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3 women in design you should get to know

Grand Rapids is a design city teeming with talent, and in honor of Women’s History Month and West Michigan Design Week, we chatted with three that you may not know, but absolutely should have on your radar.

We asked these talented women to tell us what is on their minds about design, their careers, and what they do here in the city.

Adriane Johnson, Owner, Rebellious Creatives

Can you tell us a bit about yourself? Why is design important to you?

Born Adriane Latrice Johnson in Saginaw, MI I grew up having a very colorful and animated imagination like many children do, but I took mine for what it was and ran with it only to become an adult that has a wild and colorful imagination to come up with unique ideas and designs for advertising and web designs as a career. I always had the mentality that I wanted to be an owner of a business or a designer of a fashion brand, so I spent a lot of time coming up with designs for clothing and logos for my business I wanted to run.

My actual first logo design was printed on a refrigerated truck for our family business called the Louisiana Cajun Restaurant. I drew a catfish flipping out of the water with the name over the top of it during junior high school. After that, during my high school junior year I came up with a logo and fashions for what I called “Diamond Bee Wear,” so I drew a bee that had diamonds for eyes and wings that were shaped like diamonds as well. 

The importance of design to me is to be able to convey a message to the viewer’s eyes. This could be through an illustrative drawing, a mix of photography and a unique font, painting, drawing, writing, etc. Without design, life would be pretty boring, colorless, and flat.



Where do you work and how are you involved in the local community?

I am the owner of Rebellious Creatives, a web design company for small businesses and startups. Seeing as Grand Rapids has become an incubator for people to start their own businesses through certain programs, grants funded by the city or philanthropy, I thought I would find my own way of giving back in providing affordable design services that are personable and hands on when it comes to working with new clients and building a lasting relationship, while growing a business for myself.

As a WoC, what current issues are most pressing to you?
To be fair, there isn’t anything pressing me personally, because I usually get what I want when I go for it, and if I don’t get it, then it’s not for me and I am not for them. My time is precious and isn’t to be wasted on the foolishness of others personal prejudices or hatred. But as for those who do experience issues depending on what the subject of the matter is and I get wind of it, I will find a way to get the message out, find resources to help correct the situation or make sure I am present to stand up for someone else, because sometimes you need reinforcements and to know that you are not alone in the fight for fairness and equality.



How has Grand Rapids faired in helping support you as PoC?

Support can be obtained in any city really. It’s the people in it that make the city what it is. I think that’s the main part that some people miss when talking about what a city has to offer. I think we are trying to do better when it comes to POC in business ownership, but we still have a long way to go when it comes to the LGBTQ+ community. Not only am I a woman of color, but I also represent the LGBTQ community, so I can be pulled in either direction when it comes to who is being faired the least or the most. Without the people, regardless of race, religion, sexual preference, gender or disability status, you don’t have a city.

FB: @rebelliouscreatives, IG: aj_rebels2016, www.behance.net/AJohnsonDesi



Sam Cornwell, Designer, Well Design Studio


Can you tell us a bit about yourself? Why is design important to you?
Design is important to me, and should be to everyone, because of how large a role it plays in our day to day lives. It can be a powerful force that influences, inspires, and engages. I always strive to be a positive influence in this way. 



Where do you work and how are you involved in the local community?

I work full-time at Well Design Studio in downtown GR. Well Design Studio is a community-minded studio, meaning we make a conscious decision to use a good piece of our design power to improve our community.



What has been your career path, growth, and obstacles?

As a recent graduate, my career path has many years to grow. Now working as a full-time designer, much of my immediate struggle has been keeping myself inspired and creating really good work that gets recognition. I have found that keeping open interests in things such as reading, movies, and handicrafts keep the creative juices flowing more than anything else.

Instagram: samcornwelldesign and welldesigngr Portfolio website: samcornwell.co and welldesignstudio.com.


Naomi Silas, Principal Designer and Creative Director at Seventh Creative


Can you tell us a bit about yourself? Why is design important to you?
Design is important to me because, it’s something that exists that most people don’t even think about. Everything around us, is designed. Something that is designed well can be beautiful, inspiring, fun or solve real world problems.

Where do you work and how are you involved in the local community?
Currently, I am the Principal Designer and Creative Director at Seventh Creative, an independent design studio. In other words, I’m self-employed... with plans to grow. I’m also the Director of Diversity and Inclusion for AIGA West Michigan. I lead a great committee, and we are actively working on creating an inclusive design community in West Michigan. We also advocate for Designers of Color, and work to expose youth to design in underserved communities. I have a personal goal to advocate for authentic representation in media. As Creative Directors, Art Directors, and Designers we are decision makers in what a campaign or advertisement looks like, and that can be good or sometimes disastrous.

