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X-Rite Pantone's new center highlights color technology and innovation

X-Rite Pantone has announced the opening of a new Customer Experience Center in Grand Rapids.   

The new center is a devoted space for their dealers and value-added resellers that will showcase how X-Rite products are built to serve their customers in wide variety of markets. The center will feature the processes and innovative technology needed to achieve accurate color throughout their entire supply chain, from design inspiration to final product.  

Examples of the color measurement and management solutions from X-Rite Pantone that are on display in the center include next-generation color measurement instruments, colorimeters and spectrocolorimeters, lighting solutions, and a variety of software solutions, each targeted at specific industries.
"We are a technology company," says Murphy Keeley, vice president of marketing. He says the creation of the new space is a "growth investment" and will help broaden the awareness of their customers about the breadth of X-Rite Pantone's technology and commitment to innovation.  

X-Rite is a global leader in color science and technology. With its wholly owned subsidiary Pantone, X-Rite employs more than 800 people in 11 countries. The company's corporate headquarters are located in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  

Pantone LLC is a wholly owned subsidiary of X-Rite. Pantone also offers paint and designer-inspired products and services for consumers. More information is available at www.pantone.com. For the latest news, trends, information and conversations, connect with Pantone on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.

To learn more about X-Rite, you can visit their site here.


Deksia expands office, adds jobs in Southeast Community neighborhood

Development and investment are common themes in many of Grand Rapids' 30-plus neighborhoods these days. Projects on Grand Rapids' West Side, in Madison Square, and along the Wealthy St. and Plainfield corridors are changing the landscape of the city.  

In the historical Southeast Community, which is home to Butterball Farms, Notions Marketing, and the best-kept-secret-that-is-no-longer-a-secret, La Taqueria San Jose,  Deksia is expanding its investment in the neighborhood and positioning the firm for future growth.

The Grand Rapids-based marketing and branding agency officially opens their new, expanded office at 120 Stevens St. SW on May 14. The larger office space reflects the firm's steady growth and the need to create more room for the new jobs that are being added.

Aaron VanderGalien, one of the three partners, says the firm has been in the community for three years and the expansion will accommodate the current 12-person team plus job openings for web developers and business development positions.

VanderGalien says the decision to invest in the Southeast Community neighborhood was purposeful. He says the company wanted to be part of a community that could use encouragement: "We found an old building that was a bit run down but had incredible walls, had great aesthetics and was built almost 100 years ago." He says the neighborhood is a terrific place for businesses to thrive and has seen a lot of growth in the last three years, especially their neighbor. "When we first moved here you could easily get a table at La Taqueria San Jose; now it is always packed," he says.

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

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor.

Atomic Object to expand GR headquarters, create 33 jobs statewide with help from The Right Place

With 33 employees currently on staff at its Grand Rapids location and plans to add nine more this year, software developer Atomic Object is doubling its office space to accommodate growth by moving from its current 5,000-square-foot headquarters at 941 Wealthy St. SE to a renovated 11,000-square-foot building at 1034 Wealthy St. SE. 

"We are very excited about the move and this new journey for Atomic Object," said Atomic Object CEO Carl Erickson in a press release last week, adding that regional development organization The Right Place, Inc. played a big role in bringing together the state and the local resources to facilitate the move. 

TRP collaborated with Michigan Economic Development Corporation to develop a high-tech business support package, including a performance-based grant through the Michigan Development Program. 

Megan Sall, business development manager for The Right Place, Inc., says keeping tech start-ups like Atomic Object in West Michigan is an increasingly important focus for economic development organizations in the state, who want to "get the word out about West Michigan as a place for technology and talent," in an industry that since 2009 has increased employment by 13.8 percent throughout the 13-county region, above the national average of 9.4 percent. 

"First and foremost, I think people don't quite understand the excellent level of knowledge and skill we have here in West Michigan when it comes to technology, whether it's software development firms or tech consulting groups or people making technology products," Sall says. "…Traditionally, when we think of industry in West Michigan, we think of manufacturing and we think of healthcare as the two big drivers and the thing that's so important about technology is that it's pushing those other industries forward. Changes to those industries are being driven by technology." 

