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GVSU aDMI's 3D printer brings brand new tech to the Medical Mile

Thanks to a half-million dollar Grand Rapids SmartZone grant, Grand Valley State University’s applied Medical Device Institute (aMDI) now houses groundbreaking 3D printing technology from Carbon Inc., a Silicon Valley-based digital 3D manufacturing company. The 3D printer will make it possible for student and faculty researchers, as well as medical and manufacturing professionals, to apply 3D print technology to medical device manufacturing.

“3D printers are now able to print with properties where you can use the product right off the machine at a volume that makes it cost competitive,” says Brent M. Nowak, Ph.D., aDMI executive director. “While the technology has been around for 20 to 30 years, it’s evolving to the point that you can use it as another tool in your manufacturing toolbox.”

The aDMI’s Carbon 3D printer will be used to manufacture medical devices. Now that medical grade materials can be used for the process, Nowak explains that 3D printing offers capabilities that CNC and injection molding cannot, specifically the ability to manufacture very complex or very small parts with individually customizable features and precise geometries that are extremely difficult, costly, and time-consuming to create using traditional manufacturing technologies.

“The 3D printer can create parts to fit a particular patient with an injury or surgery … and time to market is important,” Nowak says. “That’s why we are researching 3D printing of medical devices.”

More than a dozen graduate and undergraduate students from Grand Valley’s Seymour and Esther Padnos College of Engineering and Computing, as well as faculty, will join the aMDI applied research team. Another collaborator in the project, MediSurge, handles all aspects of medical device development from engineering and manufacturing through sterilization, warehousing, and distribution. With this experience backing them up, students and faculty doing research at aDMI will receive the guidance and feedback that makes their work relevant to the real-world manufacturing segment.

“Students will be pursuing all different aspects: materials properties science, computer science, production, etc.,” Nowak says. “Our students are talking to leaders in the field, working side-by-side with real world engineers. The program will also tie them in with faculty that have the academic and real-world experience in those areas.”

Among the GVSU students involved in the project, Aldo Fanelli is in GVSU’s biomedical engineering master’s program. He is solving the anisotropic issues that printing in layers can have on reducing uniform strength throughout printed parts when force is applied from different orientations. Undergrad Noah Keefer is researching how to reduce costs in the 3D manufacturing process by maximizing density, i.e., printing more parts simultaneously. An undergraduate product designer, Genevieve Wisby, is looking at how 3D printing can push the current limits of modeling and design.

“Using 3D, you can do very organic, biologic-looking designs, rather than parts with rectangular coordinates. You can print anything, parts within parts. You can take old designs, that when manufactured using traditional methods, required five parts, and redesign them into one component,” Nowak says. “It’s marvelous. You don’t have to assemble, inspect five different components, come up with screw or bolt patterns for fastening the parts together. And, you don’t have to worry about leaks.”

Located in Grand Valley’s Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences, aMDI’s Carbon 3D printer makes GVSU the sixth university in the nation with the technology on campus — the other five are on the East or West Coast.

“This shows that West Michigan and Grand Rapids look at novel ways to bring in the latest technologies and this speaks to the character of West Michigan,” Nowak says. “This program is going to attract new companies to the region and impact our whole economy. It goes to show what we can do here in Michigan — and I am really proud of what we can do here in Grand Rapids.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy Grand Valley State University aDMI

New SingularityU chapter fosters "Exponential Technologies for Good"

Thanks to local futurist, Mary Brown, Singularity University (SU) is establishing a chapter in Grand Rapids, one of 142 chapters in 66 world locations recognized as up-and-coming technology centers. SU had been on Brown’s radar for some time. After attending its Global Summit, she submitted an application in hopes of starting a Grand Rapids chapter. Because Grand Rapids is recognized as an emerging center of innovation, the chapter application was approved.

“The whole focus of SingularityU is looking at how exponential technologies can be used for good in society,” Brown says. “We hear a lot of the doomsday predictions. Those are valid concerns but, at the same time, we are looking at how to be proactive and use technology for good.”

Founded in 2008 by Peter H. Diamandis and Ray Kurzweil, SU receives funding from Google, Deloitte, and UNICEF. A futurist and inventor, Kurzweil predicts that singularity — the moment when artificial intelligence surpasses human thinking — will take place by 2029. According to its website, SingularityU’s global learning and innovation communities seek to use “exponential” technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR), data science, medicine, digital fabrication, and digital biology “to tackle the world’s biggest challenges and build a better future for all.”

SingularityU Grand Rapids team members include Brown, the chapter ambassador, and Jan Mathorne, owner of HUCAPA - Human Capital Partners, an executive search consulting firm based in Denmark, Michigan, and California. Brown, a futurist, focuses on ethical adoption of AI in healthcare and society via human-centered design and organizational change and learning. A former senior digital experience analyst at Priority Health, she currently serves as senior consultant for learning and development in Spectrum Health’s Inclusion and Diversity department and as adjunct faculty at Grand Rapids Community College in the psychology and business departments.

Brown hopes that by engaging advancing technologies for the good of the whole community, the negative impacts that such advances could bring can be avoided. For example, the unintended negative impact on robotics reducing the number of manufacturing positions.

“I’ve seen from my past work professionally what happens when people have not been prepared. First, it was NAFTA. Changes are on the horizon. We cannot stop the progress that is happening but, what we can do, is put things in place to soften the blow and prepare people to be ready,” Brown says. “The train has left the station. Technologies can help. How do we ensure that everyone has a worth and a value in society if we don’t start looking to solve the problems?”

Brown and Mathorne are seeking to involve any and all individuals and organizations that want to advance technologies to create positive, equitable change in the region.

