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Swedish tech company Configura celebrates final expansion in Blue35 office space

Alongside customers, local community leaders, and executives from both its Swedish headquarters and two Asia offices, the Swedish tech company Configura celebrated the expansion of its downtown Grand Rapids offices with a grand opening event earlier this month. 

Maker of the CET Designer software, Configura was founded its original Sweden headquarters in 1990, only beginning to lay down roots in Grand Rapids in the early 2000s when company leadership began looking at cities throughout Midwest to establish a new North American presence. 

While company leaders considered locations in Wisconsin and Illinois, as well as Michigan, it was The Right Place CEO Birgit Klohs who helped them settle on Grand Rapids, touting the city’s rich history as a furniture industry capital with potential for growth into other sectors as a common-sense move toward larger goals of operational growth. 

Johan Lyreborn is CEO of Configura and says Grand Rapids is his company’s second home.  

 “We’re proud to have a major presence in this city and to be close to the world’s largest office furniture makers as well as manufacturers in other global industries,” he says. “We’ve created a space that’s a pleasure to be in –designed to attract and retain the best talent – a space that’s great for productivity, interaction and relaxation for our employees and guests.”

Led by Sweden native and Vice President Peter Brandinger, Configura opened its Grand Rapids office in 2006 with a total of just five employees -- including Brandinger, three other Swedish staff members, and two new hires they made upon arrival to the states. Operating out of an office located at 100 Grandville Ave. over the past decade, the Grand Rapids team has grown to a staff of 40 employees, prompting company leaders to relocate to a larger space with more potential for expansion last spring in the nearby Blue 35 building on Oakes Street. 

Using its own space-planning software, CET Designer, to design its new 12,000-square-foot space, the project’s lead designer Kendra Steinhaus began the planning process with a few rounds of small, casual employee meetings to give the staff a chance to talk about what kind of space they wanted to see come together. 

“Although we’re the developers of CET Designer, it’s not every day that we use the software ourselves to design and bring an entire space to life. Using CET Designer to create our new office space helped me see how our users experience the software,” says Steinhaus, adding that the software was particularly useful during those small group meetings, or “design charrettes,” because it allowed for real-time collaboration. 

With its recent expansion opening up the final two floors of the Blue35 building, the top floor of the new space is now home to marketing, sales, human resources, and finance teams along with a large communal kitchen and relaxation area. Research and development, along with training and support functions, are housed in the floor below that, and both floors feature big windows with lots of natural light afforded to the open-concept desk space. 

Configura’s new office space also features a rooftop deck on the outside, while its interior includes a large communal area with a full kitchen, soft seating, pool and ping-pong tables, a popcorn machine, darts, and a shuffleboard alongside a “quiet room” available for taking naps and for nursing mothers. 

“People need opportunities to step away from their work,” says Steinhaus. “They need fresh air and private spaces. And they need places to connect with one another we designed the new office to meet these needs.” 

For more information about Configura and its CET Designer software, visit www.configura.com. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor?
Images courtesy of Configura 


Related aritcles: 
Configura: A Swedish Company with a Grand Rapids Home

Swedish tech company Configura expands into GR’s Blue35 building with high-tech digs 

Custer, Inc. opens second tech-focused office on Hall St.

Last week, family-owned, full-service workplace design company Custer, Inc. announced the opening of its second office space at 320 Hall St. SW.

At 55,000 total square feet, the office will serve as the new home for Custer's audio visual technology department and a research and development lab for the AV Team, as well as offer an additional 45,000 square feet of warehouse space for the company's operations and distribution teams.

With multiple conference and collaborative settings, private offices and workstations, and a work cafe, Custer designers also made updates to the surrounding landscapes and parking lots.

Scott Custer, vice president of new ventures and investments at Custer says the new 320 Hall building demonstrates the company's continued growth and supports the expansion of its growing technology department and custom design services.

“We have been working hard all year adding finishing touches to the building and we are excited to share the new space with our employees, clients, and the community," he says.

"We want to thank our customers, employees, partners, and vendors who have all made our expansion possible.”

While Custer's headquarters located at 217 Grandville Ave. will continue to house its design, sales, and administration teams, the new Custer office building expands the company's technology capabilities to include video and audio conferencing, room scheduling, space utilization and analysis, interactive displays and whiteboards, content sharing, video walls, interactive signage, and more.

“At Custer, we make sure our clients across all industries have access to the latest workplace technology that supports collaboration and productivity,” says VP of Technology Trent Gooding. “The new office will allow us to serve even more clients, expand our technology offerings, and bring our technology team together in a collaborative space.”

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor

Images courtesy of Custer, Inc.


 

New Wikiwiki Poke Shop and Oyster Bar brings unique flavors to quick service concept

Though the core menu feature of the new Wikiwiki Poke Shop is rooted in the popular Hawaiian poke bowl tradition, its owner Keith Allard says the restaurant’s concept aims for more versatility than just one island’s cuisine.

