn’t giving himself enough road to get up to 88 miles per hour and Doc responds, “Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.” And the DeLorean flies off. Awesome.

Ultimately, we want to have the same insightful answers like Doc Brown. We need to keep our sights on the future and fly towards it.

About Andy Johnston

Andy Johnston serves as Vice President of Government & Corporate Affairs for the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce and is responsible for managing the Chamber’s public policy efforts on behalf of over 2,400 members before local, state and federal stakeholders.

He serves as a member of the Chamber’s Leadership Team, responsible for strategic planning and execution, organizational development, day-to-day decision making, marketing and communications. Andy also manages the advocacy efforts of the West Michigan Chamber Coalition.

The Making of a Chamber Event: An Inside Look

By Michelle Glover, Events Project Manager

As members of the Chamber’s events team, we hear it time and time again … “You plan events for a living? That must be so much fun. Your life is like one big party!” Well, kind of. While it is our job to plan events, the day-to-day is less piñata party and more neurotic organization with a heavy side of sweating the small stuff. The event planning process is highly involved, with a large portion of the heavy lifting happening behind-the-scenes months in advance of the big show.

There are elements of glitz and glamour — selecting floral arrangements, touring venues (and their rooftop gardens) across the city, developing menus in private tastings – but they only make up a small percentage of the work we do. Event planning, much like unicorns or narwhales, is mysterious yet intriguing. We’re pulling back the curtain to share what it really takes to pull off a successful Chamber event.

Is an event merited?

As the host of more than 130 events each year, we’re not about having events for the sake of having events. Ain’t nobody got time for that! Before diving head-first into planning, we are critical about the purpose for the event, the resources it will take to pull it off and how we will define success. If an event doesn’t offer value to our Chamber members, we’re not adding it to our calendar.

We’re doing it. Why?

Why are we organizing this event? What are we trying to achieve? Not only do these questions help us determine if an event is needed, but they also help establish our goals and objectives to guide our planning.

Date, Time, Location

Sounds simple enough; however, there are limitations. The date should be a minimum of four to six months into the future. Holidays, school breaks and competing event dates must be avoided. Also, the location must align with the established goals and objectives. A venue that fits 50 guests comfortably probably isn’t the best space to host a seminar for 75.

Assemble the Squad

Our squad is so on point Taylor Swift is jealous. Sorry, Taylor. We have a team of stellar program managers, marketing gurus and sponsorship go-getters who each play key roles in our events. At this point in the planning process, we need to assemble the squad to:

1. Brief them on our goals and objectives
2. Determine how they can best assist in the planning process
3. Get their buy-in.

This is the first of many, many meetings. Practice patience but remain persistent.

Determine Programming Needs

This is where your squad comes in handy. As event managers, we rely on the expertise of the squad, specifically our program managers, to select relevant speakers and discussion topics that align with the established goals and objectives.

Determine Marketing Needs

Again, it’s all about the squad. Our lovely marketing gurus ensure our events are actually attended by spreading the word amongst our Chamber members. From The Chamber Newsletter and the eTCN to social posts, radio appearances and print materials, we couldn’t do our job without them. We give them creative freedom and watch them fly.

Establish Deadlines

We don’t have to tell you deadlines are an inevitable part of life. It’s even truer in the world of event planning. With mile-long lists of timely tasks that we need to hit to stay on track, our squad lives and dies by deadlines. We rely heavily on project management tools like Basecamp to ensure project milestones are achieved and the squad stays on the same page. Missed milestones result in fires, and fires require firefighters. Don’t make us get out the hose.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

You would not believe the number of touch-base meetings we have. While Basecamp is magical and on an otherworldly level, we can’t rely solely on it to keep our many projects moving. Therefore, we have periodic face-to-face meetings leading up to the event date to ensure everything is moving along as it should be. Use your words, people.

Day-of Coordination

Slip into something black and grab your best pair of sassy orthopedic sneakers. Event day is the holy grail of event planning. Even at this stage, however, there’s work to be done before we get to sit back and watch the event unfold. We need transport the supplies, set up the venue, complete a final A/V walk-through, brief our Chamber Ambassadors and manage speakers and sponsors. We do a lot of fire extinguishing and cat herding during this stage. Once the event concludes, we need to collect our supplies, break down our registration tables and signage, and check out of the venue.

