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Local First doubles membership, launches economic impact study

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

You’ve probably seen the yellow triangular window clings in area businesses indicating they are members of Local First. But what is Local First?

Local First, a nonprofit dedicated to creating demand for locally owned businesses and educating consumers on the economic impact of shopping at those businesses, logged 40,000 hits on its online directory in 2007. In the last 16 months, the organization more than doubled its membership of locally owned businesses, jumping from 150 members to 370.

Monthly networking events, the Local First Street Party, the Eat Local Challenge, and a new Entrepreneurial Resource Network where business owners share resources and business solutions are a few of the organization’s events to promote locally owned businesses.

“My firm landed three new clients as a result of connecting with a colleague through Local First,” says Craig Clark of Clark Communications. “Local First is the organization to belong to if you own a local business and want to connect with other individuals and businesses that support the triple bottom line theory of sustainability.”

The organization recently commissioned a local study to determine the impact of locally owned businesses on the Greater Grand Rapids economy, and to identify the number of locally owned full service restaurants, bookstores and banks. A similar study in Chicago determined that $73 dollars of every $100 spent at locally owned businesses stays in the community, compared to only $43 spent at national chains.

“We’re taking the study to the next level by asking what would happen if, as a community, we shift 10 percent of our spending from national to locally owned businesses,” says Elissa Sangalli Hillary, executive director. “What jobs would that create?”

The results of the local study will be available in a few weeks.

Source: Elissa Sangalli Hillary, Local First; Craig Clark, Clark Communications, courtesy photo

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Deborah Johnson Wood is the development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.


Kendall student wins top honors in LEED design competition

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

He says he’s an interior designer who thinks like an architect. That thinking is what snagged Kyle Baker top honors for the 2008 Natural Talent Design Competition spearheaded by the U.S. Green Building Council’s West Michigan chapter.

The challenge? To redesign Grand Rapids Public Schools’ 52-year-old Brookside Elementary using LEED’s eco-friendly design principles.

Baker, 32, graduates Saturday from Kendall College of Art and Design with a degree in interior design. He entered the competition last year, but says “I pretty much got my butt kicked.” So this year, he geared up.

“I really wanted to win,” says Baker, who received his award at a USGBC gala event last month.

“I explored cutting-edge technology to determine if the roof shape could hold rainwater to help insulate the school and then be recycled to use in the toilets. I placed a wind turbine in front of the school to produce some energy, and made sure every space in the school has daylight.”

Baker added a second story, and instead of putting a hallway down the middle of the building with classrooms on either side, he put the hall along one side of the building (on both levels) with classrooms on one side and a 25-foot-high window wall on the other.

The two-story lobby has spaces to plant live trees. A catwalk on the second level crosses the space to join two learning areas.

Baker won a $1,000 cash prize and the opportunity to present his design at the November Greenbuild Expo in Boston, MA.

All the competitors’ designs will go to the GRPS for possible implementation.

Source: Kyle Baker

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Deborah Johnson Wood is the development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.


Habitat teaches high school, college students LEED-construction ropes

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

In 2007, Habitat for Humanity Kent County decided that, moving forward, all the affordable houses they build will be LEED-certified. To achieve that lofty goal, the organization’s Educational Partnership Program teaches green building and LEED techniques to students enrolled in the Grand Rapids Public Schools’ Small School of Construction and in Grand Rapids Community College’s M-Tec program.

“The market wants LEED and green homes, and our students are ahead of the curve because they have the knowledge and expertise they’ll need for the construction trades after graduation,” says Pam Doty-Nation, Habitat’s executive director. “We encourage them to go to GRCC’s M-Tec program because they earn college credits in advance for having had the training in high school.”

Doty-Nation says that of the 50 GRPS students this year, many of them, because of finances, wouldn’t consider attending college without the credits already in place.

“This is a great opportunity for them to get ahead of the game on the green economy that will intensify over the next 10 to 15 years,” she says.

The chapter has built 250 affordable homes for people who make just 30 to 50 percent of the area median income — between $18,700 to $31,050 per year for a family of four. Those homeowners purchase the homes with a zero-interest mortgage and must put in 300 to 500 hours of “sweat equity” before moving in.

In Kent County, Habitat receives 1,000 requests for homes each year, but can build only 20.

In 1983, the chapter was the 13th Habitat affiliate in the U.S. There are now over 1,700 affiliates. On April 25, a Rock the Block “un-gala” 25th anniversary celebration is planned.

Source: Pam Doty-Nation, Habitat for Humanity Kent County

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Deborah Johnson Wood is the development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.


