Business Musts for 2021


Rick Baker, CEO/president of the Grand Rapids Chamber, gives an overview of what the organization’s programming looks like for 2021.



0:00:06.6 Lynne Jarman-Johnson: Money, I’m Home. Welcome in. I’m Lynne Jarman-Johnson with Consumers Credit Union. From finance to fitness, we have it all. And today we have a really special guest—someone who is leading our community in the business world, helping all of our businesses succeed. Rick Baker is the CEO/president of the Grand Rapids Chamber. Thanks for taking time today, Rick.

0:00:31.5 Rick Baker: Thank you, and I bet you say that about all your guests.

0:00:34.4 LJJ: No, I don’t. [chuckle] Rick’s also really well-known for helping us all build relationships, connections, networking. I’ll tell you what, this year has been so different and unique. And Rick, I hope you don’t mind me starting off by backing up a little bit and saying, when we were rocking and rolling in March, and there were so many plans for the Grand Rapids business community, the Chamber has always been one to lead the charge of collaboration, networking, organizing. I’ll be honest with you, the pizza fun and the beer fun, and coffee at your new location is awesome. And then all of a sudden, kaboom, everything stops. Tell us a little bit about, as a leader, what you did and how you really took charge of saying, “Look, we can get through this and help even more people.”

0:01:30.1 RB: Yeah, that was certainly an interesting time, ’cause you’re right, we… Even us as an organization, but the whole business community… When you talk to people even now, January, February, they were on fire. They were really rocket fuel going. And we were like that, too, as an organization. Of every event we had had, the attendance was much higher than the year before, and just everything. And then all of a sudden, boom, things change dramatically very quickly. I would say, for us as an organization, I am extremely blessed to be surrounded by extremely, very, very talented people on our team. And we pivoted very quickly. I’ve almost started to hate that word “pivot” ’cause we’ve all overused it a little bit this year. We really did think about… Or we don’t have time, we can’t curl up in fetal position and ride this out. Our business…

0:02:26.6 LJJ: You had one day to do that, right? One day.

0:02:29.5 RB: One day. Really, you really, really did. The next day, we were actually… Well, the very first day, we were like, “Okay, what does our business community need?” And the first thing they need is information, ’cause there’s just so much coming at us. And so, we stood up on webinars within the first day. And I think the day or two after things were closed, we started having webinars and to try to provide information and got the speakers that have the information talking to our members. And we did webinars for about three or four or five weeks, spread like three or four of them a week, just because it was changing so quickly. So, the need for information was priority one for us to get that out to our business community.

0:03:18.1 LJJ: As time has gone on, and especially with the downtown being hit so hard with the closing of restaurants, and as you just said, Grand Rapids truly is a place that people know is growing but that halt of business. What is it that you’re helping our communities do to continue finding out where are some solutions to keep us on a trajectory path? And for those who cannot be, because it’s literally forbid[den] right now, what is it that you’re offering? Is it mostly webinars or is there now starting to be some face-to-face?

0:03:57.6 RB: Throughout the year, things changed, and for all of us. And so right away, everyone was closed and eventually businesses were allowed to start opening, and we so provided that information. Then we saw the financial need, so we stood up a fund within our foundation, and then ultimately with the county with their small business grants. But all of our programs, we started… Once we got through the initial few weeks, and we could start thinking ahead, we started offering all of our regular programming, but it was all moved to virtual. And again, our team did a great job of doing that. And so this year, for 2021, right now our plan, we are offering programming, we are planning as if everything is going to be virtual through June. If all of a sudden, things are opening up or we’re able to, we’ll start operating things more in-person sooner. But even if we’re allowed to under executive orders, people’s comfort level of coming back into crowds, I don’t think will be there. And so that’s why we sort of… When we put our plan and our budget together for this year, we said just planning everything through June being virtual.

0:05:14.6 LJJ: Is that something that your business partners are really relying on, Rick, to see, “Okay, what is it the Chamber is doing and how can I mimic, as a company, that success to be able to keep their morale going with the team?” You mentioned how critical your team is, and if you’re not together day-to-day, face-to-face, I think that’s one thing that people keep talking about. It is just so much more difficult, yet it seems like we’re pulling it off.

