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Walking the talk: Cascade Engineering exec testifies before Congress on Welfare to Career program

Being one of  the largest certified B Corps in the world provides Cascade Engineering a certain degree of clout. As does being a nationally recognized proponent of sustainable business practices and a pioneer in innovative human resource policies, such as  their Welfare to Career program.

So, when Congress was looking for leaders and companies from the private sector to share their opinions on opportunities to reform the nation’s welfare system to better meet the needs of job seekers and job creators, as well as grow the economy, Cascade Engineering was an obvious choice.

Kenyatta Brame, Executive Vice President for Cascade Engineering, testified before the U.S. House Ways and Means subcommittee on Human Resources on March 1 at a hearing entitled “Getting Incentives Right: Connecting Low-Income Individuals with Jobs.”

Keith Maki, Director of Corporate Marketing at Cascade Engineering, says the selection of Brame to participate was the direct result of the success of their Welfare to Career program.
 
"They were looking to get input on how to reduce the need for welfare and researching the issues they ran across our.program,” Maki says.

Cascade Engineering was the first business in the state of Michigan to have a Department of Human Services caseworker on site. The caseworker gave Welfare to Career employees immediate access to discuss day care, transportation and safe housing and was also able to direct any employee problems related to attendance, tardiness, and performance to the caseworker for resolution.

CE's Welfare to Career program, which started in the late 1990s, is now a model that has been expanded to become The SOURCE, which is comprised of 15 local businesses, including Cascade Engineering. According to CE,  last year, The SOURCE served almost 400 Welfare to Career employees and has a 97 percent monthly retention rate. This rate is more than double that of all other DHS cases nationally.

Brame says this program is a great example of the importance of building a public/private coalition when tackling complex problems like generational poverty. "What we are seeing is that no one can do it themselves. It takes a partnership between non-profits, state government and the private sector."

Besides the direct impact of opening up an "untapped pool" of opportunities for individuals, Brame says programs with a social mission, like the Welfare to Career,  are a critical part of CE's recruitment process.  "As we recruit millennials  they are asking us what we are doing to provide service to the community."

For more information, visit www.cascadeng.com
 
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 

West Michigan's most interesting company you have probably never heard about - until now

It has the makings of a great riddle: what's a West Michigan company that does amazing work and creates products Grand Rapidians know well, but not very many people know its name?

This is a tough one, because unless you are an owner or in management within the local hospitality industry, you probably have never heard of Studio Wise — even though you have most likely enjoyed an experience brought to you by the company at a local restaurant or brewery.

Eric Lanning, a Studio Wise partner, says the relative anonymity goes with the territory of making products for other people in the B2B (business to business) space.
 
"Our name is not necessarily well known among the general public, but if you mention Studio Wise to members of the hospitality design and owner community, you'll find many folks who know us well,” he says.

Studio Wise designs spaces and manufactures a wide variety of products for the hospitality industry. Lanning explains their business is about helping customers create something really interesting and unique.
 
"At the fundamental level, we're makers of really cool stuff,” he says. “But in reality, we help establish designs of spaces to help owners realize their vision, we translate those designs into tangible pieces, and we produce those pieces. All of this results in iconic spaces that people fall in love with. A few that you might recognize are Maru, Brewery Vivant, Cedar Springs Brewing Co., and, coming soon, New Holland Brewing on Bridge Street."

The firm was founded more than eight years ago by Troy Bosworth and now has three partners.  Bosworth directs the creative efforts and product design, John VanZee oversees production, operations, vendor relationships, and Lanning manages finances, as well as the Studio Wise product sales representative network. Lanning says the 16-person firm does not work from a formal hierarchy and instead focus on great design and getting the job done.
 
“'We don't go by titles, as we all focus on doing whatever needs to be done,” he explains.

With its local success and well established reputation, Studio Wise is entering the next phase of its growth, which will require a little less anonymity. Lanning says Bosworth had an early vision to not only design and produce products for their customers but to also establish their own product line and brand.

The firm now offers two table lines that include FUSE, a line of custom finishes that are available in solid hardwood butcher block and veneer, and POP, a powder coated wood, which are available in any color, size and shape.
 
"We know a lot of people want to buy our products so we are now working on creating and expanding a national sales organization,” Lanning says.

