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SpringGR launching local entrepreneurs who have ideas and little else

In 2015, Stephanie Dolly and her children flew from Atlanta to Grand Rapids to live closer to family. She did not have a job waiting for her — all she had was an idea and $40 to invest. SpringGR empowered her to take her idea for a custom cake and sweet treats bakery, Dolly’s Delights, from dream to reality. According to Arlene Campbell, the grassroots nonprofit’s chief creator of opportunities, Dolly is now known as the “Willy Wonka of Grand Rapids.” In April 2018, Start Garden chose Dolly as one of its 100 finalists in its “100 Ideas” competition, earning her $1,000 to invest in her business.

 

“She basically had everything against her, no money, nothing,” Campbell says. “She is a great story of drive and tenacity. She didn’t allow obstacles to hold her back.”

 

Dolly is also a great story of SpringGR’s approach to launching Grand Rapids area entrepreneurs into successful small businesses. Its 12-week business training experience teaches people with ideas, like Dolly, who want to start and succeed in their own businesses. The coursework relies on the CO-STARTERS curriculum developed by a similar entrepreneurial training program based in Chattanooga, Tennessee. In addition to meeting one evening each week, each participant meets one-on-one weekly with a business coach who helps them dial in on the specifics of their own business idea.

 

“We’re a grassroots business training program,” Campbell says. “We teach the foundations of business, finance, and marketing, and we pair each student with a business coach.”

 

In the five years since SpringGR was founded, 313 area entrepreneurs have graduated the course to establish 206 businesses and create 257 jobs.

 

“We work with people who are at the beginning level. Generally, programs help a more mature entrepreneur — you need a business plan, numbers, a prototype,” says Attah Obande, director of dream fulfillment. “At SpringGR, the only requirement is to have a business idea. If you’ve got an idea, come to us. We will help you move it forward.”

 

Obande notes that a third of the past year’s Start Garden’s 5x5 Night winners were SpringGR graduates, as well as 14 of its 100 "Big Idea" finalists.

 

SpringGR offers continuing support to program graduates through a five-week alumni course and promotion of graduate businesses on its website. In addition, alumni form strong relationships that provide an enduring connection for support and networking. For example, a group of eight SpringGR graduates came together to host a successful, minority-focused wedding expo, “Tying The Knot,” at the Richard App Gallery in October 2017.

 

“It’s really fun to watch them support one another, network. It’s grassroots for sure. It just kind of happens,” Campbell says. “They come in not knowing each other and leave as friends. They learn that ‘I really need to surround myself with other like-minded entrepreneurs so I can have the support I need to move my business forward.’ It’s exciting.”

 

SpringGR is still accepting applications for its two, 12-week fall business training courses. On Monday evenings, the course will take place at The Goei Center and Wednesday evenings as part of the Restorers, Inc. programming at Madison Square Church. The course costs $100. Dinner and childcare are provided.

 

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
 

Photos courtesy SpringGR

 


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 

ReThink West Michigan works to bring back young talent to region with 5th annual event

During the past couple of years that Cindy Brown has served as executive director of the West Michigan-focused talent attraction organization, Hello West Michigan, she says it has become a lot easier to convince young people who have moved away from the area that there are good reasons to come back and stay. 

“In the years I’ve been doing this, it’s done a complete turnaround where it’s easier now to target individuals (who relocated from West Michigan) and remind them of great opportunities here,” Brown says, adding that all of the recent enhancement to downtown areas — which includes everything from a plethora of new commercial retail and residential projects to renewed interest in enhancing public parks and adding bike paths — make the job much easier. 

So, with the Thanksgiving holiday just on the horizon, Hello West Michigan has teamed up with economic developers at The Right Place to host the fifth annual ReThink West Michigan event on Wednesday, Nov. 23. 

With 16 area companies and several non-profit organizations all signed up to represent career opportunities geared at attracting former West Michiganders back to the region, ReThink West Michigan offers a non-traditional “career fair” setting that skews toward a more casual networking environment. The event will be held from 5:30-8 p.m. on the fourth floor of The B.O.B. in downtown Grand Rapids.

