Mike Gusweiler has lived through a lot of things most people live through.
First aspiring to be one thing when he grows up, realizing it’s unrealistic for one reason or another, finding a passion, landing a first job and working his way to a job he enjoys immensely. It’s actually the second such conversation that went like that this week, the first being James Berg.
Gusweiler wanted to be an architect or some form of engineer when he was a kid, even as he was about to head to college. But after a summer in a related field, he decided, “perhaps that’s not the path I’m looking for.”
He realized he needed more social interaction and after delaying his major selection for as long as possible, decided to head to Central Michigan University’s business school and hospitality administration.
He got his first job at a Sheraton Hotel in Chicago.
“Long hours, low pay; it doesn’t matter, just looking for fun,” he said. “Eventually though, you start look toward the future.”
That vision for the future really started as he met his wife in Chicago.
They looked into moving to Grand Rapids and fell in love with it.
“Even in ’93 it was still a cool city,” he said. “It just had a warm feeling to it.”
A few jobs later and he was brought in as a state salesman for the Kent County Visitors Bureau.
“The seven years I was there, I kept asking myself, “How do I grow,” he said.
He interviewed for jobs here and there across the country, but he and his family didn’t want to leave the Grand Rapids community.
Then Peter Secchia came up with an idea for a sports commission to help make West Michigan an attractive youth sports destination. A lot of other great West Michigan leaders also jumped on board to help make the commission a possibility. So the search for a director was underway.
Gusweiler threw his hat in the ring to be the first executive director, but didn’t think he had a chance. “Maybe I’ll be the second,” he thought to himself.
Even after his presentation as one of the top two candidates, he didn’t think he had a chance. But, Secchia offered him the job.
The commission has a neat job. It reaches out to organizations, both local and national, to find and attract events to the West Michigan area.
To build on the athletic community and bring in outside money.
“There are benefits to both professional and amateur sports,” he said. “We play off the Griffins and White Caps, but they’re different.”
Pro sports are primarily discretionary spending, Gusweiler said. The sports attract the local population, and if they didn’t spend the money at the sporting event, they would spend it on dinner or coffee, or something else; the money comes from and stays in the area.
Youth sports are participatory, not spectator, so they can bring in a variety of players and their families from across the area, or even country. But in short, the money being spent in the area is coming from somewhere else. It’s a huge economic boost.
In the commissions brief history, it’s only been around roughly five years, its brought 300 events and between $80-$100 million to the economy.
“In the mid-summer, we can fill a lot of hotel rooms,” he said. “Injecting new money by hosting a variety of events.”
The first event they held was a national Golden Gloves tournament, and brought in $12-15,000,000. Then U.S. Table Tennis open, which brought participants from 22 countries.
The meaning of life gets lost sometimes.
“Sometimes, you get into a grind, and you forget to even think about why we’re here,” Gusweiler said. “Sometimes you need those moments of purposeful reflection.”
He said we as humans need to find things we care about; not see things around the world and be content with a cup of coffee.
“Happiness is important,” he said. “But we have to find greater purpose.”
It’s a cliche, he said, but it comes down to being a good neighbor and family man; to do what we can to leave this world a better place.