What has been your career path, growth, and obstacles?
Can we talk about the wage gap? According the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Latinas make 55 cents for every $1 that a Caucasian male makes. Caucasian women make 77 cents, and African-American women make 64 cents.

My career path has taken a lot of turns. I graduated from college in 2008, and I always say it was the worst time to graduate and start a career. I was laid-off [from] a paid internship, and like so many other people couldn’t find work. Most of the positions I’ve held have been contracts. I’ve been on great teams and worked on some amazing brands, but being mostly in-house I didn’t have much opportunities to grow like I knew I could, which lead me to freelancing and starting my own company.

How has Grand Rapids faired in helping support you as PoC?
Grand Rapids is sometimes a bubble. As someone who’s not from here originally and as a POC, it’s sometimes hard to feel welcome. It’s sometimes hard to feel like you have a seat at the table. I constantly feel underestimated, but I love surprising people.

There are places that, I’ve definitely found a place at, like AIGA WM and Little Space Studio (creative co-working space). Those have been insurmountable in advancing my career as an entrepreneur.

I’d like to circle back to representation in the media, and if anyone has any questions about what that means, please reach out to me. Or if you’d like to know how you can design for inclusion, I’m here to help.

@seventhcreative on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.


Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Speaking out: Women in tech tackle (lack of) diversity in their field

As Grand Circus ramps up its Grand Rapids launch, the company hosted a panel discussion with all women in tech. I mention specifically a discussion with all women in tech instead of a discussion about women in tech because of how each woman framed their professional experiences that night.

If you weren’t able to make it out to Start Garden on Wednesday, Feb. 8, you really missed out. As packed as we all were in the main room, there was spillover space in the far back, and it was worth the standing to hear the gems powerful messages that each panelist brought to the stage.

Grand Circus gathered an array of professional women in tech from around the city. There was Emily Carbonell-Ferguson of Mighty in the MidwestBecky VandenBout, an independent freelancer; Beth Zuke of Amway; and Andrea Napierkowski of Curly Host, a Grand Rapid-based firm that specializes in Wordpress websites.

To a standing-room-only crowd, panelists spoke about their experiences in the tech field, their opinions on what it means to be a woman in tech, and what they hope to see in the field.

As the night drew on, panelist Andrea Napierkowski found herself behind the mic more and more, adding wit along with some much-needed candid answers to the mostly male room.

When posed with the question, “how do we empower women to succeed," Napierkowski’s replied quickly, saying, “To say that women need to be empowered feels as if we as women do not already have what it takes to do the work. I disagree with that; I think we as women already have what it takes to do the job. What is happening is that we are being overlooked.”

After a brief pause, Napierkowski pressed on to declare, “It seems to me that what the industry needs to be doing is educating our male counterparts as to why they need diversity and inclusion. We women aren’t the problem.” A quick look around the crowd showed a room filling with smiles, nodding heads of agreement, and attempted slow claps, surely paused by the prospect of hearing more from Napierkowski. It was clear that this response summed up the feelings of many in the room.


After the event I took some time to sit down and chat with Napierkowski to further the conversation she championed on the stage.

We hit the ground running and started talking about her strongest response during the panel discussion, and I ask her how she has come to that point of view. Napierkowski tells me that it was not something she came into the field thinking about. “It was actually a surprise to me when I came to the realization a few years ago that there weren’t many women in tech,” Napierkowski adds.

She recounts how she came into the industry really by chance. “It started with one project I gained through a connection; I was coming into all this from international relations and political science background.” Napierkowski shifted careers from her college major to working in the food service industry to building websites. I asked her if she didn’t grow up programming or building websites, what then was her dream job?

“My dream job was to come into people’s houses and clean and organize everything, then make them an amazing meal from whatever was in their kitchen...that never materialized," Napierkowski replies.


I ask her about her prior perception of the tech industry and how it is unusual that she was unaware of the gender gap. “I hit the ground running; I became so involved with my work. I come from a family of very thoughtful learners. We all dive deep into our work and passions” Napierkowski responds.

Napierkowski’s  learning and working approach is different. “Starting off, I had to do everything myself, often taking work and learning it on the go. I picked up a lot of skills, so by the time I had enough work that I had to begin hiring people and collaborating, I realized how advanced I’d become.”