Brown says the past four years of the event have attracted more than 460 professionals and resulted in somewhere around 40 hires — or relocations — to date. 

“This event is truly unique because it is solely for former West Michigan residents that have moved away. We’re highlighting the things people want to know about when they think about relocating: career opportunities and lifestyle in West Michigan,” Brown says. 

The event is free and some walk-ins will be available on the night of, but Brown encourages anyone interested in attending to register online prior to the event. 

For more information on ReThink West Michigan or to register for the Nov. 23 event, visit www.rethinkwm.com

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of ReThink West Michigan/Hello West Michigan

From Second City to Beer City: These GR comedians plan to open improv comedy venue

Grand Rapids comedian Joe Anderson knows that when it comes to opening an improv, sketch and experimental comedy venue and cocktail bar in downtown Grand Rapids, failure is not an option.

“We want to come out swinging because unless we do that, we can't open,” says Anderson, who has worked for the past two years alongside fellow comedian Ben Wilke to draft plans and garner support for The Comedy Project. The two recently launched a Kickstarter campaign for the venue, and its $25,000 funding goal is growing steadily within reach.

“Even with the Kickstarter, we could have done it for more money, but the worst thing that would have happened would be not meeting that Kickstarter goal because we need everything to be a win,” he says. “In the same way, there are so many people — whether it's a restaurant, but certainly a theater and comedy — so many people have had enough bad experiences or just mediocre experiences that they're not excited to go back… So, we need to make sure that anyone who comes, the first time they come, they're just like, 'Oh my gosh, this is great. I could do this once a month.’”

A Western Michigan University graduate, Second City alumnus, and seven-year board member of the non-profit Dog Story Theater in Grand Rapids, Anderson began working with Wilke — a Chicago native who also has roots in the Windy City’s famed Second City comedy troupe — began working more dedicatedly on The Comedy Project two years ago.

The goal of the space, Anderson says, is to be a kind of “repertoire comedy place,” with a small group of six to 10 performers who are on stage performing both improv and sketch comedy shows regularly,  with scheduling wiggle room for other comedians and improv troupes to host their own shows.

“There would be this core group of people doing the ‘heavy lifting’ of the performances, but then there would be an unknown huge amount of other people putting shows on, putting shows on the other nights, stepping in when for some reason someone else can't do the show — kind of building this stable of performers,” he says, adding that although they are open to hosting some alt stand-up comedians for special event shows, they’re avoiding the more traditional comedy genre in favor of the more experimental.

In addition to daily improv shows, The Comedy Project will offer improv and sketch comedy classes geared at career development and innovation within professional organizations, using the tenets of improv to help people in all walks of life sharpen their communication skills.

“There will be an 18-year-old kid who just thinks he's funny, and then the 35-year-old mom who also does improv and then some 65-year-old executive at a company who’s also trying to learn how to talk more extemporaneously, how to seem more approachable or be more open to other people's ideas, since those are all things that happen in good improvising,” Anderson says.

Though the duo are still waiting to finalize details on the space, they’ve already solidified a few very important partnerships, including working with Matt Smith, owner of PitStop BBQ & Catering, to bring a full menu to a space with only a prep kitchen in its plans.

Anderson and Wilke have also received support from Michele Sellers, who was instrumental in the launch of local establishments that include Stella's and Hopcat, and like Revue Holding Co.'s Brian Edwards has been consulting on the project and plans for the future space -- which promises something just as unconventional as its performances.

“In our minds, we want this space to look like the comedy place cobbled together after some kind of apocalyptic event happened, and everyone just grabbed whatever they could to make this place seem like a theater — but they did grab the best things they could,” Anderson says.

There are a few logistics and funding hurdles to clear before solidifying any concrete timeline for opening, though ideally the The Comedy Project would be fully operational this spring for LaughFest 2017.

In a city that just keeps growing, Anderson says he’s confident he and Wilke have come to Grand Rapids at a time when something like The Comedy Project has a real shot.

