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East Grand Rapids townhomes completed, 16 dwellings increase density three-fold for shops, eateries

Orion Construction has completed the construction of Bagley Townhomes, 16 brick townhomes stretching from 727 to 797 Bagley Ave. SE, East Grand Rapids, and has handed the keys to the purchaser of the final unit, says Orion Real Estate Solutions President John Wheeler.

The project to demolish six single-family houses and replace them with two all-brick buildings containing eight townhomes each was approved by the East Grand Rapids planning commission in 2007, but construction couldn't begin until five years later due to the economic recession.

Today, with all 16 dwellings filled, more than three times the number of people live in that same block compared to the number of residents in 2007 -- potential customers living just a few steps from the quaint downtown and its eclectic mix of shopping, restaurants, coffee shops, and parks.

"(The country) got a transient situation with the last recession," Wheeler says. "People want to stay in their neighborhoods where they raised their children, but they have large homes they don't need anymore. The new urbanism is a really big deal, to try to provide products where you don't always need to be in your car, where you can get some exercise, have some fun, and get to know your neighborhood better. (Cities) need to pave the way for good developers who have the vision for homes that could improve the city for everybody."

Wheeler says Orion Construction was involved with the project from the planning stage through handing off the finished final townhome to the owners after customizing the interiors.

"People get creative with their homes," Wheeler says. "You build to a generic specification, then the owners worked with interior designers to customize the interiors by moving walls and adding upgrades. Everybody had their own ideas of what was cool and we implemented many, many details like contemporary lighting in the high ceilings and high-end cabinets."

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Orion Construction

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Downtown Muskegon attracts more retail, Maggie's Gourmet Food opens in Century Club building

Maggie Vincent's love for retail sales began with the lemonade stands she had as a kid. Now the experienced entrepreneur and owner of Maggie's Gourmet Food & Gifts on 4851 Harvey St. has set up a petite boutique in downtown Muskegon's historic Century Club Retail Center, 356 W. Western Ave.

"I have been in business with Maggie's Gourmet Food and Gifts for over 15 years, and we're known for having the largest selection of Michigan-made products under one roof," says Vincent with pride. "Since I was a child, I wanted to own my own store, and my parents always said if you can dream it you can achieve it. I started selling small items in lots of (other) stores and decided, why not put it in my own store instead? That's when I realized I didn't have many Michigan-made items and decided to add them."

Maggie's offers a wide selection of products in the stores and online, plus the shop puts together top-notch custom gift baskets for shipping or local delivery.

Products include spices, preserves, salsas, chips, soaps, lotions, hot chocolates, coffees, dried cherries, dried fruits, chocolates, candies, and Michigan beers and wines.

Although not all the products are made in Michigan (like the cheeses, for example, which are made in Wisconsin because Vincent can't find a shelf-stable cheese that's made in-state), Vincent works hard to bring the Michigan products to the fore.

Vincent says some of the most popular gift items she offers are personalized photo gifts produced in-house. Customers bring in a favorite photo, logo, or sketch and the store will put it on water bottles, mugs, glasses, cutting boards, shirts and other merchandise to create a one-of-a-kind gift.

The Century Club shop offers a selection of the most popular items sold at the Harvey St. store. The store is a small part of the larger Century Club Retail Center of small, locally owned shops.

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Maggie's Gourmet Food & Gifts and Century Club Retail Center

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Wagging tails, happy meows infuse formerly vacant Midtown neighborhood store with new life

Professional dog and cat groomer Jennifer Lotterman has found a welcoming home for her business in the Midtown neighborhood, which she didn't want to leave. When she decided to relocate her year-old Cats Vs Dogs Pet Grooming Salon and Boutique from E. Fulton St. NE, it was an easy choice to move it to 36 Grand Ave. NE, just a few blocks away.

The tiny building nestles cozily between two-story homes in Grand Rapids' historic Brikyaat (Brickyard). It was once a typical neighborhood grocery store, and most recently a hair salon, but has been vacant for a number of years.

