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"Hometown Champ" helps bring business to town

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For decades, the Bring It To GR program from Experience Grand Rapids has worked with local community members to draw regional and national conferences to town. In this piece, Stacey Hirvela shares her story of becoming a “Hometown Champ.”
Stacey Hirvela shares her story of becoming a “Hometown Champ.”

Stacey Hirvela shares her story of becoming a “Hometown Champ.” /Courtesy of Stacey Hirvela

When I moved to New York City in 1999, I was all but certain I’d never move back to my home state of Michigan. However, after 12 great years of dream jobs and amazing opportunities in NYC, I found myself reconsidering, and jumped at the chance to join the team at Spring Meadow Nursery in Grand Haven. Founded in 1981 by Dale and Liz Deppe, Spring Meadow is one of the best and largest wholesale woody plant liner suppliers in the nation. Since returning to the state in 2011, I’ve been privileged to witness a veritable economic renaissance across the area, and especially in Grand Rapids.

We maintain several professional industry memberships at Spring Meadow, and I attend the conferences of the Direct Gardening Association (DGA) most every year. They put together fantastic programs covering marketing, web strategy, and content creation that are uniquely tailored to the needs of the horticulture industry. I’ve gained so much from their content and always enjoyed their choices of locations: St. Louis, Charleston, Knoxville, and Burlington, Vermont, to name a few. Holding a conference in a charming, walkable city where I could easily access great restaurants, museums, outdoor trails, and interesting architecture without having to rent a car has always been a big factor in deciding to attend. Why drive when you can explore by foot?!

When a convention representative from Experience Grand Rapids reached out to me in 2017 to see about bringing a summer DGA conference to Grand Rapids, I eagerly accepted. I had been thinking Grand Rapids would be the perfect fit for their events, since it offered the same safe, easy-to-navigate downtown that makes their conferences so fun and appealing, but I wasn’t sure how to go about pitching the idea. Ultimately, though, it was easy – the convention representative contacted them, arranged a preliminary visit, and after that, Grand Rapids pretty much sold itself!

With the help of Experience Grand Rapids, West Michigan welcomed more than 60 attendees from all over the country on July 31. During the conference, attendees had the chance to tour Spring Meadow Nursery, one of the most state-of-the-art nurseries in the country, and get a first-hand look at what goes into the Proven Winners® ColorChoice® brand of flowering shrubs.

As a result of my work in helping Experience Grand Rapids bring the DGA convention to this area, I was selected as a Hometown Champ for 2019. I am one of 19 people receiving this recognition this year. Though I am honored to know that in some small way, I was able to cultivate and grow the tourism industry in West Michigan, it’s our beautiful, walkable, fun city itself that deserves the credit.

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