“We have people who know a lot within pockets of the community. The hope is to get these people out and participating in meaningful and productive ways,” Brown says. “If it’s always about bringing the elite into the room — and not diverse people and inclusion in the space — then we defeat the purpose of how we are going to solve the problems. The people closest to the challenges are those who have the answers. Those who are in that elite status don’t have those same challenges.”

Since 2015, SingularityU Chapters have helped local regions jump-start innovation through events featuring local experts, sponsorship of SU Global Impact Challenges (GICs), and other initiatives at the local level. In 2017, its chapters held 320 events involving more than 25,000 attendees. Brown and Mathorne are working to create the Grand Rapids chapter’s first educational event, which will introduce SU to the community.

“It’s not about charging people an exorbitant amount of money. There’s no membership fee. For programs, the cost will cover the cost of food and drinks, no more than $15 or $20,” she says. “Our role as we look at programming will be to get as many folks together as we can.”

To learn more, visit SU.org, download the SingularityU Hub mobile app, or email mary@usingfuturespace.com.

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor

Photos courtesy Mary Brown and SingularityU

Diamond Place pledges affordable housing and food security on Michigan Street Corridor

Completed in December 2018, the $42 million Diamond Place project, situated on 2.8-acres at 1003 Michigan Street N.E., includes 165 one-and two-bedroom apartments. Of those, 107 income-restricted apartments will rent for $393 to $1,260 per month, based on occupants’ income. The 58 market-rate apartments will rent from $899 to $1,600 per month.

On the ground floor, a Gordon Food Service Store grocery store is one tenant occupying the 30,000-total square-feet of retail space. Other retail tenants include The Ginza Sushi & Ramen Bar, which opened in December, and a Tropical Smoothie Café franchise, set to open soon. A remaining 850 square-foot retail suite remains unoccupied. However, it was the combination of income-restricted housing and a grocery store within the development that piqued the Michigan Good Food Fund’s interest in funding the project.

“Having low-income residents right on site gave us confidence that this Grand Rapids site was going to be serving Michiganders with its ground floor grocery in an underserved area,” says Ian Weisner, business development manager for Capital Impact Partners. “Plus, the fact that it is creating housing made it a really appealing project.”

While the Diamond Place Gordon Food Service Store accepts Bridge EBT cards, it does not participate in the Women’s Infants and Children (WIC) or Double Up Food Bucks programs. While Gordon Food Service marketing manager, Mark Dempsey, says that they hope to incorporate these programs, the current, closest retailers accepting WIC include Family Dollar, Grand Butcher, Walgreens, and Speedway and Shell gas stations.

What is the Michigan Good Food Fund?

A public-private partnership loan fund providing financing to enterprises that increase access to healthy foods in Michigan’s underserved communities, the Michigan Good Food Fund was created in partnership with the Fair Food Network, Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Through its efforts, Capital Impact Partners provides direct financing to food enterprises that grow, process, distribute, and sell healthy food that reaches low-income populations throughout Michigan.

Michigan Good Food Fund looks for projects that meet five criteria: increase access to healthy, affordable food; create good quality jobs; promote racial and social equity in the food system; have an environmental stewardship program in place; and source their products locally.

“When any business comes to us, we look at those five criteria. If it fits, we can provide technical assistance if they need it, pass them on to lending partners, or fund it ourselves,” says Mary Donnell, Michigan Good Food Fund project manager. “Our part in this bigger, high impact project was very compelling. Our focus was on the grocery store. We would love them to continue to provide healthy, affordable food and potentially partner in the Double Up Food Bucks program, which helps people leverage their food assistance dollars.”

More development partners

Third Coast Development and PK Development Group oversaw the Diamond Place development. Progressive AE served as architects and Pioneer Construction as general contractors. Other development partners include JPMorgan Chase Bank, Cinnaire, Mercantile Bank, Michigan Economic Development Corporation, Michigan State Housing Development Authority, Opportunity Resource Fund, and the City of Grand Rapids.

“I’ve advocated for affordable housing along this corridor for some time, so I am thrilled to see Third Coast and PK Development provide sustainable living options for people of all income levels,” says Ruth Kelly, 2nd Ward Commissioner, City of Grand Rapids. “I hope that Diamond Place will become an example for other development in the area.”

“Diamond Place is a wonderful example of the City’s ‘Great Housing Strategies’ plan in action,” adds City of Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss. “We applaud Third Coast Development and PK Development Group for adding rent-restricted living options along the Michigan Street corridor.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor

Photos courtesy Third Coast Development and Gordon Food Service

Michigan's corporate construction continues to grow into 2019

The Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc. Western Michigan Chapter (ABC WMC) presented its 2019 Construction Economic Forecast events on Tuesday, December 4. ABC’s national chief economist, Anirban Basu, spoke to more than 400 commercial construction professionals and community stakeholders in Kalamazoo and Hudsonville — a record attendance.

In a 2019 economic outlook published in Construction Executive magazine, Basu said, “U.S. economic performance has been brilliant of late. Sure, there has been a considerable volume of negativity regarding the propriety of tariffs, shifting immigration policy, etc., but the headline statistics make it clear that domestic economic performance is solid.”

Norm Brady, ABC WM’s president and CEO, agrees with Basu that 2019 should be a strong year for construction in West Michigan. Key indicators considered in the forecast include ABC’s data on construction backlog and the Architectural Billings Index.

“His predictions and my beliefs are founded on pretty good data,” Brady says. “Members are polled about the amount of backlog work. The latest national figures put this at 9.8 months. If the world stopped today, construction employers would have 9.8 months of work left to do. This is the highest since 2000. Architects are upstream from us. The amount of billing they produce is a good indicator of future construction activity.”