As a result, Atomic Object plans for nine more hires at its new location in Grand Rapids, as well as 11 more hires to its Detroit location and the addition of 13 new employees to its Ann Arbor staff, creating a total investment of $2.9 million including its upgraded headquarters. 

Though Atomic Object isn’t planning to expand into its new Wealthy St. space until later this year, they are already accepting applicants for full-time software developers and designers online. 

"I think the average wage for tech workers in Grand Rapids right now is around $84,000," Sall says. "So it's a great wage, interesting work, flexible schedule. We want to do a lot of growth in that sector because West Michigan is a great community, it's got an awesome quality of life, there's really interesting companies to work for here and technology is really moving all of our other industries forward."

Visit The Right Place, Inc. online for more information about the organization. To learn more about careers at Atomic Object, visit www.atomicobject.com.

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

Duffield Lane gets comfortable in new S. Division corporate headquarters, makes first full-time hire

Jamie and Ryan Duffield's East Grand Rapids home is getting a little bit crowded. 

Filled with inventory and clothing racks, the two guest bedrooms look more like pseudo-warehouse space and the dining room has transformed into a conference room for their clothing business, Duffield Lane, which they've operated out of their house since its late 2013 beginnings. 

"I originally envisioned looking for an office space at the end of the year, but it was a necessity," says Jamie Loeks Duffield, designer and proud new tenant of 127 S. Division, which will open as the new Duffield Lane headquarters mid-May.  

Jason Makowski and Mary Anne Wisinski-Rosely, brokers with the Grand Rapids-based commercial real estate firm NAI Wisinski of West Michigan, represented Duffield Lane and landlord VandLende Lofts LLC with the signing of the lease on the 4,000-square-foot new office space. 

Though it has always employed a few people part-time, Duffield Lane recently hired a new director of sales – its first full-time employee and a brand new position for the clothier, which has grown from humble beginnings in simple, classic, sleepwear designs to a line that now boasts a full inventory of timeless styles.

"What happened was that we sold it as luxury lounge wear/pajamas; it has a bit of nautical preppy look to it," says Duffield, adding that a lot of Duffield Lane's vendor retailers are located in coastal towns stretching from Palm Beach to Maine. 

"People bought them to use as pajamas, but also started buying them as resort wear," she says. "They say the customer is always right and the whole idea was that the pajamas were incredibly versatile, so we kind of took that and ran with it."

She calls the look "classic with modern comforts," drawing on clean lines and solid colors to create an array of comfortable clothing, manufactured with soft, knitted, fabrics in India and Peru, and shipped directly to Duffield, who then does an inspection and inventory of every item before shipping purchases back out to customers. 

Complete with a glass garage loading dock, Duffield plans to split the space at 127 S. Division into two sides – one with open shelving for easy access to inventory and the other half an office space. 

"I just feel lucky we found it," says Duffield, who considered bigger warehouses located in industrial parks on the edges of town as well as smaller, more traditional office suites before having her own Goldilocks moment. 

Duffield and her husband signed the lease on the new Duffield Lane headquarters just under two weeks ago, but will begin painting, installing shelving and moving furniture in on May 4. Her sights are set on a May 16 grand opening event, including a sample sale to familiarize new customers with the Duffield Lane brand. 

"We're new to the area, so we're just kind of exploring a little, but I think there are a lot of new businesses opening up downtown and there's that start-up mentality here, so I'm really excited to get involved in the business community, too," she says. "Downtown Grand Rapids just gets better and better."

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Duffield Lane

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A Pleasant Dog training service expands with new hires, new programming this spring

It's been about one year since Jenn Gavin started her dog training business, and she says she's amazed at the overwhelming response she's had already.  

"Business has been going so well," says Gavin, who just hired a second dog trainer to help accommodate her growing client base and plans for a third hire and the addition of sport and agility classes later this spring.  “I could work from sun up to sun down, seven days a week.” 

