134th Annual Meeting: The State of Grand Rapids Business
Save the date for the Grand Rapids Chamber’s 134th Annual Meeting! We’re partnering with Grand Valley State University’s Seidman College of Business to present The State of Grand Rapids Business.
Using economic data we’ve received from surveying our members, the team at the Seidman College of Business will present an update on where the West Michigan economy currently stands, and an economic forecast for 2022. The team led by Dr. Paul Isely will provide insights on the economy as a whole, and indicators related to business growth, talent, inflation, housing, innovation, and more.
After the presentation, a panel of business leaders from across West Michigan will provide their reaction on the economic forecast as well as top issues including: inflation, office space usage, manufacturing, talent, and the supply chain issue. We will also introduce our 2022 Board Chair to the Chamber community.
At the Grand Rapids Chamber’s largest event of the year, attendees will also have the opportunity to connect with fellow members and business leaders. Mark your calendars to learn from those in the know about what’s in store for our region and state in 2022!
Wednesday, February 2
7:00 – 10:00 a.m.
DeVos Place: Steelcase Ballroom
303 Monroe Ave NW
Member: $65 / Non-Member: $85
Member Corporate Table $800 / Non-Member Corporate Table: $1,000
Meet the Speakers
Meredith Bronk, President & CEO, OST
Meredith Bronk, President & CEO of OST, has been a leader with the business technology firm for over 20 years. As the company grew from seven employees to over 300 operating around the globe, so has Meredith’s responsibility. From Project Manager to her current role as CEO, “Mer” is a cultural teacher who walks the talk. Her love of people, leadership, and creating a thriving corporate culture is evident in everything she does.
Meredith excels at ensuring OST’s culture is thriving every day and possesses a rare combination of empathy and business savvy that inspires everyone she works with to do their best. Her servant attitude and commitment to the success of others is an excellent representation of OST’s dedication to its employees and clients. A passionate advocate for the community she calls home, Meredith is well-known for her speaking and motivational skills.
As part of her transition to the CEO role, Meredith earned her MBA from the University of Notre Dame in 2014 In addition to following Irish football, Meredith serves on several boards, mentors leaders, and spends time with her husband and three daughters.
Jeff Connolly, Senior Vice President and President, West Michigan & Upper Peninsula, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan
As senior vice president and president for West Michigan and Upper Peninsula for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Jeff Connolly manages and directs operations for West Michigan and the Upper Peninsula region. Critical aspects of his role include growth and profitability for the company, the delivery of high-quality services to consumers, and developing and implementing strategic plans for the Health Plan Business division, West Michigan and Upper Peninsula operations. Jeff also serves as a corporate liaison with Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.
From July 2005 through November 2006, Connolly was president and chief executive officer of Aetna’s Midwest Network Access Business. Prior to that, he served as a senior accountant at Deloitte & Touche LLP and held the titles of president, chief executive officer and other executive positions with PPOM.
Connolly is a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and Michigan Association of Certified Public Accountants. He serves as chair of the board of directors for the Grand Rapids Chamber, The Right Place, Inc., West Michigan Policy Forum, Covenant House and Grand Valley State University’s Health Provost Advisory Board. Connolly is a certified public accountant and alumnus of Central Michigan University.
Dr. Paul Isely, Associate Dean of the Seidman College of Business, Grand Valley State University
Dr. Paul Isely is currently Associate Dean and Professor of Economics for the Seidman College of Business at Grand Valley State University, which he joined in 1995 after earning his Ph.D. in Economics from Purdue University. He also holds an M.S. in Economics from Purdue University and a dual B.S. in Physics and Economics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Dr. Isely’s research interests have led to many local articles and reports. These articles have explored West Michigan’s economy including forecasts of growth, the state of entrepreneurship, health care costs, environmental clean-up values, economic impacts of various activities, and the costs and benefits of wind power. He has been interviewed extensively by TV, radio, and newspapers on the West Michigan economy and its relationship to the national and state economies.
Dr. Diana Lawson, Dean of the Seidman College of Business, Grand Valley State University
Diana Lawson, Ph.D. is Dean of the Seidman College of Business at Grand Valley State University. With extensive experience leading business programs and a wealth of international practice, she is widely published on topics ranging from the value of a liberal arts education to masculinity and femininity in business negotiations and designing an international business curriculum.
Lawson’s research has been included in publications like the Journal of Financial Services Marketing, Marketing Education Review, International Business Review, Journal of Euromarketing, and Journal of Teaching in International Business. She is also author of a textbook, Communicating in Global Business Negotiations: A Geocentric Approach. Lawson earned her Ph.D. from Kent State University in 1993, as well as her M.B.A. and Master’s degree, and a bachelor’s degree from State University of New York College at Cortland.