Brady notes that when the Architectural Billing Index is at or above 50, a positive construction outlook is predicted. Currently, the numbers are 54 nationally and 47 in the Midwest. He says that the strongest building sector is commercial lodging (a 50.2 percent increase), with foreign investment being a prime mover. He is hopeful that education will be a strong segment, as well.

“The segment that I am most interested in is education. A few months ago, Michigan repealed its 50-year-old prevailing wage law that contractors pay union scale rates on required state-funded projects like schools,” Brady says. “That drove up cost of construction on public schools. I’m hopeful that schools will be able to move projects ahead with prevailing wage being repealed.”

According to Indeed estimates of Construction Worker Salaries in Michigan, “The average salary for a Construction Worker is $14.67 per hour in Michigan, which meets the national average.” Employment numbers in the construction sector indicate a labor shortage may be a concern in the future. Other concerns post-2019 include rising materials costs and interest rates.

“We’re just coming off from a really strong 10-year period, especially the past seven years, where growth has been exceptional. The result might be somewhat of a slowdown. I don’t think there will be a recession but the growth rate that we’ve had is not going to be so robust in the years that follow,” Brady says. “The real story of construction is a story about great wages, opportunity, the pride that you have when you improve your community when you build a building. That’s our mission.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor

Photos courtesy Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc. Western Michigan Chapter

Grand Rapids initiatives seek to keep cyclists safe

As Michigan’s first municipality to implement Vision Zero strategies, the City of Grand Rapids saw bicycle crashes involving motorists drop to a 10-year low and vehicle-pedestrian collisions drop to a three-year low. Proven successful across Europe, Vision Zero originated in Sweden in the ‘90s — and has resulted in that country having the world’s lowest annual traffic-related death rate. Other U.S. cities adopting the initiative include Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Portland, San Francisco, and Seattle.

In Grand Rapids, Vision Zero comprises two public education efforts. One, the Heads Up, GR! pedestrian safety campaign publicizes the Grand Rapids’ ordinance requiring drivers to stop for pedestrians at all crosswalks. The new ordinance is helping the City address its higher-than-state-average rate of pedestrian-involved crashes with motor vehicles.

Two, Driving Change aims to reduce bicycle-vehicle crashes by informing the public about the City’s safe passing law. Passed in 2015, the ordinance requires motorists to maintain at least five feet between the right side of their vehicle and any bicyclists they pass. A City research project funded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that 77 percent of motorists are maintaining the safe passing distance. Grand Rapids reported no bicycle-related fatalities between April 2018 and September 2018. The 40 vehicle-bicycle crashes recorded during that six-month period were the City’s lowest total since 2008.

Veteran Grand Rapids cyclist, Josh McBryde, puts in between 50 and 100 miles a week on his bicycle. Since moving to a job in Rockford, he doesn’t bike to work every day but when he does, he enjoys taking the White Pine Trail. While he is seeing a culture of respect developing in Grand Rapids, he still takes great precautions when riding his bike on city streets.

“I don’t get buzzed quite as much. (Buzzing refers to passing motorists who come too close for comfort.) I think that people are more aware of bicyclists. The majority are respectful. But there are some people who are always going to be resistant to people biking on roads,” he says. “I think I’m probably safer on the roads, but that’s because I have changed and adapted my riding style after riding in the streets for 15 years.”

McBryde likes seeing more bike lanes being added, though he would prefer Grand Rapids take the added step of providing totally separated lanes for bikes. He’s been hit by vehicles three times over his many years of riding.

“Cars do respect us more in the bike lanes. Putting in more separate bike boulevards keeps everybody out of each other’s hair and it also gives people in cars a feeling that the bikes are legitimate there,” he says. “I still think the biggest thing is remembering there’s a person with a life on a bicycle and motorists have got to respect that.”

Another issue is that motorists from outlying areas driving within Grand Rapids are unaware of Grand Rapids’ bike ordinances and see bicyclists as nuisances. McBryde believes education about welcoming bikes to roadways needs to begin in drivers’ education so all motorists of all ages from all locales know bikes have the right to be in the road. He also affirms that bicyclists need to follow the rules, as well.

“The debate that always comes up in the cycling community is, ‘What can cyclists do to have drivers respect them more?” When I was a kid in my 20s, kamikaze riding through the city, there was the us-versus-them feeling that’s going on. Now I respect the rules. There’s not a whole lot of law enforcement towards bikes but there should be.”

Regular cyclists, like McBryde, took part in the City’s research that determined the bike and pedestrian safety improvement numbers. One set of riders recorded data all the time during every ride they took on city streets. Another set of riders traveled four specifically designated routes on scheduled days and times, Monday through Friday. In an additional survey, more than 75 percent of respondents said that they believe Grand Rapids is becoming friendlier to all road users — motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians. This is promising news for avid cyclists like McBryde.

“There are so many good reasons to bike,” he concludes. “I’m almost to my 40s and it’s a good way to stay active — and not put more wear and tear and gas into my car all the time. The biggest thing for me is getting outside, fresh air, and all that stuff. Biking is a really good way to enjoy your environment.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor

Photos courtesy City of Grand Rapids, Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., and Josh McBryde

Gettin' Fresh Events gets more bang for the truck

Where do tired food trucks go at the end of the day? The Gettin’ Fresh food truck gets tucked in at 2844 Eastern Ave. SE along with several other mobile eateries. When the folks who own these food trucks took a look at the parking and building space offered here, they decided it’d be a perfect spot to park their vehicles and store their equipment. Gettin’ Fresh’s owner, Abbie Sterling, saw something more.