Design competition aims to put every kid, GRPS students included, in a green school

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

In the past decade, West Michigan developers have made Grand Rapids one of the 'greenest' cities on record, and as the Grand Rapids Public Schools continue to upgrade its educational facilities its fitting that one local competition focuses on LEED design principles for the proposed renovation of Brookside Elementary School.

LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is the nation’s leading set of standards for the construction and certification of sustainable buildings.

The 2008 Natural Talent Design Competition asks university level designers or those who have graduated in the past five years to create a plan that incorporates LEED standards into the existing 54-year-old building, or to design new construction using LEED for Schools criteria. The competition is sponsored by the United States Green Building Council's West Michigan chapter

"The USGBC has a goal of having every child in a green school within one generation," says Sam Pobst, chair of the USGBC Regional Council, "and we chose to align with that for the competition theme."

A polluted creek runs through the school's nearly 40 acres at 2505 Madison SE. The property is adjacent to the proposed Salvation Army Kroc Center and both developments will be used as a catalyst for revitalizing the neighborhood.

Criteria from the competition guidelines include:

  • Engage student populations in sustainable design
  • Improve operating conditions for Brookside Elementary
  • Provide a catalyst partnership with the Kroc Salvation Army Community Center
  • Spotlight sustainability efforts in the region
  • Expand public awareness of LEED
  • Showcase a LEED Platinum building

All designs will be shown to the architect of record for the Kroc development.

Designers have until April 14 to submit their plans. Finalists will present their plans at Greenbuild in Boston, MA. Winners will receive cash prizes and will be announced on Earth Day, April 22, at a gala event at the Grand Rapids Art Museum.

Source: Sam Pobst, US Green Building Council-West Michigan Chapter

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Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.


Finalists for national urban leadership award include one from Grand Rapids

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

LISC, the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, announced this week that Kimberly Van Dyk, executive director of Neighborhood Ventures, is the only finalist from Michigan nominated for a national State Farm-LISC Spirit of Revitalization Award.

Last year, LISC, a recognized powerhouse in the community redevelopment movement, invested $1.1 billion in the revitalization of local communities, which spurred some 3.2 million square feet of new commercial space and 20,400 affordable homes.

Van Dyk's nomination in the category of community leadership recognizes her work in Uptown, a collaboration of the East Hills, Wealthy Street, East Fulton, and Eastown business districts.

"There are three categories and three finalists in each category—community leadership, development, and placemaking," says Tom Pfister, Grand Rapids' LISC program director. "Neighborhood commercial district revitalization is not an easy task and it's quite an honor to be recognized by your peers across the nation."

The Uptown Forward group, spearheaded by Van Dyk, is comprised of business owners and community stakeholders who have worked closely with the city staff and officials to draft a policy for the establishment of corridor improvement districts (CIDs) in the city. The group is currently working on plans to establish CIDs in the Uptown districts.

"Kim has the rare ability to keep the big picture in mind while handling the details," says Baird Hawkins, board member of the Eastown Business Association. Hawkins works with Van Dyk on a number of committees, including Uptown Forward.

"She's very good at bringing together diverse groups of people and keeping them on task," he adds. "Neighborhood Ventures has a miniscule budget and Kim goes way beyond her pay to get done what she needs to do."

LISC will announce the winners at its Urban Forum in Indianapolis on April 29.

Source: Tom Pfister, Local Initiatives Support Corporation;

Photo by Brian Kelly

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Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.


Local interior designer launches website touting 'green' products, principles

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

Sue Norman, an active member of the Sierra Club and an organizer of the local US Green Building Council chapter, is an aficionado of all things eco-friendly. But as an interior designer and owner of her own Grand Rapids area firm, Design Is, she had a hard time finding the products and sustainable design information she needed to help her complete a builder's or client's 'green' vision.

So, in January, she launched her own web-based company targeting all aspects of green design and green products specifically for interior designers: Easy To Be Green.

"The site is for interior designers who want to weave sustainability into their practices," Norman says. "The industry doesn't serve interior designers as specifically as I would like, and when I thought about the kinds of services I wanted I thought other designers would like them as well."

While the site features green products, that's a small part of the bigger picture of how to integrate sustainable practices into interiors.

"I include a book review, I research articles on sustainable topics, and I provide snapshots of sustainable concepts like chemical basics, daylight and views, and how to reduce, reuse, and recycle," Norman says. "Every product page has important sustainable attributes—it gives the manufacturing location, where the product is distributed, and a link to each company."

