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Grand Rapids welcomes a celebration of community theatre

Grand Rapids is hosting the National Community Theatre Festival, AACTFest, from June 23- 27 at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel and Grand Rapids Civic Theater.

It's a pretty big deal.

Jill Patchin, AACT conference coordinator, says AACTFest will be welcoming hundreds of visitors from around the country to Grand Rapids, all in celebration of community theatre.  "We will have twelve theater companies from all over the United States and the U.S. Armed Services," she says.

Patchin estimates that somewhere between 400-500 people will be taking part in the conference in various roles, the majority of whom are visiting Grand Rapids for the first time.

AACTFest is a program of the American Association of Community Theatre and features the winning theatre productions from across the country and U.S. Armed Services, educational experiences, workshop opportunities and networking opportunities for theatre enthusiasts.

Patchin says the winning productions had to advance through a series of competitions to reach the national event. Now, the companies will be competing against each other in a very unique format. "There is not enough time for a complete production, so the the group starts in a 10x10 space and they have ten minutes to build a stage, 60 minutes to perform, 10 minutes to strike the set." The shows are then judged by three national theatre experts.

All community theatre performances are open to the public and continue throughout ACCTFest. Patchin says the performances will be family friendly, but some might be challenging for younger children.

For a full schedule of performances and to purchase tickets, visit www.AACT.org.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Modustri enters into alliance with Caterpillar, expects to double team in next 18 months

Grand Rapids-based Modustri, maker of digital tools for the heavy equipment industry, has announced a new, strategic alliance with Caterpillar Inc.

Modustri and Caterpillar will work together to develop new innovations that help customers measure wear parts, optimize their fleets and reduce downtime.

Brian Steketee, co-founder and CEO of Modustri, says his company has been working with dealers within the Caterpillar family for the last several years and the new alliance is an evolution of that relationship. "It's a natural progression of our working with Catepillar," says Steketee. "Heavy equipment is a major focus of our business."

With the new alliance in place, Modustri is expected to significantly expand its local team. Steketee estimates his firm will be adding 15-20 new jobs. "We are very thankful to grow our presence in West Michigan and could potentially double the size of our staff in the next 18 months," he says.  

Modustri is the inventor and developer of field technology products for industries with stringent requirements for precision measurements and inspection data. For more information visit modustri.com.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

OST, Kent ISD hosts first-ever BitCamp for Teachers

In conjunction with Kent ISD, Open Systems Technologies is hosting a BitCamp for Teachers this week to help hone basic programming skills teachers can later bring back to their classrooms. 

Founded by Software GR, the one-day educational opportunity was created to help engage more middle school-aged girls in technology and programming. However, after hosting its first BitCamp last year, OST's Tamara Iakiri said organizers at OST couldn't help but notice another group taking interest in learning basic programming skills. 

Iakiri says within two days of posting the event, all 24 spots filled up with area teachers for the Tuesday event, prompting Spectrum Health to open another event scheduled for today with 18 spots – all of which have since been spoken for. 

“Kent ISD was excited to team up with Open Systems Technologies and extend this opportunity to teachers because it provides access to the world of code that students will become more and more reliant upon in the future,” says Lindsey Tilley, career exploration coordinator at Kent Intermediate School District. “Teachers were anxious to expand their own understanding of coding so they can bring it back to share with students… The more opportunities we have as educators to interact directly with industry professionals that represent the positions we hope to train our students for the more effective we can be in the classroom.”

Not only does BitCamp offer teachers a way to step into the Digital Age and brush up on the kind of basic programming skills many of their students may already come equipped with, but Iakiri says teachers can also earn continuing education credits and connect with other area professionals who can help bring even more technology into their classrooms. 

"(Teachers) can leverage these type of events and other opportunities to bring tech professionals in to their classrooms either to talk about careers or help with things like coding," Iakiri says, adding that OST is always searching to find different ways to partner with teachers and help increase their knowledge and skill level, like sponsoring more teachers to go to a McCall conference hosted in Sagatuck free of charge later this year.

