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Cheers! Downtown Market launches free summer-long happy hour series

As the temperatures begin to rise outside, the Downtown Market is raising its glass to cooling things down inside.

The market is launching a free “Happy Hour Libation Lectures” series this Thursday, May 5, and the weekly event that runs through August will give Grand Rapidians a chance to learn the ABCs of mixed drinks, beer, whiskey, and more. The classes, which run from 5-6:30pm at the Downtown Market every Thursday through the end of August, will be taught by folks from local distilleries and breweries and will range in topic from greenhouse-infused mixers and cider cocktails to “the martini debate” (Gin or vodka? Shaken or stirred? The debate will rage on in a very delicious way.).

“We wanted to give smaller spirit and beer producers a mouth piece in Grand Rapids,” Jenney Grant, the culinary and beverage manager at the Downtown Market, says, noting that several of the businesses involved have recently opened, such as Big Hart Brewing. Others won’t debut until later this year, including 18th Amendment of Muskegon, which is slated to open its doors in late fall or early winter. Other businesses involved in the series include:Long Road Distillers, Gray Skies Distillery, Our Brewing Company, and Uncle John’s Cider.

“This is a chance to promote smaller businesses,” she continues. “I know what you need as a small producer to be successful, and that’s to be able to tell your story and share your passion. This celebrates the things we love about Grand Rapids — that entrepreneurial spirit and getting to watch businesses become anchors in our community.”

Plus, Grant notes, the series is emblematic of a city that is increasingly dedicated to keeping its dollars local.

“People want to support local,” she says. “We’ve seen that with food and beer and now distilling and cocktails.”

The first lecture, which will start at 5pm today, Thursday, May 5, is titled “How To Use Your Cocktail Books,” and the kick-off event will focus on the book “Tequila Mockingbird,” which, as you can imagine, is chock full of drinks with a literary twist — think cocktails with names like “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margarita” and “Vermouth the Bell Tolls.”

Other upcoming events this month include “The Martini Debate” on Thursday, May 12, “Beer 101” from Big Hart Brewing Company on May 19, and a crash course on the Scandinavian spirit Aquavit from Long Road Distillers on May 26. To see the entire schedule, please go here.

Photos courtesy of the Downtown Market

Reduce, reuse, recycle (and repeat): Study spells out environmental opportunities in West Michigan

When it comes to recycling, West Michigan — and Grand Rapids in particular — are outshining other regions of the state, but there’s still much that needs to be done here, according to a new study.
 
The West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum and Grand Valley State University released a study last week (which you can download here) that characterized the economic and environmental opportunities available through recycling, composting and other waste diversion strategies.

According to the West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum, the report, titled Economic Impact Potential and Characterization of Municipal Solid Waste in Michigan, estimates the total material value of municipal solid waste disposed in Michigan landfills and incinerators at as much as $368 million per year. If all material of value was recovered and sold to the market, it would have an estimated total economic impact of up to $399 million per year, and and employment impact of up 2,619 jobs.

Staggering numbers

Daniel Schoonmaker, director of the West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum, provides some insight into how, and why, individuals, the public sector and the private sector in West Michigan are actively engaging in recycling efforts.

Rapid Growth: What can individuals do to help increase the recycling rate?

Daniel Schoonmaker: To a certain extent it depends on where you are. You can do a lot more in West Michigan, especially Grand Rapids, than you can in many other parts of the state.

To start, the standard advice of reduce, reuse, recycle applies. An estimated 40 percent of garbage in West Michigan is easily recyclable most anywhere with curbside service. We can have a substantial impact on the recycling rate just by taking advantage of the available infrastructure.

In Grand Rapids, an individual can divert up to 84 percent of their waste with some additional effort, a lot of it routine tasks such as donating clothes and furniture or recycling electronics and hazardous waste. Food waste and compostable paper (eg: napkins, pizza boxes) are arguably the only challenging categories, due to the extra effort and expense of composting. Organicycle is really a local treasure with the curbside compost service it offers in Grand Rapids. I doubt people realize how unique that service is in Michigan.