Gavin's training services are designed for urban pet owners living with the specific kinds of challenges unique to life in the city, such as limited yard space, higher density foot and automobile traffic, and a generally more distracting environment.

With the addition of her latest trainer, Rick Wiersum, she says she'll be able to expand her services as a whole, but especially to accommodate reactive and aggressive dogs. 

A Pleasant Dog has always offered training solutions for owners with reactive dogs – a personal passion and area of focus for Gavin since the start. She says Wiersum's experience of 40 years working with reactive dogs and those struggling with inter-dog aggression is the perfect addition to her portfolio of services already tailored to city dwellers. 

 “It takes more than one trainer to run a group class for dogs who struggle with reactivity, and I am pleased to have Rick join me in offering these classes.” 

A Pleasant Dog will also now be offering classes geared specifically toward pitbulls, and other bully breed dogs.  

"Rick is really good with bully breeds" she says, adding that bully breeds actually make up the majority of dogs in the city. "They're wonderful dogs, but they have a lot of drive that needs to be channeled to keep them happy." 

Whether it's private in-home (or in-neighborhood) training lessons, small group training sessions, puppy classes, or more specialized courses, Gavin operates A Pleasant Dog with a training philosophy that champions reward and positive reinforcement over dominance and force to help owners and pets thrive in their particular context and get the most of city life. 
"I think a lot of people don’t realize that there is help for reactive dogs," Gavin says. "If you have a dog that doesn't like other dogs or who is shy and anxious around other people, there are options for you. We have training protocols that can help."  

For a full list of services and pricing, or to learn more about the new sporting and agility classes Gavin plans to debut this spring, visit A Pleasant Dog online at www.apleasantdog.com. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Jenn Gavin/A Pleasant Dog   

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In new space, digital marketing agency MINDSCAPE sets $10M growth goal in business

In its new home on the fifth floor of the John Widdicomb Building, CEO Pete Brand of digital marketing firm Mindscape says his company has a big but achievable goal: grow from where they are now into a $10 million company over the next three years. 

"That has been one of our goals for a really long time, but we never put a plan in place to get there," says Brand, who is looking to kick off that expansion with the addition of 5-7 new team members over the next 18 months. 

"Our purpose as an organization truly is to enable growth for the clients we serve, but also to enable growth for the team members that are with us," he says. "One of the things that keeps me awake at night is the idea of sitting across the table from the people we work with and having them say, 'I've had a great time here at Mindscape, but I need to take the next step in my career,' and I know if we continue to grow the organization and expand the career paths here, they won't have to go somewhere else."

Brand says the positions they plan to hire for will vary with business, but all new jobs will be full-time and housed at Mindscape's new headquarters on 601 Fifth St. NW, perched at the top of the historic mid-19th century Widdicomb Building. 

Former owner and furniture retailer Bob Israels invested $11 million to convert the total 65,000-square-foot space into a high-end showroom, but defaulted to Fifth Third Bank who then sold the space to Energetix Properties last year for $1.7 million

With renovations completed, Mindscape officially moved into their own slice of the historic space three weeks ago, a 7,000-square-foot open floor plan that Brand says is doing wonders for employee productivity and overall morale. 

"The open floor plan has been really, really great because our type of business is all about collaboration and over time, when you send people off to their little offices or put them in different portions of the office, it's really difficult to collaborate effectively," he says. "We knew going into that there was a potential of a lot of distractions that could kill productivity, but it's actually the opposite…it makes people want to be here, and one of our company values is to build strong personal relationships, so you can see that playing out here every day." 

Mindscape's lofty goal for growth rests largely in its workforce and in the meeting of two very different generations with two very different, but very palpable, skill sets. While Brand says Millennials often get a bad rap from older generations as the "entitled, transient" workforce, he sees it differently. 

"Millennials are the majority of the workforce and I think they have a handle on the way things should be," he says, citing an increased focus on social welfare, creating workplace balance and the desire to make greater contributions earlier on in their careers. "We've got Millennials that have worked with us for six or seven years and I think as an owner of a business, if you don't take the time to understand your workforce and understand what's important, it's easy to be lazy and think that's just the way it's going to be but you can leverage the strengths from multiple generations and build a company that everyone wants to work for."