To learn more about Studio Wise, you can visit their site here. If you have an interested in working at Studio Wise, the firm has an immediate opening for a wood finisher.  You can contact them directly to learn more.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 

More! More! More! Doorganics expands to keep up with demand

More products. More people. More customers. More services. More demand.

Not enough room.

That pretty much wraps up the reason why the Grand Rapids-based organic grocery delivery service Doorganics is moving into a 4,000-square-foot warehouse at 724 Crofton SE, more than tripling the previous space the company worked from at 353 Fuller NE.

The new Southtown warehouse location includes such upgrades as 1,000 square feet of office space, an expanded walk-in cooler and multiple loading docks to better accommodate deliveries.

Mike Hughes, Doorganics’ founder, says the extra space will allow investment for larger walk-in coolers and expansion of more cold grocery products, including packaged lettuces, salad mixes, and herbs, as well as locally produced cheeses, hummus, fermented foods, and kombuchas.
 
"We look forward to providing more convenience as we venture into 'meal solutions' in the near the future,” Hughes says.

Doorganics currently partners with more than 20 Michigan farms to offer organic produce, as well as meat, bread, eggs, and more than one hundred other grocery items from producers in the state.
 
The grocery delivery service has grown its reach, as well as its space, by expanding its delivery area to Grand Haven and Spring Lake last month, while continuing to serve customers in the Grand Rapids and Holland communities.

Keeping up with demand requires more than space, and Hughes says the company recently hired its 12th employee and continues to invest in its existing team.
 
"The most unexpected part of the Doorganics success journey has been uncovering the hidden talents of our employees that weren't sought after or identified during the initial hiring process," Hughes says. "For instance, we learned that our driver Matt had a passion for digital marketing, and we have now transitioned him into a full time marketing role. Caitlin, originally hired for the packing team, is a Kendall college graduate who is skilled in food photography. We hustle as a team to fill orders and make deliveries and spend the rest of our time strategizing together and using our individual talents to build the business. I'm proud of the entrepreneurial spirit that our team embodies."

Learn more about Doorganics, including grocery offerings and staff bios, at www.doorganics.com.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 

KCAD students use design to change the world of healthcare

Over the last year, a number of programs at Kendall College of Art and Design have been engaged in various collaborative projects with Spectrum Health Innovations (SHI) that require students to apply the human-centered design processes they studied at KCAD to solve difficult problems.

 The latest collaboration between KCAD and SHI has Industrial Design and Interior Design students working to redesign the spaces and equipment in Spectrum's Epilepsy Monitoring Unit (EMU) to improve patients' quality of care.

Current technology in EMUs confines patients to their beds. They are allowed elsewhere only with the assistance of nurses. Emerging technology aims to increase patients’ mobility and overall comfort, but safety is still the primary concern. The students’ assignments are focused on creating room layouts and furniture designs that can help solve this mobility issue while also accommodating the needs of hospital clinicians.

KCAD Industrial Design Chair Jon Moroney says the project began in the fall of 2015 with Interior Design Professor Lee Davis and a cross-disciplinary group of industrial and interior design students. It was carried on to the spring semester, when a team of senior interior design students built upon the project design vision.
 
"The vision is to create a whole new room experience,” Moroney says.

So far, the focus of the project has been on designing both an EMU-specific bed capable of elevating to work-surface height and rotating 360 degrees to give staff full access to the patient, as well as featuring patient-operated adjustment controls. Interior spaces were redesigned featuring padded floors, curved counters and edges, and soft seating to encourage patient mobility while still ensuring safety.

Moroney says KCAD has always worked with corporate partners or sponsors, which helps students build their portfolio but says this project is grounded in real-world experiences.
 
"This is probably the most realistic innovation experience for the students,” he explains. “We anticipate this project will spin off more classes where students can work on big and complex problems."

This story featured contributions from KCAD student Ashley Newton. Read more of her project coverage here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 

Essence Restaurant Group lands certification for focus on local food & sustainability

Essence Restaurant Group, owners of Bistro Bella Vita, The Green Well Gastro Pub and Grove,  recently announced  that the company has become the first restaurant group in the nation to be certified B Corporation through the nonprofit organization B Lab.

