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Their fingers on the pulse of Grand Rapids, GRNow's new owners roll out big plans for website

What’s going on in Grand Rapids this week? Well, for starters: the Lumineers are playing at the Van Andel Arena, internationally renowned artist Ai Weiwei’s exhibit opens at Meijer Gardens, the Grand Rapids Symphony is performing a live score for “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” and there’s the USA Cycling Fat Bike National Championships -- not to mention about a billion other things.

It’s no secret that Grand Rapids’ cultural and entertainment scene is exploding, with everyone from international superstars (think: Kanye and Garth Brooks) to local celebrities (Vox Vidorra and Lady Ace Boogie, to name a couple) providing the soundtrack to our city, the debut of a nearly constant stream of new restaurants and bars, venues like 20 Monroe Live and Studio C opening their doors, and, of course, arts and music festivals that have landed the city in headlines across the country.

With everything that’s happening, it’s become an almost daunting question: What should I do tonight? This weekend? This spring (or on the strange winter days when it feels like flowers will be blooming at any second)? CJ DeVries and Jeff DeLongchamp want to help you answer that.

DeVries and DeLongchamp, both longtime Grand Rapidians, purchased the website GRNow.com from the former owner, Josh Depenbrok, last August, and the duo have been unrolling ambitious plans to make it, as DeVries says, “the most comprehensive list of events” in the city, from sports happenings and live music to art openings and theatre performances -- and everything in between. Plus, the website features bloggers covering Grand Rapids’ food, fashion, city living, and art scenes.

“Both CJ and I are big Grand Rapids fans; we’ve been here for a long time,” says DeLongchamp, who also co-owns ELK Brewing and owns ElectionSource, a Grand Rapids-based company that provides election products and services nationwide. “That we can provide a media outlet for everybody, one place where everybody can go and not just list events but find events that are going on is exciting. We want it to be the place to go. If you’re going out on the weekend, we want this site to be the site you go to.”

Like DeLongchamp, DeVries, who founded and owns Innovative Social Exchange MKTG, a Grand Rapids-based creative marketing firm, says she was thrilled to take on a new role as co-owner of GRNow.com.

“With my marketing company, I had used GRNow from the advertiser perspective, so I got to see how powerful it is,” DeVries says. “It made me believe it’s such a great platform; it helps local businesses grow. And I used it personally, so when I found out Josh was getting out, I was like, hands down I want to do this. It’s really neat that Jeff and I get to have something that I’ve really looked up to.”

The site, which DeVries and DeLongchamp are planning on growing, currently has about 10 people working for it, and the two owners are set to unveil a new GRNow.com website this year, apps they’ll soon be beta testing, and more content.

“The apps will have features that people are really going to like,” DeLongchamp says, hinting that the upcoming applications will be event-heavy. “There will be some very fun things, and I think they’ll be used immensely.”

Plus, DeVries notes that they will in the near future launch a show during which they’ll talk about upcoming happenings in the city. For the program, she’ll be partnering with former Second City comedian Joe Anderson -- who’s set to soon open a new downtown comedy club in Grand Rapids.

With all of this new movement from DeVries and DeLongchamp, the work that Depenbrok invested in the site and the site’s massive social media presence (it has more than 70,000 Facebook likes and nearly 32,000 Twitter followers), GRNow’s reach is skyrocketing -- its recent 2017 development roundup (written by Rapid Growth’s former publisher, Jeff Hill), was seen by 135,000 people, for example. With those kind of numbers, DeVries says the owners are hoping the site’s weight will translate to major support for the city.

“We’re using this medium, this platform, to help charities, and we’re very much trying to collaborate with other businesses,” she says.

As connoisseurs of events, restaurants and more in GR, DeVries and DeLongchamp shed some light on some of their go-to favorites in the city.

What's your favorite restaurant/bar?