For products like paint, Norman lists the volatile organic compound content. Chemical basics helps designers take into account the entire life cycle of a product from manufacturing through the chemical breakdown in a landfill.

Annual membership fees are $85 for individuals. Norman also offers group and student rates.

Source: Sue Norman, Easy To Be Green

Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.


Grand Rapids forum debuts first-ever standards for racism-free organizations

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

The Partners for a Racism-Free Community have a goal: in 10 years, 50 percent of all organizations in Greater Grand Rapids will achieve the designation racism free.

The clock begins ticking March 28 at the 2008 Partners for a Racism-Free Community (PRFC) Forum, formerly called the Racial Justice Summit, where the first-ever standards and credentialing process for creating racism-free environments will be revealed.

"The PRFC defines racism-free as the individual and systemic condition achieved when all persons, regardless of skin color, feel welcomed and wanted in all places and treat others the same way," says Faye Richardson, chair of the standards and credentialing committee.

The standards target six areas of an organization:

  • Leadership engagement
  • Internal policies, practices and processes
  • External collaborations and relationships
  • Contractor, supplier, and vendor practices
  • Client, congregation, customer and marketplace practices
  • Measurements and results

The process helps organizations determine:

  • What do our leaders practice concerning racism?
  • How do we create a rich environment for everyone?
  • Who are we working with to remove racism from the community?
  • How do our suppliers reflect our values?
  • How are we reaching out to a diverse base of students, customers, or congregations?
  • How do we identify best practices and measure where we stand now?

Several area businesses, nonprofits, and service organizations, including the YWCA, Steelcase, and the West Michigan Strategic Alliance, are testing the pilot program, which started in January. The committee will reveal the results of the pilot to-date at the forum.

"Creating these standards for organizations is very unique to Grand Rapids," Richardson says. "We're hoping it catches on around the state and the country. It's really way past time for us to be eliminating racism."

Source: Faye Richardson, Partners for a Racism-Free Community

Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.


Legislative luncheon targets mass transit funding for Grand Rapids

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

On Monday, Disability Advocates of Kent County will hold a Legislative Lunch on Transit to bring state legislators and city, county and township elected officials up to date on the progress of mass transit in the county. The nearly 100 attendees include Senators Bill Hardiman and Mark Jansen and Representative Glenn Steil.

"We’ll talk about funding from the feds for the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line and will ask the state legislators to vote for the 20 percent financial match needed to receive the 80 percent federal funding," says Frank Lynn, spokesperson for Disability Advocates.

The federal government approved some $29 million for the BRT, the most advanced transit undertaking in the state to-date. Disability Advocates emphasizes that public transit is a good economic engine. Citing the publication Property Futures by Jones Lang LaSalle, Lynn says that 77 percent of new economy companies rated access to mass transit as an extremely important factor in selecting corporate locations.

"We're hoping that some of the attendees will make a commitment to funding the matching portion of the BRT proposal," Lynn adds. "We’ll also encourage them to fund the comprehensive transportation fund with the full 10 percent of the gas tax allowed by law."

Statewide, the transportation fund pays for road repairs and maintenance, and provides funding for mass transit.

"The potholes we have in the roads right now are because of a lack of a state funding for roads," Lynn says. "A raise in the gas tax provides better roads and an increase in transit funding statewide."

The luncheon is open to the public and will be at LaGrave Avenue Christian Reformed Church from noon to 1:30. Cost is $10.

Source: Frank Lynn, Disability Advocates

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Deborah Johnson Wood is the development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.


New Belmont organization helps families flower

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

A new baby brings much happiness to a family. But that little bundle of joy also brings fatigue, confusion and, in some moms, extreme postpartum depression.

MomsBloom.org, a web-based nonprofit in Belmont, aims to help Kent County parents of infants from newborn to three months old get the support they need to be successful parents.

“We train volunteers who are passionate about the bond between mother and baby—grandmas, moms, empty nesters, social workers. They provide non-judgmental support to parents of infants,” says Sara Binkley-Tow, president. “We're the extended family for the 21st Century.”

The volunteers provide services at any time of day or night, including emotional and physical recovery from birth, lactation consultation, teaching baby soothing skills for screaming infants or infants with colic, meal preparation and light housework.

The group helps families connect to community resources that can include finding a postpartum depression support group or getting help with addictions.

“Our goal is to reduce child abuse, such as shaken baby syndrome, by reducing the postpartum depression and the fatigue,” says Binkley-Tow, 36.

Binkley-Tow, a certified Happiest Baby Educator, infant massage instructor, and certified postpartum doula, began providing services for parents about a year ago as All In The Touch, the forerunner to MomsBloom. That’s when she spent time caring for an infant who slept all day and was awake all night.