Cats Vs Dogs' previous location had the unique conundrum of being both too big and too small, Lotterman says. It was more space than she needed for the retail pet boutique, yet she "couldn't use the back of the building because it was too cold. We had to move all the animal kennels into the grooming area, and it made it a little too crowded."

The new location offers a small fenced-in back yard, plus an entry that's on a quieter street than Fulton.

"Clients are telling us they like it better because the traffic's not as busy for walking animals in and out," says Lotterman. "It's in a quaint area and is more homey."

Lotterman says she is a certified cat groomer through the National Cat Groomers Institute of America. She's also certified through the International Society of Canine Cosmetologists and has special training as a dermatox specialist to detect and identify skin and coat diseases.

Lotterman painted the inside of the shop her favorite color -- pink -- and created a separate area for bathing and drying cats and dogs, plus added a retail boutique offering pet treats, leashes, collars, and grooming tools.

"I love my job and every day I go to work and I love what I do," says Lotterman of her 20 years' experience. "I love the animals and the people. I'm always learning new techniques and using the latest and greatest products."

Hours: Tues. - Fri. 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sat. 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Cats Vs Dogs Pet Grooming Salon and Boutique

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Collectors, vintage aficionados combine forces to launch Flashlight Alley resale/art shop in Eastown

For 10 years, collectors and vintage aficionados Alicia Menninga and her mom, Alice Menninga-Richards, have offered quality used and new clothing and furniture to their customers through their booth at Eastown Antiques. Much to their delight, the business has grown to the point of needing a larger outlet, so they'll open their new shop, Flashlight Alley, at 1507 Wealthy St. SE, next door to Yesterdog.

The shop features an eclectic mix of antique furniture, men's and women's vintage and retro clothing, jewelry, and work by local artists and musicians.

Menninga, a pianist and composer of ethereal instrumental pieces, will use her passion for music and those who create it to help local musicians showcase their music and sell their recordings.

"I want to make (the store) more about, not just the clothes, but have it be more of a space for local musicians to sell their CDs here," she says. Local artists will play a role in the store, which will offer goods from photographer Regina Joy and Amber Button-Girl of Daydream Studios, as well as handcrafted pieces from Menninga, who is also a visual artist.

Menninga says she and Alice want the shop to become a community gathering space. "We want to do it almost like a gallery, and have after-hours art shows and eventually have poetry readings."

The women are particularly excited about the opportunity to use the store's basement as a creative workspace for items that will eventually move to the showroom floor.

The name Flashlight Alley has personal connections to both Menningas: "Flash" is the nickname of Alicia's father and Alice's former husband, who died five years ago; "Alley" is Alice's childhood nickname.

The store opens Sat., April 19, with special hours from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. Regular hours are in flux, but expected to be Sun. noon to five, Tues. - Sat. 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Flashlight Alley

Grand Rapids designer Jessica Swagman launches first women's spring fashion collection with style

Jessica Swagman's first fashion collection says spring and summer with fresh colors, her own fabric designs, and a smidge of sassy.

Swagman, 28, is a wedding and event planner who spent three years assisting fashion designer Sofia Sizzi prepare her Giulietta fashions for New York's famed Fashion Week. She called on that experience when her bridal clients found they needed their bridal gowns and bridesmaid dresses altered, and that eventually led to her designing the dresses from square one.

Now her first women's spring collection debuts tonight at a boutique runway show at the headquarters of Lucid Group, 900 Muskegon NW, Grand Rapids, showcasing two semi-sheer blouses, two skirts, and two dresses, as well as belts, jewelry, and a scarf.

"The design esthetic is a modern take on vintage with a little edge to it," Swagman says. "I've used vintage colors, but keeping it more modern, muted colors, dusky aged colors. I bought the basic fabric, but I've dyed almost every fabric or I've created (with dyes) the print that's on it."

Swagman says the skirts fall at the knee -- one is A-line, the other slightly gathered -- and the dresses offer a knee-length skirt and an ankle-length option. Clothing comes in sizes XS to L and is available beginning April 18 at JessicaSwagman.com.

