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Grand Rapids Power Structure: Part IV – Private Sector Organizations

June 4, 2018

In our analysis of the Grand Rapids Power Structure, we have looked at the a framework for the local power structure in Part I, the most powerful family in Grand Rapids, the DeVos Family in Part II and in Part III we looked at other members of the most powerful members of the private sector.

In today’s post, we want to look at some of the most influential private sector organizations, especially those that influence policy and the economy. However, before we get to those organizations, it is important to acknowledge that there are plenty of private sector corporations, so chain and some local, that also wield significant power in the area, specifically in the economic arena. We are not going to look at these corporations, as there are too many to look at and they have less of a direct impact on policy in Grand Rapids, than do the wealthiest families and the organizations represent their interests.

West Michigan Policy Forum

The West Michigan Policy Forum grew out of the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, with a focus on providing those with powerful business interests a more focused mechanism for crafting policy proposals that would serve those interests.

We have been monitoring the West Michigan Policy Forum (WMPF) since 2008, when they held their initial summit.  Since then we have reported on all of their summits, which is primarily where they lay out their policy proposals. At the 2008 summit their main goal was getting the Michigan Business Tax eliminated. In 2010, the focus of the summit was getting Michigan to adopt a Right to Work policy. At the 2010 Summit, they brought in the main Right to Work/anti-union propagandist, Rick Berman. 

At the 2012 WMPF Summit, one emphasis was on attracting and creating workforce talent. At this summit, there were presentations by the group Talent 2025, which is a group made up of area CEOs.  In 2016, the WMPF Summit focus was on the elimination of Public Sector employee, particularly public school teacher pensions. 

The WMPF also organizes more than their bi-annual summits, such as regular strategy meetings and carefully placed opinion pieces in major Michigan newspapers. However, changing state policy is their main objective, which is why they hold their summits every 2 years, just months before state elections.

The West Michigan Policy Forum is governed by the very same people, which we have been identifying as members of the Grand Rapids Power Structure, such as Doug DeVos, John Kennedy, Peter Secchia, Michael Jandernoa, Mike VanGessel, Rick Baker, and J.C. Huizenga.These people make up their Executive Committee, but their Board of Directors represents additional names of local elites and the companies they represent. 

Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce

The Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce has been around for over 100 years and follows the legacy of the state and national Chambers of Commerce

The Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce is driven by its mission, which is to defend and advocate for the interests of the business community. This has historically meant that the Chamber of Commerce has opposed any increase in the minimum wage, any efforts to get a living wage, has fought against the $15 an hour national campaign, works to undermine labor unions and generally opposes robust environmental regulation or government regulations in general.

The GR Chamber of Commerce has opposed most progressive/left ballot initiatives and endorses candidates based on their commitment to capitalism. According to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, the GR Chamber of Commerce spends money lobbying at the state level. In 2016 – 2017, the GR Chamber of Commerce spent around $120,000 lobbying elected officials on state policy. 

Their Board of Directors is also made up of many of the same members of the Grand Rapids Power Structure, both the individuals and companies that wield tremendous power in this community, such as representatives from Amway, Meijer, Rockford Construction, Steelcase, Spectrum Health, Huntington Bank, The Right Place Inc. and Lacks Enterprises Inc. 

The Right Place Inc.

The Right Place Inc. is an organization that is dedicated to supporting area businesses and attracting new ones to Grand Rapids. This means that The Right Place Inc will uses any and all means to lobby businesses to locate to the area, even using public money to lure them.

We know that some recent examples of The Right Place Inc working to bring companies to Grand Rapids were, 1) their attempt to bring Amazon to the area, which included massive public subsidies , and 2) The Right Place Inc’s role in attracting Israeli military companies to the area, using taxpayer subsidies. On top of that, The Right Place Inc is also a member of the Michigan/Israeli Business Bridge, an entity which develops and encourages trade and business interaction between Michigan-based companies and Israeli companies. 

The Right Place Inc. also features many of the same names of those that make up the Grand Rapids Power Structure, such as David Van Andel, John Kennedy, Rick Baker, Mike VanGessel, Hank Meijer, Blake Krueger and many other business leaders and heads of local universities.

Acton Institute

The Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty has been around since the early 1990s. The Acton Institute is essentially a right wing think tank that takes a pro-capitalist, pro-US Imperialist, anti-union, anti-Muslim, anti-public education stance.

The Acton Institute was founded by Rev. Robert Sirico who has been an advocate for the Capitalist Class since he became a priest. The organization has grown significantly and now has members around the globe.

The Acton Institute works closely with other far right think tanks like the Mackinac Center for Public Policy and the national group known as the State Policy Network. The State Policy Network coordinates efforts to push changes in state policies across the country, policies that embrace neo-liberal capitalism and the austerity measures that come with it.

A major financial supporter of the Acton Institute, since its founding has been the DeVos Family. Numerous members of the DeVos Family have donated to the Acton Institute and have been on the Board of Directors, with Rick DeVos being the latest. Other members of the Grand Rapids Power Structure also sit on the Acton board, such as J.C. Huizenga and John Kennedy.

Talent 2025

Talent 2025 is fundamentally as business focused entity that seeks to influence educational policy for the purpose of creating more talent (which is code for labor) to meet the demands of the market.

Talent 2025 has numerous working groups and uses words like diversity and inclusion, but this is all for the goal of creating work-force ready people. Talent 2025 consists of a CEO Council that also includes many of the members of the Grand Rapids Power Structure, such as Michael Jandernoa, John Kennedy, Mike VanGessel, Blake Krueger, along with companies like Meijer, Amway, Steelcase, Spectrum Health and Cascade Engineering.

Econ Club of Grand Rapids

The Econ Club of Grand Rapids is yet another pro-business entity that primarily hosts regular meetings, featuring speakers from around the US to promote the economic benefits for the Grand Rapids business community.

In March of 2016, the Econ Club of Grand Rapids hosted Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, right in the midst of his criminal treatment of Flint residents over contaminated water.  It was reported that those attending the Econ Club event applauded Snyder, with a standing ovation.

The Board of Directors of the Econ Club is also made up of the Grand Rapids Power Structure individuals and business representatives, such as Rick DeVos, Charlie Secchia, Rick Baker, Steelcase, Spectrum Health and Cascade Engineering. 

Business Leaders for Michigan

Business Leaders for Michigan (BLM) is not a Grand Rapids entity, but it has many members from the Grand Rapids Power Structure. BLM is a statewide organization of CEOs that work to influence state policy, which benefits the interests of the companies represented by the CEO member base. 

Blake Krueger is the President of Business Leaders for Michigan, but it also includes Grand Rapids elites like Mark Bissell, Doug DeVos, Michael Jandernoa, John Kennedy Hank Meijer and Steve Van Andel.

There are certainly more organizations that could be on this list, but those listed above are the most powerful and influential, particularly around state and regional policy. Below is a visual, which demonstrates the interlocking systems of power amongst the Grand Rapids business elites.

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