Jennifer Owens

Vice President of Southwest Michigan First in Kalamazoo. Southwest Michigan First is an organization of privately funded economic development advisers who encourage economic success in southwest Michigan. Owens leads the firm's attraction efforts. The entrepreneurial skills she developed as the co-owner and founder of a Michigan-based business selling private label barbeque sauces and spices allow her to understand the needs of companies that seek Southwest Michigan First's consulting services. Previously, Owens was vice president of business development at Ann Arbor SPARK. Prior to that, she spent 10 years at the Michigan Economic Development Corp. in leadership roles concentrating on job retention and growth and business development. Recently, Owens was named one of the 40 Under 40 in Economic Development from Development Counsellors International (DCI). Under her leadership, Southwest Michigan First has aided several business expansions as well as relocations to the region. Additionally, the firm was named one of West Michigan's Best and Brightest Companies to Work For in 2012. It received the same honor from the National Association for Business Resources as the overall Elite winner in the category of Small-Size Business. Also, Southwest Michigan First was named by Priority Health, Crain's Detroit Business, and MiBiz as one of the five overall Michigan's Healthiest Employers in 2012 for its wellness program. Owens earned the designation of Certified Economic Developer in 2012. Her bachelor's degree in journalism is from Michigan State University.

WHERE BORN: “Benton Harbor.”

MOST INFLUENTIAL PERSONS: “My grandfather, David Walton. As an entrepreneur, he started from two people and grew his business to more than 400 people with $100 million in sales. He saw an opportunity and put it into action and implemented it.”

LAST BOOK READ: “Jim Clifton's The Coming Jobs War It's about the race for talent throughout the world and how the U.S. can continue to become the dominant player in entrepreneurship and innovation.”

WORDS THAT DESCRIBE ME: “A mother, dynamic, energetic, a little hyperactive.”

WHERE MY FIELD/INDUSTRY IS HEADED: “Regionalism in economic development. Clients do not care about city, county, township, or even state lines. To be effective, collaboration and competition is required with those who may be perceived as competitors. We need to work with each other to lift each other up. On the west side, we have to work across state lines like Indiana to attract the most growth for our communities.”

FAVORITE TECHNOLOGICAL GADGET: “I love my iPhone. I have a weird fixation with it and can't seem to put it down. It's amazingly user intuitive and it's kind of like my third arm.”

FAVORITE PLACE: “Relaxing on the shores of Lake Michigan with my kids.”

FAVORITE HOBBIES: “I'm obsessed with hot yoga – it's yoga with the heat turned up really, really hot. I also love running; I'm training for a half marathon right now.”

FAVORITE FOOD: “Sushi, and I love anything spicy.”

MY HIDDEN TALENT: “I really enjoy working with children. I missed my calling as a teacher. I can relate to kids and love being surrounded by them. They are the most fascinating people in the world.”

HOW I WANT TO BE REMEMBERED: “As someone who made a great impact on my children and as someone who they aspire to be like, and that I helped with the transformation of the state and helped lift Michigan back to greatness.”