DeLongchamp: ELK is number one. And we have great restaurants: Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, The Chop House -- those are two favorites, but there are so many great local restaurants, so many places to eat, like Electric Cheetah, in Grand Rapids; it’s unbelievable. We have a lot of great food in this area; it’s changed so much over the past 25 years I’ve been here.

DeVries: My favorite place to eat is Little Africa; it’s awesome. My other favorite restaurant is whichever the next one I’m going to try -- I love the fact I can walk out of my office and see a new place opening up. But we have to understand even if there’s a new place, we still have to patronize the places that have made Grand Rapids what it is.

What upcoming event are you excited about?

DeLongchamp: The 12th annual Winter Beer Festival at Fifth Third Ballpark in February. [Tickets for the festival’s Saturday event on Feb. 25 are sold out, but brew lovers can still snag a spot on Friday, Feb. 24 here.]

DeVries: The Yoga Dance Party and Brunch at Lions & Rabbits, Huntin' Time Expo at DeltaPlex Arena, Cookies and Canvas at Cheshire Kitchen, and the USAC Fat Bike Nationals at Indian Trails Golf Course.

What’s your favorite hidden gem in Grand Rapids?

DeVries: Dime and Regal -- they have very minimalistic jewelry; they want you to be able to have artwork but at moderate prices. Nothing in the store is over $75, and there are local artists. Also, Goodwill has an upscale boutique, reBlue; it’s amazing.

DeLongchamp: There are so many. If you’re looking downtown, there’s so many neat little niches. The SpeakEZ -- Eric Albertson, who owns it, has done a great job with that place.

I'll toast to that! Experience Grand Rapids announces Cocktail Week GR

Add one part artisanal spirits, one part growth in craft distillers, top it off with talented bartenders and you end up with the first ever Cocktail Week GR, celebrating Michigan craft spirits from November 11-22. Shaken, not stirred.

The week was designed and created by Experience GR as a way to showcase the growth in the artisan spirits and local distillers. In their research, Kate Herron, community development manager, says that with the success of marketing Grand Rapids as a craft beer destination, they also found a parallel opportunity to market the region as a "craft cocktail" destination. "The Grand Rapids Cocktail Guild helped us learn about the industry," Herron says. "We found there is a different market that enjoy craft cocktails."

The campaign's tagline is "sip local" and throughout Cocktail Week GR, participating local restaurants will offer two Michigan cocktails and a shared-plate appetizer for $25 or less as well as menu items paired with Michigan-distilled spirits. Participating restaurants, menus and cocktail-related events will be updated regularly at http:/www.CocktailWeekGR.com.

Cocktail Week GR coincides with additional celebrations of spirits at the annual Wine, Beer and Food Festival, taking place at DeVos Place Convention Center from November 19-22.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Job News Editor

Phase one construction completed at Art Van Sports Complex

They built it, and the teams will be coming.

The West Michigan Sports Commission's flagship project, The Art Van Sports Complex, is open and ready for business. The facility is a championship caliber baseball/softball complex near Rockford featuring eight baseball and softball fields, including the 385-foot fenced Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation Championship Field with covered grandstands to seat 1,000 spectators; the Nate Hurwitz Miracle League Field for children with disabilities; warm-up areas, restrooms, concessions and maintenance building; and parking for more than 400 vehicles.

The complex will be the first of its kind in West Michigan and Mike Guswiler, executive director, estimates the venue will attract more than 75 events and 135,000 visitors in its first five years of operation with a big picture economic impact for Kent County in excess of $20 million. "We are attracting travel teams and their families that will be spending their money on hotels and restaurants," he says. Guswiler says studies indicate the average family spends $463 per tournament.

Guswiler says besides the direct economic impact of the traveling teams, the two-year construction process used over 24 companies, and the facility will eventually employ 12-18 part-time positions in addition to the three full-time staff already on board.