 

“We started out with whatever proteins we wanted to highlight and then started thinking about what ingredients are available year round and what will be the highest quality, but most sustainable things to get from our suppliers,” says Allard, who is preparing to open for business in a newly renovated space at 1146 Wealthy Street SE.

 

Meaning “to slice or cut” in Hawaiian, “poke” refers to chunks of raw, marinated fish that can be combined with a whole host of other ingredients, but is typically tossed over rice and topped with veggies and other seasonings or sauces.

 

At Wikiwiki Poke Shop, customers have the option to build their own bowl with customized proteins and toppings, or order try one of the signature recipes straight off the menu, handcrafted by the Wikiwiki kitchen staff.

 

“For example, we’d say, ‘what’s our favorite way to eat Tuna?’ and then work backwards from there,” he says. “We want to make sure the fish is always the centerpiece of the meal, but also be sure to compliment it with other flavors, too.”


 

However, the ease of customization and user-friendliness of the poke bowl is a big part of the allure for Allard, who appreciates the unique opportunity the cuisine affords in providing a quick but healthy option that doesn’t limit those with food allergies and other dietary restrictions the same way other fast-casual foods often do.
 

"You’re dealing with a product and type of food that’s naturally gluten-free and naturally dairy-free," he says, "There are so with food allergies or intolerances, or who are even just really focused on what goes into their food, in general, as a matter of health and wellness…I think (poke) is just very friendly for those who are conscious about those kinds of things, which is something that inspired me to explore this concept." 

 

Not that those kinds of foods are hard to find in Eastown. As a resident himself, Allard says he loves how robust the neighborhood’s restaurant scene has become, but saw an opportunity to create the kind of place he’s always wanted to have close to home -- a low-key lunch and dinner spot where quick and speedy service can afford customers more accessibility to the kind of versatile, chef-inspired flavors that can be harder to find among other healthy meal options.

So, when Allard starting hearing about all kinds of quick-stop poke places popping up along the West Coast and then eventually moving inward to cities like Chicago and Madison, Wisc., he thought bringing a similar concept to Grand Rapids seemed like a no-brainer.

 

“I saw it and it just clicked for me:this is the kind of food I’d love to eat and have available on a regular basis as a quick lunch or just a healthy dinner type option,” he says. “I couldn’t stop thinking about it and eventually grew into a business here.”

 

A former candidate for Michigan’s House of Representatives back in 2014, Allard left behind his career in politics to chase after a career in cooking full-time, driven ultimately to choose a passion that felt more organic to him, and certainly less complicated.

 

“I always liked cooking and so aside from my full-time job, at night, I had a second full-time job just cooking in restaurants in Grand Rapids,” says Allard, eventually earning a spot as manager for a few of the venues he worked at, including Fishlads in the Grand Rapids Downtown Market. “I decided I don’t like being part of politics — working in kitchens is a lot less messy — so I decided to take that up as my full-time career.”

 

While Allard says he wants some of the interior’s aesthetic highlights to remain a surprise for opening day—including the specifications of a 40-foot-long hand-painted mural stretching along the back wall of the restaurant—he did say customers won’t find much reclaimed wood or exposed beams in his new space.

 

Designed with a clean, modern edge, Allard drew his inspiration from a visit to the Shed Aquarium with his fiancé, where he was struck by a vibrant exhibit featuring a jellyfish backlit by various colored spotlights and black lights.

 

“Just the way the jellyfish contrasted with the colors and that sense of movement—those pictures are what I showed our interior and graphic designers and said I want to try and capture that,” he says.

 

Because Wikiwiki is still waiting on final clearances from the Kent County Health Department, he can’t give an exact opening date quite yet, but says he intends to hit the ground running sooner rather than later sometime this fall.

 

“In colloquial Hawaiian, Wikiwiki means ‘quick’ or ‘speedy,’” Allard says, “so we want our restaurant to be that place for people who want a fast lunch or dinner spot where they don’t have to wait long, or call ahead—we definitely want to make sure to preserve that quickness in our service.”

 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
 

Images courtesy of Wikiwiki Poke Shop & Oyster Bar

 

New Kent County nonprofit launches public-private pilot program for improving foster care outcomes

The brainchild of five private Kent county foster care agencies and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, the new non-profit West Michigan Partnership for Children launched earlier this week at its new 213 Sheldon Avenue SE headquarters in downtown Grand Rapids.

Operating as a consortium under a five-year pilot program that is the first of its kind in the state of Michigan, the WMPC was at least five years in the making and forged around one central question posed by both the state’s MDHHS and the private foster care systems it partners with — how can we improve outcomes for the kids in foster care?

Kristyn Peck is CEO of the new WMPC, and says although she came aboard more recently back in April, the MDHHS and the five private foster care partners—Bethany Christian Services, Catholic Charities of West Michigan, D.A. Blodgett-St. Johns, Samaritas, and Wellspring Lutheran Services—have spent approximately five years working together to evaluate other models throughout the U.S. and look at the ways those states were able to transform and improve outcomes for children in their own foster care systems.