Eric Closson, 5th grade teacher at Discovery Elementary says this kind of hands-on teacher education helps clarify the purpose of common core and make that mission more tangible to bring back to his own students. 

“This is the why behind the how,” Closson says. “Just like in math you can teach a student an algorithm but if they don’t understand how it functions it will never matter. This is the depth of knowledge that the Common Core is always referencing.”

For more information, visit http://bitcamp.softwaregr.org. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Open Systems Technologies

Be still, my beating heart: Slows Bar-B-Q Grand Rapids inches closer to launch

The Southern Pride smokers are in place. Soon there will be plates of succulent pulled pork, tender ribs, sliced brisket and smoked chicken ready to be savored like fine wine but eaten with unrestrained gusto.

Slows Bar-B-Q Grand Rapids is almost ready to open. With only a little more build out left, the final step is to hire and train the team that will be responsible for creating and managing the Slows experience at the Downtown Market.

Brian Perrone, executive chef and one of the owners of Slows, says multiple jobs are posted and they are in the process of identifying candidates and determining a good fit for their team. Interestingly enough, being a BBQ lover is not necessarily a requirement (although it helps). "We are looking for a good work ethic and cooks that are interested in learning and growing," says Perrone. "We can teach our process."

Perrone says the plan is for a "more dynamic menu than in Detroit." The beloved Detroit-based BBQ brand also wants the entire West Michigan team to be engaged with the local farmer community and to use different types of ingredients and meats that reflect the region. Perrone adds that is important for anyone interested in working at Slows to be comfortable with their culture too, which shouldn't be too hard: "We are pretty relaxed. This is not a very corporate environment."

Currently there is no grand opening date scheduled but Perrone says he hopes to be serving barbecue sometime in July.

To learn more about Slows, including the current job openings, you can view their site here. You can also like their Facebook page here to keep up to speed on the latest news.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor


AGA Marvel flexes its design muscles in national competition

For a first time entry into the prestigious ADEX Awards, Greenville, Michigan-based manufacturer AGA Marvel did pretty darn well.

Of the 2,000 product submissions, AGA MARVEL gained multiple awards for several of its products, including The Marvel Beer Dispenser, a Platinum Award Winner for Design Excellence; The AGA City24 Cast Iron Range, a Platinum Award Winner; the Marvel Professional Beverage Center, a Gold Award Winner; and a Marvel High-Efficiency Gallery Wine Cellar, a 2015 nominee.

Leah Clark, media and communications lead for the company, says AGA MARVEL typically keeps a low profile but this year's launch of several new products was really significant, so they decided to share their work more broadly by entering the competition. "This the first year we proactively submitted products," she says. "We are very modest and don't always tout what we do." Besides winning awards, AGA MARVEL is growing, adding 37 new hires in 12 months, with more openings waiting to be filled.

ADEX stands for Awards for Design Excellence. There are several categories, each with a potential for three award levels of platinum, gold or silver. Judges award points in several categories for each entry. Total points earned determine each product's score. Minimum scores are needed to qualify for each award level.

AGA MARVEL is a North American subsidiary of AGA Rangemaster. The company employs nearly 200 Michigan workers.

To learn more about the organization you can view their site here and LinkedIn page here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Healthcare tech firm eVideon thrives in Grand Rapids medical marketplace, plans new hires in 2015

To support its growing brand of healthcare technology solutions, healthcare tech firm eVideon is looking for three to four new full-time employees in the areas of sales and marketing, software development and engineering. 

“If you are a hospital patient and you turn your TV on, that’s eVideon,” says eVideon President Jeff Ingle, whose Grand-Rapids-based tech firm plans these new hires on the heels of nearly eight other new jobs created in the past year alone. 

eVideon became its own business unit of education technology firm, Optimal Solutions, in the early 2000s when a group employees began to focus on video delivery over the data network - a pioneering project at the time, Ingle says, and one that other tech firms are just catching up to now. 