“It’s just what's happening right now in Grand Rapids. It's the same reason why there's all these restaurants and all of these new developments; there's a Trader Joe's, and there's another brewery,” he says. “I think people just feel like they've been given permission to try things, and I think that applies to us as well. Looking at the kind of climate here in Grand Rapids right now it's like, ‘Yeah, we gotta do this. Grand Rapids can pull this off.’”

Click here to learn more about The Comedy Project’s Kickstarter campaign, which is open through Nov. 11, or find The Comedy Project here on Facebook.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of The Comedy Project

New MI Smart Coast website aims to be one-stop shop for employers & job seekers in West Michigan

When the economic development organization Lakeshore Advantage conducted a survey of West Michigan area business owners and employers last fall, more than 70 percent of respondents said the biggest challenge facing the growth of their business was talent, whether it was in the area of acquisition, retention, or just not enough skilled labor in general.

“That percentage was how we knew we needed to respond to this specific area of issue,” says Vice President of Talent Solutions Angela Huesman. Her organization recently launched the new Michigan Smart Coast website, which, after a one-year concept development and build, has launched as a tool to help West Michigan employers attract more workers and new talent. 

Houseman says the content of the website — which includes information about cost of living, community descriptions, products made in the region, and links to temporary housing — was driven largely by key findings pulled from surveys of local employers, chambers of commerce, and focus group discussions with young professionals who recently moved to the area, with results indicating a desire by new recruits to feel connected to the region, with a  place to find recreation, group events, and volunteer opportunities.

“Part of it included discussions with young professionals in the area to say, ‘When you relocated here what are some of the things helpful for you to know that you couldn’t find?’” says Huesman, adding that the Michigan Smart Coast site also gives visitors an idea of the depth of industry in the region, which she says not only supports career growth once individuals move to West Michigan, but also helps to satisfy any curiosity about other businesses and employment opportunities available. 

“Often times someone taking a job from out of the area may know about the company they’re coming to work for, but they may not know what else is here, and so it kind of offers an option to say, ‘Here’s what else is available in the area should the job you’re moving here for not work out for whatever reason,’” she says.

With Ottawa County unemployment rates dipping down to 3 percent in 2016 — below both the state and national rates of 4.8 percent and 5 percent respectively — Lakeshore Advantage the Michigan Smart Coast website offers a more immersive kind of platform for curious job-seekers, which President Jennifer Owens says is important for today’s young professionals, who are looking for more than just a job when deciding where to make their homes. 

“This website tells our story that West Michigan is the place to start and further your career while experiencing life fulfillment and connectedness through personal and professional opportunities,” Owens says.

Click here to check out the new Michigan Smart Coast website for yourself. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Lakeshore Advantage/MI Smart Coast

You're Invited: Local First hosts office warming party for its new home at 345 Fuller Ave.

It’s been about five years since the Grand Rapids-based Local First West Michigan moved from a tiny 1,000-square-foot office space on the second floor of 955 Wealthy St. SE to the same building’s main floor, nearly doubling its office’s square footage at the time.

Now, Local First has nearly doubled its space again, and the group wants to invite members of the Grand Rapids community to an office warming party on Thursday, July 21 for its nearly 3,000-square-foot headquarters at 345 Fuller Ave. NE. 

“It’s a community-wide event, so anybody in the community is welcome to attend,” says Mieke Stoub, Local First marketing manager, who says she hopes Local First programming can promote the same kind of positive business practices along its new corridor as it did while at its old Wealthy Street office. 

“We definitely want to continue to build on our programming depending on the needs of our community and the needs of our membership, and what that means is continuing to give resources to local businesses, and also helping improve their business practices,” Stoub says. “We would love to see that in the new neighborhood we’re living in. We saw that on the Wealthy Street Corridor when we were there, and we would love to see that happen along the Michigan Street corridor, as well.” 

Founded by local developer Guy Bazzani of Bazzani Associates, Local First is supported by two eight-person boards — the Local First Board and the Local First Educational Foundation Board — and it has nine full and part-time staff members. With more than 800 staff members in West Michigan, the organization hosts several annual events for business owners and community members in the region. 

