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The Salad Club lunches - er, launches

Kermit the Frog famously lamented, "it's not easy being green." Well, that might be true for a talking amphibian, but if you are looking to add more "green" to your diet, then it's become much easier thanks to The Salad Club, a membership-based organization designed for people who people who love healthy, fresh, and local food.

The Salad Club is a new project designed by Jenna Weiler with a focus on connecting area produce growers and people wanting to eat healthier. To make that that connection, Weiler and the organizing team have curated local culinary talent and area vegetable growers to launch a 6-week club membership program.  

Benefits of joining The Salad Club include a new vegetable-based salad recipe each week crafted by a local, food-loving west Michigan chef. Members also enjoy a weekly newsletter with local food information, a salad club tote, and access to a salad bar lunch, once a week, based on that week's recipe.

Weiler says the program will kick off on July 31, and the salad bar will be available every Thursday for 6 weeks from 12 pm - 1:30 pm at Ambrose in downtown Holland. Members can eat there or take a salad to go. The cost of membership is $60 for 6 weeks.

The long-term vision for The Salad Club is to expand to other cities. Weiler says she has already talked to several interested business owners about hosting The Salad Club in Grand Rapids. "I think passionately about health, eating veggies, and helping to get local food in diet," says Weiler. "The idea (is) to launch something without starting a restaurant."

You can sign up for The Salad Club here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Job News Editor

The Blue Dog Tavern adds local hospitality and jobs to Grand Rapid's west side

What is out with the old and in with the new? At the same time, what's new that's old?

Admittedly it's not much of riddle, but it is an interesting perspective on the Blue Dog Tavern, the new west side watering hole that is replacing the iconic Kopper Top Bar at the same location.

What's "new" will be the rehabbed interior and exterior of the building. What's "old" will be the subtle nods to the very interesting history of the building and the ethos of the west side.

"It's an awesome building," says Fred Mackraz, one of the three partners behind the The Blue Dog Tavern. "As we uncover the fascia, the history of the building is awesome."

Mackraz says that prior to its existence as The Kopper Top, the building was a bank at one time and a local bar called Frank's Tavern. He says the remodel is like peeling an onion, finding bits and pieces of the buidling's past: "We just found a receipt for a beer delivery in 1938 to Frank's Tavern."

The plan is for the Blue Dog Tavern to be open sometime in August. Mackraz says he anticipates 6-10 jobs will be added when fully operational, and he is very bullish on the neighborhood location. "There is definitely an opportunity on the west side," he says, "a lot of history and character."

Although he is not interested in creating a west side museum or theme park in his tavern,  Mackraz hopes to keep a little history alive with subtle nods to The Kopper Top and Frank's Tavern and an ambience that he says will be "vibrant and gritty" and capture the spirit of the building.

To follow The Blue Dog Tavern, you can visit their Facebook page here.

Writer: John Rumery: Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Good morning, West Michigan: time to rise, shine and be creative

Grand Rapids is home to one of the newest chapters of CreativeMornings, a lecture series for the creative community that started in New York City in 2008. There are over 80 cities throughout the world with a chapter, and the CreativeMorning site hosts over 1,200 talks and videos.

The formation of the local chapter was spearheaded by Julia Jamieson, a designer at Atomic Object. "I applied for the Grand Rapids Chapter about two years ago because previously I had lived in Chicago, (which) has a very active chapter," she says. "After I saw that in Chicago, and moved here, I started to see all the amazing work people are doing and felt the CreativeMornings would add value to the community in Grand Rapids."

Jamieson says the application process took longer than expected, as the national organization was concerned that Grand Rapids might not have a large enough population to support a monthly lecture event for creatives.  

Determined to get a local chapter established, Jamieson worked with AIGA West Michigan and planned and executed seven events that were called the Early Shift over the course of a year. "After that, we were awarded the chapter," Jamieson says.

