Casey Cowell Joins Groundwork Board

March 14, 2017 | |

Tech entrepreneur, startup investor and philanthropist Casey Cowell has joined Groundwork’s Board of Directors.

Casey’s contributions to the Traverse City region, and to the world at large, are significant. In 1976, he and friends created U.S. Robotics, which developed the world’s first computer modem. The Cowell Family Cancer Center at Munson Medical Center in Traverse City recently opened, exemplifying his commitment to healthful communities. Casey wants to help foster healthful communities in northern Michigan, as well as expand the region’s growing tech scene and create jobs in Traverse City.

The Cowell family’s relationship to northern Michigan dates back decades. His father camped here in the 1930s. After tiring of life in the Chicago suburbs, Casey, his wife and three young children moved in 1991 to nearby Elk Rapids.

Maureen Smyth, Groundwork’s Board Chair, offered praise for Casey Cowell.

“Casey brings a broad base of experience and knowledge to our board of directors,” said Smyth. “It’s clear that he is ready to role up his sleeves and dig in – and that’s just what we are looking for from our Board members. I am please to welcome Casey to our Board and I have no doubt he will be a  tremendous asset to Groundwork. I could not be happier about the strength and dedication of the Board we’ve built.”

Groundwork executive director Hans Voss touted Cowell’s crystal ball for envisioning the future of the Traverse City region.

“Having Casey on our Board adds real strength and dimension,” said Voss. “He is well known as an entrepreneur and a philanthropist, but what really sealed his connection to Groundwork is his passion for the future of northwest Michigan. He’s working hard to create high value jobs in the region and he understands that safeguarding our unique quality of life is important to our ability to attract employers. We are just thrilled to have Casey’s vision and creativity on our Board of Directors and I look forward to working with him to advance Groundwork’s pro-environment, pro-economy mission.”

We interviewed Casey about his interest in Groundwork, and his vision for Traverse City. See his responses below:

Groundwork: What attracted you to Groundwork, and inspired you to join our Board?

Cowell: Groundwork has impact and gets things done.  That’s how I strive to be.  Move the ball down the field, always with the best play you can conjure up.  Don’t just talk about it and perennially plan.​ Do it. Get it done. Move forward.

Groundwork: Which of our program areas appeal to you, in particular?

Cowell: One that doesn’t really definitively exist yet:  focus on improving the healthfulness of our communities.​ Groundwork should consider formally drawing Healthfulness into it’s organizational name. Heathfulness, really, is what we are all about, maybe even more so than “resilient”. It’s a higher priority. I like the ring of Groundwork Center for Resilient and Healthful Communities … but then again we have a name that is well known and well regarded, so why futz with it.

It’s hard to imagine a community that by measures, anecdotal evidence and general perception is accepted as being resilient if its overall healthfulness isn’t good. Our community overall healthfulness isn’t good. The obesity statistics alone will tell you that. We should explicitly adopt our community Healthfulness as a “Major”.

Groundwork: You’ve made great contributions to society at large, and the Traverse City region, in particular? Of which contributions are you most proud?

Cowell: That I still get to participate on a broad basis throughout the Grand Traverse region and nobody has thrown me out yet!

Groundwork: Tell us about your work with, and support of, the Front Street Irregulars.

Cowell: The Irregulars currently consist of about 50 locals who own or operate or significantly influence the operation of commercial enterprises in our area that create great value.  If I can take a dollar’s worth of sand and fashion it, through intense intellectual effort by co-workers in my company and others, into something that others ​value greatly and will pay for in many markets around the world (say …. $500), then we can make and ship these products out and see much more $ flow in to our region than the cost to make the products. This delta is what can really pay for a lot of well-being in our community, from high wages and salaries to money for infrastructure (roads, high speed internet, etc.), education and so on.  The Irregulars are about pulling together and pushing hard to evolve more high value creation companies in our backyard.

Groundwork: How would you like to see Traverse City evolve and change over the next 5-10 years? What’s needed here? And what should the TC region of 2027 look like?

Cowell: The last answer is what I’m focused on. If we can make that happen the rest will fall into place. The objective outcome is Community of Fully Engaged Citizens Who Take Pride In Place and are prospering.

Groundwork: What does your ideal day (or weekend) in Traverse City look like? How would you spend it?

Cowell: Weekend?? Sleep. I don’t sleep that much during the week so I try to catch up a little. During the week? Typical ideal weekday? Sleep faster and spend more time engaged in efforts with fully participating kindred spirits of like mind and lots of energy and creativity striving to win the cultural-change war resulting in greater healthfulness and general wealth / economic well-being for our communities.

About the Author

Jacob Wheeler is the communications manager at Groundwork. Contact him at [email protected]

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