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Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

How Cassleman Came to Grand Rapids

by John R. Cassleman III

On August 6 of 1929 John Cassleman gave a speech to the members of a new committee newly formed by the Grand Rapids Association of Commerce. It was titled simply the “Industrial Committee.” There were thirty-six members. Many of the names would be recognized today: Arthur Herpolsheimer, Dudley Waters, Henry Idema, Paul Steketee, John Hekman, and Robert Irwin. They represented a broad spectrum of interests including real estate, banking, manufacturing, utilities, transportation, communication and retail. The mission of that group was to consider ways and means to secure new industries for the city and to encourage industries already established here. Cassleman, at the time of his speech, was the Industrial Manager of the Kalamazoo Chamber of Commerce. 

What he told them on that day was what they had hoped and expected to hear; how to attract new industry to Grand Rapids and how to support existing businesses more effectively so they would not be enticed to move away. Furthermore, he emphasized that competition between cities to lure businesses away from each other was “keener” than ever before. They also knew they were listening to a speaker who not only could talk about it convincingly, but had played the game and won, many times. 

All of them were well aware that Cassleman had induced over fifty businesses to move their operations to Kalamazoo from other cities between 1926 and 1929, and that he had found utilization for most of the vacant factory floor space in Kalamazoo which had amounted to more than 200,000 square feet when he began. This group was impressed enough by my Cassleman that they “induced” him soon after to move from Kalamazoo to Grand Rapids to take the newly created position of Industrial Commissioner of the Grand Rapids Association of Commerce. 

On November 15, 1929 he began a career of service to the citizens of Grand Rapids and its business community that lasted more than 30 years. John G. Emery, the president then of the Grand Rapids Real Estate Board observed when Cassleman was hired that: “Without exception Mr. Cassleman is the keenest man I have ever met. He has a grasp of finance and a fund of information and a technique that gets the attention of big affairs and the attention of the men of big affairs and gets action from them. He is also an indefatigable worker who keeps on until he gets results.” 

John E. Stowe, Editor of the business publication, the Michigan Tradesman opined, “If anyone can procure industries for Grand Rapids, he can. He has a grasp of detail and a manner of presenting them that gets results. He is credited with securing fifty-two businesses for Kalamazoo. If he can secure half that many for Grand Rapids, he will be the greatest addition to its population that Grand Rapids has ever secured.”

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