"I wanted to bring CreativeMornings here because it is programming that I feel can bring different parts of the creative community together," Jamieson says. "It provides an avenue for people to come together once a month for an hour and half to learn about the great work others in the community are doing. Anyone is welcome."

The next event for Grand Rapids CreativeMornings is July 25 at the coLab and features Chuck Saylor, founder of izzydesign.

You can learn more about the Grand Rapids Chapter here, the local event here, and the national organization here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Pit Stop Catering opens its first takeout location

Pit Stop Catering has opened its first takeout location at 579 28th St., Suite 16 in Grand Rapids. "It is the end suite at the D&W Shopping Center Plaza, closest to Pals Diner.  Look for the line of people," says Matt Smith, pitmaster and founder of the popular catering business.

Making the move from a nome-based catering business utilizing a remote commercial kitchen to a retail location is a big jump for any business, but the numbers from May through June 2014 alone help explain part of the rationale:
  • 1100 lbs. beef brisket
  • 1800 lbs. pulled pork
  • 750 lbs. mac'n cheese
  • 1500 lbs smokey baked beans
  • 350 lbs potato salad
  • 150 racks of ribs
  • 2400 barbecued chicken thighs
  • 65 catering events
  • 5 forearm burns and scars
Another part of the motivation to move came from a goal of getting more efficient with time and increasing capacity for growth. "Well first of all, it is one minute and 23 seconds from our house versus 19 minutes from our house to where we used to cook in Lowell," says Smith. "It is a huge time-saver for us since we don't have to load up our catering van and bring all of our supplies back and forth from our garage to the catering kitchen. We now have a 'home base' and location to keep all our equipment."

Finally, Smith says the new location will allow Pit Stop Catering to grow beyond just cooking at events and be open for takeout. Smith says he is still deciding on exact store hours but will probably be open 2-3 days a week from 11:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. ("or whenever the grub is gone"). He does plan to feature several weekly specials plus experiment with new recipes and products. "We will have Guinea Pig Tuesdays and roll out new items for people to try and give us feedback. Guinea Pig will not be on the menu, however," he says. "My kids would kill me." He advises for customers to visit his website for contact information.

To keep up with the increased demand, Smith envisions 8-9 new employees being added to his team in the very near future, including fully paid culinary internships for students.

To follow Pit Stop Catering, you can visit their website here or their Facebook page here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Jobs, housing, professional development and soul food on the menu at LINC

With the burgeoning business and entertainment scene in downtown Grand Rapids, it is easy to overlook the revitalization and job creation that is happening in many area neighborhoods.

For example, in Southtown, an area that's defined by Wealthy Street on the north, Fuller Avenue on the east, Dickinson Street to Buchanan Avenue on the south, and Buchanan Avenue to Albany to Division Avenue on the west, LINC, the community development agency, has been on a roll.

Jorge Gonzalez, director of economic development, has a long list of new programs ranging from workforce development to co-working to professional development to housing and commercial real estate that he is delighted to share.

"Our new cafe continues to grow," says Gonzales of the LINC Soul Food Cafe, which opened earlier in the year. He says there have been a few menu changes based on customer feedback  and most recently they have added an outdoor grill where customers can walk up and order a meal to-go. Besides fresh food, the cafe also serves as a catalyst for workforce development. Hiring local, they now employ four cooks on rotation with seven servers and kitchen help. Besides being open for meals seven days a week, Gonzalez says they cater an average of 20 events per month.

Gonzalez says the cafe team is also very intentional with sourcing products locally and is currently working with Well House to purchase produce from their two community gardens.  

Beyond the Soul Food Cafe, Gonzalez says LINC has introduced a series of weekly  professional development workshops and networking events. "Our 'First Friday' is a premier networking event and typically draws between 100-200 people from around the community. It features live jazz, spoken word and work from local artists," says Gonzalez. He says the weekly workshops are focused on topics such interviewing skills, resume writing and assistance for first-time home buyers.  

