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Economic Summit at Hastings PAC Nov. 6

‘Culture as a competitive advantage’ highlighting annual event


The Barry County Economic Development Alliance will host the annual Barry County Economic Summit Wednesday, Nov. 6, from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. at the new performing arts center at Hastings High School.

The summit keynote focus is a presentation and panel discussion highlighting how the culture of a company or organization can be catalytic to its success and future prosperity.

“It’s amazing how the landscape of economic development has shifted in recent years,” Travis Alden, president of the Barry County Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Alliance, said in a press release. “Fifteen years ago, it was all about tax incentives and access to highways. Now it’s talent, placemaking and housing availability. Getting proactive on improving your company’s culture isn’t a luxury anymore, it’s essential.”

As part of the scope of their annual retention and expansion visits with local employers, Alden and his team routinely receive feedback from companies about the challenge to attract and retain talent.

“With such a low unemployment rate, it’s really a buyer’s market out there when it comes to employment,” said Cindy Vujea, economic development coordinator at the Barry County EDA. “More and more, talent is attracted to organizations with a thriving workplace culture. It’s just as significant as compensation in many cases.”

Many local and regional companies have seen significant recent success in the culture space and have made significant, intentional investments into their efforts to be an attractive place to work. Kicking off this discussion will be Jeff Disher – founder and president of DISHER a product development, talent solutions and business consulting firm. He will give a presentation on “building a thriving culture by design.”

“I’ve been hearing about DISHER for the last couple of years – raves about what they’re doing from some folks I really respect,” Alden said. “We scheduled a ‘culture tour’ at their facility in Zeeland and were absolutely blown away at their approach. I’m really excited to bring Jeff to town for this event.”

To dive deeper into specific strategies, stories and best practices about their work in creating thriving cultures, Disher will be joined by individuals from four other organizations – two local and two regional – for an interactive panel discussion.

Panelists include:

Chad Lundquist, lean/CI manager and foundations champion at Flexfab in Hastings.

Michael McKeown, partner, and Ashley Lantinga, director of culture at McKeown and Kraai Professional CPAs in Middleville.

Jeff Shingler, vice president of employee experience at CMS Energy Corp/Consumers Energy.

Rachel Bartels, executive director of Hello West Michigan in Grand Rapids.

Preceding the panel discussion, Jim Robey from the Upjohn Institute will give his annual economic forecast for Barry County, the state of Michigan and the nation.

In addition, Alden and others from the Economic Development Alliance will provide a brief update on the organization’s scope of work and impacts achieved in the past year.

Area employers, business owners and managers, human resource professionals and elected and appointed officials are encouraged to attend. The summit is open to the public, the cost to attend is $20 per person for Barry County Chamber members and $30 for non-members. Registration and additional information can be found online at; by emailing; or calling 269-945-2454.

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