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5.31.18 – SPOKES Notes & Photos

SPOKES Notes written by Tom Mathison

The Rotary Club of Downtown Grand Rapids gathered at noon at the University Club for its regular meeting. President Renwick Brutus called this meeting to order at noon by welcoming everyone and announcing the line-up of events and future speakers for the Club:

June 7:             “Rotary in the PM” – Michigan Software Labs at 4:00 pm

June 14:           Indian Trails Camp Picnic – Tim Hileman, Staff @ Campers

       June 21:           Dr. Bill Pink – President, GRCC

Renwick called upon Jason Webb to lead us in song today, the “America the Beautiful”, followed by today’s invocation by Grace Shearer..

Following lunch, President Renwick invited Arlen Gaddy to introduce guests and visiting Rotarians. And then he invited Hugh Brenneman, Grace Shearer, and Boyd Henderson to come forward to present the recipients of this year’s Boyden-Shearer Scholarships.  Hugh began each presentation with well-phrased humor.  Each recipient received a $2,000 scholarship.  Following are the recipients:

  • Caden Beurkins is a senior at Grand Rapids City Middle High School and current class president who will be attending MSU in the Fall. He wants to study sustainable agricultural systems.  He will also be joining the marching band at MSU.
  • Madiera BooydeGraaff is a senior at Grand Rapids Christian High School and will be studying architecture at the University of Michigan.  In addition to her interest in architecture, she is also involved in singing, piano, theater, and she serves as an advisor to the Grand Rapids Community Foundation.
  • Ana Grunewald is a senior at East Grand Rapids High School and is also an Interact student for the past two years.  She is captain of the EGR track and volleyball teams and is on the All-State Team in both sports, as well as being an academic All-Stater.  She will be studying bio-medical engineering at Hope College in the Fall.

Renwick then invited Dale Bramer to introduce today’s speaker, Ben Wickstrom, CEO of Erhardt Construction.  Dale is a Senior Vice President at Erhardt Construction, and he has known Ben for 20 years, ever since he started at Erhardt Construction just after his graduation in civil engineering from Michigan Technological University twenty years ago.  Ben has served as President of Erhardt Construction for the past seven years.  Ben has three children and Dale said that Ben has always been a quick study, with a “fire in his belly” and totally in-line with the adage that “if a business doesn’t take care of its clients, some else will”.  Among Ben’s community activities include Habitat for Humanity, Adopt-A-Stream, God’ Kitchen, Leadership Grand Rapids, and the Talent 2025 CEO Council.

Ben’s presentation today was about today’s current construction climate and West Michigan Construction Industry Trends.

Today, the market in Grand Rapids could be described as “hot”, and Ben said he is encouraged by the mix and balance of the projects underway.  Employment in the construction sector added 61,000 in February, 2018, the highest number since 2007.

In Grand Rapids in 2002, there were 26,000 construction workers.  By 2011, the number was reduced to 16,000.  Today, the number is 25,000, still not back to pre-crash levels.  Ben said he looks ahead to see where the industry is headed.  He uses several indicators each month, including the AIA Economic Index which showed a slight reduction in activity in the MidWest last month.  The National Backlog Index (by Association of Builders and Contractors) shows a backlog o about 10 months currently.

Ben projects that we will see continued growth locally for the next two years.  Nationwide, there are 500,000 construction jobs available, and depending on funding for infrastructure projects, that number could be 1 million in 10 years.  The challenge is in two areas:  workforce development and material prices / global trade.

Locally, the Workforce Development Alliance was formed in 2013 ( by several partner organizations, including Association of Builders and Contractors, Home Builders Association and the American Subcontractors Association.  This year they held MiCareerQuest at Devos Place, and over 9,500 students registered for the event, and four industries were represented.

The rise of material prices of 5.8% over of the past year was fueled primarily by increases in steel, aluminum, and lumber.

Ben believes that the construction industry will change more in the next 10 years than in the last 50 years.  Workforce development will drive innovations for the future, including use off drones, augmented reality, 3D modeling and wi-fi cloud-based technology, modular construction, use off robots, self-operating machinery, and 3D printing.

But at the end of the day, Ben said that “it still takes people to do construction work.”

Following an engaging and thoughtful time of Q&A, the Club offered an enthusiastic round of applause.  President Renwick presented Ben with a certificate for a clean water filter to be given to a family in his honor in Nicaraugua.

Renwick congratulated the scholarship winners today, and he reiterated the upcoming Rotary events.  Then he rang the Rotary bell, and the meeting was adjourned at 1:15 pm.

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