Visit Mindscape online for more information about the company or possible careers there.

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

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Dominion Systems looks to create new jobs to staff its MCSB-hailed Grand Rapids headquarters

Boasting a spot on a list by collaborative organization Michigan Celebrates Small Business called "50 Michigan Companies to Watch in 2014," Dominion Systems has made eight new hires over this past year, with three of those positions created in addition to existing roles. However, the Grand Rapids-based tech company and software developer is currently seeking applicants for a part-time marketing internship and four full-time positions – two client solutions representatives and a client trainer and operation specialist.  

"We actually moved into a larger space probably a year, year-and-a-half ago to accommodate for the growth we're experiencing now," says Paul Nysse, director of marketing. "We have enough room as it is for the employees we have coming in…we looked ahead and saw (expansion) on the horizon so we thought we'd be proactive." 

Nysse says Dominion Systems is experiencing a growth rate of about 15-20 percent, finding that better business lies in offering additional tools to the clients they already have. The tech company's HRM software enables business to manage payroll, time and attendance, and benefits administration in the cloud. As of four weeks ago, Nysse says Dominion Systems' platform has also added an applicant-tracking portal. 

"We're finding our clients are continually adding on these products, so they had payroll and time/attendance, now they can add benefits administration or applicant tracking," he says. "We're adding on new clients, but we're also finding our clients are using our software more because they want all of the that functionality to be in one place." 

He says the next addition to the HRM Platform will be an on-boarding function, so when individuals who submit a job application to a company using Dominion Systems' platform, they can also pre-emptively load any on-boarding information into payroll and benefits administration. 

"So when a new hire actually gets hired on to a company, they don't have to fill out paperwork for the first few days, they'll be ready to go," Nysse says. "They can hit the ground running." 

Dominion Systems has a laid-back workplace culture, Nysse says, but as a growing tech company, they value a self-motivated, independent work mentality of "go-getters" who also know how to slow down and listen. 

"I think one of the things that we do really well here is we listen to our clients," he says. "We survey them regularly, we want to know what would make their lives easier and we build those functionalities or those features for them." 

For more information on Dominion Systems HRM payroll platform, visit www.dominionsystems.com.

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

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Dominion Systems

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Grand Rapids payroll firm adding jobs, expanding and remodeling office

Growing web design firm wraps up remodel of new Fuller Ave. office space, plans for hires in 2015

When Valorous Circle moves into its home at 2922 Fuller Ave. NE in May, it will be the third time the website design and development firm has upgraded its office space to accommodate growth since it first opened in 2010. 

Currently located at 1950 Waldorf NW, Valorous Circle Founder and Chief Internet Marketing Strategist Jonathan Mast says the move from the northwest side of town to the Creston neighborhood offers the right balance of accessibility and functionality, allowing the developers to keep close to downtown without sacrificing parking or proximity to major off-ramps. 

"We love the Grand Rapids marketplace," Mast says. "We did not want to be directly downtown due to parking issues for staff and clients, but we did want to be closer to downtown than we are now." 

Though renovations on Fuller Ave. NE near Plainfield are still wrapping up, Valorous Circle's new 2,400-square-foot offices will boast larger offices, a casual workspace for less formal staff meetings or client reviews, two large conference rooms (complete with big screen TV monitors) to encourage more collaboration among staff members while working together and with clients on new designs and marketing strategies, and plenty of on-site parking. 

Mast says this year the six-person team at Valorous Circle plans to add at least two more full-time staff members, though he says that's a somewhat conservative estimate. 

"We're pretty conservative as far as making projections go, but this year we'll hire at least two more employees, but could hire up to four more," he says. "We're always pleasantly surprised at our growth." 