This distinguished designation is awarded to companies — about 1,400 in 42 countries across the globe —  that use the power of business to creatively solve social and environmental problems. In doing so, B Corp companies consistently demonstrate and meet high standards of social and environmental performance, transparency, and accountability. In other words, a B Corp certification is to business what the Fair Trade certification is to coffee or the USDA Organic certification is to milk: it lets the public, both customers and employees, know what kind of business they’re supporting.
 
So, what does that translate to at Bistro Bella Vita, The Green Well Gastro Pub and Grove?

Lauren Jaenicke, marketing and sustainability director, says it’s a focus on both the local and the global: there’s an emphasis on sourcing the majority of the group’s products from Michigan businesses (80 percent, to be specific), which both helps to grow the city and state’s economy and significantly slashes the restaurants’ carbon footprint by not importing goods from across the country or overseas, composting, internal programs on sustainability, decreasing kilowatt usage, and more.
 
It is, Jaenicke says, a recognition that the private sector has a social and environmental obligation to its community — and world.
 
"It is not just a government’s and non-profit’s responsibility,” she says. “Businesses have an unique opportunity to contribute. It is in our DNA to work with local suppliers."
 
First approached by Local First, a Grand Rapids group focused on developing and supporting a local economy, about applying for the B Corp certification — a long and in-depth process that requires extensive documentation and proof that a business is as socially and environmentally conscious as they say — Essence immediately jumped at the chance to become certified.
 
“Businesses can be this incredible force for change,” says Jaenicke, who graduated from Aquinas College’s Sustainable Business program and became Essence’s marketing and sustainability director in 2014. “It’s taking this new approach; businesses have a responsibility and the resources to make significant change.”
 
A big part of that change is a shift to a business that almost entirely offers Michigan products, and Essence partners with 39 companies in the state for their food, including Visser Farms, Grassfields Cheese, S&S Lamb, Ingraberg Farms, Ham Family Farm, and many others.
 
In addition to making their business more environmentally conscious, the restaurant group has advocated for change on a policy level. For example, Jaenicke has met with state Rep. Winnie Brinks, who represents Grand Rapids, about how small businesses can be a voice for renewable energy.
 
All of this adds up to a company that far more easily retains employees in an industry that often faces a high turnover rate.
 
“Over 70 percent of millennials want to work for a company that stands for something,” Jaenicke says, citing a recent Harvard study.
 
Essence Restaurant Group has several policies in place that focus the organization on supporting local independent suppliers and supplier diversity

In two years, Essence will have to reapply for B Corp certification — something which Jaenicke says will help to inspire them to continue to evolve for the better. Going forward, she says the company will encourage their employees to volunteer more in the community, as well as further educate the farmers with whom they work on sustainability issues.
 
“It’s not a question of if we get it again, but how we can get better,” Jaenicke says.
 
Essence joins nine other Michigan companies that have received the B Corp certification, including Grand Rapids’ Brewery Vivant, Cascade Engineering, Bazzani Building Company, Gazelle Sports, Catalyst Partners, and The GFB, as well as Zeeland’s Better Way Imports and Monroe’s Buy The Change.

To learn more about Essence Restaurant Group you can visit their site here. To learn more about B Corporation, visit its site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor, with additional reporting by Anna Gustafson
 

Calling all artists! Enter your work now for a chance to show at Muskegon Museum of Art exhibition

Michigan artists who are 18 years and older now have the chance to present their work in the longest running regional art exhibition in the state — but they need to act now.

To be considered for the Muskegon Museum of Art’s 88th annual Regional Exhibition, both professional and amateur artists must submit their entries at www.callforentry.org (search “Muskegon” to find the show) before March 19, 2016. Each individual can enter up to two works for the exhibition, during which more than $5,000 in cash prizes and purchase awards will be distributed to artists.

Two- and three-dimensional works created over the past two years are eligible for submission. For the first time in the exhibition’s history, entries will be registered via the internet, and jurying will be done from digital images of the artwork. Submission fees are $35 for entries, or $20 for Muskegon Museum of Art members. Tom Lundberg, a professor of art at Colorado State University whose work has been seen in solo, group and invitational exhibitions around the world, will be the show’s juror.

Artists will be notified if they have been selected for the show via email, after which they will need to deliver their work between April 21 and April 23.

