Heather Gill Fox: Promoting economic growth, embracing Holland’s diversity

Heather Gill Fox: Promoting economic growth, embracing Holland’s diversity
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Photo Credit: Elisabeth Marie Photography

Cover photo Credit: Christina Leskovar Photography

BY JEREMY GONSIOR

It’s Tuesday and for Heather Gill Fox that means “meeting day,” an interesting, jam-packed day of, well, meetings – meetings with family, friends, organizations and businesses.

Sometimes they are back-to-back, but that doesn’t stop her from being early to the next one, arriving at the coffee shop well before the person who had ONE meeting all day.

But with everything Fox is trying to accomplish in 2017, it makes sense. She has to be focused.

Organized.

Structured.

You see, this year is truly a game-changing year for her.

First, she’s establishing herself as one of the youngest and newest members of the Michigan West Coast Chamber of Commerce board of directors. Then this summer she becomes president of the Holland Young Professionals (HYP), after serving as vice president for the last year.

Two important organizations, representing two different worlds. And yet, Fox is there, bridging the gap, serving as the unofficial liaison between the groups, advocating for fresh graduates trying to become established and established businesses trying to stay fresh.

She literally lights up when she talks about the challenge, a privilege she doesn’t take lightly.

“I am excited. I am ready,” Fox said, as she smiles and raises both her hands in the air, fists clenched, shaking them ever so slightly, exhibiting genuine joy about the opportunity. “I am waiting to see where my mark is going to be.”

An overarching theme, no matter what the board: Holland is changing, changing for the better. The community is comprised of more than just white-collar, college graduates with flexible schedules, Fox said. And Holland residents are talking about challenging issues, trying to solve them, not sweep them under the rug, and in the process breaking down barriers.

“It’s cool to see that start,” said Fox, general manager at The Rental Company in Holland.

Two specific issues are especially important for Fox to address in HYP and the Michigan West Coast Chamber.

The first is establishing a strong economic base by slowing resident migration to larger cities and offering a welcoming culture to professionals interested in moving here.

“Talent acquisition is a huge concern for the area – attracting and retaining,” Fox said. “We need to bring in people from the outside.”

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Photo credit: Christina Leskovar Photography

Another big picture issue? Acknowledging and embracing and reconciling the different backgrounds present. In other words, white Dutch residents are a piece of the puzzle, not the puzzle.

“We have such a diverse community,” Fox said. “So challenging the assumption that it’s a Dutch community. There are many cultures to celebrate here.”

Life after college

Fox came to West Michigan, like many Holland “transplants,” to attend Hope College. The Rockford, Illinois native started juggling commitments early, knocking out three majors – Communication, International Studies, and German.

And, like many recent college graduates, the city she studied in didn’t seem appealing – at first.

“I kind of thought I would be anywhere else,” Fox said.

Then the Rental Company stepped in.

Her boss, Owner Robyn Allison, encouraged Fox to get involved in the community. She started to fall in love with the area’s wonderful nature and the heart of Holland, while acknowledging its pain points, in her opinion, attracting and retaining top talent, and embracing diversity and equity, as mentioned earlier. The hands-on experience changed her.

“It really helped me to buy in,” she said.

Fox began her leadership involvement with HYP as the Membership Chair, overseeing the organization’s shift from a paid membership model to a sponsorship model.

Then she was elected HYP vice president in 2016. Fox said current HYP President Nicole Paquette influenced her significantly, helping her become more confident, especially in the art of public speaking. In turn, Fox has inspired Paquette.

Nicole Paquette

“Her passion for equity and her thoughtfulness and encouragement towards everyone she encounters are just a few of the qualities that make her an incredible leader,” Paquette said. “Heather is a natural connector and it shows through in her leadership style – she’s very effective at connecting people, causes, and solutions, and HYP has been a great space for her to live that out loud and further her investment and innovation in our community.”

While the HYP board has been more hands-on, the Michigan West Coast Chamber has been more strategic, Fox said. Different, but in a good way.

“It’s definitely been a learning curve for me,” she said.

Michigan West Coast Chamber President Jane Clark said Fox was a strategic addition to the Chamber Board given her extensive involvement and leadership position in HYP.

Jane Clark

Jane Clark

“We appreciate the perspectives she brings to our Board as a successful young leader in our community,” Clark said. “She’s a graduate of our West Coast Leadership program, a regular program attendee, and our liaison to the many partnership programs the Chamber has with HYP.  We love her commitment to making our community a great place to live and work, and her passion and energy are contagious!”

Looking ahead, no matter what committee or board she is serving on, Holland can count on one attribute from her: excitement.

“I am really excited to see where the community is headed and be part of the voice for young professionals,” she said.

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Jenna Sage: Managing the trendiest 20,000 square feet in Grand Rapids

Jenna Sage: Managing the trendiest 20,000 square feet in Grand Rapids

Leaving downtown Grand Rapids, it’s easy to stop paying attention and focus on just getting home.

Understandable after a long day of work, but a mistake.

A mistake? Yeah, you read that right. There are hidden gems popping up everywhere in the neighborhoods adjacent to the ever-popular downtown. 