What's made Valorous Circle so successful in its less than five years of operation so far? Mast says it's a couple things – connecting project managers with clients throughout each new design or web development so they understand the process and have an idea of what steps come next, finding solutions with a web-first approach to find more opportunities though the web and online marketing, and allowing clients full access to the back end of content management systems or company websites so they can make changes without the developer's approval, to name a few. 

"The vast majority of our clients are still with us today," Mast says. "We work with content management systems which allow our clients to maintain the site if they choose – many do not, but we give that option."

They're all simple things founded on building trust between Valorous Circle and its clients, created to keep the web developers accountable and keep clients coming back for the company's services, which also include EIEIO online marketing systems, reputation management and search engine optimization. 

Valorous Circle signed the lease for 2922 Fuller Ave. NE in February and as renovations wrap up over the next month, Mast says the staff plans to start moving in and making the space their own in the first week of May, happy to be headed where they are going in the Grand Rapids business community. 

"The West Michigan marketplace, Grand Rapids in particular, has a great small business community," he says, adding that as the economy continues to improve, so do opportunities for life in West Michigan. "It's the combination of an improving economy and the track record of serving our clients well and with integrity," he says. "Not only us, but the rest of the business community, as well." 

For more information on careers at Valorous Circle, visit its website here

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Valorous Circle on Facebook 

LEAD Marketing Agency plans expansion in preparation for new hires, doubled revenues in 2015

Expecting to see revenues double this year, LEAD Marketing Agency President Tom Sullivan says his agency plans to hire five more full-time employees on top of the four already hired since the beginning of 2015 to accommodate the agency's growing roster of new and continued clientele. 

"While we have steadily increased our client base through the years, our growth is due primarily to the success of our clients," says Sullivan, who founded LEAD Marketing Agency in 2008 alongside Matt Tiedgen to fill what Sullivan says is a void in Grand Rapids of agencies that provide comprehensive, long-term marketing and advertising strategy for midsize to large companies. "We've earned increased responsibilities and business from them." 

Sullivan says the additional five hires will be account managers, digital specialists and digital coordinators. 

"Ideally we'll hire talented professionals with experience working in large agencies on large accounts," he says. 

LEAD Marketing has been the agency of record for Consumers Energy's media planning and buying since 2010 and the digital media agency for the moving company Two Men and a Trucks' 270 locations nationwide. The agency was instrumental in landing NFL All-Pro Calvin Johnson as the spokesperson for Brann's Steakhouse and Grill, a client since 2008. The marketing agency has also collaborated with Michigan's newest microbrewers, Alaskan Brewing, for the "highly successful" launch of the brand in the state over the past year.  

LEAD also coordinated with Carbon Green BioEnergy on its successful West Michigan launch of its YellowHose campaign in October 2013, which promoted E85 fuel at select "YellowHose" locations and has since led to expansion throughout the state and into new Indiana territory. 

Sullivan says aside from keeping up with technology and digital marketing techniques, it's not necessarily the medium, but rather the message that wins LEAD Marketing Agency's clients the kind of success many have seen over the past few years. 

"Typically we work with clients to develop their annual marketing strategy and then implement the tactics in order to reach their goals," Sullivan says. "We are interested in measuring the results and being accountable for them." 

Since October of 2013, Sullivan says his agency has hired five new employees that have moved to Grand Rapids from large agencies in Chicago and Detroit to work for LEAD – a sign of Grand Rapids' increasingly positive reputation as a destination for young professionals in creative industries. 

"We're seeing that Grand Rapids is now on the radar for these talented, young professionals," Sullivan says. "They are attracted to what we are doing here." 

Sullivan says LEAD Marketing Agency also plans to double the square footage of its 2311 E. Beltline SE offices from 1,836 square feet to 3,230 square feet to create more workspace for new employees expected to join his team over this next year. 

"We are nearly doubling our square footage, tearing down walls within our office and hiring nine new employees in 2015," he says. "It's exciting."  

For more information on LEAD Marketing Agency, visit www.leadmarketingagency.com. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of LEAD Marketing Agency 

Electric Cheetah owner launches fundraising effort for renovations to new Alger Heights restaurant

Generally speaking, every time Cory DeMint builds a new restaurant, he does it with a pretty singular mission. 

