GRAND RAPIDS (WWJ) — Family owned businesses have a great social and economic impact on West Michigan, yet officials at Western Michigan University and Grand Valley State University say little data is available on the number, needs, or characteristics of these businesses.

That’s why the Seidman College of Business at Grand Valley and the Haworth College of Business at Western have launched a study to explore the magnitude of family owned businesses in the region.

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The study will involve a series of surveys sent to the approximately 12,000 family owned businesses in 28 counties on the west side of the state.

“Family owned businesses are unique,” said Ellie Frey, director of the Family Owned Business Alliance in Grand Rapids. “For example, they are more philanthropic, slower to reduce their workforce in tough economic times and better environmental stewards. By creating a database of information we can do a better job of monitoring and improving the health of Michigan’s family owned businesses, while furthering research and program development.”

Laurel Ofstein, assistant professor of management at the Haworth College of Business, agrees.

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“In family business, it’s not just about the bottom line,” Ofstein said. “The leadership is also focused on the longevity of the organization as well as the industry in which it operates. This long-term focus is especially important for innovation, a theme we hear frequently in political speeches and at educational institutions alike. Family firms are making a substantial economic contribution to the state of Michigan, yet we feel this contribution may be under-valued. We hope to highlight their positive impact through this research.”

The study is being administered by the Family Owned Business Institute at Grand Valley with support from the Family Business Alliance in Grand Rapids. The study aims to provide a platform of tools and services to assist and eventually improve the health of family owned businesses. The initial survey data collection is expected to be completed by early November.

The survey will be sent to family owned businesses in the following counties: Allegan, Antrim, Barry, Benzie, Berrien, Cass, Charlevoix, Emmet, Grand Traverse, Ionia, Kalamazoo, Kalkaska, Kent, Lake, Leelanau, Manistee, Mason, Mecosta, Missaukee, Montcalm, Muskegon, Newaygo, Oceana, Osceola, Ottawa, St. Joseph, Van Buren, and Wexford.

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The survey can be found at