Upon completion of Phase 2, the sports complex will feature 12 fields. Visit artvansportscomplex.com for more information.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News editor

The West Michigan Sports Commission hires new manager

The West Michigan Sports Commission (WMSC) hit two big milestones recently: the hiring of a manager, and the launch of new website to support the Art Van Sports Complex.

The updated website is still "a work in progress," according to Mike Guswiler, president of the WMSC. Initially, it will help support the fundraising efforts for the baseball and softball sports complex, before eventually becoming the home of the events calendar.

In the newly created position of complex manager, Bryan Baar will manage operations of the Art Van Sports Complex, reporting to the commission and a complex oversight committee. Baar's role for 2013 is to first help oversee construction operations. As construction nears completion in 2014, his role will shift to marketing the complex and creating a tournament schedule. He is then expected to manage all complex operations, including tournaments, once the complex opens in 2015.

Baar has been coaching and training baseball and softball athletes for more than 15 years, beginning his career in 1989 when he was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers as a catcher. He played for four years in the Dodgers' organization. In 1995, Baar founded Elite Baseball and Softball Training in Grand Rapids.

Guswiler says the broad experience and long standing involvement in the project were key in the hiring selection. "When we began looking at the feasibility of building the complex, especially the construction and fundraising efforts, we reached out to many individuals, including Bryan. He has been helpful through the process. When it came time to look for a manager, Bryan's name came up naturally. We feel good about the selection and are excited to get things rolling."

To learn more about the WMSC and the Art Van Sports Complex, you can visit their website here.

Source: Mike Guswiler, WMSC
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

New downtown program in Holland serves visitors, adds summer jobs

This summer, visitors to Holland will be greeted by a team of "ambassadors" who will not only welcome everyone with a smile, but be a source of detailed knowledge of all that downtown merchants  have to offer.

The Downtown Ambassador Program is an extension of activities like the Groove Walk and street performers. "It's about making the city more vibrant," says Mimi Fritz, marketing director for Downtown Holland.

To support this new program, the city is looking to hire 3-6 "ambassadors" who will be trained in restaurant fare, hotel amenities and the various shopping experiences.

The roving ambassadors will be easy to spot with their own uniform including a pith helmet, messenger bags and bright colored shirts.

Fritz adds that this position is perfect for anyone, especially students and retirees. "We need someone is personable, has a lot of energy and loves talking to people."

To learn more about the program, you can visit the official website here.

Source: Mimi Fritz, City of Holland
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Job News Editor.

New event space in Muskegon creates buzz, jobs downtown

If you are looking for further evidence of the downtown renaissance of Muskegon, you need look no further than the second phase of redevelopment of the old Shaw Walker Furniture Factory. 

"The project began three years ago in downtown Muskegon," says Sarah Rooks, president of Watermark Lofts. Rooks says the first phase of the redevelopment of the one million square-foot factory was the construction loft and condos. 

Now, the second phase is complete, giving Muskegon has a new event space that has already been home to numerous concerts, weddings, receptions, seminars and other special events. "We've been thrilled with the response," says Rooks.

The space, with a flexible configuration, can seat up to 360 people and has extra room available on the porch. 

The opening of this venue has created managerial, support and service jobs.

Continued development of the old furniture building is expected to begin soon, with plans for the possible addition of film studio. "I'm a fourth generation Muskegonite," adds Rooks, who says that she has never seen downtown Muskegon so vibrant. "We're only limited by our imagination."

To learn more about this event space, you can visit their site here.

Source: Sarah Rooks, Watermark Lofts
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Grand Rapids green lodging pioneer adds charging station for electric vehicles

For proprietor Jane Lovett, the decision to install an electric charge station at Peaches Bed and Breakfast was an easy decision.

"We have been green before green," Lovett explains. "Peaches was the first green lodging in Grand Rapids, first in the state and first B&B in the country. It seemed like a perfect fit and we wanted to stay ahead of the curve."