Post-Event Evaluation

Ready for a glass of wine and a nap? It’ll have to wait. We have to send post-event evaluations! How else would we know you’re sick of Chamber chicken? We also have to update our events database, share event photos, settle final invoices and take care of sponsorship fulfillment.

As you can see, there’s a lot more involved in the event planning process than simply picking out a venue and getting attendees. There’s strategy, people pleasing, cat chasing, fire extinguishing and so much more. Back to planning … Ready, set, go!

Meet the Squad

Cindy Johnson, Director of Events
Cindy is a former bull riding champion and air band frontrunner with a heart for REO Speedwagon. She enjoys a good audio book and adding to her rapidly growing Starbucks tumbler collection.
Michelle Glover, Events Project Manager
Michelle is an aspiring food critic with dreams of traveling the world in search of the finest cuisines. She has a heart for animals and a thirst for adrenaline. You can find her on the back of a motorcycle, enjoying an occasional episode (or four) of Bob’s Burgers, and adding to her collection of unique coffee mugs.
Chantell LaForest, Events Project Manager
Chantell is an aspiring embroiderer with an unhealthy Starbucks addiction. She enjoys long naps on the couch with her pillow pets, reading aloud in accents, expanding her overalls collection, and maintaining her status as Celine Dion’s greatest fan.

We have the recipe for a longer life

What are you doing to live a longer life? It’s easy to do.

There are simple things you can do every day to set yourself up to live life to the fullest and achieve the longest life possible. At the Health Care Summit on June 16 (register here!), Tony Buettner from the Blue Zones Project will be joining us to discuss what we can do as a community, and individually, to improve our health and lower health care costs.

To get you thinking about how daily activities can impact your life-span, we’ve put the Blue Zones Power 9 principles in action. The Power 9 tips for longevity make it easy to make positive behavioral changes. You can make your home and work place your own personal Blue Zone.

Join us at the Health Care Summit on June 16.

This is just the beginning of the chance for a longer life. At the Health Care Summit, you’ll join community members and local leaders to discuss how West Michigan can add years to your life. Blue Zones Project expert Tony Buettner will share the Secrets to a Longer Life. Don’t miss it.

Register today!

The first things you should do is pause for three minutes and take the vitality test found here. The test will show you how many years you can add to your life by adopting the simple changes outlined in your personalized improvement plan. Once you have your plan, look at the Power 9 list. Which three can you implement today? Start small and pick the easiest ones. To make them a habit, wait 12 weeks before adding the next three.

Longevity: The Power 9

The Power Nine covers the following life domains: What to do to optimize your lifestyle for a longer, healthier life; how to think; how to eat; and how to build social relationships that support your good habits.

  • Move Naturally: You don’t have to exercise in a gym to see results. By working natural exercise into your daily routine, you’ll receive the benefit without the hassle. Park on a higher floor, ditch your riding lawn mower, and hide your TV remote.
  • Purpose: Do you know your purpose? You should. Being cognizant of your purpose adds 7 years to your life. Get started by creating a personal mission statement. Why do you get up in the morning? What is truly important to you?
  • Down Shift: Stress is a killer. Force yourself to take mental and physical breaks. Use this time to meet with friends, family, or to spend time alone. Find what helps you relieve stress and anxiety and allow yourself to take a break.
  • 80% Rule: Feel full? Stop eating! When you feel 80% full, push the plate away. Eating the extra 20% could be the difference between losing and gaining weight.
  • Plant Slant: They say an apple a day keeps the doctor away. In truth, a plant-based diet adds years to your life. Fill up on soy products, olive oil, and vegetables. We aren’t saying go full veggie, but limit your intake of meat to 3-4 ounces five times a month.
  • Wine @ 5: You read that right. 1-2 glasses of wine with friends and food will do your body and mind good.
  • Belong: Attending faith-based services four times a month will add 4-14 years to your life. Not religious? Find a non-denominational community. Sharing common ideals, feeling togetherness, and even the act of singing hymns will enhance your physical and mental being.
  • Loved Ones First: Where does your family fall on your priorities list? What about your grandparents? Investing in your loved ones, young and old, will add years to their life and yours.
  • Right Tribe: We live longer with a little help from our friends. Healthy behavior is contagious. Long-lived people choose friends or were born into circles that impact their behavior in a positive way.