While Swagman works with a seamstress to construct the clothing, she designs and handcrafts the faux leather belts, rose-hued metallic jewelry, and hand-printed scarf herself.

Swagman, who grew up in Grand Rapids and landed a psychology degree at Calvin College and a degree in fashion design at Grand Rapids Community College, says the fall fashion line is already in process, adding that she's "taking it one step at a time. Every season we'll gauge the progress, but I feel like it's the right time, and if I don't do it now I'll always regret not doing it."

The launch event begins with live music by Bennett at 6:30 p.m., with the runway show at 7:30.

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Surekha Boeve and Andrew Ingram

Neurocore moves HQ to Windquest Building, bringing another 14 professionals to Grand Rapids' heart

The vitality of Grand Rapids' downtown is the energetic environment that Neurocore says creates an attractive and compelling location for its staff. After outgrowing its original headquarters in Grandville, the brain-based diagnostics and brain training company relocated its administrative offices three weeks ago to the fourth floor of the Windquest Building, 201 Monroe Ave. NW, bringing another 14 people to the city's core district.

The change represents just one aspect of the growth Neurocore is experiencing across the state as it brings its brain diagnostic services and brain training programs to people looking for answers, diagnoses, and treatments of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and other cognitive conditions.

Neurocore's Knapp's Corner clinic recently doubled its size, its Kalamazoo and Holland locations completed makeovers, and a new location at 36700 Woodward Ave. in Bloomfield Hills opens soon.

"We really encourage people to get a brain-based diagnostic, not just a diagnosis based on behaviors," says President Rick Kuiper. "New and expanded clinics increase our ability to respond to demand for the diagnostic component of what we do, as well as the services component. It's an important distinction to make -- we perform the diagnostics to get a clear, data-driven, brain-based assessment of what's going on. Then the parents or individual can make an informed decision and we can talk about moving into our brain training program."

The new headquarters is about 2,800 square feet of open, collaborative workspace. Although no clinical testing or patient care takes place there, Kuiper says he envisions a time when making daily connections with other downtown professionals could expand the company's Peak Performance program, which helps executives and business owners take their focus to the next level while reducing stress and improving sleep.

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Neurocore

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Popular East Grand Rapids eatery to set a new table in Rockford

The popular East Grand Rapids restaurant Ramona's Table has begun renovations on a century-old building next to the White Pine Trail in Rockford with plans to convert it into the eatery's second location.  

The former nail salon at 17 Squires St. will soon feature a second-story loft that wraps around three walls with views to the outdoors and the main dining area below. After opening the drop ceiling, equipment from the building's days as a grain mill was discovered hanging from the ceiling, where it will stay as a conversation piece and a link to the building's beginnings.

"We like that juxtaposition of new and old," says Jackie Ziehm, a partner in the business with her husband Charlie Palm. "There's a lot of antique beams and the space will have a very warm feeling with contemporary twists. We've been working with the Rockford Area Historical Society to add photos of the building and the town from that period."

While Ramona's Table flagship location doesn't offer beer and wine, the Rockford location will, Ziehm says. A patio area will provide respite for customers who want to visit after a walk or bike ride on the White Pine trail just outside the back door. But Ziehm says the restaurant's signature food offerings, like its kitchen-roasted meats and scratch-made soups and desserts, will be the main attractions.

Flavorful sandwiches like The Loafer -- smoked meatloaf topped with chipotle tomato chutney on a pretzel bun -- and four daily soups that always feature White Bean Chicken Chili and French Onion, are high on the list of customer favorites.

Ziehm hopes to open sometime in May.

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Ramona's Table

Holland to get first nationally recognized hotel downtown if $15.5m development plan proceeds

Downtown Holland could be getting its first national hotel, smack-dab in the middle of its bustling retail and restaurant district. Holland-based Suburban Inns announced that its latest endeavor will bring Courtyard by Marriott to a prime piece of vacant real estate at 121 E. 8th St., between Macatawa Bank and the summertime-fun splash pad.

The hotel will bring 140 guest rooms to the business district, and will attract a "new level of customers to Holland through the Marriott rewards program," says Suburban Inns COO Peter Beukema. "They conduct business during the week, and stay and vacation with their families."