“I quickly realized we were underutilizing the space. It had a lot of potential,” Sterling says. “When I saw the natural light from 50 feet of west-facing windows, I thought it would make a great space for making art, displaying art, and doing photography. Those ideas sort of got my wheels turning.”

Sterling enlisted her husband, Bill Lewis, and sister, Amanda Sterling, to transform the interior space into a superb little event spot. The long wall adjacent to the windows has been painted white to accommodate photography. Sterling put together an eclectic mix of vintage, Victorian, and mid-century modern furnishings, including wonderful tables and buffets to display artwork, products, or floral arrangements.

“We’re really focusing on entrepreneurs that need photos of their work,” Sterling says.

Accommodating up to 50 guests, Gettin' Fresh Events has so far hosted an album release party, a food truck tasting party, and a podcaster who needed a space to record her online course. Sterling’s extended family will be using the space for their own holiday get-together.

Customers booking the space have the option of purchasing food from the Gettin’ Fresh food truck. In addition to the regular menu, Sterling will honor just about any catering request, from small bites and charcuterie boards, to dessert bars and full meals. A stickler for hyper-local ingredients, she purchases her fresh produce from Ken’s Fruit Market, bread from Nantucket Baking Company, meats from Bob’s Butcher Block, and sweets from Ida’s Pastry Shop.

“When someone requests to rent the space or collaborate with us, the food truck can always be incorporated into the event,” she says. “For instance, when the Astrobats released their new album, we served nachos later in the evening. If I was hosting a yoga session, we could prepare smoothies, a veggie bowl, or lick some lettuce afterwards.”

(Yes, Sterling has a sense of humor as well as good business sense.)

As Gettin’ Fresh Events becomes a popular gathering spot, Sterling hopes that other nearby businesses will find success in a happening neighborhood.

“A lot of what’s going on in Alger Heights proper is just a stone’s throw away and it’s diverse,” she says. “I think there’s a lot of businesses nearby that are overlooked. I think we could we draw interest.”

Current neighboring businesses include Cut Creators barber shop, Martha’s International Market, and Daddy Pete’s BBQ. Several women-focused organizations and individuals are looking to book space in the future.

“It has been amazing. A new organization, Women Who, is interested in hosting a monthly gathering and some women who focus on ethical fashion and recycling wardrobes reserved a date in January to host a workshop,” she says. “It’s rewarding being able to provide a space for these incredible women. In the future I’ll be looking to collaborate with these types of organizations and individuals that focus on ethics, equality, and community.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy of  Arrae Creative 

Neighborhood Match Fund seeks applications

From December 1 to 31, Grand Rapids residents and community-based organizations can apply for City of Grand Rapids Neighborhood Match Fund (NMF) monies to finance neighborhood projects taking place from February 1 through April 30, 2019.


“Don’t be afraid to submit your idea,” says Stacy Stout, assistant to the city manager. “We’ll walk you through the process. For those who don’t make it through the approval stage, I’ll give you specific feedback, so you can have success next time.”


Launched in January 2016, the idea for the program came out of the first annual Grand Rapids Neighborhoods Summit. In 2018, NMF invested $16,652 in seven projects which brought neighbors together to learn, build relationships, and celebrate community. Receiving from $200 through $2,500, each project was led by a Grand Rapids resident from the neighborhood in which the project took place.


For example, Southeast Grand Rapids Inc. implemented an anti-displacement homeowner project initiative that helped people access resources to stay in their homes. The Royal Game Chess Club’s community chess initiative brought elders and youth together over games of chess. And, Grand Rapids Kwanzaa will host a three-day Grand Rapids Kwanzaa Celebration.


“We try to provide a high level of customer service and empathy,” Stout says. “If we do our job well, we are reaching those who have never submitted a grant. They have never submitted a project idea. We try to make it a process that is easy to navigate.”


Stout shares that projects chosen for funding must be intentionally inclusive and bring neighbors together to build lasting relationships. Consider the West Leonard Mural project. NMF awarded funds for pre-mural neighborhood gatherings. Residents came together, got to know each other, and had their photos taken. The finished mural features the faces of these actual Westside residents.


Because inclusivity and accessibility are NMF priorities, Stout helps those awarded funds to navigate the process and paperwork from beginning to end. When a project is not selected, she takes time to call applicants and explain how they can tweak it for success in the next round of applications.


“I get to meet a lot of amazing people doing work on their blocks and in their neighborhoods. It gives me hope — and an opportunity to get to know the community in a different way,” Stout says. “The City can tap into their wisdom and leadership for boards, commissions, and the City commission. It’s a way for us to not just invest in our residents but to invest in leadership.”


Grand Rapids residents and community-based organizations can apply for NMF funding online. Those seeking more information and guidance can attend the informational meeting at the Westside Collaborative (within the Goei Center) at 818 Butterworth St. SW at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, November 29. Children are welcome, and youth are encouraged to apply for NMF funding.

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy City of Grand Rapids

New developments take a small stab at affordable housing crisis

In October, the Grand Rapids’ City Commission took action to advance plans for three proposed affordable housing developments: Garfield Park Lofts, developed by LINC Up Nonprofit Housing Corporation; Plaza Roosevelt, a Habitat for Humanity of Kent County project; and Inner City Christian Federation’s Eastern Elementary School renovation.

“Combined, these projects plan to build 151 units of housing, of which 136 units will be available to households earning 80 percent of area median income, or below, helping achieve the goals of the Housing NOW! Initiative,” says Kara Wood, the City’s managing director of Economic Development Services. “These three projects also mark the first significant investment of grants by the City’s Local Brownfield Revolving Fund program.”