Unique in its consortium model, WMPC was created as a new non-profit charged with implementing the state-funded pilot program, with the private foster care agencies essentially acting as subcontractors who provide direct services while the WMPC serves its role as the fiscal agent.

"WMPC will evaluate partners agencies on performance and look at how we can bring more resources to these kids and families, whether that means identifying additional community services we can bring into the home to keep child with their parents or looking at what additional support foster parents need so they can support kids in the meantime while we’re looking at more permanent solutions,” says Peck.

She says performance-based funding models like the one being piloted by the WMPC were identified through collaborative research as one of the core ingredients to achieving successful outcomes for families and children in foster care.

“Prior to October 1, the state paid the county the same amount of money per child for each day that child was in foster care, regardless of that child’s outcomes or the length of time they were in care,” Peck says. “Now the state is basically front loading the funding through the WMPC.”

Now, the WMPC will get most of the average cost per child in the first year of care, while the funding amount dramatically decreases over each passing year, acting as an incentive for the WMPC and partner organizations to take a closer look at each child entering into their care and build strong case plans that evaluate and explore all possible ways a child can be moved into a permanent home more quickly.

Data-driven decisions making was determined as another major component for improving outcomes for kids in foster care systems. For WMPC, this means implementing new predictive analytic software, which will collect data from each child served by WMPC every night to identify recurring patterns. Based on patterns found in the data, the software can then create different kinds of algorithms that can then be used by the WMPC to aid in predicting outcomes for the kids with certain shared identifiers and create case plans accordingly.

Though Peck says WMPC will gather enough data for more personalized goal-setting for each individual agency, right now, the goal of the WMPC in the broadest sense is to decrease the amount of time children spend in child welfare and increase the number of children reunified with family or relatives whenever safe and possible. 

Yesterday, WMPC hosted its official launch party in the greenhouse space at the Grand Rapids Downtown Market, hearing presentations by local leaders and celebrating the birth of a unique program made possible by what Peck calls a “true private-public partnership.”

“It’s really our chance to celebrate our launch and really thank the amazing partnerships we have in place here in Kent County and statewide that have made this successful,” she says. “It’s been a long-time coming and it’s required a lot of educating and research on best practices and advocating from Kent County to the state to be chosen as the site to pilot this great model.”

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of West Michigan Partnership for Children

Sanctuary Folk Art Gallery retires from South Division

Nine years before Grand Rapids’ first ArtPrize, Reb Roberts and Carmella Loftis were nurturing a blossoming art community in their Sanctuary Folk Art Gallery on South Division. Since then, the duo have represented dozens of formerly unknown outsider artists, organized countless shows and art fairs, and have completed hands-on collaborative projects with well over 100 community and nonprofit organizations. Now, after eighteen years, Roberts and Loftis are opening a new chapter—and saying goodbye to their beloved gallery space in Heartside. "It’s time for us to make way for others to create something new,” says Roberts.

Since opening in 1999, Roberts recalls being one of a very small number of businesses operating downtown. “We were down here before Cooley [Law School], before the Douglas J. Aveda School, before all those. I think San Chez was already down here—but that was it. You could literally see tumbleweeds blowing down Commerce and Ionia.”

While many things have changed since before Y2K—ArtPrize has come to town, the Downtown Market has come to Heartside, Ionia and Commerce are now booming retail corridors—others have remained very much the same. Working with the transient and homeless population that inhabits South Division has been a daily part of Roberts and Loftis’ lives for the last nearly two decades, and while they’ve watched the rest of the city boom around them, the number of homeless, transient, addicted, and mentally ill individuals who traverse South Division on a daily basis has remained the same—if not grown.

As residents of the area, Roberts and Loftis have had a firsthand view of the nuances of the situation.

“I’ve run into hundreds of [adult foster care clients] over the years,” Roberts says. “Who actually aren’t technically homeless—but they have nowhere else to go during the day. Do they have their proper meds with them? Do they have proper clothing for the weather? Not always.”

To Roberts, the barriers that keep these individuals from receiving the housing, healthcare, and social services they need are far from insurmountable. “These are all things that can change. All these things can be addressed.”

Loftis, one of the many outsider artists whose work has blossomed under the gallery’s curation over the years, has a background in mental health advocacy, which is clearly reflected in the organizations with which she and Roberts have collaborated over the years. From Wedgewood to Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan, there are few mental health organizations in town who haven’t worked with Roberts and Loftis at one point or another.

Schools, likewise, have collaborated with Sanctuary Folk Art Gallery, as well as local churches, music festivals, foundations, art councils—the list goes on and on.

The gallery’s work, like its location, has relished in being off-the-beaten-path. Roberts defines his preferred “folk art” genre as going “beyond a lack of formal training. It’s this innate drive to create work. It’s people doing work for the people. It’s rural, it’s urban, it’s hand-painted storefront signs, it’s quilting—it’s the sidewalk of art. Everybody can walk on it.”

Folk art, Roberts says, taps into something primal in our humanity, which transcends the boundaries of style and technique that exist in more formal genres.