Plans include an indoor pool, an indoor/outdoor hot tub, Marriott's The Bistro restaurant for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and a Big E's Sports Grill that will serve 40 to 50 craft beers from around the Midwest.

The five-story building features balconies for all the rooms overlooking 8th St. and the splash pad, Beukema says, so families can enjoy special events from a bird's-eye view.

Beukema says he believes "Holland is one of the greatest downtowns for a parade, because the sound reverberates off the buildings. I said we have to have balconies so guests can see and experience things like the Tulip Time parades."

The project is working with the Holland Planning Commission on site plan approval. Beukema expects construction to begin this summer and the hotel to open in 2015.

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Suburban Inns

Hawthorne Collection online women's boutique to bring affordable fashions to Hudsonville

It started the way many businesses start, with friends talking about an idea. And now, a year after opening their online fashions store Hawthorne-Collection.com, next-door neighbors Leslie Plank and Stacy Gnewkowski are ready to open their first bricks-and-mortar location.

The shop at 3504 Chicago Dr. offers enough space for a main level showroom for the shop's specialty: affordable women's clothing, jewelry, and accessories. The lower level will be the order fulfillment and shipping area for the online store.

"About a year ago, Stacy and I were sitting and watching our kids play, and we said, hey we should sell women's jewelry online," says Plank with a laugh. "We started doing that and it grew, then we added accessories and it grew, then we added clothing. We kept thinking we'd love to open a store, no we can't do it, but couldn't shake the idea."

Plank says their experience at the 2014 West Michigan Women's Expo pushed them to take the leap from virtual business to storefront.

"We went to the women's expo in March, and we couldn't believe how many people came through and were so complimentary," Plank says. "Everyone kept saying how cute our booth was, we love your products and prices, and where's your store. Well, we don't have a store. Then they said, you need one."

Plank, a full-time mom of two, and Gnewkowski, a school psychologist and mom of three, came up with the shop's name because they both live on Hawthorne Ct. They have worked the business in the evenings, filling orders from their basements. They're still working out details like store hours, and Plank says they'll have limited hours at first so they can still have time for their families. They hope to open in early May.

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Hawthorne Collection Boutique

Ada's Bistro Chloe Elan to close -- but it's not what you think

Bistro Chloe Elan owner Christine Gill is happy that the Ada restaurant along the Thornapple River has become a destination for people who want to celebrate holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries. But Gill wants the upscale eatery at 445 Ada Dr. to be a neighborhood gathering place where folks come to hang out, have a Michigan craft brew, and indulge in some great, reasonably priced food.

To that end, Gill will close Chloe Elan on April 14 and reopen on April 18 as Riverhouse Ada, a casual come-as-you-are pub with a focus on American regional comfort foods. Menu specialties, all made from scratch, include fish tacos, sandwiches, burgers, shrimp and grits, cottage pie, and a load of healthy salads, fresh fish, and grilled chicken.

Popular Chloe Elan offerings, such as the truffle fries, herbs and veggies grown in the onsite kitchen garden, and the summer concert series on the lawn, will stay.

"After being open for two years, I had an opportunity to do some demographic analysis and have come to the conclusion that people want something more on the casual side esthetically and menu-wise," Gill says. "I have worked with Christian Wiles of the Ada Museum and spent many wonderful hours there paging through the historical photos of Ada. Riverhouse Ada will give tribute to that history in the design and all the old black and white photos on the walls."

Gill hopes to bring her original Chloe Elan concept -- an homage to a daughter she gave up for adoption and the family that adopted her -- to downtown Grand Rapids in the future.

Riverhouse Ada will feature several craft brews on tap, a pool table, and dart board.

Gill expects to be busier than ever, and has begun the hiring process for more servers, bartenders, and server assistants.

The April 18 grand opening is a ticketed event. To inquire, call Bistro Chloe Elan.
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Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Riverhouse Ada

Men's, women's casual activewear a staple at new West Michigan Clothing Co. in East Hills

Building on the success of their two stores, 108 Threads, in Ludington and Pentwater, husband and wife team Aleksy and Rebecca Urick decided the time is right to open West Michigan Clothing Company in Grand Rapids.

