Greater Lansing: A Region Rich in Entrepreneurial Spirit
What are the characteristics that define a great region? No doubt, you’ll get many different answers depending on whom you ask. Some of the most likely answers you would hear include strong education, jobs, infrastructure, safe, walkable communities, quality housing, recreation and cultural options and a clean environment.
In my years as an educator and business leader, I have come to realize that greater Lansing possesses all of those qualities, and quite a bit more. In many ways, we are on par with any other community in the country. There is one other area in which I believe greater Lansing excels in a way that sets us apart from other communities — we have a history of entrepreneurial spirit and innovation that has served to fuel job growth, investment and an outstanding quality of life for the people who have called the greater Lansing region home.
What I have also learned as a result of the many relationships we have nurtured through the years at Capitol National Bank is that there are literally hundreds of innovative pioneers who have built highly successful businesses. These businesses collectively employ thousands of people in our region. I would like to share three such stories with you:
D & G Equipment
After working for several other companies, Elden Gustafson and his wife Jolene opened their first stores in Mason and Williamston in 1993. Since that time, the company has built and opened six additional stores in Corunna, Howell, Highland, Rives Junction, Charlotte and recently, a second store in Williamston which is dedicated to Internet sales.
D&G Equipment has become a recognized leader in the sale of lawn and garden and agriculture equipment. The company employs 135 people who Elden calls “the best part of our company.” Elden attributes the team’s success to dedication.
“It’s a 24-hour a day job,” said Elden. That dedication was one reason Elden was recognized with two Entrepreneur of the Year awards from The Greater Lansing Business Monthly in 2007; Retail Entrepreneur and Master Entrepreneur of the Year.
Dicker & Deal
With $2,000 borrowed from his grandmother, Gary Potter opened Dicker & Deal, Inc. in 1973. He rented a small space in the building of 1701 S. Cedar St. in Lansing. Originally, the entire business was confined to what is now the audio department.
In the past 40 years, Potter has expanded to five locations in Lansing, East Lansing and Jackson. The company has expanded into music, furniture, a second-hand store and a repair shop. Dicker & Deal also provides the general public with Temporary Cash Services.
Potter will attest to the fact that being an entrepreneur isn’t always glamorous, especially with a daily life of what he calls “constantly putting out fires.” However, the rewards can be enormous, especially with the growth of the business that now supports 50-60 families in the region. What is Potter’s advice to others?
“If you have a good business plan, offer a good product and treat people fairly, they will want to do business with you,” says Potter.
Lorri Rishar (CEO) and Angela Witwer (President) made the courageous decision to leave secure jobs for the uncertainty of starting a new agency. Before making the move, Rishar and Witwer used their spare time to conduct market research and develop a thorough business plan. Then, Rishar and Witwer decided to make the leap into their own full-service agency, specializing in public relations, branding, advertising, marketing and advocacy.
Six years later, the female- and minority owned company has developed a robust roster of clients all over the country. Rishar and Witwer are particularly proud of the fact that their first client remains a client today. Edge is also unique in that one of the two partners is actively involved with every account. “We have a passion for the work we are doing and we want our clients to experience that passion,” said Rishar.
D & G Equipment, Dicker & Deal and Edge Partnerships are three great examples of entrepreneurs who had the courage to implement an idea as well as the tenacity and work ethic to overcome many obstacles and achieve success.
I admire these companies for what they represent and salute them and thousands like them in our region for helping greater Lansing become a region that is second to none.
Paula D. Cunningham is President and CEO of Capitol National Bank.