“I imagined everyone in the industry was like me, or better," she elaborates. "You see, I would start a project and have to collaborate with others and realize that they hadn’t touched design, or marketing, or user experience, or backend code. So it made collaborating a bit more difficult; I had to search harder for collaborators that I could work with well.”

Collaboration can be difficult, so we talk about the biggest roadblock to her collaboration process.

“I have worked with very talented programmers who pride themselves in building sites from the ground up," she says. "The sites end up meeting exactly what the client asks for, but they are impossible to figure out on the backend, and makes any adjustments or maintenance tedious.”


Napierkowski adds that her "goal isn’t to make my clients dependent on me. I want them to run their business and use the site flawlessly. I try and make it easy enough for them to update and adjust as they need.”

I point out that I see this trend, coming from small design shops in Grand Rapids, of building a business with a conscience. I ask her if she would describe her business in this way and she replies, “I love my work and clients, don’t get me wrong, but my hope is to not have to see them after the project is done. My work has to be good enough to not break. I actually encourage my clients to try and break it!”

Napierkowski tells me that a website has a life of about two to three years, and that her work quality of work stands the test of time so well that most clients return for their updates and rebuilds.

“There is this idea in the industry that the higher the price the better the quality," she says. "I sometimes take on clients who currently have a custom site that cost them nearly double my rate and I have to go in and fix the mess.”

I press Napierkowski to see if she is willing, or has in the past, arbitrarily raised her bid to get the project, and she sighs, saying, “No, it just doesn’t make any sense. The goal is to get them up and running, I just don’t have time for anything else.”

Napierkowski and I stay and talk longer about tech, client war stories, and the latest films we want to see. In full disclosure I have known her for some years now, but in a different capacity. I have been part of her documentary film club since returning to Grand Rapids some years ago.

Her vast network, kindness, and ever-curious mind have helped to build an impressive roster of clients. Her welcoming approach of having people into her home to orient themselves in the city has always been refreshing in this ever-growing metropolis.

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.
 
Photos courtesy of Start Garden

Help wanted: Exploring (and landing) a design career in West Michigan

Rapid Growth Media recently published a story about all the interesting work being done locally in designing for the world of connectivity, aka the Internet of Things (IoT). For many folks, working on connected devices is not the first thing you might think of when considering a career in design.

Design can mean different things to different people, and it is often a bit misunderstood by individuals without industry familiarity: parents with children exploring careers, students in high school or college figuring out what to study, and even some teachers and career counselors. It’s easy to imagine the conversations. My kid wants to be a designer, what’s that mean?  Fashion? Interior design? Are there jobs?

The truth is design is more interesting than mystifying. It is just that the breadth of careers, areas of study and specialization create truly unique career choices with different skill sets.

Grand Rapids is home to many organizations in many different industries that have robust design teams and can provide very interesting, well paying, and creative careers.

Rapid Growth Media asked Ken Krayer, Director of Design West Michigan, and John O'Neill, President of AIGA West Michigan and the Principal and Creative Director of Conduit, to provide a little perspective as to what a career in design might mean.

(Plus, we highlighted three great companies with job openings for designers, which you can check out at the end of the article.)

RGM:  What are “design jobs”?

KK: “Design jobs” cover a broad range of opportunities and industries, including, but not limited to, communication design, product design, fashion design, interior design, furniture design, sustainable design, experience design, sound design, architecture, information design, and even food design. Many of these disciplines include specialization opportunities, such as type design, as well as collaborative, cross-disciplinary opportunities. Designers often move within and across disciplines over the life of their careers.

RGM: What is the job forecast within the design industry over the next five to 10 years?

KK: We are seeing a brighter spotlight on design, especially here in West Michigan, as more and more companies are placing design at the center of their business strategies. Many Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD) design graduates who could pursue careers elsewhere choose to stay in the area because of the robust opportunities that exist here.
 
RGM: What would surprise people (non-designers) about the design industry and design careers?

KK: Most people who are not designers are surprised at the breadth and depth of career possibilities in design. Other professions often cross over with design due to the interdisciplinary power of design. Some examples of these are photography, engineering, research, marketing, and design management. Design thinking gives non-designers the tools and skills needed to develop and apply iterative solutions to problem solving.

JO: Michigan has a surprisingly robust design community, with jobs in industrial design, architecture, interior design, branding, and UI/UX. In certain fields, such as industrial design, we have more designers per capita than any other state, and these designers make about $10,000 more annually than similar positions in other states.

