People in the News: June 6, 2022

Here is the MiBiz People in the news report for June 6, 2022



  • Global office furniture Maker Steelcase Inc. has named Michael Held as vice president of global design. Held, who has been with Steelcase in Munich, Germany, for eight years as global furniture design director, will succeed James Ludwig, who retired at the end of last year after 22 years. Held has 18 years of experience in design, with previous positions in Germany, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Switzerland.
  • Perrigo Co. plc has promoted Alison Ives to executive vice president and chief scientific officer. Ives spent 11 years with AstraZeneca’s scientific office and, more recently, has led Perrigo’s consumer self-care international regulatory affairs team and consumer self-care Americas research and development team. She is the 2021 recipient of a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) award for services in health care. In her new role, Ives will join the company’s operating committee and oversee research and development, regulatory and innovation efforts.


  • Longtime communications professional Chris Knape has accepted the role of director of university communications at Grand Valley State University. Knape is already on the job, leaving behind K-Corner Consulting, a Grand Rapids-based public relations firm that he founded and spent three years steering. Prior to starting K-Corner, Knape spent five years as marketing director and vice president of marketing and communications for BarFly Ventures LLC, the parent company of the HopCat chain of beer bars. Prior to that, Knape spent two years at SeyferthPR after exiting a 17-year career as a journalist, where he once served as a business editor of the Grand Rapids Press.
  • Hope College has named Becky Starkenburg as Dean of students to succeed Richard Frost, who has been at Hope since 1989 and will retire this year. Starkenburg will take over leadership of the college’s student development program on August 1. Starkenburg comes to Hope from Illinois’ Trinity Christian College, where she has served as vice president for student life and Title IX Coordinator since 2013. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Northwestern College and a Master’s degree in student affairs administration from Michigan State University.
  • Ning Zhang has been appointed Dean of the College of Health Professions at Grand Valley State University. Zhang has a doctorate in health administration from Virginia Commonwealth University and a Master’s degree in public health from Shandong University. He is currently the associate Dean for academic affairs at Seton Hall University’s School of Health and Medical Sciences, where he has overseen the re-accreditation of multiple departments and the establishment of several new programs. Zhang is an established scholar with more than 80 published papers, and serves on the editorial boards of multiple journals.


  • Danelle Harrington has been named a partner at Warner Norcross + Judd LLP. Harrington, a graduate of Central Michigan University and Valparaiso University School of Law, will join the Corporate Services and Trusts and Estates practice groups out of the firm’s Midland office. Her past roles include partner with Smith Bovill PC, law clerk at the Michigan Tax Tribunal and extern with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Indiana.


  • Arbor Circlean organization that provides counseling, substance use treatment and family services across five West Michigan counties, has Hired Leah Walton as performance improvement director. Walton previously served as program manager for Spectrum Health’s Patient and Family Partner Program. She is a Graduate of Spring Arbor University and is currently working towards a Master’s degree in social innovation at Grand Valley State University. “Her expertise in the cultural Intelligence space will be critical as we plan for future community needs,” said Susan Sheppard, Arbor Circle’s chief operations officer.