"That's what I want my restaurants to do, that's my mission is providing food to neighborhoods that need it," says DeMint, the owner of Electric Cheetah and Uncle Cheetah's Soup Shop in East Hills. His newest restaurant and catering space, The Old Goat, is only a few metaphorical inches away from opening in Alger Heights. 

With $50,000 still needed to complete renovations on the banquet hall and outdoor patio space, DeMint hopes a new Indiegogo supported crowdfunding campaign can close the financial gap in time to meet his May 9 goal for The Old Goat's official opening date.

"There is certainly a lack of affordable, urban banquet spaces where the average person can go in and say, 'Hey, this is what I'd like to do for my rehearsal dinner,' and it's someplace cool and the food is good and everything is reasonably priced," DeMint says, adding that the best part about donating to the Indiegogo fund is that, technically, it's not a donation at all.  

Called "perks," each donation made to the Indiegogo fund is made in exchange for a gift card eligible for use at any of the three restaurants and worth 20 percent more than the value of the contribution. So, while a $30 contribution equals $36 gift card and $100 contribution is worth $120, for example, contributors at the $500 level will not only benefit from a $600 gift card, but also a full-course meal for 12. $1,000 donations are worth a $1,200 gift card and a private party for 35 people in the new banquet hall the money will support. 

"I probably get ten catering calls each week I have to turn down because I don't have a catering space or large tables or any room we can put people in," he says. "Now, with all of the calls I get for catering from Electric Cheetah, I'll be able to tell people we do have a catering space in Alger Heights." 

With a total of 10,000 square feet including its basement space, the main restaurant space works out to about 4,000 square feet on the first of three floors at 2434 Eastern Avenue SE.

An Alger Heights resident for about a decade, DeMint says he's kept the needs of the community at the forefront in the development and design of The Old Goat, modeling it after the kind of place he and his family would want to frequent. 

"I would have loved to go and sit down at the local family-owned restaurant; my family and I eat out all of the time and I would have frequented that restaurant," he says. "That's what I'm hoping to do for Alger Heights and Grand Rapids as a whole, to provide another high-quality, reasonably priced restaurant that adds to the food scene here." 

He says The Old Goat will have a new American fusion-based menu consistent with the kinds of dishes served at Electric Cheetah. 

"My influences are my mood, which right now is kind of a Cajun-German-Polish hybrid," DeMint says. "Dishes that are really unique and family-oriented for some of the prominent ethnicities and demographics in Alger Heights."

Between staffing for the main restaurant and The Old Goat's catering arm, DeMint says he expects to make about 50 new hires over the next few months prior to opening after the rest of the renovation funding is secured. 

For more information on the restaurant and the fundraising campaign, visit The Old Goat on Facebook or contribute to its Indiegogo fundraiser here

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of The Old Goat 

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Physical therapy office opens sixth location in Grand Rapids at Northview Community Fitness Center

Joining offices located in Cedar Springs, Coopersville, Grant, Sparta and Wayland, this week Northern Physical Therapy has opened its sixth local location inside the Northview Community Fitness Center at 4451 Hunsberger NE. northernpts.com

Gina Otterbein, co-owner and physical therapist at Northern Physical Therapy, says the partnership with Northview Fitness Center bloomed about a year ago, when NPT began managing the fitness center and talking with administration there about the potential for a physical therapy clinic.

"Northview liked that idea and we officially opened Monday," Otterbein says. 

She says the space is different than the other five branches, which calls for some operational creativity with the flow of students and other community members coming through, but she likes the high-energy atmosphere and the ease of access it creates for new patients. 

"We're both really community-based organizations, so the partnership just blended so well," she says. "For us, we want to have fitness and wellness options as well as physical therapy right there for community members. I think the opportunity for us is to be partners in the community and find out as we go what's important to the people who live in that Plainfield corridor and find the ways to bring that to them." 

Over the past few months getting this new location off of the ground, Otterbein says they've hired one fitness director, six part-time fitness employees and are currently hiring for an additional physical therapist and patient care specialist. 

