At Southwest Michigan First, 100 percent of employees say their workplace is great.



This review is based on 19 employee surveys, with a 90% confidence level and a margin of error of ± 4.33. It was published on Apr 18, 2017. 1917 Visitors

What Employees Say

People celebrate special events around here.
People care about each other here.
People here are willing to give extra to get the job done.
Our facilities contribute to a good working environment.
I am given the resources and equipment to do my job.

What They Do

We asked Southwest Michigan First to explain what they do. Here is what they had to say.

Southwest Michigan First is an organization of privately funded economic development advisors who act as the catalyst for economic growth in Southwest Michigan. Technically economic developers, we are also known as problem solvers, change agents, business advocates and leadership developers.

About this Company

Website: Industry: Other
US Headquarters: Kalamazoo, Michigan, 49007 US Sites: 4
Major Locations: Three Rivers, Michigan, 49093; Sturgis, Michigan, 49091; Kalamazoo, Michigan, 49007 US Employees: 20
US Revenues: $6.2 million Worldwide Revenues: $6.2 million
Corporate Structure: Non-Profit Founded: 1999

Joe Agostinelli Wins Team Soup Cook-Off

Perks and Programs

We asked Southwest Michigan First to share a few programs they feel really capture what's unique about their workplace. Here is what they had to say.

  • Family First: Southwest Michigan First’s “Family First” strategy ensures that we make our families top priority. Our ceo has made it clear that family comes first and if we have to cheat someone, it should always be him. When Damon Allison’s children are sick, he spends the afternoon working from home to be with them. When Carla Winchester’s sons have a snow day, she stays home for the morning until their babysitter arrives. These situations do not require PTO, and team members are more than happy to step in and cover responsibilities for a teammate who needs to be with family.
  • Celebrate Family Occasions: Not does Southwest Michigan First celebrate teammates’ birthdays, we celebrate their children’s birthdays, too! When a team member’s child has a birthday coming up, we send a card and gift card in the mail. We also celebrate one another’s life events: when Jacqui Wenger got married this past year, we each wrote down a date night idea and presented them to her in a fun jar before she left for her wedding. When Regan DeWaal got married, wedding-themed cookies were brought in to share. When Nick Riashi’s wife was close to having their second child, we all made a prediction on the baby's arrival date and weight; the winning "clairvoyant" received a gift card to a local coffee shop!
  • Teladoc Service: As part of our robust health benefits, Teladoc service is offered to all team members. This service allows employees, their spouses and children to have a phone or webcam consultation with a doctor from their office or the comfort of their own home. We offer Teladoc completely free, with no co-pay or out-of-pocket expense to team members. While this has increased the number of “claims” to our Teladoc policy, it has reduced our overall costs and gives teammates fast care – especially appreciated by parents – because they make fewer trips to doctors’ appointments. All of our health benefits are offered to all employees from day one of hire, including same-sex partners and non-traditional families.
  • Diversity Reflects Destiny: When hiring for an open position, we always interview at least three candidates. We’ve made a commitment that one candidate must represent a diversity candidate, meaning they bring a unique element to the table differing from the other candidates. This doesn’t necessarily mean diversity of ethnicities, although it could. For example, if there are two female candidates in a position typically held by a woman, then the other candidate may be a male. Or, an entry-level position typically held by a recent college graduate may include a stay-at-home mom who’s going back to work. This ensures we remain open-minded when finding the next team member to spend each day with.
  • Wellness Reimbursement: All team members are offered reimbursement for 50% of their wellness expenses, up to $300/year. Many team members use a downtown Kalamazoo gym just down the block from our office, where we have negotiated an exceptionally low rate. Others use reimbursement for group fitness classes, personal training sessions or entry fees into races. This encourages a healthy culture, and you’ll often see teammates walking through the office in athletic clothes on their way to or from a workout.
  • Serve Each Other: We strongly believe that no one is "too good" to "unplug the toilet." At our annual Catalyst University leadership event where 2,500 community leaders are in attendance, our office closes for the day so that our team can be “all hands on deck” as event staff. Even our managing partners serve the team with jobs as simple as directing crowds to lunch or tearing down signage at the end of the day. Everyone takes instruction from our point event coordinator, whether they technically have a higher or lower level of responsibility within the organization.
  • Curiosity for Learning: Professional certifications are fully funded, including books, certification fees, prep classes and paid time off to study. This benefit is offered to ALL employees. Last fall, our younger Accounting Team members, neither of which has prior accounting experience, took an accounting class at our local community college to polish their skills. They were able to attend class and complete their homework during work hours, and one enjoyed it so much that she signed up for the next course the following semester!
  • Book Club: We stay educated as a team through Book Club, by reading a book every couple of months on a topic such as leadership, team engagement or business strategy, and then discussing it as a team. Our “Legacy Leader” or teammate of the month comes up with questions to lead our discussion. Between books, we like to change things up by reading a case study on the success of businesses in other industries, from faith-based Willow Creek Association to Chiara Ferragni, founder of The Blonde Salad fashion blog. Discussions are educational for young teammates, and give seasoned teammates a fresh perspective.
  • Community-Oriented Approach: The Southwest Michigan First team is encouraged to spend company time volunteering during the work day each year to give back to our community. This year, our team engagement coordinator even lined up opportunities for us to give back as a team. One afternoon, a group of teammates went to Ministry with Community to serve lunch to those in need, just a few blocks from our office. At Christmas, our team partnered with a local organization and rallied together to provide gifts for three specific families in need. Gifts ranging from small toys to brand new winter coats were brought in and set underneath our office Christmas tree, and were delivered leading up to the holidays.
  • ceo of Your Responsibilities: Regardless of title, age or tenure, each team member is empowered to be the “ceo of their own responsibilities.” Even our younger team members own their role, bring new ideas to the table and are off and running when it comes to making decisions on behalf of the organization. The parents on our team appreciate the flexibility that they are given as “ceo of their responsibilities,” as they are able to be away from the office with a sick child without asking for permission; they are completely trusted to handle their responsibilities. While owning our roles, we intentionally list our titles, including "ceo," in lowercase to reflect the priority we put on those we serve.