RGM: Looking at your crystal ball, what and where will the design jobs be in 10 to 20 years?

JO: The law of truly large numbers states that even a small percent of a large number is a large number. China now has 400 design programs and over 10,000 designers graduating each year, so we are no doubt going to see China come onto the international design scene in the next 20 years. However, I still feel that our rich design heritage and world class design institutions have a lot to offer, so it should be interesting.

RGM: What are great sources for information about careers within the design industry?

KK: For any specific statistics on design, I would suggest you see the 2016 Creative State Michigan Creative Industries Report. A copy of the report can be viewed here. Design careers are included within the overall category of creative industries.
 
In addition,for more information on design in our region, visit the Design West Michigan website. Membership is free. You can sign up for our mailings on the web site. Design West Michigan is part of Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University.
 
Design jobs in West Michigan

Are you actively looking for a great job in design?  Here are three very successful, interesting and different companies that currently have job openings.

Ben Smith at Designvox shared an opening for a Web Designer. Check out the job description here.

The team at Visualhero and OST are looking for a senior user experience designer. Find out more here.

If you are interested in working at a larger company, Kedron Rhodes is putting together a design team at Gordon Food Service. To learn about applying, go here.

For more career opportunities, AIGA West Michigan keeps a job board updated here.
 
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

C2 Group looks to build excitement for high tech careers

C2 Group will host six high school students as part of the Kent Intermediate School District's (KISD) Groundhog Shadow Day Program on February 2.

The KISD program is designed to help introduce and prepare students for careers in a wide variety of industries.  Students may choose from one of up to 300 roles to shadow for a day to gain a better understanding of the industry, day-to-day operations and responsibilities, and educational requirements for obtaining successful employment.

At the C2 Group — a Grand Rapids-based, full-service web experience provider — students will learn about careers in the software industry and gain hands-on experience with software design and development while building a mobile app.

Brian Beaupied, marketing communications manager, says this is the second year for C2 Group to participate  in the program and the first in their new location, 560 5th Street NW, Ste. 100 (the Grand Rapids Furniture Campus). He says the firm is committed to supporting community efforts to expose more high school students to the tremendous career opportunities within the tech sector.
 
"It’s important because we need to do our part in building excitement and awareness for careers in the high-demand technology field,” Beaupied says. “Our participation in programs like Groundhog Shadow Day can provide students with actual hands-on experience in a field of their interest, as well as invaluable mentorship from some incredibly talented professionals."

C2 has been in its downtown, westside Grand Rapids location for almost four months. Previously, they were based out of Grandville. The move was made to accommodate the needs of a growing agency. Beaupied says the new location has almost 2,000 more square feet and is designed to support the creative needs of a tech workforce. 

Beaupied says the firm is in the hiring mode.
 
"We’re always interested in talking to qualified candidates for any position (designers, developers, CMS specialists, project leads),” he notes. “We currently have 28 employees with a goal of growing our team by 30 percent during 2016."   Current openings can be found here:http://c2experience.com/about/

For more information about C2 Group, visit www.c2experience.com or follow them on Twitter (@thec2group).

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 

Off the beaten track, West Michigan software firm is adding jobs and growing

Nestled near a cornfield off of M-45 is one of the faster growing, employee-centric software development firms in West Michigan.  

BizStream, a 26-person web and software development company located in Allendale, Michigan, is on the grow. It has recently announced the addition of nine new team members including Budd Wright, Nick Beukema, Dustin Christians, Aaron Coville, Ansel Pineiro, Kevin Stachura, Blair Compston, Dave Valko and Amanda Hodges and has open positions remaining.

BizStream, founded in 2001, builds web, online marketing and software solutions for local, regional, national and international companies. The firm specializes in ASP.NET, SQL Server, Kentico CMS, Kentico EMS, and other content management systems.

Michelle Schmidt, office manager, acknowledges the extreme competition for software talent in West Michigan, but says BizStream is a very attractive company that features competitive wages and benefits and has an appealing culture: "We have fun, work hard and really appreciate the employees." She says the semi-rural location can be a surprise to individuals checking out BizStream, "but once they see the building and the culture they really dig it."

Schmidt says the firm is also committed to spreading the joy of software development and points to the summer's BizStream Academy, a free summer program for individuals interested in learning to code.