Obviously, purchasing behavior and use can have a significant impact. The majority of garbage are limited-use consumables: nondurable goods, packaging and food waste. Reduce, reuse, recycle. Plus, seek out products that use recycled and recyclable material.

RG: What are the opportunities for the public sector to help increase the recycling rate? What is not being done now?

DS: It's hard to answer this as it's fairly hyper local. The scenario is a little different in every municipality, and what works swimmingly in one community might be impractical in another.
But if there is a universal need for the public sector, it is to prioritize this as a goal.

One of the bigger takeaways from our study is that under current conditions the economic case is limited to a handful of high-value materials, even when you factor in indirect costs such as environmental impact. The public sector needs to have a role in promoting waste diversion as a public good and to work with the private sector to make it more viable. Grand Rapids is a good example of this, as Kent County Department of Public Works has set the pace for the region with its recycling center and educational programs.

Put another way, the public sector needs to set a good example in policy and practice. If nothing else, having recycling available in public buildings helps to normalize the activity.

Through the governor's recycling initiative, the state is putting a good deal of effort into market development and supportive public policy, which have generated a lot of publicity and interest. Electronic waste and organics are conspicuous opportunities on that scale.

RG: What about the private sector? Where do you see opportunities? Are there business opportunities? Or is it just good citizenship?

DS: To a degree, but at the base level it is being a good corporate citizen and employer.  It's positive branding for customers and workers. Regardless of what industry you're in, the absence of recycling will be noted. I'm not aware of anyone that has changed jobs due to a lack of recycling, but I know employees can find a lack of it off-putting, even backward.

The quickest path to an increased recycling rate is for more companies to start recycling. The lowest hanging fruit is to increase the number of businesses recycling their cardboard boxes. It's plentiful, valuable and easy to recycle. All you have to do is find a spot for a dumpster or baler.

In sufficient quantities, recycling will pay for itself through scrap sales and reduced waste fees. Going into this study, the expectation was that any business that could derive revenue from its waste was already doing so, but that's clearly not the case.

From a service standpoint, there are definitely opportunities for entrepreneurs, and we've seen a number of those in Rapid Growth. Folks like Organicycle, New Soil, Spurt, My Green Michigan, and Cocoa have helped create a commercial compost industry. Greener Grads, Rapid Group, Goodwill, ATR, and Valley City Electronic Recycling are all doing really cool things in their niches.

Our research looked at the economic value of disposed material in the current situation. We need to start looking at waste as a resource, and this is a step toward that.  An estimated 42 percent of the material has market value if we were to sell it through existing channels. This would be a local source for raw material if we were to shift to a more circular economy. Developing that further, there are limitless opportunities for alternatives that would retain greater value across the lifecycle.

It's a similar discussion to what we're seeing with energy right now.  There is a lot of value to be found from alternatives and efficiency.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs New Editor
 

Barley, BBQ & Beats: A fundraiser wrapped in a party, surrounded by whiskey, food & music

Hospice of Michigan’s new event, Barley, BBQ & Beats, is certainly not your traditional fundraiser. Instead of black ties, white wine and classical music, it will be whiskey, barbecue and rock and roll. 

The fundraiser and community celebration will showcase whiskeys distilled in Michigan, along with barbeque from a “who’s who” of local pitmasters and live entertainment, including performances from Domestic Problems, Mid-Life Crisis and Big Dudee Roo.

Barley, BBQ & Beats will be held in the Van Andel Arena from 5-9 pm on Saturday, May 21. Proceeds will benefit Hospice of Michigan’s open access program, which provides hospice care for anyone needing it. Tickets are $35 (you must be at least 21 to go) and attendees will be able to sample barbecue from leading pitmasters, sip on specialty cocktails and listen to some great music.

Barbara Anderson, manager of philanthropy at Hospice of Michigan, says the event is inspired by the John Clay Memorial BBQ & Rib Cook-off, an annual May event  (May 13 this year) held by the Clay family in support of Hospice of Michigan, which has grown in popularity since its inception 15 years ago.

Since the barbecue scene in West Michigan is booming, the hope, Anderson says, is that the John Clay Memorial event will be the annual lead-in to a week-long celebration that ends with Barley, BBQ & Beats, perhaps opening the door for other philanthropic food, drink and music efforts. “We found that barbecue was becoming more popular than our other fundraising events,” she says.