LINC Up Nonprofit Housing Corporation has already broken ground on the $9.4 million Garfield Park Lofts project. The three-story residential building at 100 Burton St. SE will provide 36 rental units to households earning 60 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI) or below. Fifteen units will be available to households earning 30 percent AMI or below. On the path to LEED Silver certification, the building will be a significant part of the public infrastructure improvements planned along Burton Street SE via the South Division, Burton, Hall, Grandville Avenue Corridor Improvement Authority. The new apartment building is slated to open November 2019.

“The Garfield Park Lofts project really came about in response to a need for affordable housing. Our residents will be, typically, working families making between $10 and $15 an hour. Affordable housing is the number one concern we hear when talking to residents,” says Jeremy DeRoo, Executive Director, LINC Up. “Right now, in every part of Grand Rapids, affordable housing is being lifted up as a high priority.”

A few miles northwest, the $40 million Plaza Roosevelt redevelopment project includes 17 Habitat Kent homes, two 24-unit residential buildings with first-floor commercial space built by Dwelling Place of Grand Rapids, a new Grand Rapids Public Schools high school, and a plaza or park.

The Eastern Elementary redevelopment, a $14.5 million project at 815 Malta St. NE, will renovate the historic building into a mixed-use development that includes 50 residential apartments and approximately 2,000 square feet of office space on the ground floor.

While 151 households will find affordable homes in these projects, they only make a minor dent in the issue at hand. Policy regulating rent increases, finding ways to stop gentrification from displacing families, and offering jobs that pay more — rather than hype about more jobs — could be part of a real solution. (In 2017, the average CEO earned 312 times as much as the average worker.) DeRoo agrees that local wages have not kept step with the region’s growing economy and the growing costs of living here.

“There are too many people who are not making enough money to be able to afford a home that they can live in. We have very low unemployment, yet many still cannot afford to live in the City of Grand Rapids,” he says. “We need to find ways to make sure people have access to career pathways that allow them to fully participate in the growing economy that exists here in West Michigan.”

Garfield Park Lofts rendering courtesy LINC Up Nonprofit Housing Corporation

Mokaya expansion is nothing to be truffled with

Founded in 2016, Grand Rapids’ own Mesoamerican inspired chocolate boutique, Mokaya, recently expanded into a new space at 638 Wealthy Street SE. The Mokaya, or Corn People, predated the Mayans and may have been the first peoples to create a cacao drink. The Mokaya logo copies imagery found on bowls unearthed by archaeologists, bowls which also had traces of several compounds found in chocolate.

“We have 80 to 120 items, truffles and bon bons, pastries, tarts, custard, ice cream — all sorts of things,” says Max Golczynski, Mokaya’s general manager, who happens to have a degree in archeology. “The biggest reason for our expansion was production space. We quickly hit capacity in the tiny kitchen that we had. Last year, during the holidays, we couldn’t keep up. We sold out every day.”

The chocolatier behind Mokaya’s artisan chocolates and confections, Charles Golczynski, Max’s father, served as chef for his own business, The Catering Company, for 20 some years before falling in love with chocolate. In 2000, a client requested that he create an extravagant dessert buffet that looked like a jewelry store display. This led him to discover a company in Las Vegas that offered colored cocoa butters. Golczynski also was good friends with a Mexican chocolatier. The experience and the friendship ignited Golczynski’s new passion for all things chocolate. After perfecting this passion under the tutelage of world-renowned pastry chef and chocolatier, Chef Luis Amado, he was more than ready to create his chocolate-covered business.

Working with his father is nothing new for Max Golczynski. He grew up helping at the family’s other business, Jersey Junction, in East Grand Rapids, and helping out at the catering business. Max’s sister, Isabelle Golczynski; mother, Tamra Crampton; and uncle, Michael Crampton, also pitch in.

The expanded Mokaya not only provides more kitchen space, it also offers seating and space for classes and chocolate-inspired events.

“We’ve done a beer and dessert dinner with Brewery Vivant,” Golczynski says. “Last week, we did our first six-course dinner with chocolate in every course. After the holidays, we are planning on doing those more regularly.”

Each dinner will showcase different themes. The recent dinner’s theme was “French Countryside,” featuring chocolate goat cheese dip, white chocolate sage mac-and-cheese, elk meatballs with mole sauce, bison chocolate chili, cocoa-rubbed chicken wings with chocolate barbecue sauces, and chocolate brioche with roasted white chocolate and vanilla bean ice cream.

As the holidays approach, Mokaya will also offer small plate lunches featuring three or four chocolate-inspired selections. Hours are 12 to 5 p.m. Sunday and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Whether for lunch, an extravagant event, or a quick, luscious truffle, Golczynski believes all of Grand Rapids should take time to treat themselves. As he simply explains, “Everyone deserves good chocolate.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor

Photos courtesy of Mokaya

City of Grand Rapids honored with 2018 Invest in Ability Award

On October 22, Disability Advocates of Kent County (DAKC) awarded the City of Grand Rapids its 2018 Invest in Ability Award during the Invest in Ability Dinner at Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park. The award recognizes an organization or individual who has advanced and improved the lives of local people with disabilities.

“Our entire City staff is committed to becoming more and more accessible for persons with disabilities,” says Mayor Rosalynn Bliss. “While we know there is always more work to be done, we are extremely honored to receive this prestigious award.”

Dave Bulkowski, executive director of DAKC, says, “We are thrilled to recognize the great work of the City of Grand Rapids. They have made intentional choices, and put plans to action, while constantly seeking new knowledge and best practices. This work is a journey, and they are an outstanding partner.”

Bulkowski notes that while racial and gender equity are popular agenda items across the country, concerns about creating equity for people with disabilities often takes a back seat. He explains that when the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law in 1990, accessibility was viewed as “slapping a ramp on it.” DAKC has been a local force in helping that mindset evolve into one of true equity.