Local First’s new space includes an open office layout with 12 workstations, one large and two smaller conference rooms, two kitchenettes, and one small semi-private office. 

“It was basically a white box when we moved in, so the decoration and all of the internal stuff that was there prior [to Local First] was removed. The drywall was up, but we completely renovated the space with new paint, new flooring and new furniture,” Stoub says, adding that furniture and decor was provided by a number of community partners, including Custer, Design Edge Sign Company, Lott3Metz Architecture, Silver Lining Computer Services, Steelcase, and X Ventures. 

“We want to show off our new space and give some people the opportunity to either connect with us or meet us for the first time,” she says. “We want people to see our faces and the faces behind organization and get to know us in that way, too.”

To learn more about Local First and its members, stop by its office warming party today, Thursday, July 21 from 4-7 p.m. or visit www.localfirst.com.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Local First West Michigan 

Grand Rapids-based Sun Title Agency opens new Grandville location

Replacing its current Grandville location at 4693 Wilson Ave., Sun Title Agency has recently announced the opening of a new 3,000-square-foot offices at 4600 Ivanrest.

"The challenge we're having is that our southwest market has grown so much and frankly, we just needed a couple more closing room and the ability to accommodate a few more employees,” says Tom Cronkright, co-owner of Sun Title Agency, which provides commercial and residential title insurance and closing services in Grand Rapids and throughout West Michigan.

Formerly occupied by a residential home, the newly converted space will accommodate as many as six employees and help to expand its presence in the Grandville community.

Though Cronkright and his co-owner acquired the space a few years back, it wasn’t until a recent rezoning — brought about by a new Goodwill location being built in an adjacent lot — made the space easier to renovate for new office spaces. Cronkright was supported by Craig Architects for the design, and Chad Moore from Prestige Construction acted as project manager.

The new space features an outdoor lounge area for employees, a large atrium and customer lounge, and three private closing rooms. The existing driveway was relocated and expanded to offer private parking areas for customers and employees.

“It’s a really cool building because we added just a bunch of large window openings with store-front glass and aluminum siding," he says. “When you’re in there, that office has more natural light — because it’s a standalone and not a downtown office — this one is a 360 and allows a tremendous amount of light in and makes it feel really open inside.”

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Sun Title Agency 

New Pregis Films to generate $17.1 million in investment, 50 new jobs

Local and state partners in the city of Grand Rapids, alongside regional economic development organization, The Right Place, Inc., announced a $17.1 million investment in the acquisition and expansion of a local manufacturing facility by Deerfield, Ill.-based Pregis, LLC.

Made possible by the approval of a Michigan Strategic Fund incentive, Eagle Film Extruders will now take on a new name — Pregis Films — after its acquisition by Pregis, LLC, complete with an expansion of its Roosevelt Park facility located at 1100 Hynes Ave. that will allow for the opening of a new production line to increase capacity and meet customer demand. 

“One of the things that The Right Place has really worked hard to do over the past decade or so, is work to retain — and Eagle Film is a classic example of this — retain and expand those industrial businesses we have within city limits,” says Tim Mroz, vice president of marketing at TRP. “We have a strong belief that in order to have a vibrant city, you have to have businesses of all shapes and sizes, including industrial facilities.”

With a three-year investment total of $17.1 million, the acquisition and expansion is also expected to generate 50 new jobs at the Grand Rapids facility, where it will continue production of high-quality polyethylene blown film used for a variety of packaging applications 

Pregis CEO Kevin Bauduin says the company is currently experiencing an increased demand from industrial and e-commerce, among other market segments, for higher quality materials, so investing in the facility will help meet market segment expectations for packing performance and provide vertical integration for some of Pregis’s other products. 

The 160,000-square-foot facility currently houses four state-of-the-art multilayer blown film extrusion lines, converting equipment, and warehouse space, though Pregis plans to install a new  five-layer blown film line that is expected to be operational mid-summer following the facility’s expansion. 

Eric Icard is the senior business development manager at TRP and project lead on the expansion. He says when hearing from businesses interested in building or expanding manufacturing and distribution facilities in West Michigan, the appeal is in no small part due to the quality of the region’s workforce alongside an often overlooked geographic advantage with its proximity to both major U.S. cities and Canada.