Anderson says that there is a “great need to be creative and catch people’s attention” when it comes to fundraising. She says events are a great way to capture attention and have fun at the same time. Anderson says the organizers hope to raise $250,000 for Hospice of West Michigan and their open access program.

To buy tickets or for more information, please visit hom.convio.net/bbbfestival or contact contact Alex Wilson at 616.356.5288 or awilson@hom.org.

Hospice of Michigan is the original – and largest – hospice in the state. The nonprofit cares for nearly 1,800 patients each day, raising more than $5 million each year to cover the cost of care for the uninsured and underinsured.
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Job News Editor
 

Music, glorious music: GR Live is ready to blast off on April 28

WYCE 88.1FM is launching a live radio program named GR Live beginning Thursday, April 28 at the House of Music and Entertainment (known as H.O.M.E.) inside The B.O.B. This program will occur every Thursday at noon for 19 weeks and conclude on September 1. It is free for the public to attend and will be broadcast live over the radio at 88.1FM and streamed online at WYCE.org.

“It’s going to be super cool. A big win to get the city promoting music on the same level as beer, food, and art,” says  AJ Paschka, WYCE station manager.

Super cool is an understatement. It’s freaking awesome.

GR Live will be hosted by WYCE programmer and musician Quinn Matthews (who began championing the idea last summer). The one-hour program will feature live music performances, interviews and calendars that will inform people of musical events in the city of Grand Rapids. The program will also be recorded and made available to the public at ExperienceGR.com.

“The creation of GR Live allows Grand Rapids to collect performances, interviews and calendars and use them to promote music as a thing to go out and experience when the convention visitors and tourists come into Grand Rapids,” says Paschka. Effectively, this means that the local music scene is very important to the city’s brand, growth and vitality. “Our city is becoming a music destination,” he adds.

Paschka says music lovers can expect an eclectic and wide-ranging  lineup of local and regional musicians. “There is so much good music in this town. It is very much part of the downtown resurgence,” he continues, citing the immense popularity of the Pyramid Scheme, The Intersection, The B.O.B., and concerts at Van Andel Arena and Frederick Meijer Garden. “Music always brings in the largest crowds,” Paschka says.

Taken as whole, Paschka says music, like craft beer and arts, can be a primary engagement strategy for organizations marketing Grand Rapids as a place to live, work and play.

Besides providing a boost for local musicians, Paschka says this is big boon for WYCE. “This will help us grow our audience. We’ve always supported local music, so this is a nice evolution.”  Paschka also gives a shout out the The Gilmore Collection as a long time supporter of the radio station and home to the House of Music and Entertainment (H.O.M.E.).

Paschka encourages musicians to contact Matthews directly (via Facebook) to learn more about being featured on GR Live. You can also follow the program on ExperienceGR and WYCE.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 
 

When it comes to defending against cyber attacks, Trivalent Group is named one of the country's best

Trivalent Group, a West Michigan-based leader in managed IT services, cloud, business continuity, and network services, has been named a WatchGuardONE Platinum Partner by WatchGuard Technologies, an international leader in network security.

Why is this important? Well, for one thing, it’s a scary world out there, and the products utilized by WatchGuard Platinum Partners help protect companies and their customers from some nasty people.

Consider the following information shared by Brad Andrus, manager of market development at Trivalent Group. 
.
According to a report issued by cyber security firm Symantec, businesses of all sizes are increasingly under direct threat of cyber attack and security breaches. 

A few findings from the report:

- Last year, 43 percent of all cyber attacks targeted businesses with fewer than 250 employees.
- There were more than 430 million new and unique pieces of malware (an umbrella term referring to such hostile or intrusive software as computer viruses, trojan horses, spyware, adware, and more) in 2015, up 36 percent from 2014.
- In 2009, there about two million pieces of malware, which was considered overwhelming — and now there more than 430 million. That's more than a million new pieces of malware getting written each and every day.
- More than an estimated 75 percent of all legitimate websites have unpatched vulnerabilities; flaws that make it easier to be hacked.
- The total number of identities exposed from all intrusions jumped 23 percent to 429 million in 2015. But Symantec believes the true number is much higher, at more than a half billion.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

“The shifting focus of attacks have been on small and medium sized businesses,” say Andrus, who notes it’s at these organizations that hackers can more easily access confidential and proprietary information.