One of the biggest initiatives in the works is the new Southtown Project, a development that features 24 residential units and 6000 square feet of commercial space that is set to be completed by October 1. Gonzalez says he is currently reviewing possible tenants for the space: "We are looking for tenants that will create jobs, that will be sustainable in the long run and have a positive impact in the community."

LINC also features a business development center and a co-working space where entrepreneurs can refine business plans and build their professional networks.

To learn more about LINC, you can visit their website here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

The Guest Edge = best deal in the city

Free tickets every month to concerts, sporting events and theater: sound too good to be true?

In this case, the marketing hype lives up to its promise.

With an annual membership fee, The Guest Edge provides its members the opportunity for free tickets to a wide variety of events.  

Ryan Gauthier, founder, says the inspiration for the business came while he was a student at Grand Valley State University. He and his roommates would go to sporting events and see empty seats. "That's stupid," he thought. "There must be a way to fill those seats."  Gauthier then launched The Guest Edge in Las Vegas in 2006 and brought the business concept back to Grand Rapids in 2013.

The business model is fairly simple: Many sporting events, concerts and shows have unsold tickets, but a full house is always better--better for concession sales and better for the event sponsors.  
Working with the ticketing and marketing staff at different venues, Gauthier secures a percentage of the unsold tickets, and then makes them available, for free, to The Guest Edge members via a text message.   

Gauthier says the tickets are generally released anywhere from 24 hours to one week in advance of the scheduled event. Once the text message is sent out, members can respond and can secure up to two tickets for that event. In Michigan alone, Gauthier says he works with several venues, including the Detroit Tigers, GVSU, The Intersection, Dr. Grins, Central Michigan and the Detroit Pistons.

The Guest Edge employs three full-time marketing and sales staff plus works with four contractors from their offices on 15 Ionia in Grand Rapids. Besides providing tickets, Gauthier's service also includes optional bus trips to events.

Gauthier acknowledges that he is not able to secure tickets to every event ("We won't get tickets to the game five of the ALCS") but is confident his service remains the best deal in the city. "Once you sign up, you will never need to buy another ticket."  

Membership is currently set at $200 but Gauthier says he frequently has promotional campaigns and advises anyone to email his team with questions about signing up.

To learn more The Guest Edge, you can visit their site here or their Facebook page here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

A designer, a typographer and an illustrator walk into a bar ...

… and end up with something very interesting.  

For Jody Williams, it doesn't matter where the meeting takes place--it is ending up with "something very interesting" that he is counting on.

Williams is the founder of the The Citizen Project, a collective of creatives from a variety of disciplines that he says will be working on interesting and thought-provoking visual projects on an annual basis.   

The first project for The Citizen Project is inspired by the upcoming 200th anniversary of the writing of Francis Scott Key's Star Spangled Banner. It features four different creative takes on the American flag. Participating artists include  Brian Edlefson, Terrance Weinzierl, Michael Nykamp and Williams.

To support the inaugural project, Williams created a Kickstarter campaign. He also says the art will be available through his website and his Etsy page. Williams says their goal was to create a compelling visual that goes beyond the standard images of the flag.

The idea for The Citizen Project is based on Williams' experience as an illustrator and the creative fulfillment that comes with collaborating with other creatives: "We all work individually, off in our own space. We all have side projects, but not enough time. This is a way to carve some space, meet up, have dinner or have a beer, and work together."  

Each year, Williams envisions a new project and a new team. "The Citizen Project is the umbrella. The plan is that every year a team of creatives will generate a project," he says. Williams says the projects and teams will vary every year and hopes to be able to have a philanthropic angle so that the projects benefit a nonprofit or charitable organization. "Next year it will be something different," he adds. "The structure is evolving and I do not need to be part of it each year."

Although it's not the main focus of the endeavor, Williams is also very hopeful that The Citizen Project will help showcase the "incredibly diverse and talented" design community in West Michigan. "I'm always amazed when large corporations look to the east or west coast for design help," he says. "The talent is here."

