chief executive officer
Southwest Michigan First
“And caller number 12 is a winner …” One day when Ron Kitchens was about twelve, he won two tickets to a Kansas City Royals game in a radio station contest. He and his brother took a bus to the stadium and waited along the players’ fence to grab an autograph just like the other kids. After standing there for a while, an old man noticed Ron, tapped him on the shoulder, and led Ron up into the bleachers where they sat down. The man asked Ron about himself and what he wanted to do with his life. After hearing Ron’s story, that man, none other than Ewing Kauffman, owner of the team and founder of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, poured into Ron that he had the power to be whatever he chose if he just committed to it.
From that day forward, Ron learned the power of a job and has endeavored to share this revelation in the best way that he knows how since — by creating jobs to contribute to the elimination of poverty and vulnerability. A certified economic developer, with more than three decades in economic development, Ron is now chief executive officer of the Southwest Michigan First Group of Companies, a cluster of privately funded economic development advisors who act as the catalyst for economic growth in Southwest Michigan.
As leader of highly motivated and engaged teams, Ron serves Southwest Michigan First, Southwest Michigan Partnerships, Southwest Michigan First Life Science Fund, Michigan Medical Device Accelerator, First Angels and the Catalyst Leadership Series. His teams have been recognized by the Wall Street Journal, Winning Workplaces, Fast Company magazine and Best and Brightest Companies for their excellence, leadership and professionalism.
Ron is a best-selling author whose works include Community Capitalism: Lessons from Kalamazoo and Beyond. He is featured in Donna Karlin’s Leaders: Their Stories, Their Words and Insight Publishing’s Mastering the Art of Success. He is a nationally sought-after speaker to business and professional groups and co-founder of the Engage Conference, a leadership symposium for global economic leaders.
Ron’s board leadership service includes the Greg Jennings Foundation, Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, Southwest Michigan First, Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s Collaborative Development Council, Michigan State University Board | Facility for Rare Isotope Beams and Mackinac Policy Conference Host Committee.
He is a fan of quail hunting, fly fishing, rugby, baseball and being on the water with friends. At home, Ron’s priority is focused on his wife Lyn and daughter Kelsey.