WatchGuard’s Platinum level is by invitation only, and it represents the company’s recognition of those partners who ultimately provide the highest level of network security expertise and consistent experience to WatchGuard’s end customers. Trivalent Group is one of only seven WatchGuard partners in the United States to earn and to be awarded Platinum status.

The recent recognition goes hand-in-hand with other efforts by Trivalent Group to help educate businesses and organizations about these types of threats.

For example, the firm works with Better Business Bureau Serving Western Michigan and the West Michigan Cyber Security Consortium to host the Grand Rapids Cyber Security Conference. This link contains the full agenda and speakers from last year to give you an idea of the scope of this event. Planning is already underway for the next conference, which is scheduled for October 5, 2016 at GVSU’s Eberhard Center in downtown Grand Rapids.
 
To learn more about Trivalent Group and WatchGuard, you can view their websites here and here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Job News Editor

West Michigan makes great impression at Sports Event Symposium

The National Association of Sports Commissions (NASC), hosted its annual Sports Event Symposium in Grand Rapids on  April 3 through April 7.  It was the first time this conference, in its 24-year history, was held in the state. 

The symposium brought almost 950 sports industry professionals to DeVos Hall, many of whom  are rights holders: individuals directly responsible for a sports association and making decisions as to where they will be booking their events.

West Michigan Sports Commission President Mike Guswiler says this event is a key part of the process of making Grand Rapids a destination for sporting events from around the country.
 
“In this industry, this event is key,” Guswiler says of the symposium for the NASC, the country’s only member-based, nonprofit trade association for the $8.96 billion youth and amateur sports event industry.
 
Guswiler says that during the conference he was able to set up several meetings with representatives from multiple sports organizations and has begun the process to secure events in Grand Rapids for 2018-2022.

Besides acting as a West Michigan showcase and a deal-making platform, the symposium also served as a fundraiser for a local charity.  The conference concluded with a luncheon and awarded Mary Free Bed Wheelchair & Adaptive Sports and its wheelchair tennis program a check for $27,000, the largest amount ever raised at NASC.

Another beneficiary of Grand Rapids hosting the NASC Symposium was Riverside Park in the Creston neighborhood. Symposium attendees joined the Sports Legacy Committee in a morning community service to prepare the park for spring use.

Big events heading to West Michigan in the next 18 months include the U.S.A. Masters Track & Field Championships and the 2017 State Games of America.

The West Michigan Sports Commission, a nonprofit, works to identify, secure and host a diverse level of youth and amateur sporting events to positively impact the economy and quality of life in the region. Since its inception in 2007, the WMSC has booked 489 sporting events and tournaments that attracted 650,000 athletes and visitors, generating $190 million in direct visitor spending. For more information, visit westmisports.com.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 

Bartertown Diner: Fresh, healthy food with a side dish of compassion and kindness

One minute you are minding your own business. The next, you end up owning a restaurant that will be serving healthy, fresh food with a heaping side dish of compassion and kindness.

Crystal LeCoy and Thad Cummings are the new owners of Bartertown Diner, the iconic downtown restaurant founded by Ryan Capaletti.

LeCoy says the opportunity to become a business owner happened very, very quickly.  Three weeks ago, she had plans to open a restaurant and was actually getting ready to review a potential site in northeast Grand Rapids when she was approached by Cummings, who had just purchased the business from Capaletti. Less than 24 hours later she was an equal partner in Bartertown and in the restaurant business.

Respecting the original vision of Bartertown — a vegan and vegetarian restaurant that has been well known for “challenging the food system and advocating for workers’ rights” — LeCoy says she and Cummings are doubling down on building a sustainable business that focuses on plant-based foods and will be a force for good in community.

There are many layers to this story, and LeCoy outlines some key tenets of what will be driving Bartertown forward.