To learn more about The Citizen Project, visit their site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Need for yoga, pool, and cardio instructors signals next growth wave at Northern Physical Therapy

Northern Physical Therapy is in growth mode again, responding to increased demand for health and wellness classes at each of its five locations. Company co-owner Gina Otterbein says the company made a decision a couple of years ago to offer clients ways to stay healthy, in addition to the traditional physical therapies that aid recovery from injuries, pain, and surgeries.

"Our goal is to help create healthier lifestyles by enabling clients to have some variety in their exercises or to begin an exercise program," Otterbein says. "(The classes) are fun because you're working out with someone else and they're fun because others are challenging you or pushing you to do more."

Northern Physical Therapy has offices in Cedar Springs, Coopersville, Grant, Sparta, and Wayland. While the Wayland, Coopersville, and Cedar Springs locations offer some type of health and fitness classes, Otterbein says the company needs at least three more instructors to extend the offerings to the Grant office.

Immediate part-time openings include one each for a certified yoga instructor (any style), an experienced pool exercise instructor certified in water safety, and a cardio instructor with experience in Circuit and Zumba classes.

The Grant location features a 25-ft.-by-25-ft. therapeutic pool with a 94-degree Fahrenheit water temperature and 15-person capacity. There is also a dedicated workout/yoga studio with wood floors and mirrors.

"We're looking for people that are high energy and driven with a passion for fitness and health," says Otterbein. "You have to want to do this because that passion inspires others."

To apply, click here.

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Northern Physical Therapy

One Black Crayon is at your service

Frederick Polk is here to help.

Polk is the founder of One Black Crayon, a one-person design firm that specializes in building websites and HTML emails. Polk says his sweet spot is helping small businesses and individuals that need "a little hand holding" when connecting with their clients through the web.  

Polk has been working as a freelancer for 15 years, with his business One Black Crayon officially opening in 2009. During his those 15 years, Polk worked closely with The Image Shoppe for five years -- and he credits his time there as a designer/developer/coder with teaching him the importance of putting a client's needs first and understanding business relationships.
As long time freelancer, Polk is acutely aware of the challenges of building a career in the "gig economy." Polk says the key to survival is to "stay relevant." He recommends Twitter as a tool to follow developers and designers and see what they talk about, and says he reads online magazines and blogs "that push me the in the right direction."  Working solo doesn't mean working alone either. "It's important to always be around like-minded people," he says.

Besides his work as a freelancer, Polk is well known for his service in the design and tech community, and as a key volunteer at user groups and events such as GiveCamp, where he helps nonprofits improve and optimize their web presence.

In his spare time, Polk continues to work on his startup venture, IamBookable, an application that makes it easier for organizations to find speakers and entertainers. He also dabbles in stand-up comedy.  

To connect with Polk, you can view his website here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

The EC Group reaches out to early stage companies needing I.T. support

The EC Group has added two interns for the summer, with a focus on creating marketing content for the mission-driven firm that helps organizations build remote and hybrid I.T. teams.

The new members of the team are Maria VanDyken, a film and writing major at Calvin College, and Ben Fenlund, a business and marketing student at Bethel University.

Mike Sudyk says the push to develop more marketing content is part of an ongoing process to increase awareness of their firm's service and to educate the  business community about the benefits of using remote I.T. talent to complement their existing core team of developers. "We are looking to partner with early stage companies," says Sudyk, who says there can be a negative connotation and lack of understanding about how to utilize remote tech workers, especially overseas. "They (early stage companies) are having a problem finding people locally. Being able to have a remote team come behind the core team can be a real asset," he says.

Sudyk says his company employs 70 full-time workers in India and has four full-time staff in Grand Rapids plus two sales reps. He anticipates bringing on another full-time team member in the next six months.

