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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

Taproot reboot: Eastown video production company rebrands

"I think there are 3 main reasons to do the rebrand," says Taproot Founder, Director, and Executive Producer Karl Koelling. After being in the biz in Grand Rapids for ten years, Koelling and company sought to double down on their boutique production company, and he outlined his motivations very simply:
  1. "We've grown and we've got more people on staff and this is a more unified direction,";
  2. it's an opportunity to broaden awareness of the company and widen their footprint, and
  3. it's "a chance to let them know that we are trying to up the game in terms of what we can bring in capabilities and client services."
Growing in staff from two to four over the past year, Taproot has grown its skill set. Last fall, Matthew Bouwense joined the team as lead editor, managing products in post-production. "[He was] was always the favorite guy," says Koelling, of this former freelancer. "[Bouwense is] great in concepts and helping develop projects, really just a core part of the team."

Koelling also hired animator Brent French, who works with the Taproot team three days per week. "Having someone in house who just fits with the team well…that can sync animation first…puts an extra layer of polish on things," says Koelling. "I don't always think animation first."

Koelling also solidified his work with Josh Carrasquillo, who joined the team as a producer, working in brand strategy and marketing. Carrasquillo, who previously worked with a smaller, social media content firm, is currently working to develop this for Taproot. "People are spending a lot more of their marketing dollars, it's so important in terms of building awareness," says Koelling.



In addition to staff, Taproot has expanded their equipment list, enabling them to complete most of their projects in house. They are also constantly improving their tech library in order to improve each video in post production.

When asked about expanding their client base or going after new industries, Koelling noted his desire to work more with universities and colleges, since they have enjoyed past working experiences in that niche. "Maybe we should chase that."

Though Taproot grows little by little, Koelling is proud of their size and capabilities. "We're not a huge company but we scale really well," he says.

New Noco Provisions offers regional classics from around the country

"We're very excited to be the latest edition of this specific corner of the city," says Patrick Kneese, general manager at Noco Provisions. Opening today, July 27, for happy hour and dinner, Noco Provisions is a new venture by Steve Millman, who heads up Northstar Commercial Real Estate.

Millman sought out Kneese for his twenty-year restaurant experience, and enticed him to move his family to Grand Rapids from Denver to craft the vision for the new restaurant. Chef Adam Watts also brings his experience to the team, having relocated from Boulder to GR five years ago. Kneese notes that the two were hired to "help contribute some fresh ideas to an already reputable restaurant and hospitality community."

Located at the former site of the Forest Hills Inn at the corner of Forest Hills Avenue and Cascade Road, the Noco team applied a "really cool, fresh design to an existing space," says Kneese, who adds that they only kept two existing walls in the renovation. "Everything is brand new," he says.

The menu is also a new creation, crafted to reflect and enhance "regional comfort classics" from around the country, like fried chicken with chorizo gravy, ahi tuna poke, and the humble burger. "Our burger is just fantastic," says Kneese. Noco will also offer vegan options like the Hoppin' Jane, a twist on the peasant dish Hoppin' John. "Chef Adam has done a wonderful take on it," adds Kneese.

Opening just for dinner at first, Noco will expand to brunch and lunch in a few weeks. With a fresh design and a focus on approachability, Knees and the team hope to fill a niche in the Forest Hills area. "We don't want to be the place you go to once a year, we want to be the place you go to a few times a week," he says.

Michigan native publishes YA beach novel

Michigan native Erin McCahan recently returned home to promote her new book, "The Lake Effect." Described as "A funny, bracing, poignant YA romance and coming-of-age for fans of Huntley Fitzpatrick, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, and The Beginning of Everything," this novel is an exciting read for Michiganders or anyone in search of a fun, beachy getaway.

McCahan sat down with our editor to discuss her new book and writing career in this development news Q&A.

Tell me about your road to publishing. How and when did you publish your first book?

My road to publishing was like most people’s—long and rocky, with wrong turns, dead-ends and more than one meltdown. My very first agent turned out to be a con artist. Turns out she bilked thousands of writers out of millions of dollars and ended up in prison.

After that, it was a few years before I found another, legitimate agent, who tried for three or four years to sell a mainstream adult manuscript of mine. And I kept getting close, having small successes without the thing ever being published. It was optioned by a movie producer for a couple of years. It never became a movie, but the option was enough encouragement for me to keep writing.

Throughout that time, I was working as a youth minister, surrounded by 12- to 18-year-olds, and one day it occurred to me that I had a ton of fodder for novels right in front of me. So I wrote my first YA novel, found a new agent and sold the book in a relatively short amount of time.

Why YA? What attracts you to this particular genre?

It really was my work with teens that led me to it. Once I began reading all the really fabulous novels available—that weren’t when I was a teenager—I fell in love with it.

Do you perceive any challenges or benefits to forging your writing career while growing up in Ohio?

