A decade of positive influence: The Lansing Chamber’s 10 Over the Next Ten Awards hits a milestone

There’s only so much you can do to make a city a desirable place to settle down. Sure, a solid municipal infrastructure and a strong economic backbone need to be there, but it takes people — creative, principled, hardworking people —to give an area a distinct personality and make other talented people want to stay. Entrepreneurs. Activists. Volunteers. Artists. These are the kinds of folks that bring a city to vibrant life.
 
Recognizing this, the Lansing Area Chamber of Commerce paired up with the professional networking group, Grand River Connection, in 2007 to launch the 10 Over the Next Ten awards. The awards recognize members of the Metro Lansing community who make the capital area a dynamic place to live. It also essentially tasks these individuals to step up their respective games and keep the positive energy flowing right here in mid-Michigan. And last week, the newest group of winners, the class of 2016, was announced at the 10th annual 10 Over the Next Ten Awards ceremony.
 
“Over 50 people were nominated this year, which is pretty high,” says Travis Richardson, manager of events of programming for the Lansing Chamber. “It makes it really hard when there are so many qualified people and only 10 awards to hand out. Our selection team really had their work cut out for them this year.”
 
This year’s winners are Lauren Aitch (Lady Aitch Designs, the Aitch Foundation), Michael Bass (Friedland Industries, Inc., Old Town ScrapFest), Patrick Dean (Dean Transportation, Michigan Board of Real Estate Brokers and Salespersons), Tyler Dyke (Firecracker Foundation, Michigan Pride), Veronica Gracia-Wing (Piper & Gold Public Relations), Angela Minicuci Robertson (Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Capital Area United Way), Michael Nordmann (Morrison, Nordmann and Associates), Ben Rathbun (Rathbun Insurance, Capital Region Habitat Young Professionals), Christopher Sell, (Lansing 5:01), and Jose Yanez, (Full Circle Financial Planning, Greater Lansing Hispanic Chamber of Commerce). The ceremony was held on Tuesday, Sept. 27 at the University Club of MSU in East Lansing. All winners received a trophy and a free one-year membership to the U-Club.
 
Richardson explains that each all nominees undergo an intense, three-week scrutiny by an eight-person selection committee. Recipients must be “professionally centered in the tri-county area” for at least two years to be considered, and are judged based on their professional achievement, community involvement and personal success. Youth also plays a factor, as applicants can be no older than 35. Finally, the field is whittled down to the final 10 people who the committee agrees should stay in Lansing and become local leaders.
 
“And it works — we have great retention rates, with about 90 percent of the winners staying in the Lansing region after they win,” Richardson says. “That’s a tremendous achievement. It’s difficult to know who will go on to drive the community and stand out socially, but this committee has gotten it right so many times. And to actually see (those winners) to stay here when they have so many options to move — that’s what this is all about.”
 
One of this year’s winners is Michael Bass, who has definitely heard the call of the bigger city. The Lansing native taught English as a second language in Otsu, Lansing’s sister city in Japan, where he lived for a while after graduating from college. But his family business, the Old Town scrap metal yard Friedland Industries, called him home five years ago. Since returning, he’s held a variety of roles at Friedland, including taking over the business’ hosting and co-sponsoring duties at the annual Old Town ScrapFest event. Among other things, Bass says he intends to use this opportunity to raise an issue that’s close to his heart — improving the public opinion of scrap metal.
 
“When you see a scrapyard on TV, it’s usually where something bad is happening, so people equate them with danger,” Bass says. “But (scrap metal yards) are a vital part of the recycling stream. There’s this disconnect between what recycling sounds like and what it is, and I’ve made it my goal to turn that negative image around. I think winning (this award) will help open some doors to that.”
 
Veronica Gracia-Wing, an associate strategist at Piper & Gold Public Relations, was another one of this year’s winners. She recently became chair of the Lansing Park Board and serves in a leadership role at the Fenner Conservancy.
 
“I'm passionate about our parks,” Gracia-Wing says. “I want to lead continued change for Lansing so that in 10 years, my now-10-month-old son will have green spaces to play (in). That means continuing to be an advocate for Lansing and a good steward of those green spaces.”
 