To make it easy, we’ve created a recipe for the perfect blue zone day.

6 a.m. Wake up and remember your purpose. Really! Think about what you’ll do today to feed your purpose. Make your breakfast. This should be the biggest meal of the day. You’ll need that energy. Hand grind your coffee for a little exercise. Hold the bacon.

7 a.m. Get you and your family out the door. Walk or ride your bike to work. If you are driving, park on a higher level or at the back of the parking lot. Don’t forget to hydrate!

8 a.m. Look at your work load. Build in time to rest and destress throughout the day. This should be the first time you look at your cell phone for the day.

10 a.m. Take a five minute break. Get outside and soak up some sun. Have a handful of nuts. Drink a large glass of water.

12 p.m. Grab your co-workers and eat a small plant-based meal. Include a dash of olive oil and soy for protein. Relax and take your time. Stop eating when you’re 80% full. Take a ten minute walk after you’ve eaten.

1 p.m. Once back at your desk, reassess your work load.

3 p.m. Make a cup of herbal tea and call a relative. Make plans to see them in the upcoming week.

5 p.m. Meet your friends for happy hour. Have a glass (or 2) of wine and connect with your group. Unplug. Do. Not. Look. At. Your. Cell. Phone. Seriously, don’t.

6 p.m. Time to go home. Don’t let traffic get you down. Here are some tips. Think about what you did today to serve your purpose. Enjoy a plant-based meal with your family. Encourage conversation and connection at the dinner table.

7 p.m. Take an after dinner walk or bike ride with your family. Cement healthy behaviors and make exercise accessible and fun. When you get home, put that cell phone away for the night.

8 p.m. Meditate. Whether you do yoga, stretching, or simply sitting without noise, take time to listen to your inner monologue. How do you feel? How did the day go? What can you try tomorrow to improve?

9 p.m. Start your bedtime routine. No cell phone. No TV. No blue lights shinning on your face in the dark. Make your plant-based lunch for the next day. Quiet your mind and prepare to sleep. Think about your purpose.

Health Care Summit focus gets national attention

On June 16, we welcome Tony Buettner to share his expert knowledge about the Blue Zones Project at the Health Care Summit.

A Blue Zone is a region that produces a high number of people who live to be 100 years old. Blue Zones look at communities from a system-level, determining how to redesign and refocus a city around what matters to the health and happiness of the citizens that live there.

At the Summit, we’ll discuss what becoming a Blue Zones community could mean for our region, our life spans, and our health care costs.

Register for the Health Care Summit today!

See for yourself.

Blue Zones was featured on the Today show on May 30 and 31. Learn about what makes a Blue Zone in this short segment.

Dan Buettner, Tony’s brother and Blue Zone expert, brought Today reporters to a Blue Zone in Costa Rica to show them the Blue Zone lifestyle first hand.

Change your life and business. Join us on June 16 at the Health Care Summit.

Take Action. Start the Conversation.

Walk the Walk.

In principle and practice, the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce believes in
the value and power of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Without diversity, equity, and inclusion, we limit our talent, resources, and the business
opportunities necessary to thrive in an increasingly competitive global marketplace.

In an effort to better serve and represent our membership, the Grand Rapids Area Chamber is committed to actively seeking a diverse and inclusive board, workforce, membership, business environment, and community.

Addressing Racism as a Starting Point for Change

Thirty years ago, the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce began the Institute for Healing Racism. Today, we remain the only Chamber to provide an educational program, focused on the impact of racism on individuals, community, and businesses.