“If it’s not accessible, it’s not going to be inviting and if it’s not inviting, it won’t be welcoming,” he says. “It’s absolutely critical to start with accessible. Then, we can worry about ‘Are we inviting everybody to the table, or to the conversation, or to the party?’ Once we invite them, then we have to ask the question, ‘Do we really welcome them?’”

When people with disabilities are unable to access a public space — for example, have to use a back entrance or reroute their path when outdoor restaurant seating blocks a sidewalk — the result is not only inconvenience but also a confirmation that they are unwelcome, second-class citizens. Bulkowski explains that people without disabilities have trouble grasping the hardships that inaccessible places put on those with disabilities, until they or one of their family members experience it.

“One of the challenges of disabilities is you don’t ‘get it’ until you get it. We keep looking to educate and create more ambassadors who get it,” he says. “We’ve been talking with the City and other municipalities for 37 years now. The City of Grand Rapids gets it. A small example of how the City is getting it was seen at the ribbon cutting at the new playground where kids of all abilities can play together on one big fun playground.”

Other examples of how the City of Grand Rapids gets it include recruiting people with disabilities to sit on planning committees and participating in activities that help those without disabilities to experience the world through a different lens.

“Over the last decade, the City has been extremely intentional that a person with a disability is a part of every planning effort. And, we’ve done creative things," says Bulkowski. "When the City was doing the initial Michigan Street Corridor planning, we put blindfolds on some of the planning committee — it was literally the blind leading the blind. We had them cross Michigan Street. It was scary for them. Today, you see wider sidewalks, better curb cuts, and better crossings there.”

Other considerations in giving the City of Grand Rapids the award included the Parks Master Plan, adopted in June 2017, that has a significant commitment to Universal Design, that is, space that all people regardless of their age, size, ability, or disability can access. The City will soon break ground on its first park planned according to Universal Design standards.

“This is not a lifetime achievement award. It does not mean the City is 100 percent accessible. And, they understand that,” Bulkowski concludes. “If people encounter barriers in the community, we do have staff that follow up on those. You go to a restaurant, bar, or hotel and don’t believe they are accessible, give us a shout. We also do trainings on how to best include folks with disabilities. We are proactive and reactive —both perspectives.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor

Photos courtesy Disability Advocates of Kent County

Rapid Glance: October news bits from the City of Grand Rapids

On Oct. 3, HVAC renovations began at the Grand Rapids City Hall and Kent County Administration buildings, 300 Monroe Ave. NW. The $11 million project is expected to last through early 2020. Read more here.

On Oct. 4, the Grand Rapids Police Department (GRPD) welcomed 14 new police officers to its ranks. All 14 recruits trained in-house at GRPD over the past two months. The 14 officers fill vacancies created due to retirements over the past six months. Read more here.

On Oct. 8, The City of Grand Rapids announced it had received the Michigan Green Communities Network’s highest honor — gold certification — for taking on a wide range of environmental sustainability projects in the Michigan Green Communities Challenge. Read more here.

On Oct. 9, the City of Grand Rapids swore in new City Manager Mark Washington. “I am eager to be a Grand Rapidian,” he said. “I look forward to spending time with the City Commission, City staff, partners and community stakeholders to listen to their ideas and concerns and dig deeper into the issues that are important to our city.”

On Oct. 11, The City of Grand Rapids celebrated grand reopening ceremonies at Mooney Park, 314 Logan St. SE; Cheseboro Park, 951 Merritt St. SE; and Ottawa Hills Park, 2060 Oakfield Ave. SE. The $765,000 construction project at Ottawa Hills Park includes a fully universally accessible playground with areas for older and younger children.

On Oct. 18, the Grand Rapids Brownfield Redevelopment Authority announced a grant application submission to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality for a Brownfield site cleanup at 438 Stocking Ave. The site will be redeveloped as a BP/Meijer gas station adjacent to the Meijer’s Bridge Street Market. Read more here.

On Oct. 25 and Nov. 20, the Grand Rapids Police Department’s “Speed of Trust” initiative will pair off community members one-to-one with police officers for interactive trust-building sessions. Spots are available during morning, afternoon, and evening hours. To participate, residents and community stakeholders can email TrustGRPD@grcity.us. Read more here. In addition, GRPD has posted its Manual of Policy and Procedures online for the first time.

Residents voting via absentee ballot can stop by the Grand Rapids City Clerk’s office from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, as well as Thursday, Oct. 25 from 5 to 7 p.m.; Sunday, Oct. 28 from 12 to 5 p.m.; Tuesday, Oct. 30 from 5 to 7 p.m.; or Saturday, Nov. 3 from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Absentee ballots are available at the City Clerk’s Office, 300 Monroe Ave. NW until 4 p.m. Monday, Nov. 5. Read more here.

On Nov. 1 at St. Alphonsus Church, 224 Carrier St. NE, and Nov. 15 at Baxter Community, 935 Baxter St. SE, the City of Grand Rapids invites residents for an overview of the new residential rental application fees ordinance (part of its Housing NOW! initiative) from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Learn more here.

On Nov. 1, seasonal odd-even and same-side parking restrictions begin in Grand Rapids. Streets with restrictions have parking signs posted. More information here.

Through Nov. 6, The Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation Department invites community members to enter its competition to redesign and modernize park entry signs across the city. The competition is open to everyone. Learn more here.

Photos courtesy City of Grand Rapids

Urban Agriculture Committee seeking input from City residents

Comprised of residents and leaders from Grand Rapids schools, nonprofits, and community organizations, the Grand Rapids Urban Agriculture Committee is partnering with the City of Grand Rapids “to grow and enhance the local food system, quality of life, and public health.” The committee loosely defines urban agriculture as “producing food to eat or sell in the city by growing plants and/or raising animals.”

