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ReThink West Michigan returns Nov. 27

ReThink West Michigan invites former residents to learn about local opportunities while socializing the evening before Thanksgiving. (Photo provided)

Happy hour-style networking event connects Barry County natives with career opportunities




The Barry County Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Alliance is partnering with Hello West Michigan – a regional talent-attraction organization – to bring homegrown talent back to Barry County.

The two organizations will host the third annual ReThink West Michigan event at the Walldorff Brewpub, 105 E. State St., in downtown Hastings Nov. 27. Guests may stop in any time between 5:30 and 8 p.m. and leave whenever they choose. Preregistration is preferred.

The gathering aims to attract former West Michigan residents back to the region. The Grand Rapids Thanksgiving Eve tradition expanded two years ago to a multi-location event, including Barry County.

On a day when many former students and professionals are back in the area for Thanksgiving, representatives from eight area companies will be on hand to let guests know that it’s time to “rethink” West Michigan.

“We’ve had multiple hires as a direct result from this event the last two years, on top of the great exposure for our companies,” said Travis Alden, president of the Barry County Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Alliance, a member of the collaboration that makes ReThink West Michigan a multi-location event.

“We’re able to showcase regional employers that have openings all over West Michigan, like Spectrum Health; small but growing local firms like MKP CPAs; as well as companies headquartered in Barry County with an international sales footprint like Hastings Fiberglass Products,” Alden said. “They’re all hiring.”

Local companies sending representatives will include Edward Jones, Flexfab, Hastings Fiberglass Products, McKeown and Kraai Professional CPAs, Spectrum Health, Thornapple Manor, TNR Machine and West Michigan Works. A listing of career areas for which they are hiring is available on the ReThink West Michigan website,, under the Hastings location link.

Intentionally designed to be unlike a traditional career fair, ReThink West Michigan provides a casual, professional environment for networking and discovery of the career possibilities and growing companies in the area.

“This event is truly unique because it is targeted toward former West Michigan residents that have moved away,” Rachel Bartels, executive director of Hello West Michigan, said. “We’re highlighting the things people want to know about when they think about relocating: Career opportunities and lifestyle in West Michigan.”

Hastings native Gary Pleyte attended the 2017 ReThink event at the Walldorff. After earning a master’s degree in mechanical engineering, Pleyte worked in the automobile industry in Detroit. Eventually, he started thinking it might be time to return to West Michigan.

“The atmosphere was very relaxed and stress-free,” Pleyte of the ReThink event format.

He had assumed he would end up in Grand Rapids because of the expectation that “all the industry was in the big city.”

That wasn’t the case.

“I was able to land an engineering position for a global company right in my hometown in Hastings,” he said.

After ReThink, Pleyte interviewed with a couple of companies and started with Viking Group the following January. Even after being hired, he was still being approached by company representatives he’d met at ReThink.

He now has a role where he gets to be more hands-on and is responsible for projects rather than smaller components, which he greatly enjoys. He’s had the opportunity to travel a few times already in his new position and felt like a crucial part of the company shortly after starting.

“Gary is a great example of why we hold this event,” Alden said. “Here’s a guy who wanted to come back home and needed to get connected. He’s from Hastings and he still wasn’t aware of the career opportunities that exist here. ReThink provides a great avenue for that to happen.”

Opportunities in Barry County often are unknown, Alden said, even to those with roots in the area.

“We have many phenomenal professional opportunities right here – from engineering to IT to accounting to nursing to quality control, management and everything in between,” he said. “I encourage anybody with family or friends visiting for Thanksgiving to have them attend the event and check out the possibilities.”

The event is free to attend, only requiring interested attendees to register online at Walk-ins also are welcome.

“West Michigan companies are growing at an unprecedented rate,” Tim Mroz, vice president of strategic initiatives of The Right Place Inc., said. “But their growth is limited by access to talent. We have hundreds of positions available regionally, with a specific need in the areas of engineering and technology, and we would love to see former Michiganders come home to these jobs.”



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