Founder of Cherry Republic headlines SH chamber event

Bob Sutherland, founder and president of Glen Arbor-based Cherry Republic, will deliver the keynote speech at the South Haven Area Chamber of Commerce’s 14th annual Economic Summit. This year’s event is scheduled Friday, Oct. 25 at Lake Michigan College’s South Haven campus, 125 Veterans Blvd.

SOUTH HAVEN — An entrepreneur who started what has become the largest exclusive cherry retailer in the country out of his car will be the keynote speaker at the South Haven Area Chamber of Commerce’s Economic Summit.

Bob Sutherland, founder and president of Glen Arbor-based Cherry Republic, along with three other speakers, has been lined up for this year’s summit on Friday, Oct. 25, at Lake Michigan College’s South Haven campus, 125 Veterans Blvd.

Kathy Wagaman, executive director of the chamber, said she chose Sutherland to be the keynote speaker because his journey toward starting a successful business will resonate with farm-related business owners in Southwest Michigan.

“Bob Sutherland has such an inspirational story of success that began with sheer determination and investing hard work into his business,” she said. “His story is especially important for our many agricultural businesses throughout this region to hear, but the inspirational story is valuable to anyone in business.”

Sutherland started Cherry Republic 30 years ago. It has now grown into a business that employs 80 year-round workers and over 100 part-time workers who sell the company’s 200-plus cherry-based products at six locations throughout Michigan, including one in Holland. The company also runs a mail-order operation and over the years has donated $2 million to nonprofits that positively impact the environment and communities in Michigan.

Sutherland’s speech is scheduled to begin at 8:45 a.m. He will be followed by Eric Erwin, CEO and president of Ludington-based FloraCraft, the world’s leading manufacturer of foam products for the craft and floral industries. He will team up with Michael Smith, the company’s vice president of fabrication and packaging, to share the story of how FloraCraft, founded after World War II, has steadily grown by expanding product lines to meet the needs of customers.

The last two speakers, Jennifer Owens and Jim Hettinger, will address a topic that has risen to the forefront in South Haven over the past year – economic development.

“This is a subject so relevant to our region right now as we prepare for the upcoming loss of Palisades jobs,” Wagaman said, referring to the pending closure of Palisades Nuclear Power Plant in the spring of 2022. “Understanding what economic development is provides the first step to learning how we can all work together as a community to strengthen and support existing businesses and to seek ways to build new jobs.”

Owens is president of Lakeshore Advantage, a nonprofit economic development organization in Zeeland. She specializes in business retention, expansion and attraction and in 2018 was named one of Grand Rapids Business Journal’s 50 Most Influential Women in West Michigan.

Hettinger, CEO of JH Urban Development Services, served as president of Battle Creek Unlimited for 30 years. He now works as a consultant to economic development programs throughout the United States and has written more than 200 articles for economic development journals.

The chamber’s Economic Summit has steadily grown in attendance since starting 14 years ago. Originally, about 50 people attended the first one, with attendence around 125 last year.

“We have folks coming from three counties and two states at this time,” Wagaman said.

People interested in attending the event can call the chamber at 637-5171, or register online at