Challenge of Excellence Awards - Winners

Employer of the Year: FireKeepers Casino Hotel

Nominated by: Michigan Works! Southwest

FireKeepers Casino Hotel has been a vital partner of Michigan Works! Southwest in building a workforce of proficient and satisfied individuals in Calhoun County. Working hand-in-hand with Michigan Works! Southwest staff, the Casino Hotel provides ample employment opportunities to job seekers and participates in numerous Employer of the Day and job fair events, most notably the Homer Feed Your Future, a multigenerational job fair; and the annual Career.Life.Expo. 

Firekeepers also participates in educating youth through multiple avenues such as career pathway education, guidance on job opportunities, tuition reimbursement, and career laddering, not only at FireKeepers Casino Hotel, but through the hospitality industry as a whole. 

They are represented on both the Michigan Works! Southwest Workforce Development Board Executive Committee and the Monitoring and Evaluation Subcommittee, providing valuable feedback on services available to job seekers and employers, ultimately contributing to a strong workforce development system throughout the four-county Michigan Works! Southwest area. FireKeepers is also a member of the local Human Resources group, which brings together a diverse group of local employers to discuss issues and topics central to employment. 

A champion employer who believes in supporting equitable prosperity for all, FireKeepers Casino Hotel recently gave $5.75 million to local governments, school districts and other public bodies in Calhoun County as part of their local revenue sharing, and an additional $18,494,687 to the state of Michigan. This is the tenth time the casino has distributed revenue sharing checks since it’s opening in 2009. 

FireKeepers Casino Hotel also owns The Fire Hub, a restaurant located in a historic fire station that gives back to the community through multiple programs. One program, the Kendall Street Pantry, works in conjunction with the Food Bank of South Central Michigan to distribute food to the less fortunate. The second program is a large greenhouse that is utilized to grow food with the goal of providing a free salad bar for schools in downtown Battle Creek. The last program is a fund that receives 80% of all restaurant profits to support local charities. 

FireKeepers Casino Hotel is also actively supportive of Aequitas Mobility Services, a new transportation start-up focused on alleviating transportation barriers that prevent individuals from obtaining and retaining employment. 

Volunteer of the Year: Chris Holman, Michigan Business Network

Nominated by: Captial Area Michigan Works!

Chris Holman first became entwined with Capital Area Michigan Works! in 2001 when he joined our board to help us better connect with and understand the region’s business community. 

In the 17 years since, he has done so much more than that.

In addition to his long-standing service to the Workforce Development Board, Chris has served on a number of committees and executive committees.    

Through his role with the Michigan Future Business Index and Michigan Business Network, he has ensured our team members are connected with businesses and has worked to educate the business community of the role and value of CAMW! in talent attraction and growth in the region.    But perhaps his most significant contributions, and certainly his CAMW! legacy, are tied to his leadership with T3: Teach. Talent. Thrive, CAMW!’s Career Educational Advisory Council.   

In 2006, when Doug Stites approached Chris about a possible initiative to provide business leadership for the region’s education community, Chris accepted his then unknown responsibilities without a moment’s hesitation.    

Since then, he has been the official and, at time, unofficial chair of some version of T3 for the past 12 years. He shepherded the organization from an idea to a registered 501C3 as Keep Learning… Our Future Depends On It.   

As the region and its needs evolved, Chris donated countless hours to the realignment and reinvention of Keep Learning as T3. He rallied fellow business leaders to serve as the founders of the organization’s business council and still serves as co-chair.   

And with the amazing progress of T3 and the launch of its STEAM Ahead! reading program and the MiCareerQuest Capital Area event, Capital Area Michigan Works! Recognized Chris in December 2018 with its highest honor, the Leonard Peters Lifetime Achievement Award.   