The Regional Exhibition will open on May 12 and will fill two large galleries at the museum through August 3, 2016.

The show has long been lauded, and an extensive list of well-known Michigan artists have participated in the exhibition throughout their careers. Last year, a record 725 entries were submitted by 409 artists from throughout the state.

The Muskegon Museum of Art is located at 296 W. Webster Ave. in downtown Muskegon. For information about the museum, call 231-720-2571 or visit the museum’s website.

Photos courtesy of the Muskegon Museum of Art

Have an idea to make your neighborhood, city & world a better place? Pitch it at GVSU's 5x5 night

GR Current's March 5x5 Night is rather unique. Instead of entrepreneurs pitching ideas for their own business ideas and $5,000 in funding, individuals will be pitching ideas to develop new or existing community-based initiatives that provide value to local neighborhoods, communities or the world.

Kevin McCurren, Executive Director, The Richard M. and Helen DeVos Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation and Ruth Stegeman, Assistant Dean and Director for Community Engagement at the College of Community and Public Service, are part of the team that is organizing this event.

Stegeman says the key component of this 5x5 Night are the connections between community partners, the owner of the idea and Grand Valley State University.
 
"We use a very broad description of the community partner: It could be a business, a non-profit organization, a faith-based initiative or a loose group of neighbors,” Stegeman says. “We are looking for ways to help these organizations sustain initiatives with the help of our school." 

She says the ideas can be new, or it can be about growing an existing program. These types of programs can be as diverse as funding for a research project, a development of an app that would help an organization with their mission or an after-school program. It is wide open. (You can get a sense of the range of  ideas by visiting the 5x5 Night site here and review the currently submitted ideas.)

McCurren says any GVSU faculty, staff, or student, preferably in collaboration with a community partner, can submit an idea. He also says the program is open to anyone in the community, but the goal will be to connect these individuals and community partners with GVSU resources.
 
"We think 5x5 is important and unique to West Michigan,” McCurren says. “For the university, it is a great way to foster community involvement."
 
For community partners or individuals without an existing GVSU connection, the organizing team is available to help facilitate a match.
 
"It is not just about the $5,000, it is about putting your idea out there and building a community of supporters and followers,” McCurren adds.

This approach to 5x5 Night is somewhat of pilot program and will be evaluated after it is over, but the goal would be to do it once every semester, McCurren says.

The program follows the same basic format as the more traditional 5x5 Nights. The top 5 ideas based on a public vote will be pitched to a panel of five judges for five minutes and with five presentation slides in efforts to win $5,000 in funding for the project. Submissions for new and existing initiatives are welcome.

If your initiative is selected as one of the top five, pitch coaching is available. The event is open to the public.

Submission deadline: Wednesday, March 16, 2016. Time of the public event: Wednesday, March 23, 2016, 5-7 pm¨Location: L.V. Eberhard Center (Room 201), 301 West Fulton Street, Grand Rapids.

Please visit www.5x5night.com in order to submit an idea, vote, or receive updates. For more information, send an email to: hello@5x5night.com.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Summer job help wanted: Must love animals, nature and people

Looking for a summer job on the wild side? John Ball Park Zoo has more than 130 job openings available, and they are filling up fast.

The positions are both part-time and full-time for the summer months. There are opportunities in the gift shop, concession stand, events and rental department, experiences (like the zipline and touchable stingrays), education department, membership, and maintenance.  For most positions, there is no experience necessary.

Nancy Johnson, interim human resources manager at John Ball Park Zoo says that, beyond the need to make some spending money, this is the ideal summer job for those pursuing a job in education, hospitality and tourism, biology, zoology, horticulture, and environmental science/conservation.
 
"Those looking for internships may be able to use their work experience here to fulfill those requirements,” she says. “Many of the jobs offer a good experience base for building a career." 

Johnson recommends that all job seekers attend a zoo job fair on Saturday, March 4, from 10am to 3pm. The zoo suggests responders apply online before attending the fair, where they’ll have an opportunity to speak to the hiring managers about the jobs. Applicants can easily apply for multiple jobs through the online application process.
 
 "It's a great place to work,” Johnson says. “You get a lot of great experience, meet wonderful people and it's a wildly fun atmosphere."