“Whether you think I’m an artist or not, it doesn’t matter,” Roberts says. “Call it naive, untrained, whatever. It’s as real as those ancient cave paintings. It gets the point across.”

Roberts sees the similarities and repeating patterns in the imagery of folk art across human history as no coincidence.

“Whether it’s quilting or cave paintings, those tribal images and patterns have travelled through history. There was something that was traveling through the ether. It started somewhere, and it traveled on the vehicle of common consciousness.”

Loftis, who recently wrapped up her first solo exhibit as a Forest Hills Fine Arts Center artist in resident, offers a nearly perfect example of Roberts’ philosophy about folk art, as her work is rich with allusion, repetition, and native imagery. Some of Roberts’ work could, on the right day, be mistaken for hand-painted business signs—and it’s easy to get the sense that he kind of likes it that way.

“When you meet those [outsider artists] you’re drawn to—their vision is always different, but the drive is there. They’ll get tired, or discouraged, but they could care less about the critics.”

After closing the gallery’s doors at the end of October, Roberts and Loftis will likely find new studio space for their own work, but Roberts says they’re not likely to find another gallery space anytime soon. Roberts and Loftis’ collaboration with local organizations, artists, and art fairs, however, isn’t likely to slow down anytime soon—which means their outsider artwork, and the spirit of folk art that they’ve cultivated, will linger here in Grand Rapids for another two decades—and hopefully long after.

Marjorie Steele is a poet, journalist, publisher, and boomerang West Michigander. Currently teaching at KCAD of FSU, Marjorie’s works can be found at medium.com/@creativeonion and cosgrrrl.com.

Photos courtesy of Marjorie Steele of artwork by Carmella Loftis.

Read Muskegon's new literacy center hopes to mark beginning of new era for downtown Muskegon Heights

Celebrating the grand opening of its Muskegon Heights Family Literacy Center next week, the nonprofit organization Read Muskegon will be joined by the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce and members of the Muskegon Heights community for a ribbon cutting ceremony.

Beginning at 11 a.m. on October 25, the ribbon cutting event will take place outside of the new literacy center, located at 26 E. Broadway in Muskegon Heights, and feature special guests that include Muskegon Heights Mayor Kimberly Sims and John Severson, Presidents of the Muskegon Area Independent School District, for a ribbon cutting ceremony.

With a mission to "increase the quality of life in Muskegon County through improved literacy," the new Muskegon Heights Family Literacy Center will act as a countywide hub for literacy that focuses on providing programming for adult and family literacy, such as classes to increase job readiness, early literacy, and English language skills.

Other services include one-on-one tutoring sessions, literacy-based play and learn groups for low literacy parents and children ages 0-5, a six-week long literacy-based healthy cooking workshop for parents and children ages 0-5, drop-in literacy lab tutoring, and a family reading corner.

Though the literacy center has been hosting some of the new programming in the space throughout its summer-long interior renovation, Read Muskegon President Melissa Moore says next week's event not only marks the official grand opening of the literacy center, but also a larger milestone for the misunderstood and underutilized commercial corridors of downtown Muskegon Heights.

As the first organization to partner with the Muskegon Heights Downtown Development Authority, Moore says by moving its programs and administrative offices to the new downtown site, Read Muskegon also brings along its volunteers and partners, which allows them to see the city and its emerging opportunities firsthand.

"Opening a literacy center that is accessible to many of our learners with the most critical needs has been at the core of Read Muskegon's long-term planning," Moore says. "We are excited about all of the opportunities that relocating to the heart of the Muskegon Heights downtown brings with it."

The Muskegon Heights Family Literacy Center is open to the public from 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and from noon - 4 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

For more information on Read Muskegon, the Muskegon Heights Family Literacy Center, or the October 25 ribbon cutting, visit Read Muskegon online or find the organization here on Facebook.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Read Muskegon


Grain Sandwich Shops brings quick-stop lunch option to Grand Rapids’ Westside

For the better part of a decade now, Alex and Sy Wilkening have been careful to build their savings, putting away money from their day jobs as a computer programmer and career bartender/manager, respectively, to build a dream that’s been 10 years in the making. 

“It got to the point where we’d wake up and say, you know, ‘another day another dollar, back to the grind,” says Alex, who met his wife Sy in the restaurant business years back. “We just got sick of saying that, and you can only wake up and dread going to your day job for [so] long.” 

As of Oct. 7, the Wilkenings dream has finally become a reality with the grand opening of Grain Sandwich Shop, located on the Grand Rapids’ Westside at 812 Butterworth Street. 

Leasing the 1000-square-foot storefront from Bluefin Ventures, the Wilkenings partnered with Grand Apps for the their logo and website design—a clean and minimal aesthetic that matches the interior of their news digs. 

“We wanted it to feel comfortable and simple, almost like a minimalistic feel, but still very warm. There are some natural brick tones and a lot of natural wood in the space. It’s homey, industrial, and shabby chic all at the same time,” says Alex, adding that he wanted to bring a much-needed quick lunch option to the Westside neighborhood that felt comfortable, with he and Sy as the accessible owners and chefs working behind the counter in an open kitchen concept. 