Facing Racism is a two-day program offered to members of the West Michigan community. The goal for the program is to provide a learning process that will empower them to become a catalyst for
racial equity; not only within their workplaces, but throughout all areas of their lives.

Inside the doors of Facing Racism, racially diverse members of the community come together, in an inclusive and safe environment, to engage in open and real conversations about race.

Racial inequity continues to be a nationwide concern. Conversations continue to build within West Michigan, leaving some feeling helpless, wondering what they can do to impact change. Facing Racism is a place to start.

Start your healing.

The first step of the program is internal. Through open conversation, objective, and non-judgmental listening, attendees have room to examine their own identity and prejudices.

Attendees gain knowledge around the often misunderstood key concepts of racial inequity. These concepts include: colorblindness, color consciousness, diversity and racial diversity, white privilege, systemic oppression, and implicit bias. The program facilitators guide attendees through each of these concepts, providing historical data and current context. Attendees share their experiences with each of these topics through group conversation and activities.

Bring it to your community.

By the end of the program, attendees experience internal change, they are armed with the tools, resources, and confidence to challenge themselves to take action.

Attendees are empowered to take the information, understanding, and emotional healing they gain and leave with an action plan to implement in their work, family, and/or personal lives.

A section of Facing Racism is dedicated solely to developing different approaches, phrases, and language to use when racial bias is recognized. Through practice, attendees will gain a wealth of knowledge and experience to draw from when correcting the racial bias they witness.

By the end of the program, each participant is empowered to combat racism in all areas of their lives.

How can I get involved with the program?

Facing Racism is for community members, employers, and leaders who are ready to start personal change, start conversations, and impact their circles.

Join your fellow community members in a conversation about understanding racism and impacting change by registering for one of the two remaining sections taking place this year.

Register today

Small Business Summit attendees empowered by ZingTrain

At the Small Business Summit on May 23, we brought Ann Arbor’s ZingTrain to Grand Rapids to lead a half-day workshop on customer service. ZingTrain offers award-winning training programs for businesses looking to change their culture and approach to customer service.

ZingTrain came to West Michigan to offer an opportunity for businesses and professionals to invest in themselves in the Art of Giving Great Service. Studies show that in the coming years, consumers and business partners will care more about customer service and relationships than they will about product specifics or cost.

“We are dedicated to ensuring our regions businesses are ready for the upcoming shift in the world of customer experience,” said Rick Baker, President & CEO of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce. “The strategy and principles learned at the Small Business Summit will surely impact individual and business growth in our community.”

ZingTrain shared their 30-years of customer service secrets with attendees of the summit. The dynamic workshop left attendees feeling empowered and invigorated to change the culture around customer service within their organizations.

ZingTrain outlined the ingredients needed to Build a Culture of Great Service. These five ingredients work together to create, communicate, and complete a new customer service strategy that will change culture, employee confidence, and bottom line.

Here’s how to build your great service sandwich:

• Teach: Make sure those teaching and learning are speaking the same language. Set the stage for open and safe learning.

• Define: Understand what your organization means when it says “customer service.” Once you clearly define your customers’ needs and wants, set clear expectations and action plans within your organization.

• Live: Do it! Hold customer service standards in high regard. Lead by example within your business. Give appreciation to your co-workers.

• Measure: Welcome and document customer feedback. Instill a culture of valuing feedback. Listen and take action.

• Reward: Use recognition and appreciation to reward employees. This is not monetary or financial. Publically thank and recognize your employees.

Host an Expo Table at Business Exchange Luncheon

Looking for more exposure? Host an expo table! Exhibiting at Business Exchange Luncheon is just one way that you can connect with more than 100 members.

  • Exhibitors may distribute materials to each place setting
  • Exhibitors may receive a list of all attendees
  • Exhibitors may donate a product, gift or service suitable for our raffle drawings

It’s an excellent opportunity to showcase your business, promote your products, and find that next business partner or unexpected supplier for your business needs. The luncheon features free-style networking as well as facilitated tables during lunch. Every participant will have the chance to formally meet at least two tables of fellow Chamber members.