Business model

“We're the first full service, no-tip restaurant in West Michigan.”

The Give a Taco, Take a Taco program

“When you walk into the restaurant, the wall immediately to the left is filled with $2 taco and $5 bowl of food coupons (purchased and posted by customers),” LeCoy says. “Anyone can step in, grab a coupon and a seat, and redeem the coupon for a meal. Those who use the coupons are served, like everyone else, as we hope to give dignity back to those who would normally get kicked out of a restaurant because they don't have the means to pay for a meal. We invite those who don't have a home, or a job, or a means to prepare a meal — single parents, families and individuals who are living paycheck to paycheck, and others who just need a break.”

Commitment to staff

“Our employees are paid an hourly livable wage, well above minimum wage, and provided long-term benefits. Our employees participate in a 20 percent profit share.”

Menu, service and space updates

“The space is open and bright. We've doubled the seating area and brought in comfortable seating to encourage those who need a place to study or relax. We've added a seasonal smoothie menu, and this week we're adding a grab-and-go menu for those that don't have time to dine in. We'll soon launch a new website, a new seasonal brunch and dinner menu, catering and picnic options, and we'll be expanding our hours to include Tuesdays and dinner Tuesday-Saturday.”

Business incubator

“We're close to announcing our first resident entrepreneur. Our shelves are stocked with fare from local businesses like Bloom Ferments, Brix Soda, and Sweet Batches. As a small business working alongside other small businesses, we understand the difficulties of entrepreneurship. And in efforts to support the growth of our community through entrepreneurship, we're creating an intentional community of entrepreneurs who support each other through shared skills, resources, and space. Our second dining room will be used as a space for community discussion and events, and our kitchen a shared space for food entrepreneurs who need a commercially licensed kitchen to operate from.”

That is a lot of information to process, so make sure you checkout their Facebook page and website to learn more about their hours of operation, menu and their community programs.  And, of course, visit.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

After leaving Downtown Market, Montello Meats unveils new delivery service

Tony Larson has a fairly simple philosophy when it comes to his business.

“Our family feels strongly about local,” he says. “You want local support for your business, you must support your local suppliers."

Larson, the owner of Montello Meat Market, has just announced his newest venture, a meat delivery service that will feature a “freezer locker box” packed with beef from West Michigan-based Moraine Park Farms.

With the recent closing of Montello's retail store at the Downtown Market, Larson quickly pivoted to a new business model to serve his loyal customer base.
 
“When our storefronts closed, we knew there still was a need for our product and our family enjoyed the customer interaction,” he says.

With the new venture, Larson will be bypassing the traditional store front retail outlet, instead taking orders for his product and then delivering the freezer locker boxes to homes or a designated pick-up site. The single cuts of meat will be packed and delivered frozen.  All meats will be from local farms.
 
“It’s like a protein CSA,” Larson says.

Larson says initially only beef will be available, and he will feature dry-aged  beef that is pastured, has no added growth hormones, is antibiotic free, and now, working with Moraine Park Farms,  is non-GMO as well.  

Larson says the new business is a work in progress. He is completing final designs for the “freezer locker boxes” and has plans to add other meats.
 
“Everything will be evolving,” he says. “Right now there will be one choice, but going forward there will be options for more customization.”

To keep up to date on Montello's new service, Larson says customers should sign up for his newsletter here. He will be taking his first orders in April.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 

New business venture aims to bring balance and meaning back to the dinner table

You really enjoy good dinners with your family and friends, but your schedule is packed. There are never enough hours in a day to go grocery shopping, let alone prepare a healthy meal. And, when you have time, nothing is ever as easy as what you see on the Food Network.

So, who you going to call?

OGO Initiative.

At least that is what Grand Rapidian Ben Price is betting on.

Price, a veteran of the local culinary scene, founded the OGO (pronounced oh-go) Initiative, a business that offers a range of personalized, in-home services that develop culinary knowledge and foundational skills for a wide variety of customers.  

“OGO was built with a mission to reduce stress and add value for meal served around the table.  We help our individuals and families find balance,” says Price.