One of those, a place I literally just learned about it, is The Cheney Place.

Located about a mile and half north of Devos Place on Monroe Avenue, this venue is not your mother’s, father’s, grandmother’s or grandfather’s event space. It’s an urban boutique space. What Pinterest would look like in real life.

And it’s all run by a Millennial with cool frames, the Jenna Sage.

What makes The Cheney Place keep growing? Let’s hear from Jenna in her own words.

Credit: Studio 6.23 Photography

When TCP first opened, it was family run by a mother-daughter team. An old co-worker of mine was the first non-family employee and when they expanded she recommended me to come in and help with event coordination.

It started very part time about three years ago and has morphed into my beautiful thing I’d call my dream job. I’ve been around through the transition of owners, lots of design changes, employees changes, and growth, so really I’ve been around for it all since the venue is only 4 years old.

Right now, I’m managing the space, working with all of our clients from bookings, design elements (floor plans, vintage furniture, linens) to putting their day of team together. I also oversee our really cool team of coordinators and interns. While I love working with clients, as the venue grows, so does my role so I’ve transitioned a few times to create new jobs and even create new elements of the business.

The Cheney Place is a space truly like no other. The building is a 50,000 square foot old furniture factory… come on, that’s pretty cool! Our clients get 20,000 square feet of event space for ceremonies, receptions, cocktail hour or even just a meeting.

Even just as an empty warehouse, the space has so much potential and our clients can feel it. What’s even better is our second floor is always decked out with vintage and mid-century furniture, chandeliers and cool plants… it basically says cool vibes and take my picture (if it could talk, haha).

Credit: Studio 6.23 Photography

Our real asset is our team, each member is hand selected for their role. We do what we do because we actually love it. We’re in hospitality to serve people… mainly that looks like taking care of everything a bride could worry about on leading up to and on her wedding day!

Credit: Studio 6.23 Photography

I’ve spent the past three years working at one of the coolest venues in Grand Rapids so of course, I’ve met a ton of cool vendors. It’s really being here long term and connecting over and over again with the same cool vendors that allows me to build connections and network. The wedding industry is cool, I’ve made so many connections professionally but at the end of the day, so many of them have become friends! I think those connections lead to mutual recommendations for both TCP and other vendors!

Where are we headed? Haha… for weddings on weddings on weddings is my simple answer. The wedding industry is always changing and we like to be on the front line for new trends and cool designs and we do have a few areas we’re still sprucing up. The whole gang here and the owners, have spent the last few years building an incredible business that’s really taken off. 2017 is about doing what we love, and a whole lot of it!

 



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Young & Restless: This Grand Rapids Meetup group is growing and here’s why

Young & Restless: This Grand Rapids Meetup group is growing and here’s why

A majority of general networking events these days are predictable.

The sequence of events tend to be the following: You show up. Put on a name tag. Grab some cold vegetables or fruit. Maybe a coffee. Then stand around. Small talk.

Nothing real interesting comes out of it and you leave frustrated, because there was no structure, no real point and no new connections.

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Sound familiar?

I love networking and I have totally been there. But don’t worry because a new technology is at work, and yes, it’s an app: Meetup.

Meetup provides an online platform for people interested in similar things, whether business or hobbies, helping them create vibrant groups that then meet in-person regularly. I am part of a digital marketing one and hopefully an investment one soon, but one Grand Rapids-based Meetup really intrigued me.

Young & Restless meets at non-traditional networking times, such as Sunday mornings, and brings in stellar guests, such as former Failure Lab co-founder and 5×5 night ambassador Austin Dean. So I decided to reach out to group co-founder Nicole Zaagman and find out where Young & Restless is headed in 2017.

When I say I am going to a Meetup.com event, my wife is very skeptical. If it’s seriously not Tinder, what exactly is Meetup?

Haha, Tinder 😉 Well Meetup to me is a great online tool to meet new and interesting people in your professional field or based on your common interests. I’ve met some really cool souls through Meetup.com and made lots of new friends along the way.

NICOLEZAAGMAN-sqYou have a waiting list for your next event. Ball-er. How did you come up with your specific group – Young and Restless – and how did it become so popular?

Great question! Like most great ideas, Young & Restless was born out of frustration. I originally co-founded the group with two other local GR chaps in January 2016.

We were a bit irritated and tired of the “traditional” networking scene. We created Young & Restless to be a comfortable networking space for other “young at heart” freelancers, creatives and entrepreneurs who wanted to connect share and make a positive difference with their work.

In the past year, I’ve taken over the group and hosted an event every month. Popularity? I’d say the name and the concept and the structured, yet casual atmosphere.  

Ask a friend to attend a networking event with you and some people’s body language turns to the “get-away-from-me-right-now-or-I-will-so-defriend-you” look. Is there a way to make it less scary?

Like I say in my book, Bee BADASS and Brilliant, Bee YOU! Let the true you shine and don’t give a second thought to others opinions. If your friend doesn’t want to go with you, but you’d like to – just do it anyway!

I’ve met more people going to things solo than if I had a (no offense) “friend crutch” with me.