However, this simple definition gives rise to several complex issues. For one, who will grow the food? Will it be city residents and small, local farmers, or high-powered agricultural industrialists looking for investment opportunities? Also, who will eat the food? Neighborhood residents who currently have little access to healthy whole foods, or the clientele of high-end restaurants? Another consideration, how will urban ag projects impact the neighborhoods where they operate? Will they support the existing residential community or hasten gentrification and higher housing costs?

For the past seven years, Lance Kraii has served as farm director for New City Neighbors on Grand Rapids’ northeast side. Because the farm is located on a parcel that is zoned residential, New City Farm has faced barriers to its operations that have little to do with preserving the residential character of the neighborhood. The main concern Kraii hopes the committee addresses is zoning.

“For us, zoning is a big issue that we run into. The City of Detroit has zoning especially developed for farms like us. Grand Rapids doesn’t,” he says. “For example, the residential building code prevents temporary carports. The way they are described is a structure with metal poles and soft plastic cover. This prevents us from having a hoop house [a type of greenhouse made with a steel frame and soft plastic cover]. We had to build it as a greenhouse and put a hard-plastic top on that doubled the cost.”

New City Farm began with the goal of creating job opportunities for youth. Its location in a food-insecure neighborhood where many residents face income challenges, also positions the farm as a beacon for food justice. People purchasing CSA shares in the farm, which provide them with fresh produce on a weekly basis, can do so using EBT dollars and the Double Up Food Bucks program. However, while succeeding at its mission, the farm has made some unplanned impacts on the neighborhood, as well.

“Urban ag can be a part of the process of gentrification. Our farm has played a part in that. That’s a complex reality that we’re aware of and part of,” Kraii says. “Is it some outside organization moving in and claiming land? It’s really important with urban ag to pay attention to each specific project.”

These are the kinds of concerns that City residents will have opportunity to raise at upcoming community meetings hosted by the City’s Urban Agriculture Committee:

Community members can also share their thoughts online. The input will inform the Committee as it seeks to draft new zoning ordinances.

"School gardens, urban farms, [and] composting and educational initiatives have tremendous potential for shaping a city's fabric,” says Levi Gardner, Urban Roots founder and committee chair. “Through this community engagement process, we hope to better understand how these initiatives and many others like them fit into our growing city. While we are benchmarking against other cities in this process, we are welcoming Grand Rapids residents to voice their ideas, questions, and concerns about this work.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor

Photos courtesy New City Farm.

Robyn Porteen has a bag for that

A custom bag designer in business since 2010, Porteen Gear has opened its first retail store in the Creston neighborhood. Local customers can come in and design a custom-made bag to suit their style. From messenger-style bags, purses, and camera bags, to travel and bike bags, the shop’s motto is “We can make a bag for that!” Company president, Robyn Porteen, began her business venture somewhat by accident.

“I was a professional photographer and traveled. I decided I needed a camera bag that didn’t look like a camera bag. Someone saw it and had to have one,” she says. “I pushed a quarter-million dollars through Etsy the first year. Now I am one of the top 20 Etsy sellers. I make everything in Grand Rapids and sell worldwide.”

Over the years, Porteen Gear has been featured in print by Shutterbug Magazine, Professional Photography Magazine, Vogue UK, British GQ, and Conde Nast Traveler, among other publications. Porteen chose the Creston neighborhood because she used to live there and still enjoys shopping there. She felt that Creston was the perfect environment for expanding her business from e-commerce to bricks-and-mortar.

“It feels cozy and the neighborhood association is very tight,” she says. “The workshop is on site. When people come in, they are like a kids in a candy store. They get to create something that’s like a work of art. Come in, look at all the fabrics and leathers, and design a bag.”

Porteen encourages customers to bring in their cameras, laptops, baby’s diapers — whatever they need to tote with them — to determine dimensions for their custom bags. Then, they can choose a style and fabric from a wide variety of canvas, tapestry, and leather samples. In two to three weeks, they have their custom bag in hand. A small bag starts at $120. While Porteen still does the bulk of the work herself, she has hired on local seamstresses to lend a hand, especially with the holiday season coming up.

“Even though my bags last a lifetime, I have a lot of repeat customers,” Porteen says. “I have one customer who owns 21 of my bags, a bag for every season and use.”

Complementing the bag design area, Porteen Gear’s retail area features sunglasses, candles, camera straps, journals, and wallets from U.S. artisans like Stormy Kromer, WUDN, Soothi, and Rogue Industries. Porteen hopes to showcase more local makers in the near future. She also has plans for offering make-it and take-it classes, for example, making a classic clutch. Located at 1519 Plainfield Ave. NE, Porteen Gear is open 12 to 6 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.

“Customization is the trend,” Porteen says. “Hopefully, I am blazing a trail in Grand Rapids for customer design.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy Porteen Gear

What's "Good For Grand Rapids" is "Good For Michigan"

In 2017, Local First launched its Good For Grand Rapids programming, recognizing businesses that make a positive impact on employees, local communities, and the environment. On September 20, Local First announced an expansion of the initiative across Michigan from Grand Rapids to the Lakeshore, Traverse City to Ann Arbor, and beyond.

“We’ve heard from businesses across Michigan that they want to replicate Good for Grand Rapids in their own communities. Good For Michigan is an opportunity for businesses statewide to demonstrate their social and environmental impact,” says Elissa Sangalli Hillary, Local First president. “We believe good business matters and Good For Michigan recognizes businesses that go above and beyond to do good in their communities and create opportunities for people to thrive and succeed.”