0:05:45.7 RB: Yeah, it is challenging to keep that culture and keep the energy of the team pulled together and heading in the right direction. And I know some of the things that we did as an organization for our own team, again, then I’ve shared it several times with other business people, ’cause you start commiserating, “What are you doing that works and what’s not working?” And we started having twice a week Zoom calls with our entire team. And one of them, our Tuesday Zoom call is all about team health. We don’t talk about “What project are you working on?” anything like that. It’s all about team’s health. And “How are you doing?” And then we do fun stuff and try to…

0:06:28.5 LJJ: Love that idea.

0:06:28.9 RB: Love… Laugh a little bit and do some stuff like that. And then on Thursday when we meet, it’s like, “Okay, what projects are you working on?” It’s more of what you would call a traditional check-in. And the team has really said that they really appreciated that, ’cause they at least can stay connected to one another.

0:06:45.7 LJJ: Right. Well, you have one of the biggest of our events that everybody looks forward to and loves coming up. Tell us a little bit about it, and how has that been pulled off? I think… You know what? It’s hard to say the word “sold out” when it’s virtual, but it’s sold out.

0:07:03.1 RB: We’ve been very fortunate that we’ve had the business communities… stayed engaged with us through the year. But I… again, I give all credit to our team. They have executed really well. So, I think starting back in the fall with our Athena Awards… I don’t know if you were able to attend that. But doing it in really high quality and high caliber, set the stage like, “This is what you can expect from us.” And so, we’ll be doing the annual meeting very similarly. We have to do our… We did our Athena, we did the CEO Summit, our Diversity & Inclusion Summit this fall, in a studio. So, it’s a production. It’s not just a Zoom meeting, but it’s a production. And to give people as close to the traditional experiences they would if we were meeting in-person. It’s incredible to think that a year ago at this time, we had 1,000 people at DeVos Place…

0:08:01.8 LJJ: I know.

0:08:02.4 RB: For our annual meeting. And it wasn’t long after that, the world changed on us. But we have a great turnout again this year. We have… Josh Linkner is coming to speak. Again, he will be here in-person, and he’ll be in the studio with us, live production. We chose him specifically because he’s very innovative. He’s not going to go a speech off the shelf. He told us that, he promised that. He said, “I know Grand Rapids. I’m from Detroit. I know Grand Rapids.” It’ll be a presentation that’s painted specifically for us to really help our business community think ahead. What’s coming? What can we do? What should we do to better prepare?

0:08:41.0 LJJ: That is needed now, more than ever. Well, I know that I’m really… I love the partnerships that we share. The Econ Club, we have collaborative meetings quite often. And I think that’s one of the things that sets everybody apart when you look at the partnerships that are built. And Rick, thank you so much for helping do that.

0:09:01.9 RB: Absolutely. It’s been in my blood forever. I like collaborating and working in teams.

0:09:08.3 LJJ: That’s awesome. Well, hey, thank you for taking the time today. I know you guys are busy. Really quickly, date, and can people still register for the annual meeting?

0:09:16.3 RB: Yeah. So, the date, the annual meeting is next week. It’s Tuesday the 26th. We normally do it over the lunch hour, but since we’re not serving lunch, we moved the time to the afternoon, so I think it’s 4:00 to 5:30, is the timeframe. You can still go onto our website grandrapids.org and register for the event, and you’ll get the link information that you need to log in to the production.

0:09:42.3 LJJ: Well, Rick, thank you so much. I hope you have a great day. It is a sunny day in Michigan today. And you know something, when we have those in the winter, we like to celebrate.

0:09:52.5 RB: Yeah, absolutely. It’s been a while since I’ve seen that shiny object in the sky.


0:09:58.6 LJJ: Well, thanks again, Rick. And again, if you are interested in the annual meeting, or becoming a business partner with the Chamber, there’s no better time than now. Rick, thank you so much.

0:10:07.9 RB: My pleasure. Thank you.

0:10:09.6 LJJ: Thank you so much, Jack Esselink, for your production skills. And if you have a topic you’d like to share, just send it our way. Lynne Jarman-Johnson, Consumers Credit Union. Money, I’m Home.


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