The job fair will be held in the John Ball Zoo ballroom, located on the second floor of the zoo administration office outside of the zoo gate. People can find out more by going to: www.jbzoo.org/careers. Applicants must be 16 years of age and older.

John Ball Zoo is located at 1300 W. Fulton, 1 mile west of downtown. For more information, call  (616)336-4300, email info@jbzooo.org, check out the zoo’s Facebook page, JB Zoo, or visit www.jbzoo.org.
 

Free week of coworking space being offered by Worklab by Custer

Worklab by Custer is having a celebration — and you are invited, but be forewarned. You are expected to work.

Worklab is celebrating coworking by hosting a free We Share Work Week at their downtown Grand Rapids location from March 14th through March 18th.

The event is open to the public and includes a free week of coworking. Mark Custer, founder, says you can create your own schedule, stay for one day, the entire week or just pop in and out at your convenience.
 
"This is our own event. A bit of March Madness and a good way to kick off spring,” he says.

Custer notes the trends for coworking spaces remain strong.
 
"We are entering the sharing economy, and there is plenty of research supporting the benefits of these 'third spaces' and spending time outside the office,” he says.
 
The founder says coworking spaces are great places to get work done, network, help change up the routine, and are much better than going home to work, where often times there are far too many distractions.

Besides offering the space (and all the amenities, including concierge services), there will be a series of speakers and business service partners in the space throughout the week. 

Worklab opened in June 2014 and provides a professional work environment and meeting space in the heart of downtown. Members include professionals, entrepreneurs, business owners, freelancers, consultants, mobile workers, corporate teams, and event planners.

For more information on Worklab, visit www.worklabinc.com, or to schedule a private tour, email Mark Custer at mcuster@custerworklab.com.
 
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 

Blackbird 2.0 takes flight

Blackbird is an online platform that lets anyone plan great events. It is also a testament to the entrepreneurial tenacity of its founder, Laura Vaughn.

Rapid Growth first wrote about the startup in 2014. Since then, Vaughn has methodically built the business, always listening to her customers in order to build a better product. It was also through the product development process that she received a significant boost; Vaughn was able to attract a software development firm, Collective Idea, to come along as both an investor and development team. The addition moved the technology forward and helped Vaughn get to where she is today: the launch of the new and improved Blackbird. 

"The journey has been long,” Vaughn says. “Anyone who knows me knows that I have been talking about this product for years. It takes a significant amount of time to figure out how to get customers, then more time to start learning from them. Finally, it takes time to line up the best resources to make the ideal product for them. I'd be lying if I said it's been easy."

Vaughn says the new release (Blackbird 2.0) is designed for any type of event and for anyone to use.
 
"If you're planning a book tour, lobster boil, conference, or anything in between, Blackbird is an easy way to make a great looking registration page that looks as impressive as your event is sure to be,” she explains.

She says the site has several great features for event planners that help through the entire planning and promotion process.
 
"Blackbird can help them sell tickets, offer discount codes, and send email invitations that come with built-in reminders so everyone knows when and where to show up."

Besides new features, Vaughn has redesigned the pricing model.
 
"Our new pricing is also exciting,” she says. “Events cost $39 to publish, whether you have five people coming or 500. If you're selling tickets to your event, publishing is free — we take a small transaction fee for each ticket sold to your event."

Vaughn and her supporters recently had a launch celebration at Start Garden.
 
"Continuing to see a need and desire for what we were building really drove me to keep working on it and looking for the right resources,” she says. “Now that we've reached this milestone Blackbird 2.0 release, I'm really glad we spent that time listening to our customers and gathering feedback."

To learn more about Blackbird, you can visit their site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 
 

Caffeine City: Madcap CEO's first place prize showcases coffee's rising star in Grand Rapids

Madcap Coffee’s CEO, Trevor Corlett, took first place in the Eastern Conference Barista Competition two weeks ago. 
 
With the highest score in the country, Corlett is now qualified to continue on to the United States Barista Championship (USBC) semi-finals on April 14-17 in Atlanta, Ga.
 
Big deal, right? Well, yes, it is.
 
The specialty coffee industry is big business, and, arguably, it is as important to building the Grand Rapids brand as is the craft beer scene. The city now features dozens of independent specialty coffee shops where business and community intersect.
 
Corlett says these events are where the top 1 percent of coffee producers and processors in the country have a stage to showcase their talents and dedication to being the best of the best.
 