“It’s designed to be very inviting and customer forward,” he says. 

After signing the lease on the space in March, they took over the interior as a “white box,” or completely blank slate, and Alex handled most of the renovation himself to cut down on costs. 

He says he and Sy chose to open their sandwich shop on the Westside not only to fill a gap in an underserved market, but also because of a kinship they feel with the residents and community members who live, work, and shop there. 

“We’ve had a bunch of experiences with the west side throughout our young lives,” he says, including a house they used to own by Richmond Park and close friends they have who have grew up on the Westside. “It’s a place with genuine people who are super friendly and super nice. There’s a Midwestern friendliness attached to them and they’re approachable—that’s what we like about it and we wanted to support a neighborhood that’s friendly and likable and would in turn support us and create that relationship with the community.” 

Serving all Michigan-made food products—including Nantucket Bread, Visser Farms produce, Sobie Meats, and Grilla Grills sauce and dry rub, the menu consists of eight sandwiches with “seasonal flare and regional flavors.” 

Alex says he also wants to be sure to recognize Two Scotts BBQ, who met with him on a few occasions to help guide he and Sy through the process of building a successful business. 

Open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday’s grand opening event was met with success, with the husband and wife team pushing out around 225 sandwiches on their first operational day.

“It was really more than we expected, to be honest—the outpour of support from friends and family and the rest of the neighborhood was really quite incredible,” he says. 

For more information on Grain Sandwich Shop, visit www.eatgrain.com or find Grain Sandwich Shop on Facebook. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor

Images courtesy of Grain Sandwich Shop 

Plans for new zip line to transform Muskegon Winter Sports Complex to year-round facility

With hopes of soon being transformed into a year-round facility, The Muskegon Winter Sports Complex has partnered with the Muskegon Sports Council and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation to launch a $50,000 matching campaign with a deadline set for Nov. 13. 

The campaign, offered through the Michigan-based Patronicity crowdfunding platform, will support the construction of a dual mega zip line at the sports complex within Muskegon Start Park, with continued phases of developing including a canopy tour, rock climbing wall, and sports pavilion to follow. 

“For over 30 years the Muskegon Winter Sports Complex, located in Muskegon State Park, has been providing recreation in the form of luge, cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and ice skating,” says Muskegon Winter Sports Complex’s Executive Director Jim Rudicil, adding that the partnership with Patronicity and the MEDC provides the non-profit with a unique opportunity to extend its mission to year-round. 

The matching fund is part of the larger Public Spaces Community Places initiative, a collaborative effort between the MEDC, the Michigan Municipal League, and Patronicity which allows local residents to be part of the development of strategic projects in their communities via crowdfunding campaigns backed with MEDC matching funds. 

“Michigan residents and tourists look for recreational opportunities in all four seasons,” says Dan Gilmartin, CEO and Executive Director of the Michigan Municipal League. “Adding a zip line to Muskegon’s Winter Sports Complex will make it an inviting destination all year long.” 

Likewise, Rudicil says the new zip line will serve as an anchor for expanded facilities and programming in non-winter months as well as add an extra teaching component to the sports complex’s offerings. 

“The construction of these zip lines will also incorporate an educational component, teaching users about the unique ecosystem created by the protected dunes along Lake Michigan,” he says. “In the same spirit that built the winter complex three decades ago, we are beyond excited to partner with the MEDC and join again with the greater community to bring this exciting place making opportunity to Muskegon County residents and visitors alike.”

For more information, visit the Muskegon Winter Sports Complex’s Patronicity page online at https://www.patronicity.com/project/zip_lines_at_muskegon_winter_sports_complex#!/.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor

Images courtesy of Muskegon Winter Sports Complex/AE Progressive 

WMCAT’s new HQ to act as non-profit anchor of West Side development project in growing neighborhood

As part of an ongoing $8.5 million Leave Your Mark fundraising campaign, the West Michigan Center for Arts + Technology (WMCAT) gathered with community members at the end of last month to celebrate with a groundbreaking ceremony of their new West Side facility.

Speakers at the event included Meijer, Inc. chairman Hank Meijer, WMCAT Executive Director Daniel Williams, and remarks by students from both the Teen Arts + Tech program and the WMCAT Adult Career Training Program, which aims to offer new avenues for underemployed adults to find income security through tuition-free education and career preparation. 

During the event, guests were also encouraged to contribute messages for a hand-crafted time capsule, with an open invitation for students and community members to make their own contributions throughout the year. The capsule will be displayed in the new headquarters after its fall 2018 grand opening.

Located on the third floor of a new Rockford Construction development at 601 First St. NW, the new headquarters will act as the non-profit anchor for a block where more new development projects—including plans for Meijer's new Bridge St. grocery store—are forthcoming. 

"We could not be more thrilled to welcome WMCAT to the West Side," says Rockford Construction CEO Mike VanGessel. "Access to quality education and training opportunities is a critical part of a healthy neighborhood. This will be a wonderful addition to support our current and future neighbors.”