The location at 1005 Lake Drive SE, sandwiched between Marie Catrib's restaurant and the West Michigan Environmental Action Council, seemed perfect for an apparel shop offering men's and women's outdoor wear that's classy enough for business casual attire.

"This is easy wear, easy care, wash it, dry it, wear it, no iron clothing that's great for traveling," says Rebecca Urick. |People are gravitating to this clothing for their everyday wear, for playing around in the backyard with the kids, or running, doing yoga, or reading a book. We focus mostly on casual wear, which also can be tailored to a business casual attire, depending on the office atmosphere."

The selection includes a variety of styles in popular colors, including army green and navy blue, which Urick says are hot hues for summer wear. Pants, shorts, shirts, tops, dresses, and skirts round out the casual styles, many fashioned from organic bamboo or cotton, or from recycled materials like water bottles, polyester, or wood (tencel). The shop also has a selection of yoga wear and running apparel, flip-flops, sunglasses, hats, and jewelry.

Brand names include Mountain Hardware, Horny Toad, Kuhl, Prana, Avantura Clothing, Lole, Sorel, Sanuk, and Reef.

"I have done a lot of yoga in Grand Rapids, and all my yoga friends are here," says Urick. "We'd go to Marie Catrib's for food, and go shopping in the area at the cute stores, so I felt like I knew the area. And we're in a LEED-Gold building. We're so excited to be in Grand Rapids and can't wait to have people come and check us out."

Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mon. - Sat.; noon to 4 p.m. Sun.

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of West Michigan Clothing Company

A Moveable Feast food truck on the road soon following successful Kickstarter campaign

If you believe in signs from the foodie gods, you can't miss this big one from A Moveable Feast food truck's Kickstarter campaign: the random, over-goal amount of $7,052 matches the house number of the Brighton home where truck owner Brennan Summers grew up.

Summers launched the Kickstarter campaign for $5,000 -- enough money to cover the cost of a vinyl wrap for the food truck formerly known as The Silver Spork. Summers bought the truck from owner Molly Crist after he and his wife, Jennifer, decided to move back to Michigan from Minneapolis. The couple relocated there five years ago for Summers' former job with Marriott International.

"It's been a dream to operate a food truck for several years," Summers says. "I identified Grand Rapids early on, and have been following the food truck scene with The Silver Spork and Paul Lee with What The Truck as it's developed."

Summers says he's nearly finalized a downtown Grand Rapids lunchtime location outside a local business, but says the business owner isn't ready to announce it yet. In the meantime, Summers has applied for food vending spots at several farmers markets, and the truck goes in the shop this week to be wrapped.

Summers spent a year managing Gastro Truck, a food truck in Minneapolis, after leaving his job at Marriott. Gastro Truck inspired him to take a chance on the menu.

A Moveable Feast will serve a Bacon-Jam Grilled Cheese, made with a smoky, onion-y bacon jam, Tillamook cheddar cheese, and bread baked on the truck.

Other temptations include grilled whitefish taco topped with red cabbage slaw and chipotle aioli; roasted beet salad with candied Marcona almonds and citrus vinaigrette; Senegalese-style peanut soup; and what Summers dubs as a "pretty mean New England Clam Chowder."

A Moveable Feast is available for parties and events. If all goes according to plan, opening day in downtown Grand Rapids will be April 22 or 23.

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of A Moveable Feast

Artistic expression, relaxation, and fun -- Arts & Carafes Studio welcomes adults, kids

Shortly after Jaclyn Sporte took her mom, Michelle Hardy, to a wine and painting studio near Detroit, the duo decided to open their own business to bring the fun and relaxation to West Michigan.

"We hadn't been that relaxed in a very long time," Sporte says. "She called me the next week and said, 'I want to do this, will you do this with me?' and I said yes." The mobile version of Arts & Carafes Studio was born, and the two hired seasoned artists and students from Kendall College of Art & Design who are pursuing art education careers.