“We started at Metro Health and one of the things about Metro Health is that they wanted what's called converted system,” he says, explaining that a converged system is essentially three components of data, voice and video operating on a single network — a vision, he adds, that was "clearly ahead of its time."

eVideon's system works by utlizing data from other applications already in place at the hospital such as the Electronic Medical Record (EMR), allowing for an interactive viewing environment where patient education videos can be personalized for patients based on their specific condition, diagnosis, or treatment. 

The system can also customize HD TV channels, movie options, and includes relaxation videos and sleep aid sounds, to boot.  

“There's the entertainment aspect of it, there’s the education aspect of it, but there’s also the service recovery aspect of it,” he says. “Instead of using the TV as a passive tool or a linear thing, it's an interactive tool.”

Ingle says eVideon will continue to find new ways to implement the system and evolve its uses, currently in the process of rolling out a new line of eVideon software on the conventional and touch screen swing arm TVs at the VA Ann Arbor Medical System. Built to streamline interoperability between the VA’s existing VistA Electronic Medical Record, the new system will allow medical staff to prescribe educational content within the EMR and as the patient progresses, that information is written back in real time. 

The tech company recently signed a contract with the San Francisco General Hopstial, which will be the first facility to receive eVideon’s next generation hardware and software platform.  The next generation platform will give patients, family members, and hospital staff the ability to access the Internet, play interactive games, communicate through video chats, request non-clinical services and much more.

“The thing is awareness,” Ingle says. “We’re making a big effort to enable people to know who we are. Our territory is not Michigan and Grand Rapids; it's the entire U.S. People haven't heard about us, and we really want to get more exposure out there so (eVideon) become(s) the name people think of when they’re considering putting these systems in.” 

Visit eVideon online for more information about careers there or learn more about eVideon's interactive healthcare technology and education software.

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of eVidion

Kendall College students achieve "per-feektion" in design competition

It's hard to imagine a better college assignment than being part of a design competition where you are given carte blanche to create anything you can dream of using an amazing material called Feek.

That is basically what students from Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD) recently experienced when they participated in Trendway Corporation's inaugural design competition, exploring the creative possibilities with Feek, a very unique coated foam product.

Top prize was taken by a team composed of Jordan Eastwood, Amanda Lumley, Hannah Snyder and Linghom Wang. Their winning design, Eco, introduces a set of elements for use in pediatric waiting rooms, including a butterfly, dragonfly and bee shapes.

Trendway President and CEO Bill Bundy, who also served as a judge, says the teams were given a ton of latitude with the competition. "We imposed very few limitations," he says. Instead, competition organizers let the student teams work through the entire design process, including extensive research on Feek, and then set them loose to create their own designs for whatever industry they deemed would be a good fit.

Bundy says Trendway holds the North American license for Feek and introduced the product in 2013. He says Feek especially lends itself to "whimsical, creative and fun" designs, which is exactly what he was looking for from the students since the winning design from the KCAD team will be featured in Trendway's Chicago Showroom during NeoCon week, June 15 through 17.

Trendway Corporation is an employee-owned company in Holland, Michigan. The company offers many products, including panel systems, filing, storage, case goods, seating, and architectural solutions with moveable walls, glass storefront and raised floor. Bundy says the firm is growing with several open positions, including a new job for someone specifically to expand and champion Feek throughout North America.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor.


GVSU housing program serves out-of-state summer interns

College students from around the country are calling Grand Rapids home this summer, thanks to a progressive housing program created by Grand Valley State University.

Nearly 100 students, including 80 non-Grand Valley students from universities such as California State, Northwestern, Miami of Ohio, Indiana State and Clemson, will be completing their internships with local companies this summer while living together on GVSU's campuses. After that, if everything goes as planned, they will fall in love with West Michigan and end up living and working here, happily ever after.

Of course, nothing goes according to plan all the time, but this program is a great way to expose young professionals to West Michigan and everything it has to offer.

The housing program, which is coordinated by GVSU's Career Center and Housing office, began two years ago when Amway Corporation and Grand Valley partnered together to help out-of-state interns find a place to stay while they worked in West Michigan. Beginning with five students the first year, the program grew to 50 the next year and now has almost 100 students with 20 participating companies, including Meijer, Van Andel Institute and Steelcase.