Otterbein added that at all NPT locations, she is currently looking to hire exercise class instructors and personal trainers to help grow the "after-care" part of NPT's physical therapy programs for patient support once people are done with physical therapy but looking to increase fitness or work toward a particular sport or exercise goal. 

For more information on the new Grand Rapids office, visit www.northernpts.com or call (616) 947-2720. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Northern Physical Therapy 

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West Michigan supplier plans for eight new hires in 2015

After a year ending in 40 percent sales growth, a Grand Rapids-based food service equipment supply is looking to hire eight new full-time employees over the course of 2015 in areas including administrative support, delivery drivers, service technicians and sales representatives.

Joey Ghent, Distribution Manager at BBC Distributing, says the company has slowly evolved from selling beverages to a more inclusive line-up of goods, including beverage dispensing systems, glassware, kitchen equipment, compostables and sanitation supplies. 

“We’ve got such a strong team who understands everybody, we're all on the same page as far as knowing what the customer's needs are,” Ghent says, adding that BBC Distributing's approach to the serving restaurants, colleges and universities in the market with non-food items has been a huge factor in its success over the last few years. "Maybe other competitors in the market are looking at the center of the plate, if you will, but we're focusing on the needs outside of food products and focusing on the glassware and disposables and compostables where a lot of the time those items get overlooked by other companies in the market.” 

Formerly named Bar Beverage Control, BBC Distributing recently underwent a complete overhaul of it's brand, including an updated logo and website. Additionally, the industry suppliers made the move from its 8,400-square-foot East Paris Ave. SE facility to an upgraded 68,000-square-foot facility, located near US-131 and Burton Street near downtown Grand Rapids. 

Ghent says the upgrade was long overdue. 

“We had grown out of it and we were trying to have meetings hovered around cubicles," he says. Now, he says, employees at BBC Distributing have more room for individual workspaces and a warehouse that is much more capable with the organization of new inventory.  

“We’re able to be more efficient to get our product out to our customers," he says. "It gives us room to breathe right now and become more organized as well as lots of room to grow.” 

For more information and a full list of available products, visit BBC Distributing online. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of BBC Distributing

Grand Rapids Community College culinary students compete in national competitions

Megan Garstecki, a student from Grand Rapids Community College's Secchia Institute for Culinary Education (SICE), is facing off against peers from eight other schools in the S. Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef Competition.

Garstecki and coach Sasha Ahmed traveled to SD26 restaurant in New York City for the Northeast regional competition on February 8 and 9. Winners of the five regional competitions will advance to the national competition, which will be held in March in Napa Valley, Calif.

Garstecki says the GRCC program and instruction from culinary faculty has been instrumental in her success. "The SICE program has been huge in helping me to prepare for this competition," she says. "I've had the opportunity to consult with several chefs about different aspects of my plate. Also, Chef Ahmed is an amazing coach. She has taught me so much since I joined the team. I have never competed in a competition before, and Chef has helped me feel comfortable and confident with my dish."

The S. Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef Competition is only one example of national and international competitions where students are encouraged to showcase their talents -- which Ahmed says is good experience for the student and great exposure for the program. "Having GRCC culinary students participating in hot food competitions helps our program in more ways than I can count. It gives us a presence in the culinary community, keeps us involved and relevant, and also allows more opportunities for our students," Ahmed says.

Ahmed says in addition to this competition, students will travel to other competitions, both national and international: "This fall SICE will be hosting the biannual Nation's Cup event, which brings us together with international student teams from countries like Barbados, Scotland, and Mexico for three days of friendly competition."

To learn more about this program you visit the site here.

[As of February 9th, competition results were not yet known.]

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Appropos seeks new software developers to further expand innovative B2B sales platform

In the strange, new world of software development, technology firm Appropos is in the business of exploration, out to seek new life for an aging industry and boldly redefine the way companies manage their sales. 

