By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium
BENTON TOWNSHIP — Gov. Rick Snyder likened state government to a business format, where the residents are customers.
And customers come first, he said.
The governor was the keynote speaker Thursday morning for the 2017 Business Recognition Breakfast at Lake Michigan College’s Mendel Center in Benton Township. The business event was hosted by Cornerstone Alliance and Cornerstone Chamber of Commerce, which regularly serves as a way to thank the organizations’ members and investors.
Before taking the stage to discuss the business climate in Berrien County and the rest of the state, Snyder was introduced by U.S. Rep. Fred Upton – who was available because Congress is out of session.
Snyder said he was excited to be in the Twin Cities area to discuss one of the major factors of Michigan’s resurgence from the recession – businesses. His trip came the day after the state released details on the upcoming budget.
When deciding whether to run for governor, Snyder recalled how he and his wife began talking about the future of the state for their kids. One of the topics was jobs and whether their kids would have any plausible job opportunities.
At the time his campaign began, unemployment was at a high for the state and the country.
“I looked at the statistics because I’m a CPA governor,” Snyder joked. “In terms of job creation and unemployment, Michigan was at the bottom – 50 out of 50. We ran some analysis and found we actually ranked 53rd in a few categories. When including a few territories, we were at the bottom even then.”
He said the turnaround in the last six years came about through private sector job creation and the resurgence of small businesses.
Snyder told reporters afterward that he’s noticed Southwest Michigan is becoming a popular tourism destination from other states.
“When I go to Chicago now and meet people, I ask where they go on vacation,” Snyder said. “Often times it’s here. And (for those who are new to Chicago), instead of just moving to Chicago, they’re also looking to move here.”
He cited career opportunities and quality of life in Southwest Michigan as the main reasons for the region’s uptick in economic vitality.
Rob Cleveland, president of Cornerstone Alliance, and Chris Heugel, president of the Cornerstone Chamber of Commerce, then gave updates on what the organizations have done and have planned for 2017.
“We had a total of 108 chamber member events,” Heugel said in relation to their 2016 efforts. “We welcomed 61 new members and conducted 23 ribbon cuttings. I would say our business community remains very strong in Michigan’s Great Southwest.”
The business awards
The second half of the Business Recognition Breakfast involved several business leaders and representatives accepting awards for their company’s impact in Southwest Michigan.
• Honor Credit Union won the Economic Growth Award.
In 2016, Honor Credit Union made more than $8 million in investments throughout Southwest Michigan. In 2016, Honor opened its operations center in Berrien Springs and broke ground for a new 6,000-square-foot building in St. Joseph.
• Vickers Engineering received the Manufacturing Large Business Award.
Vickers Engineering, which was established in 1970, has evolved into a world-class precision machining company guided by customer service and state-of-the-art technology. The company also made some large investments in facility infrastructure and equipment in 2016. This lead to the creation of 50 jobs and increased work force training.
• The first recipient of the Young Business Leader of the Year Award was Alex Schaeffer with Kruggel Lawton CPAs.
As a certified public account and senior manager at Kruggel Lawton, Schaeffer was nominated for his integrity, excellence and service toward his clients and colleagues.
• Lark’s Bar-B-Que was the recipient of the Small Business of the Year Award.
The restaurant that has become a Benton Harbor landmark, while frequently attracting customers from Chicago, South Bend and Detroit. Its owners are avid financial supporters of Benton Harbor High School and Lake Michigan College sports teams, the Benton Harbor Miss Blossomtime candidate, the Benton Harbor Library and the Boys & Girls Club.
• M&W Tire won the Excellence in Customer Service Award.
The Benton Township business is said to treat guests like family members, looking out for their safety and controlling expenses by not pushing services. With several give-back programs for local schools, charities and programs, M&W donates cash and services.
• Whirlpool Corp. was this year’s recipient of the Economic Impact and the Green Business of the Year awards.
The home appliance maker has 100,000 employees worldwide and 4,000 in Southwest Michigan, while supporting organizations that help with the health and wellness of area residents.
The Benton Harbor-based company renewed its commitment to corporate sustainability. Recently, the company reaffirmed its zero waste to landfill goal in every plant across the globe by 2022.
• Donna Hill, owner of Attitudes Salon in St. Joseph, was named The Cornerstone Chamber of Commerce Ambassador of the Year for 2016.
The ambassadors are comprised of local business professionals that volunteer for Chamber events. She attended every Chamber event in 2016.
• Silver Beach Pizza was the first recipient of the Pat Moody Award. The owners and team at Silver Beach Pizza has given back to the community in many ways through sponsorships or donations.
(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Feb. 10, 2017)