Services offered by OGO include:

- Culinary experience series: A mix of educational sessions, such as knife skills or how to assemble meals in the morning that will be ready in the evening.
- Taste and teach events: An evening cooking, learning and eating with up to 12 people (e.g., wine/food pairings or meal focused event)
- Co-host with OGO: Host the special event or holiday party with the assistance of Price.

Price explains his business is targeting four customer groups.
 
“One group are the individuals needing to learn new cooking skills in order to eat healthier; this could be diabetics or someone needing to lose weight,” he says. “The second group are people that need to learn to cook for someone else.  The third group are people who want to cook for themselves, such as empty nesters or retirees. Our final customer market are people who want to cook for large parties and host events.”

To get the word out, Price says that he is relying heavily on word-of-mouth and recommendations from existing customers.
 
“Going into someone’s home requires trust,” he says. “We go into their kitchens, not a laboratory. We get to know their pantry, utensils and family.”

To learn more about the OGO Initiative, you can visit their website here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

'Big challenging topics' part of the SXSW and Michigan House experience: A Q&A with Larry Faragalli

The roving pop-up space, Michigan House, which travels across the country to share some of the best parts of our state with other cities, returned to Austin, Texas for the Southwest Music, Film, and Interactive Conference and Festival (SXSW) last week.

Described by organizers as a  "show, not tell" experience, the Michigan House gives visitors the chance to learn about multiple made-in-Michigan products, like All Day IPA from Founders and Leap Office Chair from Steelcase, as well as listen to numerous talented musicians who made the trip from the Mitten State to Austin.

Larry Faragalli and Marion Siebert, of the Grand Rapids-based digital design firm, brightly, were among a contingent of West Michigan attendees who spent time at SXSW and enjoyed the hospitality offerings at the Michigan House.

Faragalli is a champion of design and innovation in West Michigan. He is also a keen observer of the creative culture. He managed to carve out a little time while he was there to share his impressions of SXSW and the Michigan House.

How many times have you been to SXSW?
This is our first time at SXSW, and it has been a blast. I've been in Austin before for business/pleasure and knew I wanted to be here during the festival.

Why are you there this year? 
Honestly, we came out here for the experience first and foremost and to show support to the local causes we're invested in that are also participating in SXSW, like Failure:Lab and Michigan House. We wanted to approach this with an open mind and a flexible schedule and not make a networking thing out of it. Any relationships, business or otherwise, that come out of this will be purely serendipity.

What is the reaction to the Michigan House from non-Michiganders?  
Everyone that we talked to locally that checked out Michigan House loved it; even our Airbnb host got in on the action. The Michigan House crew did a great job of representing and showing off the creative side of the state (plus the Founder's beers and local distilleries). It's neat to see people go from inquiring about Michigan from a place of ignorance to getting excited to come check it out.

What is the most impressive, inspirational, awe-inspiring, mind-blowing thing about SXSW?  
I know SXSW has evolved into a bit of a festival monster and most folks are cynical about it, but I have been blown away by how excited and eager everyone is here to tackle big challenging topics and spend so much time passionately discussing community stewardship and cultural exchange.

Any other observations?
There has been a lot of interesting stuff here. We saw great panels with Anthony Bourdain and JJ Abrams, there has been a ton of virtual reality being used in interesting and not-so-interesting ways, and during the Founder's Tap Takeover at Stay Gold I turned around from grabbing a beer at the bar and found myself suddenly face-to-face with a live horse and a guy on his back.

How about the flip side of the coin.  Anything  you found mind-numbing about SXSW?
Getting pretty tired of bad DJs and over-the-top marketing at a lot of the venues.

‘Keep Austin Weird’ is a slogan used to promote local Austin businesses. Should Grand Rapids strive to be more weird?
I think GR needs to find its own identity. The piece we can, and should, emulate is greater empowerment of the creative class at all levels, not just for tech and professional design fields, and continue trying to foster more diversity and inclusiveness. The rest just follows. We also better hope we get our infrastructure figured out before we become this big or we're going to be having similar traffic gridlock.

The big question: Will the GRMI BBQ scene ever rival Austin BBQ?
Hahahaha. No.

You can check out the Michigan House on Facebook here or on the web here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 

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
 
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