At 22,000 square feet, its new headquarters will nearly double the size of its current space at 98 E. Fulton Street and allow for increased support of both its teen and adult programs as well as the expansion of social enterprise opportunities offered through WMCAT’s commercial screen printing business Ambrose, where young adults can gain real-world experience in early college years through apprenticeship. 

“WMCAT is really excited to join our new neighbors on the West Side in providing equitable access to opportunity for teens and adults,” says Williams. “The project not only allows us to strengthen and grow our impact, but it positions WMCAT to make significant contribution to a dynamic neighborhood.”

To learn more about West Michigan Center for Arts + Technology programming, or its new West Side headquarters and the Leave your Mark fundraising campaign that made it possible, visit www.wmcat.org

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor

Images courtesy of WMCAT on Facebook 

Upon retirement, Joe Erhardt looks to Ben Wickstrom to lead family-owned construction co. as new CEO

In 1975, when he was just 16 years old, Joe Erhardt began working for his father, Larry Erhardt Sr.’s, contracting and construction management company, Erhardt Construction. Now, after 42 years total years of service—31 of which were spent at the helm—Joe Erhardt announced his retirement as chairman and CEO of Erhardt Construction, effective Dec. 31. 

Come the New Year, Erhardt will transition into an advisory role, acting chairman of its advisory board. 

Longtime Erhardt President, Ben Wickstrom, will take over as CEO and the largest shareholder of the company, while current vice president Taggart Town will also acquire ownership of the firm, both leadership moves part of a larger eight-year succession plan put in motion by Erhardt to transfer leadership and majority ownership to Wickstrom.

“After 42 years of active involvement, the time has come to formally step back and allow the next generation of leadership to continue to grow the company and lead it into an exciting future,” Erhardt says, adding that he “couldn’t be more thrilled” with how seamless the transition over the past eight years has been. 

“My goal through this succession has been to ensure that continued success of Erhardt Construction as a positive contributor to our community and an employer that provides good work opportunity to so many great people and families,” he says. “It’s a clear sign to me that the next generation of leadership is well prepared to lead the company for years to come.”

After graduating with a degree in civil engineering from Michigan Technological University, Wickstrom, now 42, started at Erhardt Construction as a n assistant project manager in 1998, becoming its vice president in 2006, executive vice president in 2009, and finally president of the company in 2011. 

As part of his new CEO role, Wickstrom has elevated two other Erhardt executives to join him on the new leadership team -- Ryan Formsma, project development director, and Stan Elenbaas, senior estimator. 

A licensed residential builder, Formsma has more than 23 years of experience in the construction industry and leads the company’s client relations. Elenbaas, a graduate of the construction management program at Ferris State University and LEED accredited professional, has been at Erhardt for the past 21 years and in the business for more than 30.

“I have respect, appreciation and gratitude to Joe Erhardt and Larry Erhardt for the opportunity I’ve been given over the past two decades,” Wickstrom says. “I have been blessed to work for a great company with great people. Now to have the opportunity to continue to lead the company as an owner, along with our team, is humbling and exciting.”

Based in West Michigan, the general contractor, construction management, and design-build firm services commercial, education, worship, municipal, and heath care industry clients, and is behind some of Grand Rapids’ most recognizable buildings, such as the DeVos Place, the Van Andel Arena, Van Andel Institute, the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel Tower, and the Salvation Army Ray Joan Kroc Corps Community Center. 

Recently having finished restoration and renovations efforts for the historic St. Cecilia Music Center, Erhardt has also been behind several Spectrum Health building renovations at both its Butterworth and Blodgett campuses, and has built $105 million in LEED projects since 2006, beginning with the Aquinas College Hauenstein Library.

Wickstrom says though there have been some structural changes in ownership, the company itself will not immediately experience any major shifts in business operations, adding that he, Town, Formsma, and Elenbaas will continue to follow the examples set by Joe Erhardt and his father Larry as they move forward in new leadership roles at the company. 

“They instilled in all of us the guiding values and principles that set us a apart…We continue to look to the future to grow our business in a way that serves our community, our clients, and our employees and their families,” Wickstrom says. “We’ll always be a family company.”

For more information about Erhardt Construction or their past and current projects, visit www.erhardtcc.com

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor

Images courtesy of Erhardt Construction  

Align Transit Improvement Study requests feedback for the Rapid

With the goal to capture feedback from both riders and non-riders of Grand Rapids’ public transportation system, The Rapid announced the launch of an online feedback tool called the Align Transit Improvement Study. With outreach and planning meetings having taken place in May of this year, the year-long project will help the public transit agency prioritize improvements over the next decade, with the public feedback period ending on Sept. 30.

Located online at http://aligntransit.org, the study is focused on supporting The Rapid’s short-range transit plan, identifying, analyzing and prioritizing a set of transit improvement recommendations to be made to the existing transit system.