“I don’t believe we give that much consideration, but that’s very nice for anybody looking at distribution,” Icard says.

“Plus, there’s just providing opportunities for the people we serve in West Michigan,” he says. “As an entity, at The Right Place, our focus is the standard of living and how we can improve the standard of living. When people are elevated through opportunities for higher wages, they have a better chance at increasing that standard of living, which in turn creates a better quality of life.”

For more information, visit The Right Place, Inc. online at www.therightplace.org. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of The Right Place, Inc./Pregis, LLC 

SalesPad, LLC invests $3.85 million with expansion of GR offices, addition of 91 new jobs

In an effort to meet an increased product demand with an expansion of its current Grand Rapids-based workforce, software developers at SalesPad, LLC have announced the addition of 91 new jobs and the growing of its operations at 3200 Eagle Park Dr. NE. 

“We need innovative, creative, tech-savvy software developers and support specialists to keep up with our company’s growth,” says SalesPad CEO Pete Eardley, whose company currently employs 110 people. 

The $3.85 million investment comes on the heels of the approval for a $364,000 grant by the Michigan Strategic Fund, which was made possible with help from economic development organization The Right Place, Inc. 

According to Economic Modeling Specialists International, West Michigan’s information technology industry is growing at a rate of 13.8 percent — 9.4 percent higher than the national average — and TRP’s Thad Rieder, senior business development manager and project lead for the SalesPad expansion says SalesPad is no exception to that industry growth.    

“West Michigan’s high-tech community continues to grow, and SalesPad is a part of that growth story,” Rieder says. “We firmly believe that our region’s strong work ethic, culture and innateness is what retains and attracts companies like SalesPad to West Michigan.” 

Founded in 2003, SalesPad products focus on increasing business productivity and efficiency with enterprise software that works with applications like Microsoft Dynamics GP and Intuit Quickbooks alongside creating customized software solutions for small- and medium-sized businesses. 

“In order to grow, we really need tech talent,” says Matt Williams, president of SalesPad. “We honestly believe in the people, work ethic, and resources found in West Michigan. We’re committed to expanding and doing things right here in Grand Rapids.” 

Click here for more information on career opportunities at SalesPad, LLC. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of SalesPad, LLC. 

Orion Construction adds new employees in preparation for a busy 2016

Now in its 15th year of business, Grand Rapids-based development company Orion Construction recently added seven new employees to its staff roster of about 30 total people.

As part a result of increased job site support, safety standards and office operations by the contractor, the new hires include three new project superintendents. The first, Russ Downs, will take the lead into the new year for ongoing work at the Bridgewater Building, which includes build-outs for USI Insurance Agency, TIAA Cref, Ameriprise Financial, and three floors for Spectrum Health. Chad Brummell will act as dedicated superintendent for Arena Place’s new ground-floor  restaurant, Wheelhouse, and the third new superintendent is Jacobus Maas. 

Orion’s fourth-quarter hires also include two new project managers, Jeff Smigielski and DuWayne Johnson, new administrative assistant Erin Davis, and general laborer Jeff Austin. 

Roger Rehkopf is president at Orion Construction and says the construction company has a variety of commercial and residential projects slated for the fourth quarter of 2016, but the group intends to continue focusing on public/private partnerships outside of those markets as well. 

“The company’s investment in our people is fundamental to these pursuits and gives us additional firepower to kick off some projects that we are very excited for,” Rehkopf says. “We have large area-specific enhancement projects like Venue Tower and Fulton Square that begin in early 2015 and we anticipate another busy year of growth that aligns well with our strategic goals for the year.”

For more information on current and on-going projects, visit www.orionbuilt.com.

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Orion Construction

Cedar Springs celebrates opening of new brewing company on N. Main Street

About one year after their last October groundbreaking, construction teams at Orion Construction and owners of Cedar Springs Brewing Company celebrated the brewery’s grand opening with a ribbon cutting ceremony last week.

