For Bing Goei, Jan. 9 holds a special kind of significance. It is the day that changed his life – twice.
The first time was Jan. 9, 1960, when he and his family arrived in the United States. Goei was an 11-year-old boy whose only experience with this nation was through television, watching cowboy movies with his brothers. The trip from Indonesia by way of the Netherlands would bring Goei to Michigan’s West side, setting him up for a successful professional and personal life in Grand Rapids.
It also is the day that he heard about an opportunity to change the way the state of Michigan viewed immigration within its borders. Goei traveled to Lansing Jan. 9, 2014, to talk to his friend from the campaign trail, Gov. Rick Snyder, about a job in Lansing. It would be a position that would take Goei from a relatively quiet life as a business owner to a public figure and spokesman for immigrants across the state.
Goei began his new role as director of the Office for New Americans within weeks of that conversation with Gov. Snyder. The governor had established the Michigan Office for New Americans through Executive Order 2014-2, fulfilling a pledge he made in his State of the State address on Jan. 16, 2014. In this unprecedented role, Goei is chief adviser to the governor and state departments on the formulation and implementation of Michigan’s immigration policies, programs and procedures.
It is more than a job for Goei. It is a passion. It is a calling. It is his destiny. That may sound like an exaggeration, but when you hear Goei talk about his life story, his family and his devotion to immigration issues, you quickly realize how deep his commitment to this post truly is.
“The position wasn’t even on my radar,” Goei said, laughing at the suggestion that he might have sought out such a job. “When I got the call between Christmas and New Year’s, I thought it was a joke. I knew Gov. Snyder from when I was running for a state House of Representatives seat; we connected as entrepreneurs and business owners. We kept in touch from there. When I received the call from his chief of staff, I said yes to a meeting.
“I will tell you, I’m a Christian and I don’t believe anything happens by accident. Jan. 9 was the day that we arrived in Grand Rapids as immigrants in 1960. We were on the front page of the newspaper because we were the first Chinese immigrants to arrive in the area” via a church-exchange program, said Goei, who is of Chinese heritage but was born in Indonesia. “I took a copy of that front page and brought it with me. I said, ‘Governor, I don’t know what your plans are; I don’t even know why you chose me. I just wanted you to know that the day we’re meeting, here’s what happened all of those years ago.’ He used that article to announce my appointment on Jan. 31.”
It’s a position that seems tailored for Goei. The Michigan Office for New Americans will coordinate the state’s efforts to welcome immigrants and their entrepreneurship; to lead efforts to encourage foreign students getting advanced degrees to stay in Michigan, build companies here and employ Michiganders; and to ensure that needed agricultural and tourism workers come to the state. The office will also help coordinate existing services to immigrants and facilitate partnerships with non-profits, foundations and the private sector in the areas of licensing, workforce training, education, housing, health care and quality of life.
Goei is a poster child for an immigrant who fulfills the American Dream of building a business from the ground up. With hard work and dedication, he took his role as a summer staffer at Eastern Floral and turned it into a thriving enterprise. After he bought the company, he grew the floral retailer into a giant with multiple locations, more than 60 year-round employees and an estimated $5 million in annual revenue.
He also is an advocate for mentorship and support for young entrepreneurs, having created the International Center for Entrepreneurial Excellence, a business incubator that offers low cost space to young, minority and women entrepreneurs in Grand Rapids.
Goei has also been a key driving force in the Coalition for Racial and Ethnic Diversity and the Multiracial Association of Professionals at the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce.
That program has caught the attention of the Kellogg Foundation, GROW, MEDC and other local organizations.
Goei’s leadership also extends to community causes, including the Asian Pacific American Chamber of Commerce where he serves as a board member.
APACC Executive Director Van Nguyen said Goei’s dedication to fostering diversity and improving cultural competency “makes him a trailblazer, not only in the Asian Pacific Americans community, but new Americans in general.”
Challenges and inspiration
Goei’s all-American story starts with his mother and father, who traveled thousands of miles and survived tremendous challenges to better their lives and those of their children.
“My parents are tremendous role models for me. They left Indonesia when it gained its independence from the Netherlands and the first president became a Communist-influenced president. My father, who was an educator in Indonesia, was being told what to teach. And he felt that was a very dangerous precedent. So my mother and father decided to flee because they felt it was not good for the children,” Goei said. “They were allowed to leave at that time upon the condition that they had to leave everything they had behind. They literally left Indonesia with a suitcase. There were six boys and my mother was pregnant with a seventh child.”
Source: Corp! Magazine
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