The Rapid CEO Peter Varga says officials hope the study will identify ways to add to and improve the network, recommend land use and other policies and to help grow ridership and determine the improvements the public would like to see for the system.
“Public transportation is a vital part of Grand Rapids and its surrounding communities—whether you ride The Rapid daily, occasionally or have yet to try public transportation,” Varga says. “The Rapid has helped connect thousands of people across our community for years. The Align Study is an opportunity to work together and ‘align’ for better public transit in the metro region, so we encourage the public to engage with the short online feedback tool.”

The platform, which is mobile-friendly for all devices, features a variety of interactive exercises, including ranking enhancement priorities, and an interactive map for participants to place comments that provide specific locations where those enhancements are most important.

Because the study is not tied to any specific funding initiatives, there is no guarantee any changes will be made. However, the Rapid will use this as an opportunity to collect feedback to help ensure growing demand and to keep pace with changing regional growth patterns. The Align Transit Improvement study hopes to accomplish everything from enhancing transit services that provide competitive options to congested roadways to providing safe and equitable access to The Rapid network, thus supporting urban revitalization and economic development.

“The Align study is important to The Rapid because it will hone in on service enhancements that are desired by the community, especially for our employment-based riders,” says The Rapid’s strategic planning manager Conrad Venema, who doubles as the Align Study leader.

“The Rapid realizes that as the community grows, it’s vital for our transit system to adapt to the changing needs of users. The Align study will help The Raid achieve its goal of providing safe and equitable service that connects people to jobs, promotes economic development and offers a first-class transit experience.”

Click here to provide your feedback and take the Align Transit Improvement Study.

Images courtesy of The Rapid.

Artisan Flowers in Ada leaves historic ‘Little Red Schoolhouse’ for new space

After 14 years of operating out of Downtown Ada’s iconic “Little Red Schoolhouse” in the Thornapple River Shopping Plaza, boutique flower shop Artisan Flowers has moved into suite 115 of the nearby and newly constructed building at 425 Ada Drive, located just south of Fulton.

The move, as part of a larger overall redevelopment of Ada Village, comes after the Little Red Schoolhouse was purchased by Cheri DeVos, daughter of Amway founder Richard DeVos, Sr. According to plans announced following the July 24 Downtown Development Authority meeting, DeVos plans to relocate the historic structure during construction and then return it with upgrades to the riverfront park area as a candy and ice cream store.

Daisy Rzesa, owners of Artisan Flowers, says the move from their home in they historic school house to a new location gave the shop an opportunity to stay in the village while still continuing to focus on high-end flower and event design.

“This is exciting to be a part of the new vision for Ada,” Rzesa says. “We’ve raised our family and built a successful business here that has allowed us to build incredible relationships.”

Rzesa, who relocated to Ada with her husband Scott in 2001, opened Artisan flowers in 2003. Before that, Rzesa got her start designing flower arrangements for locals and celebrities as a florist on Sixth Avenue in Manhattan. There, she also graduated from the New York Botanical School of Floral and Design, completing a three-year design certification process to earn both AIFD and CFD accreditations from the American Institute of Floral Designers.

“My business has allowed me the privilege to create one-of-a-kind experiences with my floral designs and share in the lives of so many—whether through proms, weddings, birthdays, or other celebrations,” she says. “We look forward to our next new chapter.”

Artisan Flowers is open in its new location at 425 Ada Drive, suite 115 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Artisan Flowers/Daisy Rzesa


eAgile, Inc. to invest $4.3M in expanded operations, new hires at near-downtown GR facility

Earlier this month, economic developer The Right Place, Inc. and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation announced a $4.3 million investment by downtown Grand Rapids manufacturer eAgile, Inc.

The Grand Rapids-based Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) manufacturer, located near downtown at 1100 Hynes Ave., will spend the next three years expanding operations and making additional hires, staffing up at all levels, including administrative, sales, technicians, and skilled production labor.

“This expansion investment is almost entirely in machinery, equipment, and human resources. There will be very little building improvements made as part of the project,” says TRP spokesperson, Tim Mroz. 

The MEDC is supporting the expansion effort with the approval of a $300,000 Michigan Business Development Program performance-based cash grant, which Mroz says means that companies will only receive grant dollars when they meet agreed upon milestones for both new investment and jobs created. If the company does not meet its milestones, the approved grant dollars will not be not distributed.

“This is very different than most economic incentives in other states,” Mroz says. “Many state incentive programs provide large amounts of cash incentives up front in the hopes that a company’s commitment comes to fruition. Unfortunately, on those occasions when expansions don’t go as planned, those types of incentives put the company and the state on adversarial sides of the table with discussions involving ‘clawbacks’ and other legal and financial issues.” 

He says because the MEDC is a statewide organization, they rely on local entities like TRP to be a local expert in business retention, expansion, and attraction.

“Manufacturing today, around the country, is in a high-growth period,” Mroz says. “This makes our local retention and expansion work all the more important. We, The Right Place, have to continue meeting with and providing business growth support to our region’s companies to ensure they are not attracted away to another state.”