Now, after holding classes at local restaurants like Peppino's, Brann's, and Malarkey's, Sporte and Hardy will open a stationary studio in the Ada Hillside Center, 6749 Fulton Street. The studio rounds out the mobile offerings, which will continue, by providing a "go-to" location where kids, teens, and adults can create their own take-home painted masterpiece in just a couple of hours.

The studio has applied for a tavern license, which will allow it to sell beer and wine by the glass during classes.

"This is art as entertainment, and we have art education majors and seasoned artists that take our customers step-by-step through a painting," Sporte says. "We have a calendar on our website that's set by the 15th of the prior month, so you can go to the website to see what painting we're doing, when, and where we'll be located for that class."

All class costs include all supplies. Adults paint a 16-in. x 20-in. acrylic painting for $35. Kids ages seven on up and teens can attend age-specific Saturday classes for $20.

Sporte says the studio donates 10 percent of every class fee paid to a local charity.

You can visit the website here.

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Arts & Carafes Studio

Racing event specialists join forces, create energetic Ignite Your Event race management partnership

After working many years together at cycle road races, running marathons, and triathlons, Melissa Werkman of Tidal Nine Events and Brian Bangma of 42-85 Professional Race Timing Services decided it was time to join forces. They’ve recently formed Ignite Your Event, a full-service race event consultancy that helps race organizers create memorable events.

Although the two live an hour apart, Werkman in Grand Haven and Bangma in Ada, online tools enable them to create an entire event, assign tasks, upload and download files, interact with the client, and interact with other professionals involved with each individual event.

Bangma, a professional race timer, has also been a cycle racer and a race director. Werkman is also a former road racer and triathlete, plus still races mountain bikes. The two are currently working together on the Holland Haven Marathon. A short list of their other collaborations includes cycle races and trail runs: King's Day Criterium, Meijer State Games Time Trial, Zeeland Criterium, and 3-2-1 Harvest Run.

"There are a lot of Michigan events that aren't well known or aren't putting their best foot forward," Bangma says. "It's our job to have them have better everything -- social media, design, racer presentations, etcetera -- from the smallest detail to the largest component; we want to help them grow their event."

"This is year-round work," Werkman says. "Planning starts nine months to a year out. If you look at a race calendar, there are several races almost every weekend of the year regardless of the weather. What we're finding is the racing is pretty busy, so to create new events is not as advantageous as supporting the events that are already in place."

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Ignite Your Event

Wife, husband media marketing team bring Big Apple expertise, including sales training, to Eastown

Wife and husband media marketers Carey and Chris Potter decided in 2005 to leave their busy lives in New York City and Richmond, VA behind, and reconnect with family and friends in East Grand Rapids in person. In 2009, Carey went through what many Michiganders have -- downsizing and job elimination -- so she launched Brick House Marketing Group from the couple's brick home.

As the company added clients, such as Emergency Care Specialists and Fox Motors, and Chris quit his job and came aboard full-time, the need to separate the workspace from the home space became a necessity. In February, amid deep snows, the couple moved into a 650-square-foot office at 1514 Wealthy St. SE, above Wolfgang's and Sip Organic Juice Bar.

"Chris and I met in New York City; we were both working for Katz Media, the largest media representation firm in the world," Carey says.

Chris chimes in, "Where we worked in the radio division, and repped radio stations for every market in America. We would fight for the business against each other," he says with a laugh.

Brick House specializes in strategic marketing, media planning and buying, PR, advertising, and event planning. They even provide sales training and coaching, a service not found at typical marketing firms.

"I developed a sales training program over all my years of sales management," Chris says, citing his experience at Katz, then running Richmond radio stations for Cox Media, then management at Citadel Broadcasting and Clear Channel.

"One thing we always find, it's not about selling something, it's about people's needs and how do we address their needs," he adds.

"Moving back to Grand Rapids was an easy decision because of the growth and development that's happening in this town," adds Carey. "We want to be part of it and help change the landscape to help companies grow."

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Brick House Marketing Group
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