To learn more about the EC Group you can visit their site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Down on the farm, Neucadia builds apps for the agriculture industry

Neucadia, a software startup founded three years ago, released its first product, AgraScout, this spring. The firm's focus is on building apps for the agricultural industry and the five-person person firm, which started in Carson City, now has five full-time employees, with two programmers working from Grand Rapids.

Jamison Sheppard, UX Designer describes the functionality of the new app: "AgraScout is a mobile crop scouting app designed to make communication between scouts, salespeople, and growers more efficient. We currently have customers in eight states. What makes AgraScout different from other scouting apps is its ability to aggregate disease, insect, and weed data at a national level -- allowing our users to see a real-time map of the infestations in their area and beyond. This has not been done before, although Monsanto is trying."

Sheppard says the members of the five-person team all have an agricultural background and a proclivity for technology and entrepreneurship. "We started as freelancers, doing whatever odd jobs kept the lights on -- an iPad app for limousine drivers, web development for a seed company, and IT support for a chemical distributor, to name a few," he says.

Brandon Warner, one of the founders of the firm, says the business found its focus in agriculture. "There is a lot done with pen and paper and that needs to be switched over," he says.

The Neucadia team is already working on its second product, Farm Cycle, a manure record-keeping app that automates manure record-keeping and helps farms be prepared for DEQ inspections. Sheppard says Farm Cycle is already being used on a few dozen dairy farms throughout the state.

Moving forward, Warner says the team will be keeping its remote workforce but is looking to make Grand Rapids its home base. "We can get more traction in Grand Rapids thanks to its startup community," Warner says. "Grand Rapids is also central to a lot of agriculture, from blueberries to corn".

To learn more about Neucadia, you can visit their website here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Literacy Center offers bilingual positions, hopes to bring literacy to more West MI families

Reflecting its mission, "building a literate community and transforming lives by strengthening reading and language skills," the Literacy Center of West Michigan is offering new positions for bilingual, English and Spanish, speakers.

The Literacy Center provides support to adults throughout West Michigan who need further help developing their literacy skills.

The two positions offered, a part-time community literacy assistant and receptionist position and a full-time program assistant, customized workplace English position, require similar skills from the candidates.

"We're looking for someone who has an interest and passion for working with people in the community," says Lindsay McHolme, director of the Community Literacy Initiative. "We want someone who values cultural awareness and inclusion and has professional communication and organization skills."

Of course, the most important requirement is bilingualism.

"As we seek to improve literacy in our community, we know there are more Spanish speakers now than there were 10 years ago," McHolme says. "We want to be accessible to the community. We're looking to meet all needs."

According to McHolme, 21 percent of adults in West Michigan are low literate: they have some reading skill, but not enough to easily function at a job. However, the Literacy Center's staff and its programs, like the Family Literacy Program, are reaching out to the community and improving those numbers.

"Seventy percent of children of Family Literacy Program families met their literacy growth target, according to district assessments," says Dan Drust, manager of the Family Literacy Program. "This group was compared to similar students whose parents had expressed a need for Family Literacy Services. Only 57 percent of comparison group children met their growth targets."

For more information, or to apply for a position, click here.

Writer: Nicholas Garbaty, Rapid Growth Intern
Images courtesy of Literacy Center of West Michigan

Grand Rapids' west side gets a little sweeter

"I find joy in baking for people" is the simple inspiration behind Scrumptious Cupcakes and Sweetery, the new business founded by Betsy Denham that has opened on the west side of Grand Rapids.

Denham began her journey baking from home, then moved her operation to the Downtown Market's kitchen incubator. At that point, Denham says she was selling and setting up deliveries online, but the challenge was being recognized as a local business when she only had a web presence. So when a shared retail space opened on the corner of Lake Michigan and Seward, she decided to make a move. "We are close to GVSU's campus so it feels like being downtown without being downtown," she says.    