Lovett indicates the customer reaction has been very positive. "They think it is good idea and many want to get a car," she says. The U.S.-made electrical station will charge the guest vehicles overnight for approximately $2 worth of electricity.  

Peaches has been part of the State of Michigan's Green Lodging Program since 2007 and the charging station is one of many green practices that Peaches has in place.

To learn more about Peaches, you can visit the website here.

Source: Jane Lovett, Peaches Bed and Breakfast
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs Editor

Grand Rapids Salvation Army Kroc Center fills first of 65 jobs, announces others

Deborah Johnson Wood

The Salvation Army has filled the first handful of the 65 new jobs expected at its new multi-million dollar Ray & Joan Kroc Corps Community Center, and has announced that several more positions are ready to be filled.

The $26 million Kroc center, 2500 S. Division Ave., Grand Rapids, has a public open house planned for Saturday, October 23 and hopes to have most of the new employees in place soon.

The center, located on 20 acres, will offer dozens of activities for children and adults, including performing arts, aquatics, worship opportunities, cooking classes and a number of outdoor activities ranging from a summertime ropes course to a water slide that becomes a sledding hill in winter.

"We're posting (new positions) on our web site every week until they are filled," says Stephanie Denton, who is a new hire herself, filling the marketing, membership and public relations director slot. Other management, including program director, facilities director and operations director, has also been hired.

"Some positions will require special certification," Denton adds. "For example, the aquatics manager would need CPR and lifeguarding certification, and we're looking for some degreed individuals."

The center is filling management positions first, says Denton. Those jobs include recreation manager, aquatics manager, assistant facility director, education manager and health and wellness manager.

One fun job requires a candidate with a knack for schmoozing: that of R.J. Kroc, the Kroc Center's mascot performer.

"The mascot performer wears the R.J. Kroc costume, which is a giant crocodile," Denton says. "We want them to be out and about in the community, to be the walking logo of the Kroc Center at special events, birthday parties and Whitecaps games."

Hiring for a variety of part-time positions – front desk coordinators, food service, janitorial and worship staff – will take place closer to the center's opening.

Source: Stephanie Denton, Ray & Joan Kroc Corps Community Center

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Salvation Army awarded $1M challenge grant to complete South Division $25M Kroc Center
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Salvation Army's new Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center looks to fill 65 new jobs

Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com. Development News tips can be sent to info@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

GR's Meritage Hospitality launches first eatery with a locally developed theme, adds over 65 jobs

Deborah Johnson Wood

Grand Rapids-based Meritage Hospitality Group, Inc. will convert its O'Charley's franchise at 1600 East Beltline NE to its first restaurant with a locally developed theme, this one to be called Twisted Rooster, a name based on traditional American fare with a twist.

Executive Chef Mark Noseda developed a menu that includes Wasabi Wings; Twisted Macaroni and Cheese made with smoked chicken, sweet peas, asparagus, and cherry tomatoes; and a Twisted Pulled Pork Sandwich topped with crispy noodle slaw and cheddar cheese.

Meritage Hospitality operates 73 restaurants in two brands, including four O'Charley's and 49 Wendy's in Michigan, and employs 2,200 people.

The expected launch July 21 of Twisted Rooster, coupled with growth at the corporate headquarters, brings more than 65 new full- and part-time jobs to West Michigan, says Heather Halligan, marketing coordinator. Those positions are over and above the 25 existing positions from O'Charley's. Halligan says all of those employees retained their jobs.

The new positions include a human resources assistant and accounting positions at the corporate headquarters, plus executive chef, restaurant manager, server and bartender jobs.

"O'Charley's has been here six years and we have a lot of loyal customers," says Halligan. "We were nearing the end of our agreement with O'Charley's and needed to resign or move on.

"We felt we needed to make the change and reinvest in the community," she says. "And we'll support the community further by using locally grown foods."