Located a little more than 20 miles north of Grand Rapids at 95 N. Main Street in downtown Cedar Springs, the brewery’s craft beer selection focuses on German style brews, and the new venture features a full food menu and house line of wine, cider and non-alcoholic beverages. 

“We are thrilled to be open for business,” says owner David Ringler, who was inspired by his own four-year apprenticeship with local brewmasters in Germany when developing the concept for Cedar Springs Brewing Company “…In a town like Cedar Springs, where people were greatly affected by the economic environment of previous years, opening any new business spurs momentum and creates a sense of confidence. I am fortunate enough to have been able to bring my dream to fruition, offer full-time employment opportunities and create a space the community can enjoy.” 

Integrated Architecture provided the design for the 5,700-square-foot building, using primarily steel, brick and glass materials with large windows to provide ample natural light for the indoor seating. Benefiting from its close proximity to Cedar Springs’ White Pine Trail, Ringler says the brewery is oriented to provide for future expansion and the addition of an outdoor biergarten, with additional plans to begin making their own distilled spirits in-house. 

The project was financed by Choice One Bank with an incentive package from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), awarded to Cedar Springs Brewing Co. for its potential for major economic impact and revitalization of the city’s downtown. 

Orion spokesperson Jason Wheeler says the general contractors see the project as a true catalyst for growth in downtown Cedar Springs.

“The Cedar Springs Brewing Company not only offers a great atmosphere and product, but in the short time they’ve been open, I think investors, residents, and the micro-brewing community have been reassured and even inspired by the support the brewery has had,” Wheeler says. “This truly is a catalyst for growth in Cedar Springs and that is not a cliché statement. It’s a reality.”

Orion is preparing for another groundbreaking celebration this month at 500 Coit Ave. in Grand Rapids’ Belknap Lookout neighborhood to celebrate the beginning of construction on its mixed-use development project The Gateway at Belknap, with remarks from Mayor-elect Rosalynn Bliss and members of the MEDC. 

To learn more about The Gateway At Belknap, visit www.orionbuilt.com. For more information about Cedar Springs Brewing Co., visit the brewery online or find them on Facebook

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Orion Construction


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The Right Place, Inc. celebrates 30th anniversary with local music, business leaders

Vice President of Marketing Tim Mroz still remembers the first big economic development project The Right Place, Inc. undertook back in 1990, when the organization helped to facilitate $20 million worth of investment alongside the creation of 200 new jobs at the Comstock Park company formerly named Behr Industries, now known as NBHX Trim

“I think it really solidified to the public what The Right Place does and what we were able to accomplish as an organization,” says Mroz, adding that additionally the project proved how effective the concept of economic development could be in having a major impact on West Michigan’s long-term economy. 

Next week, Mroz will join a few hundred others at the Amway headquarters in Ada to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the regional economic development organization. The sold-out event kicking off with a performance by indie-rock/soul musicians Vox Vidorra before a few remarks from Gov. Rick Snyder and other West Michigan business leaders such as Doug DeVos, Dave VanAndel, and TRP board chair/Spectrum Health CEO Richard Breon, 

“We truly want to provide a night where the business community and The Right Place can come together and celebrate 30 years of economic development, job creation, and investment in West Michigan,” Mroz says. 

Mroz says in the past 30 years, the organization has helped foster $4 billion of investment and 40,000 new jobs, recently driving forward more regional initiatives throughout West Michigan in Newaygo, Montcalm, Ionia, and Lake counties, to name a few. 

In 2012, TRP worked with Gov. Snyder’s administration to form a “13-county West Michigan prosperity region,” which now into its fourth year has worked with counties on initiatives that range from workforce development to industrial infrastructure. 

“We’ve been really working to push economic growth and job creation outside just Kent County to make sure there are opportunities throughout West Michigan.”

To learn more about TRP, visit www.rightplace.org. 

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

Elzinga & Volkers celebrates anniversary milestone with continued office revamp, growth in 2016

On the cusp of its 70th anniversary celebration, construction company Elzinga & Volkers plans, among other things, to continue renovations that originally began in 2013 to its downtown Holland offices at 86 E 6th St.