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of eAgile, Inc. and The Right Place 

Growing craft brewery expands into larger Ada taproom with food menu, more on-site brewing potential

Operating out of its original location at 418 Ada Drive until the end of this year, Gravel Bottom Craft Brewery & Supply in downtown Ada announced plans to relocate to a larger facility nearby when construction on the new 452 Ada Drive is complete.

"We have built a great following in Ada and look forward to helping make Ada a destination as we continue to support local events like Beers at the Bridge, Brats and Bonfires, and the Ada Chili Cook-Off,” says owner Matt Michiels, who opened Gravel Bottom in 2013. 

Located near the new Kingma’s Market on the corner of Ada Drive and Fulton Street, Gravel Bottom’s new digs will offer much more elbow room, totaling at 2,500 square feet with seating for 75 indoors and an additional 50 seats in its outdoor patio.

With an expanded on-tap selection and an all-new food menu, Gravel Bottom will also expand its hours of operation in the new building, offering quick lunches and small-plate food pairings for up to a dozen new taps. Michiels says the new space will also have extensive on-site brewing capacity, finally affording the space for equipment upgrades that will allow the craft brewers to experiment with more flavors and create new, innovative brews. 

“We are adding a small kitchen as well, which will allow us the opportunity to pair our beers with food and provide our customers with an enhanced craft beer experience,” Michiels says. 

Though details are still under wraps for plans hinting at further expansion, Michiels says Gravel Bottom is definitely expanding its operations and currently researching locations closer to downtown Grand Rapids. 

“I am excited to unveil even more details on our growing production plans in the next four to six weeks as they are put in place,” he says. “I look forward to sharing how they will enhance the Beer City experience.”

For more information, find Gravel Bottom Craft Brewery & Supply on Facebook, or visit www.gravelbottom.com.

Images courtesy of Gravel Bottom Craft Brewery & Supply

Teens design S. Division mural that will be featured in large-scale 2017 ArtPrize entry

A new mural is underway on the exterior of 106 S. Division in Heartside, the first brushstrokes made by teens from the Cook Arts Center Teen Leaders in the Arts program during Avenue for the Arts’ Aug. 4 First Fridays event. 

With the existing paint job old and chipping away, the UICA was already working with partners at Dwelling Place to repaint the wall, looking to members of the artist community there to gauge interest in help with designing something new. And when the UICA reached out to Cook Arts Center’s teen program, they jumped at the chance to do the project — as long as they could incorporate a larger aspect of community engagement. 

“We did what we always do with the teens in that program and we left it to them to decide, and they said, ‘yeah, we definitely want to do that and it sounds cool, but we want to do what we did before to make sure the people living in that neighborhood really like it,” says Steffanie Rosalez, Cook Arts Center program director, who then worked with staff from Avenue for the Arts and Dwelling Place to connect with local businesses and find ways to engage with residents both in and outside of the artist community. 

“I gave the kids context about the area and said, you know, there are a lot of artists who do live around here and will be in and out of the businesses around here, but there are also a lot of people who have lived here for a very long time in Dwelling Place apartments and surrounding areas who don’t typically have their voices heard,” Rosalez says. 

Using interactive table displays set up near the entrances to a few local businesses, the teens spent time introducing themselves and the project, getting input and hearing stories from whomever happened to walk by.

Rosalez says the time they spent in the neighborhood businesses, basically just hanging around and listening, allowed them to get a sense of the larger community as a whole without sacrificing the opportunity to connect with and hear from residents on a more individual level.

And the final design of the mural reflects exactly that — the many kinds of individuals who are strengthened by support from the community around them, sharing stories of redemption made possible thanks to the local organizations and support of those who want to help each other thrive. Depicting a colorful array of gears arching over an even more colorful and diverse group of people, neighbors also wanted to see the incorporation of symbols  to help represent the groups more specifically, with feminism, LGBT, homelessness, and disability just a few among the many. 

And while the mural, at its heart, provides a unique avenue for the group of teens to celebrate diversity and creativity outside of their comfort zones through engaging with the downtown community, a larger partnership between Cook Arts Academy and the UICA is raising the stakes. 

The final design will be printed on textiles and used as part of a larger-scale interactive art piece being entered in ArtPrize 2017 by nationally recognized visual artist Seitu Jones and the UICA. 

Titled “The Heartside Community Meal,” Jones’ time-based entry will take place on Sept. 23 and bring over 250 neighbors to Heartside Park to sit across from one another at the 300-foot-long table. There they will be served a “healthy, locally grown meal” with conversations that aim to illuminate issues of healthy food access in downtown Grand Rapids neighborhoods. 

Running the length of that 300-foot-table will be a fabric table runner featuring a print of the mural design currently being painted by the Cook Arts Center teens.

“They have been very dedicated,” Rosalez says, adding that the group stuck out three months of meetings, planning, and community outreach to get to the finalized mural design.  “It’s been a big commitment and I’ve been so impressed by them and how much they’re willing to give back to their community because they genuinely want to do something special. They’re an amazing group of kids.”

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Cook Arts Center
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