“I went in to their home and cared for the baby during the night so the parents could sleep,” she says. “This is not something parents can prepare for. Many parents are worn out.”

She founded MomsBloom with Angie Walters and Alice Christensen last July. The group received its nonprofit status in February, and begins accepting clients mid-April.

MomsBloom’s services will be provided free to families of any income level. Volunteer training begins in March.

Source: Sara Binkley-Tow, MomsBloom.org

Deborah Johnson Wood is the development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.


Sports Commission partnerships could generate $12M in tourism

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

The West Michigan Sports Commission spent 2007 building partnerships with local sports associations. Those partnerships, which now involves at least 17 different events, could generate 20,000 tourists and $12 million for West Michigan in the next three years.

"We want to focus on the opportunities out there, like fencing, rugby, gymnastics, and hockey," says Mike Guswiler, sports commission executive director, "Our relationship with the Amateur Athletic Union will bring the 2008 AAU Softball Central Region Championship and a national beach volleyball national qualifier to the region."

U.S. Airborne Gymnastics is one of the commission's new partners. The commission is helping with the annual U.S. Airborne Gymnastics Invitational at Cornerstone University on March 1 and 2. The event attracts 350 competitors and their families from Michigan, Ohio, Illinois and Canada, and could inject some $185,000 into Grand Rapids hotels, restaurants, shops, and attractions. Winners will move to national competitions as Olympic hopefuls.

"We can raise awareness of any event and what it brings to West Michigan," Guswiler says. "We help put proposals together highlighting the benefits of the area, we identify the needs of the tournament organizers, locate facilities, get sponsors and volunteers, and other services. And it all gets to the underlying reason of why we exist and that's to draw economic benefit to the community."

Other partnerships the commission established involve a variety of events, including the Great Lakes Lacrosse Classic, the Grand Haven Beach Vault, the Men's and Women's Collegiate LAU Rugby Championships and the National Golden Gloves Tournament of Champions. The latter event, alone, will bring some $1 million to the region.

Source: Mike Guswiler, West Michigan Sports Commission

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Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.


New agency targets water quality in the Lower Grand River Valley

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

A four year effort to create a regional association to restore, protect, and enhance water quality in the Lower Grand River drainage basin has culminated in the development of LGROW, the Lower Grand River Organization of Watersheds.

LGROW will act as an agency of the Grand Valley Metropolitan Council, overseeing environmental activities concerning Michigan waterways in an area covering over 3,000 square miles from a point where the Grand and Looking Glass rivers meet in downtown Portland east through Metro Grand Rapids to Lake Michigan.

Ten counties and several rivers and creeks, including the Grand River, Thornapple River, Flat River, Coldwater River, Plaster Creek, and Buck Creek are included.

Funding for operations comes from an Urban Cooperation Board grant and two U.S. EPA grants.

Source: Grand Valley Metropolitan Council

Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.


Gilmore Waterfront Park plan taking shape in East Grand Rapids

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

Last Monday, East Grand Rapids residents turned out for the third in a series of community workshops designed to solicit public input on establishing 17-acres of trails, boardwalks, fishing docks, as well as a picnic and playground area in the proposed Gilmore Waterfront Park.

The park will occupy wetlands and woods on the Reeds Lake shoreline from Lakeside Drive northeast along both sides of Reeds Lake Boulevard.

East Grand Rapids purchased part of the property from local businessman John Gilmore in 1992, funded in part by an $800,300 grant from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund (MNRTF). Mr. Gilmore donated the rest of the property.

“We're hearing loud and clear from residents that this is an asset to East Grand Rapids and the greater Grand Rapids area,” says Fred Bunn, director of parks and recreation. “We'd like to bring in native trees and plants, and restore and improve the existing wetland eco-system. That could mean deepening the wetland and expanding the wetland to the east.”

The proposed plan includes improvements to the existing paved trail along the lakeshore, a picnic, playground, and viewing area overlooking the lake, nature trails on the west side of Reeds Lake Boulevard, three interpretive nodes describing the flora, fauna, and history, and two observation decks.

Upcoming workshops will culminate in a grant application to the MNRTF for an amount not to exceed $500,000. The grant will require a 25 percent match from the community. To date, project planners have not determined the cost of the proposed park.

Source: Fred Bunn, City of East Grand Rapids

Deborah Johnson Wood is the development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.


Private investment in Millennium Park spurs development of 20 miles of trails

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

On January 9, Ambassador Peter Secchia unveiled the new Fred Meijer Millennium Park Trail Network, a 20-mile system of non-motorized and nature trails that will run throughout Millennium Park's 1,500 acres.