While working here, students will live on the Pew Grand Rapids and Allendale campuses. Rachel Becklin, internship specialist at GVSU, says besides providing the housing, they also try to help with extra-curricular activities. "There is nothing formal but we work in conjunction with Hello West Michigan and try to let interns know what's going on in the city," she says.

To learn more about the program you can contact the GVSU's Career Center and Housing office.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor


Guiding Light Mission launches employment agency at downtown GR headquarters

Guiding Light Mission in downtown Grand Rapids will add a third revenue stream to assist its shrinking dependence on donors with The Job Post, an employment agency run out of its 255 S. Division headquarters for the time being. 

“What we’ve tried to do is become less and less dependent upon the normal donor income revenue streams and do it more on our own,” says Stuart Ray, executive director of Guiding Light Mission. ”The Job Post works for us because it’s consistent with our mission statement just as transitional housing is consistent with our mission.” 

Operating under the tagline, “Renewing hope and rebuilding lives one job at a time,” The Job Post is open to the larger public, not just men enrolled in Guiding Light Mission’s other programming. 

“We were not going to pigeonhole people into The Job Post,” Ray says. “We opened it to everybody; anybody in the community can come. We do intend to have multiple offices before this is over because, at the same time, we don’t want to be pigeonholed into Heartside.” 

The agency will operate primarily as a “temp to hire” service, placing job candidates in temporary work positions with the intention of developing the positions into full-time employment. They will also offer some traditional temporary employment as well. 

“It’s going to be a lot of sitting down, doing market research and strategy for where we’re going to go and what the return on investment is going to look like,” he says. “And it’s just not being afraid. Sometimes that’s one of the biggest obstacles.” 

For more information, visit lifeonthestreet.org/. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Guiding Light Mission 

Made in the U.S.A., Flow-Rite Controls on the grow and hiring

Founded in the basement of one of the founders in 1981, West Michigan-based Flow-Rite Controls has quietly grown to a company of over 150, operating out of a 100,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Byron Center.

The vertically integrated manufacturing firm specializes in fluids. It designs, manufactures and markets a wide variety of fluid control devices for lead acid batteries, laboratory, medical use, and recreation fishing boats.

Bridgett Haley, marketing communication specialist, says the firm is actively recruiting to fill up six open positions.

For job seekers, Haley describes Flow-Rite as medium-sized company but with a small business mentality. "There are many reasons to join our team," Haley says. "Managers maintain open-door policies; cross-team collaboration is strongly encouraged; and people can really see their hard work having a direct effect on an organization. Most importantly, there are many opportunities for personal and professional growth including cross-training, volunteering at local charities, leadership classes, mentoring, and more."

Haley says for many of the job opportunities, two qualities stand out the most: "Passion and a can-do attitude are the top qualities we look for when hiring for a position."

Flow-Rite is located at 960 74th Street S.W. in Byron Center. To learn more about the company, you can visit their site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Local 'concert-going fools, music nerds' find success with dizzybird records

"We are concert-going fools, music nerds and spend way too much money on records and beer."  

Brian Hoekstra's self-introduction for the founders of dizzybird records really says everything you need to know about this music-obsessed duo. Meet Nicole LaRae and Brian Hoekstra, the co-owners and founders of dizzybird records, a West Michigan-based music label that is all about spreading the word about interesting new artists and bands.  

Hoekstra says the business model is pretty straightforward. "We produce albums on vinyl for our artists and bands," he says. "We also organize, curate, and promote events for them. We manage the digital distribution of their releases. We run an online store (dizzybirdrecords.com) and keep people up to date on everything they get into via our social sites, Facebook and Twitter."

dizzybird was officially launched at the Pyramid Scheme on October 17, 2014. Hoekstra says that, besides announcing their business, it was also a release party. "Our first two records came out on that date, a Heaters 10" (Solstice) and a Gringo Star 7" (Long Time Gone b/w World of Spin)," he says.