Dr. Kuhelika De, Assistant Professor, Seidman College of Business, Grand Valley State University
Kuhelika De, Assistant Professor within the Seidman College of Business at Grand Valley State University, earned her Ph.D. in economics from the University of Georgia in 2017. In addition to teaching introductory and intermediate macroeconomics, she conducts research in the areas of macroeconomics, monetary economics, development economics, open economy macroeconomics, and time series econometrics. Kuhelika’s research has been published in Journal of International Money and Finance, Economic Inquiry, Economic Modelling, Journal of Development Studies, Southern Economic Journal, and Reserve Bank of India, among others. She has presented her research work at the American Economic Association Meetings, Southern Economic Association Meetings, Midwest Macroeconomics Meetings, the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, Reserve Bank of India, and several other research universities. Kuhelika is an active member of the American Economic Association and recipient of the “Outstanding Teaching Award” from the University of Georgia.
Meet our Industry Panelists
James Byl, Founder/Owner, Multi-Automatic Tool & Supply Co.
James Byl is the founder and owner of Multi-Automatic Tool & Supply Co, a wholesale distributor based in Grand Rapids, supplying metal-working tools and fixture components primarily to automotive and heavy equipment manufacturers in the US. James established the company in 1996, and now has over 25 years of experience providing tooling and service to the metalworking industry.
In addition to this, James purchased Belding Tool & Machine in 2019. James participated in the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce Minority Business Roundtable Group for four years, and developed a passion for the overall success and growth of businesses in the Grand Rapids area, as well as wanting to see the success of more minority owned businesses in the community. James is a graduate of Grand Rapids Christian High School and attended Calvin College where he earned a degree in business administration. He currently serves on the board of directors of the Grand Rapids Chamber, and he provides support and volunteers with numerous faith based organizations.
Alisha Cieslak, Chief Legal & Risk Officer, Gordon Food Services
Alisha Cieslak is Chief Legal and Risk Officer for Gordon Food Service, a privately held and family managed foodservice distribution company with operations in the U.S. and Canada. Alisha is responsible for overseeing all legal matters for the company and its business units. Upon joining Gordon Food Service, Alisha created the company’s first ever legal team and has expanded her role to oversee Corporate Communications, Crisis Management, Cybersecurity and Enterprise Risk Management.
Prior to joining Gordon Food Service, Alisha has worked with the Benteler Group, several law firms in the Metro Detroit Area, the Department of Justice – US Attorney’s Office, and the Appellate Division of the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office. Alisha is a member of the American Bar Association, the State Bar of Michigan, and the Association of Corporate Counsel, where she chairs the West Michigan Chief Legal Officer Roundtable. Alisha is a graduate of the University of Michigan and Wayne State University Law School and currently sits on the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce board.
Jeffrey Karger, Senior Senior Vice President of Brokerages, JLL
Jeffrey Karger opened the Grand Rapids office of global commercial real estate firm, JLL in 2016. Pairing Jeff’s extensive local presence and the global expertise of the firm, he has been able to deliver high level results for the collective clients. Jeff works in the occupier space as a trusted advisor in Portfolio Optimization, Strategy, Tenant Representation, Landlord Representation, Acquisition, and Disposition for local & global companies.
He has over 20 years of experience in office and corporate services real estate markets. Jeff Karger was a Senior Advisor/Director of Office Services for CWD Real Estate Investment, a leading, local real estate investment and property management firm in Grand Rapids, Michigan. As a senior advisor, he worked on the leasing, acquisition and disposition efforts of the company’s 1.3 million square foot office portfolio under management in downtown Grand Rapids. Previously, Jeff served as the Vice President and Director of Office Services for The Wisinski Group.
Janis Petrini, Owner & Operator, Express Employment Professionals
Janis Petrini is a highly experienced business owner and manager who has demonstrated the ability to lead diverse teams of employees to new levels of success in a variety of highly competitive industries, cutting edge markets, and fast-paced environments. Janis has a track record of more than 30 years of hands-on experience in strategic planning, business unit development, and project and people management.
She is actively involved in managing and mentoring her team of over 28. Janis is the Owner and Operator of Express Employment Professionals which will be celebrating their 25th year in business next year. Janis manages all business operations while also pursuing her passion of helping people succeed and helping our community thrive. Janis is a mentor in the community for women who are starting a new business or growing their business and serves on the Board of Mel Trotter Ministries where she supports their vision and mission of demonstrating Christ’s compassion through rescue and restoration of anyone experiencing homelessness.
Rick Albin, Political Reporter, WOOD TV 8
Rick Albin is the political reporter for News 8. He has been associated with WOOD TV8 since the mid 90s and involved in broadcasting since he began working at his hometown radio station in high school. Rick has covered politics on the radio and television in five states and has interviewed every person to hold presidential office since President Gerald R. Ford. He has participated in numerous candidate debates, including a primary debate for presidential candidates and numerous gubernatorial debates. His town hall meetings, first with Governor Jennifer Granholm and most recently with Governor Gretchen Whitmer, have become regular occurrences as the state chief executives discuss the challenges Michigan faces and potential solutions. Rick is also host of “To The Point,” which examines issues and elections that impact the state and the nation. On air for more than 18 years, Rick has interviewed hundreds of local and national political figures on the show. “To The Point” airs every Saturday and Sunday on WOOD TV8.