“We had outdated space and the nature of our business is really changing,” says Vice President of Project Development at Elzinga & Volkers, John Parker. “There’s a lot more interaction at our office than we used to have for a construction company.”

Over the past three years, the total 15,000-square-foot building has seen renovations to about 70 percent of its useable space, with the redesign starting with a 20 percent increase in its first floor project management offices geared toward creating a better work environment for its growing staff. 

Parker says though a lot of companies undergoing renovation projects are going with more open floor-plans and collaborative workspaces, Elzinga & Volkers needed something different for its staff to focus more effectively — a quiet place to do head-down work in contrast to their busy day-to-day schedules of client meetings and in-the-field work. 

“We chose to do a more private space for our project managers,” he says. “Updating it, but also creating a better work environment.”

Currently, Elzinga & Volkers is undergoing renovations to add two more office spaces and a private meeting room alongside new restrooms and a new “history wall” to commemorate the company’s 70th anniversary, including information, awards and other memorabilia.

With two more construction phases left in 2016 to update its kitchen/commons area as well as the last 3,000 square feet of office and meeting space, Elzinga & Volkers’ most recent renovations come on the heels of around 20 new hires locally, with much of the job creation driven by a 30 percent increase in backlog from both new and existing clients. 

“We have right now the best backlog in the company’s history,” Parker says, adding that in 2016 they are looking at over $100 million in backlogged business revenue, with around $50 million of those projects expected to break ground by spring 2016. 

Parker attributes growth to the nature of the rebounding construction industry in the region, but also to the fact the construction company has been able to find its niche in the healthcare, senior living and commercial sectors and forge client relationships that require large-scale, continued renovation projects stewarded with skill by its talented staff. 

“We’re excited for the coming years,” Parker says. “The growth in our office is exciting, too, and it’s just an extension of what’s going on in the economy. We feel very good about business operations in the foreseeable future.”

He says over the next year, Elzinga & Volkers is looking to make 3-4 new hires for project management personnel, and expects a handful of new positions in skilled trade field operations to open up with new construction in the spring.

To learn more about careers at Elzinga & Volkers, visit www.elzinga-volkers.com/careers.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Elzinga & Volkers 

Terryberry announces $2.6M renovation project, plans to add 53 new jobs with MSF training grant

Grand Rapids-based firm Terryberry announced a $2.6 million expansion project last week that will help the provider of employee recognition programs and custom awards renovate, expand and add 53 new jobs at its 2033 Oak Industrial Drive NE manufacturing facility. 

"We had hired a lot of individuals last year here in Grand Rapids and in other locations," says Mike Byam, fourth-generation managing partner at Terryberry. "We started adding some roles in earnest back in March – we've got 10 full-time positions already this year, and my guess is it'll be at least that many if not twice as many prior to the end of the year and then the remaining hires in the balance." 

To help offset the costs required to train new hires for mostly full-time positions in skilled designers, custom jewelry craftsmen, IT developers and sales professionals, Terryberry partnered with local economic developers The Right Place, Inc. and state partners from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation to receive approval for a $250,000 Michigan Strategic Fund.

Byam says having the training program in place will help equip West Michigan jobseekers with talents that are often difficult to find in West Michigan. 

"In our business, specifically in West Michigan, certainly from a manufacturing standpoint, a big element of our business is the jewelry manufacturing – the custom emblems we use to symbolize awards, championship-style rings both for business and schools that have had success – and it's just really difficult to find people in West Michigan with those types of skills already."

Terryberry, alongside contractors AJ Veneklasen, expects to break ground in July on a renovation project that will bring the Grand Rapids headquarters from 47,000 to 53,000 square feet upon its late 2015 completion. Included in the renovation are the addition of a second story, increased office space, new machinery, an employee commons and other team member amenities.

However, Byam said the main focus of the expansion is to create more manufacturing space, though some upgraded amenities for staff will only be an added bonus as Terryberry's brand continues to expand both domestically and overseas. 