Halligan adds that Meritage has implemented an aggressive plan to expand to 150 stores by 2015. That includes converting all four Michigan O'Charley's to independent concepts by 2012.

Source: Heather Halligan, Meritage Hospitality Group, Inc.

Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com. Development News tips can be sent to info@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Recruitment under way to hire 60 new workers at Allegiant Airlines in Grand Rapids

By Sharon Hanks

Allegiant Air, LLC announced this week that recruitment is underway to hire 60 new workers to support the opening of its new base of operations at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids.

The low-cost airlines, a subsidiary of Allegiant Travel Co., also announced the expansion of its nonstop service from Grand Rapids to a sixth destination -- Myrtle Beach, S.C. -- starting April 30 with twice-a-week flights debuting at $58.88 one way.

Hiring has already started to fill 60 "well-compensated positions," the company announced, including those for pilots, ground handlers, customer service agents, flight attendants and aircraft technicians.

"This is obviously a very good thing for Michigan, considering its economy," says Sabrina Lopiccolo, Allegiant Air's public relations manager in Las Vegas, Nev. "If they go to our website and look for careers, they'll be able to see the open positions there.

"The community has been very responsive to our low-cost service over the past year, so we're very excited to become a community partner," she adds.

The expanded operations in Grand Rapids will start April 27 when the carrier will base two 150-seat jet aircraft at the airport for 34 flights per week.

Since starting nonstop service in February last year from Grand Rapids to Orlando and Tampa Bay, Fla., Allegiant has added service to the Las Vegas, Phoenix-Mesa and Fort Lauderdale, Fla. In the past year, Allegiant Air has carried more than 131,000 passengers while leaving or arriving at the Grand Rapids airport, company officials report.

"The new jobs created by this expansion are further evidence that West Michigan is vibrant, successful and growing," Jim Koslosky, executive director of the Grand Rapids airport, said in a news release.

Sources: Sabrina Lopiccolo, public relations manager for Allegiant Air, LLC, in Las Vegas, NV; website of Allegiant Air.

Sharon Hanks is the innovations and job news editor at Rapid Growth Media. She can be reached at sharon@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Bar hoppin' made easy: a five spot, Grand Rapids hotspots and you

A new Grand Rapids shuttle will take you bar hoppin' to some of the coolest hotspots downtown so you don't have to drive, or park and re-park. And a whole night's hoppin' is just five bucks.

G.R. Hopper's two shuttles make 30-minute circuits from 8 p.m. to 3 a.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays year-round. Riders can pick up the shuttle from a nightspot, a parking area, a West Side condo or a downtown hotel: Sixx Nightclub, Union Square Condos, Monte’s Lounge, Parking Area 9/GVSU Bus Stop, Days Hotel, Mojo’s Dueling Piano Bar & Restaurant, The B.O.B., HopCat, Rockwell’s Kitchen & Tap and The Intersection.

"I grew up in Germany and was pampered with good public transportation," says owner Peter Woodhouse, 31. "I come to downtown Grand Rapids and pay $8 for parking and if I want to go someplace else I need to pay again and find other parking. I just wanted to connect all these places and make Grand Rapids an inexpensive place to come to."

G.R. Hopper provides advertising opportunities outside and inside the busses and on the G.R. Hopper web site. Sponsors at the VIP level provide perks for riders – for example, showing a Hopper Pass to The B.O.B.'s door staff allows the holder to move to the front of the line.

The official kickoff is at 8 p.m. Thursday, September 3; shuttles leave from Sixx Nightclub and from the Intersection.

"Using public transportation in Europe has given me a good grasp on what Grand Rapids needs," says Woodhouse, who relocated 10 years ago to attend Grand Valley State University.

"One of my goals is to get drunk drivers off the road as much as possible," he adds. "In Germany, there were so many opportunities where you didn't have to [drive drunk] and I think Grand Rapids can move in the same direction."

Source: Peter Woodhouse, G.R. Hopper

Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

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