… Just focus on being authentic and ask genuine questions when meeting new faces. Sure I’ve had my fair share of networking events that bombed or that didn’t resonate – but that’s the beauty of being an adult. You can make your own choices and decide to leave early or try a different group. Sometimes we also have to get a little out of our comfort circles. I’ve personally had the most growth in my life when I did things that didn’t come easy at first – networking was definitely one of those things!

 

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How has the group personally helped you and your business?

Hosting Young & Restless every month has opened the door to more connections and local businesses who have been happy to host our gatherings.

It’s provided me the opportunity to cultivate my own leadership skills and influence in the greater Grand Rapids business community and encourage others to do the same. 

In terms of my business? It’s a great word of mouth piece and face-to-face opportunity to share what my company LUX CHIX (creative agency for holistic brands) is all about and talk about the projects and clients I am working on presently. To anyone considering creating their own group, it’s a terrific opportunity to take your connecting and influence to new heights at a relatively low investment point.

If you enjoyed this article, please share it and reach out to Nicole. Need assistance with your content marketing? Contact me today!

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On a Lark: Kate Bolt inspires people to host, one batch cocktail at a time

On a Lark: Kate Bolt inspires people to host, one batch cocktail at a time

BY JEREMY GONSIOR

I first encountered Kate Bolt’s work at a holiday shopping event organized by Give Studio, a household name in West Michigan and beyond for fun, creative gifts. Of course, I was the last person to visit the experience, arriving about 5 minutes before it ended. But that was okay, because I was there, and I was going to purchase awesome Christmas gifts before Christmas Eve.

As I gazed over the offerings I was offered a cocktail. A few weeks removed I can’t remember exactly what it was and or exactly how it looked. But the taste? Cool. Refreshing. Fancy. I was immediately relaxed, despite my tardiness.

That experience stuck with me and I decide to track down the woman behind the momentary escape from the holiday hustle and bustle. I learned it was Kate Bolt of Living Lark. Turns out she is collaborating on events like this all over the area and really starting to develop a following. So, if you’re smart, which I know you are if you are reading this blog, follow her and check out one of her events. In the meantime, enjoy this Q&A with Bolt to see where she is headed next.

Cheers!

1. You send cocktail recipes out each week. Super practical for readers. How did you come up with this idea? What’s the response been so far?

During last year’s freezing winter, I wrote out all my recipes, which included 52 cocktails.  Overtime, I tweaked and edited the recipes and realized all of them were batch sizes, perfect for groups and parties.  I’m a perfectionist regarding how recipes turn out — they must be the same every time by every person who makes them — and decided to increase the quantity of each cocktail to fill a gallon jug.  This way they are consistent, and the host of the party can whip up a batch before the guests arrive.

 I’m hoping to inspire people to gather often and not be intimidated to host — which is easier if you make food and drinks prior to guests’ arrival so you can be fully present when guests do arrive.

My marketing strategy has been to post one recipe a week.  Although the recipes for the book are also about food, I want to have a strong brand initially and am focusing on batch cocktails posted weekly on Instagram and Facebook to establish my brand.  The posts are announced to subscribers in a weekly newsletter, which introduces the cocktail and my weekly events and musings.  The response to this has been good!  unnamed2

People love making large batches of drinks and, so far, each recipe has turned out the way I was hoping for those who make it! My best way to market has been to write to people and ask them to share my work (newsletter, posts) with friends as well as to collaborate on events with local businesses.

2. You’ve already worked together with some big names in West Michigan. Why collaboration, not competition?

The best way I’ve gotten the Lark brand out there is through collaboration.  Lark was born because friends — successful women in West Michigan businesses — helped me design my website, get initial photo shoots done, edit content, and have a marketing plan in place.  I’ve also reached out to local business people and served drinks at special events at their stores, in pop up shops, trunk shows, and have drink demos during store hours as well as at private parties.

Collaborating gets my followers into new-to-them businesses (and owners’ lives) and the business owners’ patrons get introduced to my project!  It’s a win-win! And, this relational approach has been a fun surprise in the success of Lark.  Celebrating each other’s ability to fly instead of cutting off each other’s wings really makes everyone better off in the end!

I found the beauty of creativity back when I started writing down my original and my family recipes.  One of my goals is to inspire people to invest in their creative spirit and give time to making and enjoying beautiful things — to compete with other creatives would be directly against all the joy that I have found in this project.

3. What’s your long-term goal with this project – publishing, retail, a restaurant?

My long-term goal with this project is to publish my cookbook On a Lark with a big publishing house.  I love paper, words, the publishing world, and I have chosen to aim high and search for someone to make this dream into a book!

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The premise of my cook book is to eat clean and healthy all week and go out on a lark (splurge) on the weekends.  The cocktails definitely fit into the splurge part!

I am speaking with an agent (who I was introduced to by a local author — again, collaboration!), and for a publisher to recognize me, I need MANY more followers.  This again points to the importance for me to collaborate, to be introduced to many more people who love cocktails, and to boost other people’s businesses in the process while serving them unique batch cocktails at local events!

For more information, check out livinglark.com and instagram/livinglark. Make sure you subscribe to Bolt’s weekly newsletter too!

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