"This competition is an arena within the specialty coffee market where you find yourself at an event where everyone is very passionate about the product,” he explains.
 
Success in the competition says as much about the company where a barista works as it does the specific skills of the barista.  This was Corlett's ninth time in the this competition but his first time landing the top honor.
 
"These competitions are important for the company,” he says. “It challenges you to work on skills. We believe working in coffee can be a lifelong career. It's great exposure and makes you better at your day-to-day job."
 
Ryan Wojton, Madcap’s café manager, finished ninth place in the Eastern Conference and qualified to compete in the United States Brewer’s Cup Championship, which highlights the art of manual coffee brewing. Corlett says another team member also participated but did not qualify for the next stage.
 
Each of Corlett's drinks highlighted Amparo Botina’s coffee from the Narino Region in Southwest Colombia. Her coffee was featured in Madcap’s Colombia Tasting Series, and this is Madcap’s first year buying coffee from Amparo.
 
Corlett's Signature Drink: “Almost Perfect”
  • Glass smoked with cinnamon and cherry bitters
  • 1ml of sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 shot of espresso made with Amparo Botina’s coffee
  • 1ml of small batch grenadine
  • Stirred well, garnished with a freeze-dried strawberry, and served in a  2.5oz coupe glass
For more information about the competition, you can visit the site here.  For more information about Madcap, you can visit their site here.
 
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 

The Midwest Tech Mentoring Program building bridges byte by byte

It was bitter cold outside when Jonathan Jelks and Alvin Hill IV officially launched The Midwest Tech Mentoring Program at the Grand Rapids Art Museum on Feb. 11.
 
But, inside, it was 'en fuego.’ 
 
The kick-off was on fire with optimism, ideas and plans to prepare more young men and women for careers in technology.
 
The venue was packed. The audience was diverse: parents, students; educators; tech, business and nonprofit professionals; entrepreneurs; and representatives from local government. Young and old.  They all gathered to learn more about an initiative that promises to connect inner city youth of color to the career opportunities within the knowledge and creative economies.
 
Jelks introduced a variety of speakers, including Mayor Rosalynn Bliss, all of whom were enthusiastic supporters of the program.
 
"Our mission is to educate, engage and to expose inner city youth to the world of technology and the opportunities available in the tech industry in Grand Rapids,” he says.
 
Jelks envisions a program that features hands-on learning (software development, coding, program management and design) and mentorship with local tech professionals.
 
"We want to teach kids about about the benefits of becoming an IT professional and/or tech entrepreneur,” Jelks explains. “We also want kids and parents alike to walk away with a thorough understanding of what it will take from an education standpoint to be able to take advantage of the creative economy."
 
There is still much work to be done, but Jelks and Hill plan to launch the formal program in May 2016.
 
"We will be fundraising to get the equipment needed to run our program and to hire our staff,” Jelks says. “We are recruiting mentors from Grand Rapid's tech community. We will be going out to Silicon Valley in March to meet with different tech companies to learn about the ‘Diversity in IT’ programs that are working and receiving support."
 
To learn more about the program, including contact information and how to get involved, you can follow their Facebook event page here.
 
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Photos by Tricia Leigh Jackson / Start Garden

Simms Electronics: Changing the world, one project at a time

Simms Electronics is a great example of a small company working on big ideas that turn into very smart products. And there is a very good chance you never of heard of them.

Simms Electronics is located at 3230 Broadmoor Ave. The firm designs and manufactures sophisticated IoT electronics that serve a wide variety of commercial products in the industrial sector.

IoT, which is the abbreviation for Internet of Things, refers to smart products that are connected to the internet.  Examples in the consumer market are home appliances and light fixtures that are connected and controlled by smart phones. In the industrial setting these products could include sensors for carbon monoxide and monitors to help control energy consumption in large commercial settings.

Matt Simms, the president of the five-person engineering firm, says the company keeps a low profile and is not able to share details about many of their projects, but he is committed to attracting and retaining software design talent to Grand Rapids. Simms says the IoT market is really growing and shows no signs of slowing down.
 
"We have several projects in the pipeline and will shortly be announcing new job openings,” he says.

Working with a  small company is a great opportunity for an engineer or software developer that values job variety, Simms notes.
 