Following the launch event, dizzybird was part of "The Michigan House" at the SXSW music festival in Austin, Texas: "We had a label showcase featuring our bands Las Rosas (Brooklyn), Gringo Star (Atlanta), Heaters (Grand Rapids), and friends of the label The Mystery Lights (Brooklyn). It was basically a bucket list situation for us, to have our very own showcase at SXSW. We can't wait to do it again next year."

Both Hoekstra and LaRae are in deeply involved with the local music scene. LaRae is the Venue Manager/Talent Buyer for The Pyramid Scheme and the Community Relations Coordinator for 88.1 FM WYCE. Hoekstra is the Music Content Manager for Grand Rapids-based AMI Entertainment, managing the digital music catalog for a network of touch-screen jukeboxes in bars and clubs across the U.S.

Hoekstra says the inspiration for dizzybird was a natural evolution for the duo. "We've both made a lot of interesting friends and connections over the years working in music. We are naturally drawn to this kind of work. There is so much energy in the region for live music, and we travel to a number of music festivals throughout the year. It seemed like a perfect fit for us. We came to the realization that if we teamed up, we could offer artists real opportunities," Hoekstra says. "That, and we are always sharing new sounds with friends, family and whoever will listen. Seems like we absolutely had to give the label thing a shot."

Upcoming events for dizzybird bands include the Local First Street Party (6/6, Heaters) and Founders Fest (6/20, Gringo Star). "We are also in the planning stages for our one-year anniversary party, to be held in October! Stay tuned!"

To learn more and stay tuned to dizzbird records, you can visit their website here and like their Facebook page here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News

Nucraft begins major expansion at Comstock Park HQ, projects 40 new manufacturing jobs to follow

Contract furniture maker Nucraft broke ground on a 47,700-square-foot expansion of its manufacturing facility last week, with the addition bringing the Comstock Park headquarters at 5151 West River Drive to a total square footage of 300,000 upon its completion next fall. 

CEO Matt Schad says the new addition, focused on the expansion of the facility’s machining, veneering and product set-up departments, could created a projected 40 new full-time manufacturing positions over the next two years in addition to the existing 290 existing employees there.  

“Those projections are based on where we anticipate the market going. Obviously, if there’s a downturn in the economy things may change, but it’s based on our sales projections and how we have done staffing in the past,” Schad says. “Our first step is to build the building, then we’ll be moving equipment into the new addition and at that point, we’ll assess our hiring needs.” 

Erhardt Construction is managing the expansion project, with design concepts by architects at Fleis & Vandenbrink. Schad says the team hopes to have the new, expanded space move-in ready by the beginning of October this year. 

“The market for contract furniture has been improving greatly over the past year or so and we’ve been very fortunate to be able to be a part of that,” he says. “It’s a matter of having enough capacity to service our customers, both conference products and private office casegoods.”

Schad says in the next few years, Nucraft will focus on increasing offerings in private office casegoods, as well as expanding Nucraft’s presence in the market for conference and meeting space furniture both here in the U.S. and abroad. 

“We’ve been successful in many of the major markets like New York, Washington DC, and Chicago and so that’s where a lot of our focus is, but we’ve also have had a lot of success in smaller markets like Minneapolis, Denver, and North Carolina and places like that - so the success is really throughout the country,” he says. 

“If we keep focusing on product development, keep relying on our fantastic internal sales force and independent reps and keep producing the high-quality furniture our customers expect, I think our growth will continue on.” 

To learn more about Nucraft’s products or available careers there, visit Nucraft online here

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Nucraft

Art Van Sports Complex is hitting stride in year one

It hasn't taken the Art Van Sports Complex (AVSC) long to make an impact and live up to its promise of being a significant economic engine for the West Michigan region. According to West Michigan Sports Commission (WMSC) President Mike Guswiler, the AVSC is exceeding expectations in year one.

Whether you are measuring the number of out-of-town teams visiting the site, the number of tournaments that are being scheduled or the "heads-on-beds" numbers that are important to the hospitality industry, Guswiler says everything is going well: "We are ahead of projections for Phase 1."