Expo table information

Set-up Time: 11:00 a.m. – 11:25 a.m.
Event Time: 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Cost: Expo Table – $50.00 in addition to Lunch –$25.00 per person. Prepayment is required. Cash, checks and credit accepted.
Exposure: Expected attendance is 120
Table: One 6-8 foot table with skirting and linen provided
Attendee List: A list of all attendees will be emailed to you after the event
Materials: You may distribute materials (pamphlets, brochures, pens, etc.) at attendee’s place settings. This is a benefit reserved solely for expo table registrants.
Raffle Prize(s): For more exposure you are encouraged to donate a door prize.  Please drop off the item(s) at the registration table upon your arrival. Please do not include your own drawing box at your table.

Questions? Contact Michelle Glover for more information.

Switch Celebrates Grand Opening of West Michigan’s Newest Data Center

On May 10, new Chamber member Switch celebrated its grand opening in West Michigan after renovating the old Steelcase pyramid for the past year. The grand opening marks the beginning of phase one for the largest data center east of the Mississippi River.

Switch has already spent $50 million to transform the pyramid’s 250,000 square feet, and so far it has employed more than 700 people – with almost 99 percent being Michiganders.
The grand opening was celebrated with Switch Founder and CEO Rob Roy, Governor Rick Snyder, Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley, and West Michigan senators and representatives. Chamber staff was also in attendance for the celebration and tours of the newly remodeled center.

About Switch

Switch was founded in 2000 as a global technology solutions company. Headquartered in Las Vegas, Switch has recently begun expansions throughout the United States and world to better serve their clients. Founder and CEO Rob Roy has developed more than 260 patent and patent-pending claims for data center designs that are central to their operations and service to clients.

Earlier this year, Switch was awarded a perfect score on Greenpeace’s Clicking Clean Report – celebrating their commitment to renewable energy – making the company the first multi-tenant data center provider in the world to do so.

How we got here

At the end of 2015, the Michigan Legislature passed a package of bills to support our state’s growing high-tech industry. The Chamber fought for the passage of this legislation in Lansing, as it reformed Michigan’s tax structure for data centers in Michigan to be competitive with other states.

Advancements in technology have fundamentally changed the way business is conducted. As the business climate continues to transform and rely more on technology, Michigan needed a tax model that supports innovation and keeps Michigan competitive for the digital era.

“The Chamber is thankful the legislature saw this opportunity to make our tax climate more attractive. When an opportunity of this magnitude comes along, we must seriously consider it. Other states have already taken the initiative in hopes of attracting this growing industry and companies like Switch,” said Rick Baker, President & CEO of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce.

“We look forward to continue to work with the legislature to keep Michigan attractive for the industries of the future.”

The changes to Michigan’s tax structure exempts data centers serving collocated businesses from sales and use taxes on data center equipment. This change provided a number of Michigan businesses with tax relief, and also made Michigan attractive for Switch to invest in and move to.

Switch’s move to West Michigan put our state on the map in the tech industry, setting the stage for increased investments and the attraction and retention of high-tech talent, as other companies are looking to our community and state.

What’s next?

In the future, Switch plans to open up the pyramid for an innovation center that the public, non-profits and startups will be able to benefit from. Switch has a similar facility at their Reno campus.

In addition to the future changes to the pyramid, the Switch campus is expected to be under development for the next 10 years, as several data center facilities are planned for the site. Development and permitting has already begun on the first 471,248 square foot Switch GRAND RAPIDS 1 data center on the property surrounding the pyramid.

Going forward, Switch anticipates more than $5 billion will be invested from Switch and its clients, and 1,000 jobs will be created within the first 10 years of operation at the 2 million-plus square foot facility.

The Grand Rapids Chamber is excited Switch has made West Michigan its new home and for the opportunities they bring to our region. Switch’s move is creating an environment for companies and industries to grow – diversifying our markets and economy, making Michigan a competitive place for future industries.

Projects of this size often serve as an anchor in a growing industry, providing immense benefits for talent attraction and retention and community growth. As Switch continues to invest in their campus and our communities, we are eager to see the impact they will have on our high-tech talent pipeline.