Arguably the most prestigious award in the Cornerstone Alliance annual arsenal of business recognition is the coveted Merlin Hanson Exemplary Business Leader Award, and inarguably it has been conferred onto retired Lake Michigan College President Dr. Robert Harrison.
Named after one of the founding fathers of Cornerstone's forerunner agency, the Community Economic Development Corporation, the Merlin Hanson Award is reserved for the rarified air of amazing individuals who have transformed the community beyond compare, and that certainly describes the inimitable "Dr. Bob," who has been in retirement for barely six weeks now after several key careers in both the public and private sectors.
Harrison was cited this morning by Cornerstone Alliance in its first ever Business Recognition Breakfast, as "a true advocate of education, the community and economic prosperity." Harrison's career at Lake Michigan College began in 199 as Dean of Business Services, and in 2009 he was named President of the institution. As the New Year dawned, Harrison traded in his suit & tie for a more casual outfit as he takes up some consulting work and eases into retirement.
According to Harrison himself, his role as President of Lake Michigan College was to be the primary cheerleader, and an enable for the success of both the students and staff. He tells us, "It was my responsibility to create an environment to showcase the skills and talents of the student body and employees, and then get out of their way."
During his tenure, he worked diligently to secure a $17-million capital outlay grant from the State of Michigan. Those funds are targeted to upgrade the Napier Avenue Campus where he received his award this morning, including the renovation of 50 classrooms, two lecture halls, and updating the HVAC system.
As Harrison tells it, "We focused on what offers value to the college as a whole and the entire region." He concluded, "This is a wonderful community, and is home to my family." Cornerstone President Rob Cleveland told some 350 attendees this morning that Dr. Harrison's service to the community, "Certainly embodies the spirit and intent of this award."
Ironically, one of the legacies that Dr. Harrison will leave behind is currently under construction on the Napier Campus in the form of the Hanson Technology Center, aptly named after Merlin Hanson, the namesake of the award presented by Cornerstone to Harrison this morning..
This morning's festivities marked the first time that Cornerstone Alliance and Cornerstone Chamber of Commerce had shifted to a breakfast session from its traditional evening event that spanned several decades by recognizing business, industry, organizations and individuals whose continued growth is a win for the entire community.
As Cleveland told the audience today, "Economic Development is about making people's lives better and these businesses and leaders work each day to make that happen."