Private donations fund most of the $9 million project, including a lead gift of an undisclosed amount from the Meijer Foundation. Kent County gave $1.1 million toward the project.

Millennium Park's stretches southwest three miles from Butterworth Street and I-196 to the recreation core on Maynard Street, then extends to Johnson Park in Walker. The trails will create multiple loops of various distances within the park for rollerblading, biking, running, walking, and cross-country skiing. The trail network will connect with the City of Walker trails, City of Grand Rapids trails, and Kent Trails.

"The trail network will be developed over three years," says Roger Sabine, Kent County Parks Director. "Since 1999 we've acquired property, and we've purchased the property from the John Ball Park area along Butterworth all the way to Maynard."

Twelve-foot-wide paved trails and a six-foot-wide trail with natural surfacing feature street bridges and boardwalks over creeks, lakes, and wetlands. A tunnel under Maynard Street connects to the recreation core's playgrounds, swimming areas, and picnic grounds.

Millennium Park runs along sand and gravel mining property, wetlands, and floodplain through parts of Grand Rapids, Wyoming, Walker, and Grandville. Phase 1 of the park's development is complete. The trails will be finished in 2010 followed by the final phase of the park project in 2014.

Source: Roger Sabine, Kent County Parks; Kate Washburn, Wondergem Consulting, Inc.

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Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.


From Grand Rapids, Michigan's top 'green' builder executes $28M in LEED projects

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

The Engineering News-Record recently ranked Rockford Construction Michigan's largest 'green' contractor, based on the company's LEED building revenue in 2006. Rockford is one of two Michigan companies on the list, ranking number 44 out of 50 companies evaluated.

In 2006, Rockford's green projects topped out at over $28 million. That number represents LEED educational facilities, retail shops, offices, banks, and religious and cultural non-profits.

"We're honored," says Mike VanGessell, who co-founded Rockford with partner John Wheeler. "My initial reaction was 'Great! We're kind of where I'd hoped we'd be.' It validates that we're doing the right things, we're benchmarking against the kind of companies we want to be associated with."

Rockford's LEED projects include two world firsts: the first LEED-certified church, Keystone Community, Ada, and the first LEED-certified new construction art museum, the Grand Rapids Art Museum. Other projects include the rectory at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church, Grand Rapids; the Blue Cross Blue Shield building, Grand Rapids; the restored D.A. Blodgett Home for Children, Grand Rapids; and renovation of the Alano Club, Grand Rapids.

"I've got to complement Mr. [Peter] Wege who has made sustainable building a prominent issue in West Michigan," VanGessell says. "Even our furniture companies, before LEED was a word, they pushed sustainability in their design and materials. West Michigan has been on the front edge of this movement."

Source: Michael VanGessell, Rockford Construction

Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at
deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.


West Michigan awards program honors 45 construction projects

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

The Associated Builders and Contractors Western Michigan Chapter (ABCWM) received 110 nominees for its coveted 2007 Construction Awards Program.

This year's nominees include notable projects like GVSU's John C. Kennedy Hall of Engineering, Zeeland West High School Pool, Boatwerks Restaurant, the East Grand Rapids Community Center, West Ottawa North High School, the JW Marriott Hotel, and the Grand Rapids Civic Theatre.

"When we started the program in 1985, contractors were not advertising oriented," says John Doherty, ABCWM president and CEO. "They were doing a lot of very unique projects people didn't even know they were doing."

Forty-five prize categories cover several areas of expertise, like structural steel fabrication, restoration glazing, communications and data, interior finishing, religious facilities construction, and green building.

Some 40 independent judges visit each construction site. The judges come from a variety of construction industry segments, including facilities management, building inspection, and architectural and engineering trades.

"Because of the credibility these judges bring to the projects, the award has the benefit of the impartiality we maintain and has more meaning to the winners," Doherty says.

The awards banquet is Thursday, October 25, 2007 at the Pinnacle Center in Hudsonville. Each winning entry will show a three-minute scripted video highlighting the scope of the project, the intricacies of installation, and aspects that make the project unique.

The awards recognize high quality construction by members. And the banquet gives members a chance to see what other contractors are building, and provides opportunities to generate business.

Winners receive three crystal trophies shaped like an urban skyline—one each for the contractor, architect or engineer, and owner. Project managers receive an engraved plaque.

Source: John Doherty, Associated Builders and Contractors Western Michigan Chapter

Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

62 East Grand Rapids Articles | Page: | Show All
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