Like Good for Grand Rapids, Good For Michigan recognizes companies using business as a force for good. Any business that can demonstrate its positive impact on employees, its community, and the environment can join. An online assessment enables companies to measure their positive impacts. Nearly 100 businesses have taken the assessment over the past year.

Community Automotive Repair is a Grand Rapids business that’s been making those kinds of impacts for the past 40 years. When Local First introduced the Good For Grand Rapids program, the shop was an easy fit.

“I’ve always been interested in environmental issues,” says owner Richard Zaagman. “We try to recycle as much as we can at the shop — 95 percent of the heat that we use is obtained from waste oil. This has been something we’ve done for 40 years. We recycle metal, the steel products we take off vehicles, and paper, of course.”

Community Automotive Repair’s new, LEED-certified, two-story addition brings its total number of windows to more than 200. Zaagman wants his staff to enjoy the benefits of natural light, fresh air, and a comfortable work environment. He also feels it’s important to create a space that people living in the community appreciate. Instead of a brick wall, passersby can see right into the shop and observe the vehicles and techs at work. At the end of each work day, the staff puts an interesting vehicle up on a hoist under the low-energy LED lights. As the shop specializes in imports like Porsche, Audi, and Mercedes, these are quite a sight to see.

“I can’t say that I’m motivated by a financial perspective,” Zaagman says. “The extra money that we invested in our building isn’t necessarily something that comes back to us as a return-on-investment. But it’s not just about money. It might cost you a little more to treat your employees the way you’d want to be treated, but in the long run, you end up with better, more long-term employees. The more stable your business is, the better it is for the community and the city.”

In addition to recognizing businesses making these specific positive impacts, the Good For Michigan program seeks to encourage more Michigan businesses to seek Certified B Corporation (B Corps) designation. B Corps businesses balance profit and purpose by meeting high standards in the areas of social and environmental performance, transparency, and legal accountability. Good For Michigan also offers an online assessment that helps businesses determine if they qualify for the designation. Current West Michigan companies with Certified B Corps designation include Brewery Vivant, Cascade Engineering, Essence Restaurant Group, The Gluten Free Bar, Highland Group, and Image Shoppe.

In addition, Good For Michigan offers resources and best practices for sustainability and social good, and provides educational workshops, programs, and events.

“Local First’s Good for Grand Rapids initiative has positively impacted our city, and we are excited that they are taking the campaign statewide to new communities,” says Trevor Corlett, CEO of Madcap Coffee Company and Local First board member.

“Good For Michigan recognizes the growing number of businesses that are taking steps to make a positive impact on people and the environment, and we are looking forward to seeing more businesses partner with Good For Michigan in their own communities.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy Local First and Community Automotive Repair

GR one of 12 "Cities of Opportunity": Initiative to develop equitable solutions for residents

In many ways, Grand Rapids is a tale of two cities. One is a story of success in green building, economic growth, and renewal of aging neighborhoods. Here, initiatives like Michigan street’s Medical Mile and Grand Valley State University’s downtown expansion have brought in scores of affluent professional residents while downtown has transformed from a ghost town into a hotspot.

The other story tells about people with income challenges and people of color facing overwhelming economic, housing, and health challenges. Here, disparities in infant mortality, longevity, income, and incarceration underscore the presence of institutional racism and a lack of living wage jobs.

The City of Grand Rapids has been working hard to change these conflicting narratives. It has adopted a Racial Equity Plan, established a department of Diversity and Inclusion, joined the Racial Equity Here Cohort, was selected for The Mayor’s Challenge, and recently created a Rental Assistance Center for low-income households. Because of its work for equity across these and other initiatives, Grand Rapids has been chosen as one of 12 cities to join the National League of Cities (NLC) Cities of Opportunity initiative.

“Grand Rapids has really been undertaking a lot of initiatives related to equity,” says Alex Melton, City of Grand Rapids community liaison. “We were able to work with a lot of leading experts in the public sector to bring together all of our equity-related data sets. This is work we always knew that we wanted to do, that is really important for the city. This gave us the opportunity to really hone in on how to do this the best way.”

Other cities chosen for the Initiative are Lansing, Michigan; Atlanta and East Point, Georgia; Birmingham, Alabama; Charlotte, North Carolina; Fort Collins, Colorado; Hopewell and Roanoke, Virginia; Huntington, West Virginia; New Orleans, Louisiana; and Rancho Cucamonga, California. In its pilot phase, this NLC effort will bring these cities together to implement cross-cutting and collaborative approaches in three challenge areas: economic opportunity, healthy and affordable housing, and city planning and design.

“Some of the cities are vastly different in terms of geography and demographic makeup, but a lot of the issues are similar. For example, affordable housing is an issue across the nation,” Melton says. “It will really be beneficial for us to learn from bigger cities at their level and scale and then change our approach, scale it to Grand Rapids.”

As new initiatives are moved forward locally, the City plans on engaging community members for input and feedback. Residents will be engaged via social media, focus groups, and other outreach methods that are tracked to ensure voices from all neighborhoods and demographics are heard.

“It will be very worthwhile to get residents’ feedback upfront,” Melton says.

The NLC states that the goal is “to help local leaders build cities where all residents can reach their potential and live productive, fulfilling, and healthy lives in thriving communities — and ultimately ensure cities of opportunity for all residents.” In October, City of Grand Rapids representatives will begin working with their peers from the other cities in Atlanta.

“I am thrilled that Grand Rapids will collaborate with other cities on ways to improve factors that affect the health of our communities and our residents,” says Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss. “We have many exciting initiatives rooted in racial equity that align with the Cities of Opportunity priority areas.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy City of Grand Rapids

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