The original seven-man team founded Appropos in February 2012 with the creation of its innovative and uniquely integrated new B2B sales platform, which gives clients flexible access to real time inventory, order placement, interactive catalogues, custom catalogues and line sheets through a front end iPad app.  

From its new home at 678 Front St. NW, the software developer has not only rebranded and upgraded its platform as Envoy, but also have nearly tripled the size of its workforce since humble beginnings three years ago. With the addition of Volta, a new creative services arm, Appropos can now create custom content for clients, which can help with brand consistency for not only its Envoy platform, but any other product experience the company offers.  

“We just took all these services we offer that support the online platform and the company product experience and put them under a local umbrella,” says Mark Johnson, chief marketing officer at Appropos. 

With the transition to Envoy, Appropos has expanded the Envoy sales platform to include a web tool, giving users enough functionality to complete a sale from front to back in any given day through a familiar, accessible medium using an iPad.

The software developers have hired 13 new, full-time employees over the past few years to accommodate the evolution of its platform and Johnson says the firm hopes to hire two more front- and back-end developers in the next few weeks. 

“We’re still fairly young,” Johnson says. “We’ve been doing this for four or five years now and our product has evolved rapidly. It still does a lot of the original things it was intended to do, but now it does a whole bunch more, as well.”

Because the age of the product itself is relatively new, he says as Appropos continues to gain a larger and more diverse pool of clientele they also continue to find new ways to expand the functionality of its B2B sales platform to have even more practical functionality. 

"We go to a client and say, ‘Hey, we offer this product that does x’ and they say, ‘Hey, that’s great, but we also need it to do y.’ So we go to the next client and say, ‘Hey we offer this product that does xy,’ and they say, ‘Hey, that’s great, but we also need it to do z,’ and eventually we have a much more expansive product than we started out with," he says. 

Though right now Appropos' Envoy platform is only available directly through the developers, there is potential for a new DIY app available on the App Store, but since it is still in the early stages of discussion, Johnson says the details are too foggy for any public comment at this point.  

He says being part of the rising tide of new, tech-driven entrepreneurs in Grand Rapids has also allowed Appropos to flourish quickly, finding a place in a non-competitive climate that works in service of innovation.

"It’s awesome," he says. "There are a lot of organizations that are focused on getting a community built around the idea of companies like us; of these young, start-up, tech-savvy companies that we’re starting to get plugged into, which is great."

"We spent three or four years just working on our product, getting it to market, iterating, iterating iterating, then we sort of picked our heads up and realized there are a bunch of people here in Grand Rapids who are just like us and everyone seems to be talking about having the same kind of journey we’re having right now and we should let them know we're here and we're doing it."

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

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New SBDC program guides small business hopefuls through launch process with six-week webinar series

According to Cathleen Kaiser, statewide training manager for the Michigan Small Business Development Center at Grand Valley State University, the flexibility of its new Smart Start Online training program is an advantage to prospective new business owners across the spectrum. 

"It applies to anyone who is interested in starting a business and wants to get going quickly," Kaiser says of the six-week, online training program. "If you're working, you need a flexible schedule to be able to make a class, or even if you want to start a business you're probably doing that while you keep your regular job. If you live in a rural area, having an online class is helpful because you don't have to drive a long distance to get there." 

Led by certified small business experts with experience in the field, online sessions provide information on business planning, marketing, financing and team building to guide entrepreneurs through the key steps to launching a new business quickly and deliberately.

"We're learning that most folks don't want to wait to very long and want to get started quickly," she says. 

Smart Start Online students also have access to Michigan SBDC business consultants in the region to help customize and implement individual business plans. 

However, Kaiser says even if entrepreneurs decide not to take the online course, guidebooks and other education materials are available to access for free on the Michigan SBDC website and cover "the nuts and bolts of getting started," like registering a business name and navigating permitting regulations for both commercial and in-home operations. 

The first six-week Smart Start Online program begins March 4, with subsequent sessions held Wednesdays from 11 a.m.-noon and registration costs $99. For more information, visit the Michigan SBDC training website at www.SBDCmichigan.org/training or call (616) 331-7480.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of SBDC Michigan
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