Legislator of the Year: Senator Ken Horn

Nominated by: Michigan Works! Legislative Committee

Now in his second term in the Michigan Senate, Senator Ken Horn (R-Frankenmuth) chairs the Senate Economic and Small Business Development Committee, along with two Senate Appropriations Subcommittees: Capital Outlay and Talent and Economic Development/MEDC. Ken also serves as the vice-chairman of the following committees: Energy and Technology, Education and Career Readiness, and the Appropriations Subcommittee on Universities and Community Colleges. He is also appointed to the Insurance and Banking Committee and Legislative Council.

Through his work as chairman of the Senate Economic and Small Business Development Committee Senator Horn champions workforce and economic development efforts, including local programming and statewide funding. In 2018, Governor Rick Snyder signed into law a bill sponsored by Senator Horn that codifies the Going Pro Talent Program into state law. The purpose of the program is to close the talent gap and strengthen Michigan’s workforce by providing competitive awards, to qualified employers. These awards are used for workforce training like talent enhancement and skill development, increasing worker productivity, management training and worker retention. The Skilled Trades Training Fund, now the Going Pro Talent Program, has provided $72.9 million in competitive awards to more than 2,000 companies for training and apprenticeships since its beginning.

As a champion of workforce policy and legislation, Senator Ken Horn demonstrates extraordinary leadership in advancing Michigan’s talent and economic development efforts.

Advocate of the Year: Stephanie Beckhorn. Talent Investment Agency, State of Michigan

Nominated by: Michigan Works! Legislative Committee

Stephanie Beckhorn has nearly 20 years of experience in workforce and economic development.  As the Director of the Workforce Development Agency, Stephanie works directly with federal, state, and local level partners to effectively implement key workforce and education programs, including the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, Wagner-Peyser, Adult Education, the Trade Act, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP), King-Chavez-Parks (KCP), Perkins, Skilled Trades Training Fund, Community Ventures and the Michigan Advanced Technician Training (MAT2).  Stephanie develops policies that align with and support the state’s key workforce development strategies. She actively engages internal and external stakeholders to ensure that policy and service delivery effectively address customer needs.

For years, Stephanie has been a champion of working cooperatively with the Michigan Works! network and has worked diligently to help ensure a smooth transition to the new administration.  She approaches projects in an inclusive manner and seeks solutions that are effective and replicable.

Collaborator of the Year: Rey Guzman. Talent Investment Agency, State of Michigan
Nominated by: Michigan Works! Legislative Committee

Rey Guzman is a Talent Development Liaison for the State of Michigan’s Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity. He is responsible for engaging employers and educators to comprehensively address talent needs to focus on mid- and long-term development skill gaps in key industries in each region statewide.

As collaborator of the year, Rey led the charge to ensure access to talent and talent-related services for Michigan employers and strategic education partnerships and outreach, in collaboration with Michigan Works!. This partnership ensures a comprehensive approach to talent problem-solving and provides inclusive resources to address workforce opportunities.

Rey is also a member of the Capital Area Michigan Works! Workforce Development Board where he actively engages with private and public-sector board members to discuss talent-related topics.  He also participates in career exploration and planning activities that are crucial to building the talent pipeline.

Shining Star Awardees

The Shining Star award recognizes these frontline staff who, through dedication and outstanding contributions to workforce development, personifies the Michigan Works! mission.

Teri Sand Capital Area Michigan Works!
Carla Phelps Detroit Employment Solutions Corporation
George Wright Great Lakes Bay Michigan Works!
Wanda Bigelow GST Michigan Works!
John Babock Macomb/St. Clair Michigan Works!
Rick VanIttersum Michigan Works! Berrien, Cass, Van Buren
Jessie Trumble Michigan Works! Northeast Consortium
Robert Balzer Michigan Works! Region 7B Consortium
Ed Baldwin Michigan Works! Southeast
Jennifer Klempnow Michigan Works! Southwest
Cassie Smith Michigan Works! West Central
Mary Szwed Northwest Michigan Works!
Mona DeFrancesco Oakland County Michigan Works!
Paulette Marshall SEMCA Michigan Works!
Amy Kraatz UPWARD Talent Council Michigan Works
Linda Webb West Michigan Works!