90% Company-paid health coverage for employees (for All salaried employees) 90% Company-paid health coverage for dependents (for All salaried employees)
90% Company-paid health coverage for part-timers 30 hours Weekly hours required for part-timers to receive health insurance
$550 Average Tuition Reimbursement
Tree Topper Completes Office Holiday Decorating


15 days Paid time off after one year of full-time employment 15 days Paid time off after one year of part-time employment
15 days Paid sick days after one year of full-time employment 15 days Paid sick days after one year of part-time employment
15 Days Paid time off as of first day of full-time employment 15 days Paid time off as of first day of part-time employment


  • Telecommute option (5% use it)
  • Job sharing
  • Subsided On- or Off-site Fitness (100% have access)
  • Onsite Amenities (One of our healthiest perks for holistic wellbeing is the ability to be offsite: Our Family First policy means we are trusted with our time and are able to leave work for personal reasons, no questions asked. This has allowed team members to be with a loved one undergoing surgery or attend a child's school awards ceremony. Due to our main offices Downtown Kalamazoo location and turn-of-the-20th century remodeled building, we dont have space for a gym, and instead reimburse team members for 50% of their wellness expenses, up to $300/year. Team members often take a break to exercise during business hours or on lunch break. To support working out for a reasonable period of time, we installed a private shower room and lockers in our main office, in an employees-only bathroom. Our kitchen is constantly stocked with healthy snacks, available to all team members at any time of day. Smoothie makings, yogurt, energy bars and cheese sticks are just a few of our favorites. This helps us make healthy choices, even on the run. As a special treat, a masseuse is occasionally brought into a quiet room in the office for team members to relax in the middle of the day. Onsite events occur regularly to keep our team engaged and well-rounded. This past summer, we brought in a representative from our local beverage distributor to lead our full team in a wine tasting, helping us learn about each wine along the way and how to go about ordering the right wine in a client meeting. Access to experts is provided by bringing in local business leaders from all different industries to share their insight with our team. Weve learned from the expertise of leaders including: Western Michigan Universitys former football coach, P.J. Fleck; wealth management firm Greenleaf Trusts VP, Director of Marketing, Sarah Johansson; and iconic local baker, Judy Sarkozy. We love learning from each leaders diverse perspectives!)


