Four big ideas from RUBY Award honorees from the Great Lakes Bay Region

Blurred boundaries, better wages, regional collaboration and medical advancements are the next big influences shaping the future of the Great Lakes Bay Region, according to four local 2019 RUBY Award recipients.

First State Bank has presented the RUBY Awards since 2005 to bright professionals under 40 who have made their marks in their respective fields. In February, RUBY Awards went to 10 people in the region.

We asked some of the honorees to discuss some big ideas they think are likely to influence the future of the Great Lakes Bay Region and what continues to inspire their work.

Chris Chandler Chris Chandler of the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational
Chandler is the Executive Director of the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational, which kicked off last year with tremendous fanfare and impact – over $12.7 million economic impact to the region and $500,000 in charitable donations in 2019. The Dow GLBI was also the first tournament on the LPGA Tour to be GEO Certified and the first professional golf tournament ever to do so in the first year of operation.

From the Eat Great Food Festival that partners with more than 60 local businesses, breweries, bars and restaurants, to the event’s #TeamUp event that involves 36 regional nonprofits in pre-tournament play.

The event has quickly brought the region together around professional sports, but much more than that, it has quickly become a central part of the region’s draw, celebration and collaboration.

Each year, it takes more than 1,000 volunteers to pull the event off and the Dow GLBI has been sure to spread the love, with the Eat Great Food Festival on the move this year to its new 2020 location in Bay City.

Commenting on his inspiration for work and life, Chandler noted that he tries to live and work each day in a way that advancing the region, and always keeps the following goal in mind:

“Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire,” he says.

Robert Clements 
Clements, who runs Clements Electric at 204 S. Dean St., says three changes he’s working to bring to the region include encouraging businesses to pay more people livable wages; increased education and training opportunities to expand options for workers; and establishing medical clinics in rural areas. Robert Clements of Clements Electric.

He took over ownership of Clements Electric from his parents in 2015. In the last three years or so, he has created 10 full-time jobs and, depending upon the season, another 15 part-time jobs. He now has 24 full-time employees. He expects to add 10 to 15 part-time jobs this spring when he gets busy.

“I try to do what I can in the community, helping people and nonprofits,” he says.

He also works to provide training opportunities to bring the kinds of high-quality employees he expects to need as the community grows.

“I’m hoping that we have more businesses, which then give employees more options to select higher-paying jobs,” he says.

Paying living wages and offering educational opportunities ­­– especially to those in the skilled trades ­–helps ensure that the region has enough highly-qualified workers in the future, he says.

“I truly think that it starts with companies paying their people livable wages,” he says. “We pay livable wages (at Clements Electric), absolutely. That’s the backbone here. My employees can go out and spend their money in the community.”  

As part of the Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance Institute for Leaders, Clements also tries to look at the region without geographic boundaries. When he was touring the area with the Alliance, he learned more about the medical facilities at Central Michigan University in Mt. Pleasant. “They told us about a doctor who started up a practice in Standish where there wasn’t one,” Clements says. The conversation inspired him to talk to people interested in bringing medical clinics to rural areas.

Candice Colby-Scott 
Colby-Scott is an audiologist and a specialist in ear surgery, including pediatrics and cochlear implants, so it’s not surprising that her three big ideas focus on health care. She believes people are educating themselves about their medical options; more medical specialists are moving into the area; and people are taking ownership of their health.

“The community itself is becoming more educated from a medical prospective,” she says. Candice Colby-Scott of McLaren Health and a Ruby Award winner.

For example, people are beginning to understand that untreated hearing problems can lead to dementia and other health declines. Rather than waiting until a person is “substantially deaf,” an implant helps people with residual hearing. For many, cochlear implants deliver better hearing and quality of life than hearing aids. Colby-Scott sees more people in the region taking advantage of the technology.

She also sees an influx of specialists, which means fewer people have to travel out of the region for treatment. For example, McLaren Health now provides radiation oncology. In the past, patients had to travel to Detroit for these treatments.

The result of the increased awareness and easy access to specialty services means patients are more likely to search out the best prices and places for care.

“I think people are taking a lot more ownership as well,” she says.

Colby-Scott has left her Bay City practice and is preparing to open a practice in Midland.

Alayna Wesener 
Wesener, who owns and operates Sushi Remix restaurants in Bay City and Saginaw and Chevron Creative, talks happily about trendy new businesses coming to older, well-refurbished buildings. And just as there are fewer walls between regions, there also is much more sharing of services – such as legal, tax and writer services – among these new businesses. Her big three trends include: regionalism, new businesses in old buildings, and cooperation. Alayna Wesner of McLaren Health.

First up, regionalism. “There really is a huge move toward working outside our county lines,” she says. “People living in Midland aren’t just staying in Midland when they want a drink or a nice dinner.”

She says she plans to open a Sushi Remix restaurant in Midland because she has many fans there.

Wesener sees a number of Bay City buildings – including well-known older spaces – opening up as new businesses. Entrepreneurs are sticking their necks out and creating attractive shops, “and I think we’re just starting,” she says. For example, Infinity Bridal and Omoni Boutique opened in Uptown Bay City, which was once the home of Industrial Brownhoist.

Wesener said the willingness of developers to help owners of fledgling businesses is helping make this renaissance possible. 

“There are small-scale developers and large-scale developers willing to take a chance on them,” she said of the buildings and business owners. Infinity Bridal and Omoni Boutique also benefitted from this philosophy.

Wesener expects the trend to continue. “These buildings are primed and ready to turn into things” that give them second and third purposes, she concludes.

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