Denham will continue to make her gourmet cupcakes in the Downtown Market's incubator and then sell them in her new location. In addition to the cupcakes, Denham's busines features event catering and soft-serve ice cream with a variety of bakery-themed sundaes such as red velvet cake and key lime. Denham notes that her dairy products are sourced from a farm in New Era, MI and are very high in quality compared to other soft-serve alternatives.

Looking towards the future, Denham says she hopes her business becomes a destination within the city: "We want people from all over Grand Rapids to visit our store because our products are unique," she says. She adds that her business currently features takeout and outside seating but has a goal of becoming a full-scale bakery with an inside cafe.

To learn more about Scrumptious Cupcakes and Sweetery, you can visit their site here or their Facebook page here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

DTE Energy invests in West Michigan businesses through the Pure Michigan Business Connect Initiative

With a successful implementation of the Pure Michigan Connect Initiative in 2014, DTE Energy will be holding its Tri-Annual Leadership Summit next week in Grand Rapids to showcase the great work that is being done operationally in West Michigan and beyond.

"DTE Energy is proud to be a strong partner of the communities and companies that we serve throughout West Michigan," says Dave Meador, Chief Administrative Officer for DTE Energy, whose top 125 leaders will be in Grand Rapids July 16-18 for the company's Tri-Annual Leadership Summit. "DTE's ongoing efforts to increase procurement with Michigan companies continue to produce jobs and economic development throughout Kent, Osceola, Ottawa and other counties across the western part of the state. The Michigan Economic Development Corp. estimates that DTE Energy's ongoing procurement with Michigan companies supports more than 5,000 jobs across the state."

Through the Pure Michigan Business Connect Initiative, DTE Energy spent more than $200 million with Michigan companies during the first three months of the year as part of its commitment to supporting in-state businesses through the Pure Michigan Business Connect Initiative.

Of the $200 million, nearly $65 million was spent with suppliers from West Michigan. Among the businesses benefiting from the Pure Michigan Business Connect Initiative are the Reed City-based Utility Supply and Construction (USC) and The Hydaker-Wheatlake Company, Kalamazoo-based Heco and Knight Watch, Kalkaska-based PJ Supply, and Kent City-based Kent Power.

The Pure Michigan Business Connect Initiative is part of an $8 billion public-private program announced by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder at the Detroit Regional Chamber's Mackinac Policy Conference in 2011. Administered through an alliance with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, the program helps companies find new ways to raise capital, get access to a variety of business services, and provides business-to-business procurement opportunities to help grow and create jobs.

DTE Energy is a Detroit-based energy company involved in the development and management of energy-related businesses and services nationwide. Its operating units include an electric utility serving 2.1 million customers in Southeastern Michigan and a natural gas utility serving 1.2 million customers in Michigan. Information about DTE Energy is available at dteenergy.com and facebook.com/dteenergy.

Support for this story was provided by DTE Energy and the Pure Michigan Business Connect Initiative.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Crafting a custom tattoo experience in the old Horseshoe Bar

"All custom work" is how Nicole Ash describes what makes Honest to Goodness Tattoo and Piercing stand out from other tattoo parlors in the city. That, and their very cool space in the third floor of the old Horseshoe Bar located at 333 Grandville Ave. SW.  

Honest to Goodness Tattoo and Piercing was opened two years ago and moved to its new location in February 2014. It has a team of four full-time artists, one piercer and one screen printer who works on creating shirts, signs, buttons and posters from their artist's work.

Ash describes their team as very eclectic, thanks to the wide variety of skills and expertise that the four tattoo artists possess, which she says range "from traditional to new styles." Another unique quality, Ash says, is that five of the six employees are women and their work is "very influenced by the feminine hand."

Since the move to the new location, business has been very good, (even though they are the only tenant so far in the building), with tattoo services booked out as far as three weeks to six months in advance.   

Ash says they all work hard to create a great experience for anyone wanting a tattoo or piercing: "We try to make people feel comfortable, like they are at home."

To learn more about Honest to Goodness Tattoos and Piercing, you can visit their  Facebook page here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
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