49 days Job-protected maternity leave (including FMLA/STD) 49 days Fully-paid maternity leave (does not include personal vacation or paid time off)
10 days Job-protected paternity leave (including FMLA)10 days Fully-paid paternity leave (does not include personal vacation or paid time off)
10 days Average length of paternity leave new fathers take10 days Job-protected parental leave for adoptive parents (including FMLA)
10 days Fully-paid parental leave for adoptive parents (does not include personal vacation or paid time off)
*Employees are not required to use all their personal paid time off before taking parental leave. Not all employees are eligible for parental leave benefits.


  • Mental health care
  • Alternative treatments (such as acupuncture, homeopathy, or chiropractic)

Community and Environmental Impact

$35,000 Philanthropic donations in last year Yes Sustainable commuting program
Yes Renewable energy program Yes Recycling program
Yes Locally-sourced food program


  • Senior partner and chief executive officer is responsible for the success of formal recruiting and retention diversity goals
  • Written policy prohibits discrimination based on (at a minimum) age, disability, race/ethnicity, religious beliefs, gender and sexual orientation
  • Formal programs (such as resource groups, mentorship, networking, or other affinity groups) support professional development for: Under-represented racial/ethnic minority groups; Women; Lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender employees; Disabled employees; Speakers of English as a second language; Employees reentering the workforce
  • 1 events a year connect employees with peers from different racial/ethnic, religious or country-of-origin identities
  • Non-birth parents in same-sex relationships can take parental leave

Leadership Diversity


Workforce Diversity

Ron Kitchens, senior partner and ceo, Takes the Stage at Catalyst University 2017


Team Taste Tests Custom Brew for Catalyst University 2017 Conference

How to Get Hired

We asked Southwest Michigan First for some inside information on how to get hired at the organization. Here is what they had to say.

What key characteristics tell you a prospective employee will be a great fit for your company?

At Southwest Michigan First, we prioritize hiring talent that will run at our fast pace and fit well with our team and culture. Candidates for a new position complete a Talent+ interview conducted by our partners at WSI, in which they are scored in the categories of Achiever, Work Intensity, Resourceful, Exactness, Positivity, Customer Centricity, Urgency, Command, Responsibility and Discernment. Those who score in the top percentiles are invited to a “team fit” interview. Our team members meet as a group with the candidate and ask questions ranging from “What do you like to do on the weekend?” to “What would be your dream superpower?” This conversation lets our team decide whether we want to spend each workday with that person. Each team member sends a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” to a point teammate afterwards; this feedback determines whether a final interview with the position supervisor(s) will occur.

What can prospective employees do to get your attention?

Regardless of a prospective employee’s current position, an individual gets our attention when they act as a “ceo of their responsibilities,” owning their current role by bringing innovation and leadership to their job every day. At Southwest Michigan First, we search for candidates who have a knack for leading people, even when they may not technically oversee others. Prospective employees often don’t even have a background in economic development; we believe in hiring talent, and believe we can train and coach new hires into a role. In fact, many of our team members were previously coaches, teachers, stay-at-home moms or even an interior designer! Whatever a prospective employee’s current role, they can get our attention through being innovative and positive with an eagerness to learn and grow.

Are there any positions or types of candidates you are particularly focused on hiring in this coming year?

We are excited to grow our team in the coming year! Southwest Michigan First plans to hire positions related to finance, creative work, sales and event planning. For each position, we’re looking for candidates who are passionate about serving their team and our investors. Applicants should have remarkable organizational skills and think strategically, ready to be off and running at a fast pace.

What should interested candidates do to find out more and get started?

More information about Southwest Michigan First may be found at We don’t release detailed job descriptions for the positions we hire, as we prefer to cater the specific responsibilities of positions to our team members’ personal strengths. To apply for one of our openings, interested candidates should send their resume to our ceo, Ron Kitchens, at:

hiring Outlook

6 Forecasted positions to fill in coming year 5% Job Growth
25 Average applicants per opening 125 Total job applicants
33% New hires by employee referrals 33% Openings filled by current employees
1 Recent graduates hired 5% Voluntary turnover for full-time employees
* All figures refer to 12-month period prior to reporting, unless otherwise noted.

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