Global trade center celebrates 15th anniversary

GVL / Courtesy Amanda Pitts

Amanda Pitts

GVL / Courtesy Amanda Pitts

Alyssa Rettelle

Students, faculty, staff and members of the West Michigan community gathered at the Van Andel Global Trade Center inside the L. William Seidman Center on Feb. 6 to celebrate its 15th anniversary.

According to the Van Andel Global Trade Center’s GVSU homepage, the center was founded in 1999 as an outreach unit of Grand Valley State University at the time when the Richard M. DeVos Center in downtown Grand Rapids was opened.

Amway Corporation Cofounder Jay Van Andel, recognized that DeVos Center would be a focal point for international business education and activity and saw the opportunity to provide local businesses with access to valuable international resources that he himself required during the early years of developing his business.

Sonja Johnson, the executive director of the Van Andel Global Trade Center, said Arend Lubbers, who was president of GVSU at the time, had a vision of really connecting with community.

“One of their plans to connect with the community was to build a trade center,” Johnson said. “So they implemented a search committee here at the university and spoke with members of the business community to find out what was needed. They ended up deciding businesses needed educated students and assistants to be successful.

“So the goal and objective was to assist businesses in Michigan to be successful internationally. The thought was, the more successful the businesses are globally, the more they’ll need to grow and hopefully hire more Grand Valley graduates.”

Beginning in the year 2000, the downtown buildings were opened and a formal dedication ceremony was held for the Van Andel Global Trade Center. Since then, it has supported more than 6,800 businesses and 20,000 people through consulting projects.

It has also provided more than 30 GVSU students the opportunity to receive hands-on experience conducting international market research and assisting with global projects.

“We hire a lot of Grand Valley students to work on contracts, and the students get office experience and also event planning,” Johnson said. “They do marketing flyers, registrations and they set up materials. They also do a lot of research for us so they get a lot of experience.

“These students aren’t only from the college of business – they span all different majors and minors. We learn a lot from the students, too, because they have fresh minds and innovative thinking. Some students get an internship credit for their time here, and all of our students get paid.”

One thing Johnson said she’d like to see changed is the amount of students.

“We would like to see more Grand Valley students come in to take advantage of our resources and to get interviewing skills,” Johnson said. “There are different programs we offer and a lot of networking opportunities. A lot of people just stop by and the office is always fun and different. We really, really would like to see more students get engaged and get involved in networking.”

Additionally, the Van Andel Global Trade Center has taken area business representatives and GVSU faculty on trade missions to China, Canada, India and Brazil.

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