  • Gregory McConnell has been appointed to succeed Bruce Cady as vice chairman of the ChoiceOne Financial Services Inc. and ChoiceOne Bank boards of directors. Cady’s career included many years as chairman and CEO of Lakestone Bank and Trust, which merged with ChoiceOne Bank in 2020, and service is a variety of Civic and professional organizations. McConnell has been a director at ChoiceOne since 2019. His past roles include insurance agent with State Farm, director of County Bank Corp. and chairman of Capac Bancorp Inc. He is currently a member of the St. Clair County RESA school board and a St Clair county commissioner.
  • Highpoint Community Bank has Hired Jeffrey Steeby as senior vice president of Wealth Management. Steeby brings more than 30 years of experience in trust and wealth management to the role, including nine years as vice president and senior trust officer at Fifth Third Bank in Grand Rapids. He has a bachelor’s degree in business from Western Michigan University, a master’s degree in business administration from Wayne State University and is a certified financial planner.
  • Insurance brokerage firm Hylant has Hired Carman Baines as a client executive. Baines, who studied business administration and management at Davenport University and Grand Rapids Community College, will join the firm’s sales arm that’s based in Grand Rapids. Baines previously served as vice president of employee benefits at USI Insurance Services.
  • Ken Wagner has been appointed chief financial officer of Blackford Capital. Wagner’s previous roles include Chief Financial Officer at Coastal Group, Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at GHSP Inc., and Vice President of Finance at Magna International Inc. At Blackford, Wagner will take charge of finance, accounting, regulatory, compliance, reporting and controls functions. They will also support the deals team and oversee portfolio company due diligence.


  • Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has been appointed David Worthamsdirector of employment policy for the Michigan Manufacturers Association, to the Michigan Civil Rights Commission. In addition to his role at MMA, Worthams has served with the Michigan Bankers Association, the Michigan Municipal League and the board of Equality Michigan. He is a former Kalamazoo county road commissioner and spent seven years in a variety of roles with the Michigan Legislature.


  • Jodi Owczarski will succeed Jane Clark as president and CEO of the Michigan West Coast Chamber of Commerce on Sept. 1. Owczarski is currently Vice President and COO, and has previously served as an account executive at Worksighted Inc., business services executive at NET (net) Inc., and community center director at the Commons of Evergreen. Clark has been with the chamber for 32 years.


  • Grand Rapids-based public relations firm SeyferthPR announced that John Helmholdt will take over as the firm’s new president beginning July 7. Helmholdt comes to SeyferthPR after nearly 15 years serving as the executive director of communications and external affairs for Grand Rapids Public Schools. Before that, they co-owned a political consulting firm called Strategic Communication Group.

– Compiled by Abigail Ham and Jayson Bussa.

Wood takes over Grand Action 2.0 amid major redevelopment

Kara Wood is excited to take the helm of Grand Action 2.0 as the organization helps steer the redevelopment of 31 Acres of Waterfront in downtown Grand Rapids.

“This site has always been one that has been seen as a transformational and the river access and development opportunity is one that will benefit generations to come,” Wood said. “This will have a catalytic effect on that part of downtown and will be an opportunity to expand on other developments already happening in the area.”

The organization announced last week that Wood would succeed longtime Executive Director Jon Nunn, who will step down on July 5. The organization was formed in 1992 and has been behind some of the largest downtown Grand Rapids developments over the past couple of decades. Grand Action went on hiatus in early 2018 when co-chairs John Canepa and David Frey Retired, and resumed operations as Grand Action 2.0 in March 2020.

Wood previously worked with Grand Action in her past role as the city of Grand Rapids’ economic development director and the managing director of economic development and Mobile GR parking services.

Most recently, Wood worked for three years as the associate vice president for community partnerships in the office of government relations at Western Michigan University.

“I wasn’t looking for a new opportunity, but sometimes there are those opportunities that you can’t ignore that have a personal and a professional impact,” Wood said. “With my experience and commitment to this community, this seemed like the next logical step in my career.”

One of Wood’s goals while leading Grand Action 2.0 is to focus on how large projects can benefit everyone in Grand Rapids’ diverse community, she said. While at the city of Grand Rapids, Wood played a role in creating the Equitable Economic Development and Mobility strategic plan, as well as growing neighborhood business districts and bolstering corridor improvement authorities.

“I’m excited about the transition Grand Action 2.0 has made to expand and have more voices around the table that lead that vision, and I look forward to delivering that transformational vision that will take the city to the next level,” Wood said. “We live in a very diverse community and I think it’s much different than it was 10 or 20 years ago, but certainly building projects that benefit everyone is important because everyone should benefit from public funds.”

– Reported by Kate Carlson.


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