"We are always working on different opportunities, with different products, in different markets and different industries,” he says. “You are not stuck working on one product for several years. It is great experience."

To learn more about Simms Electronics, including job opportunities, you can visit their site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 

Elevator Up expands to new office, looks to add six new jobs in 2016

Peter Drucker — otherwise known as the founder of modern management — was certainly correct. The 21st century job market will be dominated by knowledge workers. 

Large companies, small business and startups are all looking for software, design and engineering talent. The challenge for these organizations is that demand for these positions continues to surge beyond supply. The opportunity for these organizations is to create a unique workplace that provides value to both clients and employees.

Grand Rapids-based Elevator Up, a  local design and development firm, is a great example of a small business that is finding success by serving clients and creating an interesting workplace.  In 2016, the firm is expected to roughly double its team with the addition of a product manager, UX designers, software developers, and project managers. The company also recently added a 1,300-square-foot office space on the fourth floor of 38 W. Fulton Street to anticipate the growth.

Tori VanDragt, studio manager credits the hiring of Marty Byle, in July 2015 for playing a big role in the firm’s growth. Byle is the first person at Elevator with a sole responsibility for business development, and his work has paid off with multiple new projects and clients.

VanDragt, says keeping up with the growth in a tight job market can be daunting, but Elevator Up continues to find ways to expand and add new staff.
 
"There is a lot of demand for talent in the technology industry and finding enough qualified candidates has been a challenge,” the studio manager says. “We must get creative with our hiring techniques and in the culture and benefits we offer as a company."

VanDragt says being purposeful in creating an organizational culture is key in finding the right people.  She cites the entrepreneurial and collaborative culture at  EU, where the team has opportunities to build and launch products internally and where everyone works directly with clients as two important aspects of their culture. 

She also cites the firm’s emphasis on community service and engagement as being very a shared value.
 
"Most of our current employees are very involved in the tech community, from giving talks at local meetups to actually starting and/or running meetups,” she says. “If there is an event that I want to attend during the workday, I don’t have to worry about getting permission, it is already encouraged. We’re given flexibility in our schedule to be a part of this community."

To learn more about Elevator Up, including open positions you can visit their site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor



 

Ladies and gentlemen, the stories you are about to hear are tasty. And true.

Arguably, the most interesting scene that is happening right now in West Michigan is the craft beverage and food scene.

It's not only creating a tremendous economic impact (much in the form of a slew of new openings, including micro breweries, restaurants and food trucks, as well as catering operations and artisan food products), but it maintains a constant buzz through social media channels and is at the heart of weekend plans, lunch meetings and our region’s appeal to out-of-town visitors.

At the heart of this scene are the foods and beverages being made and served.  But the soul of this scene are the stories behind these ventures. The founders, the recipes, the craftsmanship, the supply network and the work.

At least that is what photographers Steph Harding and Scott Meivogel believe.

The food loving, craft beer drinking, picture taking, story telling,  enterprising duo have teamed up to form a new business venture called Ash & Ink Media. Their goal is to provide media and brand guidance for individuals in craft industries across various marketing and communication platforms.

Ash & Ink Media offers photography, social media management, storytelling content, print materials, logo and identity design, video and website design services: Everything that is needed to tell a comprehensive story about craft  brands.

Meivogel says the storytelling genre is really "taking off.” He says brands, especially in the craft food and beverage industry, have great origin stories and are in terrific positions to engage and connect with customers with the quality of their products and the passion behind the production.
 
"People care about their food,” he says. “Many of us want to know how the food is made and where it came from. For example, it is not just the brewery and brewer, but it is the hop farm and malt house that makes for a great experience."

Both Harding and Meivogel have a tremendous amount of experience and passion for these industries. Harding’s professional photography has focused on the beer and restaurant scenes. She also owns MittenBrew.com, where she contributes her photography to news coverage surrounding Michigan beer, spirits and cider. (Full disclosure: Steph Harding is also a contributor Rapid Growth Media.)

Meivogel spent years photographing the breweries and restaurants in Cleveland, Ohio before moving to West Michigan with the goal of growing in that field. Together, they have 20 years of experience in professional photography.

To learn more about Ash & Ink Media, you can like their Facebook page here or visit their website here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 
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