Gracia-Wing has served a number of communications and public relations roles in the capital area, including being Capital Gains’ innovation editor. And she has a tongue-in-cheek reply ready to go for why she thinks she was selected this year.
 
“I was about to age out,” she says.
 
Aaron Matthews, one of the first-year honorees in 2007, says opening doors is exactly what winning this award did for him.
 
“The 10 Over the Next Ten Award is designed to look forward, not backward,” Matthews says. “You have to be prepared to take your work to the next level. When I won, I was at the point where I was engaged with the community and had potential. Afterward, I noticed people started approaching me more, and that’s when I really started developing relationships.”
 
Those relationships eventually led Matthews, a lawyer, into a career moonlighting in the restaurant business. Two years ago he co-founded the Potent Potables Project, which helped develop Zoobie’s Old Town Tavern, the Creole and the forthcoming Punk Taco.
 
“Winning the award encouraged me to look for ways to contribute to growth and redevelopment of our town,” Matthews says. “What I’m doing now is just an extension of that desire to contribute, and I doubt I’d be part of (Potent Potables) if I hadn’t won.”
 
Not everyone who wins the award stays in Lansing. Shortly after winning the award in 2013, Andrea Kerbuski decided to give the big city a go. She moved to Chicago, but returned a year later to accept a job at a higher level at her former workplace, Capital Area Michigan Works.
                                                   
“I took it for granted how great the Lansing community was until I left,” Kerbuski says. “I never thought I’d be ready for that type of leadership position, which is part of the reason I left. But between (winning the award) and my experience in Chicago, I knew I’d be able to do it. And I did.”
 
Kerbuski also maintains the blog Blonde Bedhead, and is involved in a number of community boards. It’s that level of engagement that she thinks got her recognized by the 10 Over the Next 10 committee.
 
“Being named to 10 Over the Next 10 really helped me,” she says. “People value this award. When they see it on my resume, it means something.”
 
Camron Gnass, owner/creative director of Traction, was a recipient in 2008. In addition to running his own creative studio, he donates his time to the Ronald McDonald House of Mid-Michigan, coaches youth soccer, is a co-founder of the Capital City Film Festival, and played an instrumental in the construction of the Beacon Soccer Field
 
 “Seeing the inclusion of people of all ages, races, (and) nationalities all playing together every single night in the heart of our city is by far one of the coolest things I’ve been involved in,” Gnass says. “I didn’t start doing (charity work) in order to win any awards, but it was nice to be recognized (by 10 Over the Next Ten). We have similar goals for Lansing. I make it a goal to not accept the complacency that seems to be rampant in parts of the community. Despite all our efforts, there are still too many complainers and not enough doers.”
 
Gnass also admits that being honored with such a title drives him to maintain that pay-it-forward momentum.
 
“Winning that award gave me a certain amount of pressure to keep working,” he says. “It’s as if the eyes of the community are on me. I’m trying to lead by example, and the 10 Over the Next Ten has the same idea.”
 
 Scott Gillespie, president of the Gillespie Co. and one of the members of the first class in 2007, says the idea that the eyes of the public being on you can be a motivating force.
 
“The recognition and credibility you get with that award is always good, and it certainly made me work to meet the expectations that were laid out for me,” Gillespie says. “(Winning one of these awards) tells the community that you’re here to do something better than yourself, and so you feel like they start to look to you. It definitely helped me plan out these past 10 years.”
 
Gillespie opened his real estate development company the same year he won the award. Since then he has built into a multi-million dollar operation responsible for the Avenue Flats mixed-use development, as well as the forthcoming East Town development in the city’s Eastside Neighborhood.
 
“Lansing will always be home to me – and the Eastside Neighborhood in particular,” Gillespie says. “I learned how to ride my bike on those streets. It’s great being able to make these kinds of (improvements) to the city and the neighborhood that mean so much to me. And because I won this award, I felt like there was a certain expectation for me to make a positive change.”
 
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Allan Ross is a frequent contributor to Capital Gains. 

Photos © Dave Trumpie
 
Dave Trumpie is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.
 
 
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