"The software side of things has been a real terrific platform for Terryberry to export, because it's a web-based solution and you're able to better assist global organizations because so many of our clients have locations outside of the United States," he says. "Through that, we see certainly in developed nations, our business really continues to grow within those countries as well, especially Europe."

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Terryberry, Inc.

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Creston Market re-opens after renovation with fresh produce, craft beer selection, new look

On the heels of a major renovation that included a 3,000-square-foot expansion, a new walk-in wine cellar, produce section, and sweeping craft beer selection to boot, the early April re-opening of the new Creston Market was a long time coming. 

The building overhaul is a product of a nearly decade-long vision shared by Creston Market co-owners Tom Cronkright II and Lawrence Duthler, who have owned the building at 1043 Plainfield Ave. NE since 2005, but didn't gain full control over operations until last year when they bought out the former business owner. 

"It was really kind of a run-down party store," Cronkright says, adding that he and Duthler knew the community needed more than just a place to buy soda, beer and salty snacks. They needed fresh produce and healthier options, higher ceilings and more high-quality products. 

"It just needed so much work and frankly, the residents deserved more from that store," he says.

So, Cronkright and Duthler — who also co-own the neighboring title service Sun Title at 1410 Plainfield Ave. NE — created the designs for the new Creston Market themselves and shut down the space in mid-February to knock down a separating wall and utilize an additional 2,000 square feet that had gone untouched for over a decade. 

Alongside netting three new full-time and part-time jobs respectively, the renovation garnered the attention of the YMCA and New City Neighbors, who Cronkright says were looking for a corner store like Creston Market - which is located in what is considered an urban food desert, or an area where residents have little to no access to fresh fruits and vegetables - to implement a pilot program with grant money from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

"It was described to us as that they were looking to identify a store located in a food desert area and there was a grant that USDA, through the YMCA, was offering to help offset the cost of the cooler and the infrastructure needed to bring fresh produce into the store," he says. 

Now, not only does the YMCA deliver fresh produce on a regular basis through the pilot program, but the New City Neighbors urban farm initiative, which brings together local farmers with high school students to grow and stock organic produce, has planted its first seeds in the ground for what will eventually grow into a line of organic, seasonal produce available to Creston Market shoppers once harvested. 

"The case behind what the YMCA is doing with the program is not only to address the food desert, but also create [a] viable economic model they can show a store that says, ‘you should take six or eight feet of precious retail space to put in a produce section," Cronkright says, hoping Creston Market can serve as one of the first data sets that proves fresh produce can make money for corner markets still operating under assumptions to the contrary. 

Although sourcing products from local vendors is, in a sense, built in to the USDA pilot program, Cronkright says he and Duthler had independently set out to restock the market with an intentional focus on staying as local as possible. The market worked with GR Coffee Roasters to create a custom Creston Market coffee blend, and the pair curated a massive selection of Michigan-made craft beers to the store's inventory in addition to bringing in fresh donuts and other locally made goods each morning before opening.  

"We made it a point to say we’re from here, we’ve been educated here, we started our careers here and are growing our families here and we wanted the store to reflect as much as we could the fact that we’re working here with other Michigan-based companies as much as we can," he says. 

However, Cronkright says Creston Market's new look is part of a larger redevelopment effort that has been quietly bubbling to the surface in Grand Rapids' North Quarter for years, only now becoming tangible with a growing number of new developments that include 616 Development's new residential living complex and a yet-to-be-named brewery in the old DeKorne furniture building. 

"There have been a lot of stakeholders, both public and private, working tirelessly for the last 10 years on what we call the North Quarter and the North End all of the way up through Cheshire," he says. "My partner and I just went into this saying, Creston deserves better than what this store is offering them, and they've responded very, very, favorably…The neighborhood is going to change and it’s just going to become more diverse and we wanted to make sure we lived up to it." 

To hear owners talk more about making their decade-long vision a reality, click here to watch a short video introducing the new Creston Market, or visit www.crestonmarketgr.com to learn more about what May 18-June 12 special offers.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Creston Market

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90-year-old building in Grand Rapids' Creston district renovated for Sun Title expansion 
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