I grew up in landlocked Columbus, Ohio, wholly against my will. My father died young, and, after my mother re-married, my step-dad’s career took us to Columbus when I was nearly 5. Had I been accorded a vote at the time, it would have been a resounding no. Except we were Episcopalian, so that would have been, no, thank you. I’m from Grand Rapids, which is about 30 miles east of Grand Haven, where my family and I spent chunks of every summer even after we moved. My mother’s family had a cottage there. Even though I resided — and still reside—in Columbus —Michigan has always been home. It’s in my blood. Something about that lake. And for me, family and life’s experiences influence my writing more than location or anything else, really.

Any specific references to South Haven that the locals would recognize?

Yes, anyone who has been to South Haven will recognize North Beach, the snack bar, the drawbridge over the Black River, the town and South Pier Lighthouse.

What do you miss most about living in Michigan year round?

My grandparents first and foremost. Second, the lake. Every lake, but especially the Big Lake. It’s even gorgeous in the winter.

Any advice for would-be Michigan authors?

Don’t move! And please invite me up for the weekend. I’ll bring wine and sunscreen.

GR Poet Laureate & KFG Embark on National Poetry Tour

Two poets. Five months. A bevy of cities.

Utilizing poetry as the vehicle to explore the topic of mental health, recently named Grand Rapids poet Laureate Marcel 'Fable' Price and business partner and fellow poet KFG are about to embark on a nation-wide spoken-word poetry tour. Named, "The Unpacking Tour," the two poets aim to perform their poetry for audiences interested in mental health, spreading a message of self-confidence and self-care and inviting everyone to increase their mental health awareness.

"It's a pretty broad journey," says KFG, who notes that the tour will begin on the East Coast, and reach to Washington State. But why this specific message for such a broad audience? Excited to kick start another poetry tour (this is Price's second), but wanting their art to communicate an important message, the two poets sought a common thread.

"The two of us are different in very many ways," says KFG, but despite their differences, they are also very similar. The poet notes that they both had tumultuous childhoods, and were raised under various forms of abuse, leading them to experience mental health issues. "This is something that we're both really passionate about," says KFG.

KFG also feels that discussing these issues honestly is very important for both poets and the diverse groups they represent. "To have that kind of visibility for him as a black man, a biracial man and to have me as a queer, non-binary person to be translucent with our experiences [is important]," the poet adds. "Often have to keep those things shoved down just in order to survive."

KFG and Price will begin their tour in early August. Though they have settled on most of their performance locations, they are still seeking to fill a few gaps in the schedule. Most notably, KFG is excited to perform at the Green Mill in Chicago in September. "That is one of the longest standing, most historical spots for poetry…where poetry really began in America," the poet adds.

Finalizing plans for the trip and continuing her fundraising efforts, KFG can't wait to reach audiences with a positive message about mental health.

Most importantly, the poet wants to communicate, "There is strength through vulnerability."

To stay up to date on the tour, visit KFG or Price's Facebook pages.

To donate to their GoFundMe campaign, click here.

GVSU announces new medical building, warm design

Grand Valley State University is staking another large claim on Michigan's medical mile, with a recently approved $70 million expansion to their downtown Grand Rapids health campus. The building with saddle up to the existing Grand Valley's Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences, providing a pair of state-of-the-art facilities.

"Demand has exceeded our ability to accept highly qualified students, and these two new buildings, right in the middle of the city's vibrant medical community, will provide exceptional opportunities for more students to attend Grand Valley and benefit from the unique combination of liberal education with professional training," said Provost Maria Cimitile in the July 14 press release. "This combination makes our graduates highly employable by area hospitals and medical facilities."

As the demand for medical and health studies increases, so does the competition. Right next door, Michigan State University hosts students at its College of Human Medicine, and just down the road, the completion of MSU's brand new $88 million Research Center is imminent. Universities with medical programs and health professionals are flocking to Grand Rapids, all to be part of the bourgeoning health scene.

With this new building, GVSU demonstrates its commitment to the field, and their prominence in the Grand Rapids area. What sets the university apart is the design of the new building, shown in the most recent renderings. In stark contrast to the existing Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences, this new structure will exude a warm, inviting look. Sources at GVSU comment that this differing design is aimed at fitting the structure into the Midtown community, unlike the typical design of cold, sterile glass.

This attention to detail is particularly important in the neighborhood of Midtown, which has experienced a dizzying amount of development and change in the past few years.

And commitment to community is important, especially with $70.1 million, a total of 18 percent of GVSU's funding, is coming from the state of Michigan.

"It's incredibly gratifying for the Legislature to again recognize Grand Valley as the state's most efficiently managed university and our investment in our students and their promising medical careers," said John Kennedy, chair of the Grand Valley Board of Trustees in that same press release. "And the university achieves high performance while still keeping tuition lower than the majority of other public universities in the state. Students are graduating and employers are recognizing their talent. They're staying in Michigan and giving back to their communities."
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