Guswiler says the AVSC is anticipating several sell-out weekends this summer due to multiple sporting events and tournaments that will fill area hotels with players, their families and fans. When combined with other WMSC events, the economic impact could generate as much as $14.3 million collectively.   

Upcoming AVSC events include:
- USSSA River City Global Qualifier will bring 28 teams to the Art Van Sports Complex.
- Great Lakes Major NIT - USSSA Baseball Tournament will bring 30 teams to the Art Van Sports Complex.
- Meijer State Games of Michigan Summer Games will features events at 34 locations, including a baseball tournament at the Art Van Sports Complex for the first time.
- Game Day USA National Championships will have more than 100 teams competing in this tournament that will fill the Art Van Sports Complex to capacity with 60 teams, with the rest playing at adjacent fields by Rockford Public Schools.

Besides the impact of the traveling team numbers, the AVSC has added local jobs with three full-time positions and up to 40 seasonal staff to support grounds, concession and parking activities.

You can view the entire line-up of events here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Off the beaten track, West Michigan software firm is adding jobs and growing

Nestled near a cornfield off of M-45 is one of the faster growing, employee-centric software development firms in West Michigan.  

BizStream, a 26-person web and software development company located in Allendale, Michigan, is on the grow. It has recently announced the addition of nine new team members including Budd Wright, Nick Beukema, Dustin Christians, Aaron Coville, Ansel Pineiro, Kevin Stachura, Blair Compston, Dave Valko and Amanda Hodges and has open positions remaining.

BizStream, founded in 2001, builds web, online marketing and software solutions for local, regional, national and international companies. The firm specializes in ASP.NET, SQL Server, Kentico CMS, Kentico EMS, and other content management systems.

Michelle Schmidt, office manager, acknowledges the extreme competition for software talent in West Michigan, but says BizStream is a very attractive company that features competitive wages and benefits and has an appealing culture: "We have fun, work hard and really appreciate the employees." She says the semi-rural location can be a surprise to individuals checking out BizStream, "but once they see the building and the culture they really dig it."

Schmidt says the firm is also committed to spreading the joy of software development and points to the summer's BizStream Academy, a free summer program for individuals interested in learning to code.

To learn more about BizStream, you can visit their site here or their Facebook page here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Developers expand market presence with growing project roster, staff increase in first quarter

With a growing roster of high-profile development projects in downtown Grand Rapids  — including the $45 million mixed-used Arena Place midway through construction, the nearly completed Eastown Flats scheduled to open next month and construction slated to begin this fall on two other mixed-use developments — Orion Construction has announced the addition of several new full-time hires.

The seven new positions are geared at increasing the developer’s job-site support, safety standards and office operations. Though Orion Construction has always offered pre-construction/estimating services for clients, President Roger Repkopf says the brand-new roles of operations manager and manager of pre-construction services at Orion Construction will allow for enhanced subcontractor relations and more streamlined field and office communications. 

“In a continued effort to better serve our clients and deepen our bench here at Orion, we’ve been recruiting what we believe are some of the best people our industry has to offer,” Repkopf says. “These new hires all have strong backgrounds in commercial building, love working in West Michigan and bring leadership to our field and our management teams.”

Bringing its total manpower up to 35 from 28, the positions were all created in the first quarter of 2015 and represent a 25 percent increase in its staff size overall. 

Repkopf says the now 15-year-old company wants to continue to grow and expand into the market, but in a deliberate way that doesn’t exceed its mid-sized status and, more importantly, doesn't sacrifice quality for quantity in both new and existing client relationships. 

“We don't want to be the biggest in town, we don't really want to be 200 employees and running all over the U.S.,” Repkopf says. “We want to focus more on our clients and be that $16 million-per-year company we’re focusing on ourselves to be.” 

For more information on new staff members as well as current development projects underway, visit www.orionbuilt.com. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development NEws Editor
Images courtesy of Orion Construction 

Related articles: 
Orion reworks plans for two new development projects in 2015 after council feedback

Orion Construction grows residential and job markets in tandem with various construction efforts

Orion Construction adds new staff to support multiple projects 

Orion Construction's growing project list creates need for accountant, three project superintendents

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

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