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

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Deksia expands office, adds jobs in Southeast Community neighborhood

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

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

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

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

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

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

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

U.K. based Create and Craft opens Grand Rapids office and is hiring

 , a U.K.-based 24-hour crafts TV channel, is expanding its presence into the U.S. craft shopping and education market with a new office In Grand Rapids at the Calder Plaza Center (250 Monroe Ave NW.)

Offering a variety of products and established brands across craft, sewing, quilting, knitting, and niche creative arts, Create and Craft began broadcasting nationally into approximately 40 million homes in the United States on December 29. Programming can be found on Direct TV channels 85 and 222, along with dish Network channel 221 and online at www.createandcraft.com.

Clive Briscoe, Create and Craft's U.S. project leader says as part of the expansion, the firms has already hired six staff for its Grand Rapids office  and plans to hire at least double that number over the coming months.  "The Grand Rapids office will be responsible for website management, digital, marketing, merchandising and logistics coordination at this stage, however we will likely expand in all areas in the new year."

Briscoe says they will be looking for candidates with experience in the areas outlined above and have posted the most recent opening to the West Michigan Public Relations Society of America website and plan to post other relevant job openings on major and local job boards.

The decision to locate in Grand Rapids came down to several factors. "We considered other larger cities including Chicago. Grand Rapids was on our radar initially because of our partnership with Notions Marketing (distribution of our products). After many visits, we discovered West Michigan was a perfect fit for us with a talented workforce and impressive arts culture. We were also happy to learn that Grand Rapids is host to AQS QuiltWeek that attracts 10,000 people."

Create and Craft boasts an interactive website with project tutorials, promotions, and programs, most of which are currently filmed in the U.K, but which will be partially filmed in Grand Rapids in the future. A custom app is expected to be released in early 2015. "We are excited to bring this innovative crafting network into the US market to inspire creativity and creation. We hope crafting enthusiasts will join us online at createandcraft.com, via Roku or on Dish Network channel 221 or Direct TV channels 85 and 222." says Briscoe.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Job News Editor

One Black Crayon is at your service

Frederick Polk is here to help.

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

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

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

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

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

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

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

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

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

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

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

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

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Help wanted: Creative and meaningful work with unlimited opportunity and excellent compensation

Bueller?

Maybe a pop culture reference is not the best way to get people's attention, but for many whose job it is to recruit and hire tech talent, there are moments when they feel no one is listening. And they're working to change that.

The leadership team at OST knows as well as anyone the challenges of hiring technical talent in West Michigan. The firm has been on a growth and hiring binge for the last several years.

Most recently, OST has hired 41 employees since the beginning of 2014 and has 11 additional jobs open in Grand Rapids. But despite their success in hiring, they are also acutely aware of what the numbers say: that only a fraction of students are graduating with technical degrees that will qualify and prepare them for the projected 10,000-plus technology job openings in the state.

It is a job gap that leaves Tamara Iakiri, manager of talent acquisition at OST, a little bewildered at the opportunity that many students will be missing. "It's hard to comprehend," says Iakiri, that many students are not understanding the true opportunities for careers in I.T. where the starting salaries can ranges from $50,000 to $65,000. "We have to get the message out to parents, students and new grads about the tremendous potential in I.T."

To support her case, Iakiri shares the following statistics about technology careers:

-U.S. News 2014 Best Jobs Ranking: #1 - Software Developer
-Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 22.8 percent employment growth 2012 - 2022
-Estimated 139,900 jobs will need to be filled
-2012 mean salary for a software developer was $93,000

In West Michigan:

-$82,904 is median salary in West MI (source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Grand Rapids-Wyoming MSA)
- By comparison, median household income in Grand Rapids is $50,658 (source: Census ACS)

"The comparison reinforces the point that high-tech jobs are well-paid jobs that can bring more discretionary income into the local economy. High-tech workers can easily afford to live in (the) region and even support their family as a sole breadwinner. This can lead to better quality of life and work/life balance," says Iakiri.

OST is not the only business in the area that shares these concerns. In fact, every large corporation, software development firm and startup in West Michigan is aware of the talent shortage.

To address the issue, Iakiri says that several area employers have teamed up to form West Michigan Tech Talent, a group that intends to create and implement a comprehensive plan to fill the pipeline for these jobs. "We have been meeting for four months and are focusing on three primary areas: grow, focused on K-12 and exposing them to career opportunities in tech and providing them with development opportunities; develop, focused on developing tech skills for current professional and those looking to make a career transition; and recruit, focused on recruiting tech talent into the region. Current organizations leading the effort include Spectrum, OST, Atomic Object, Collective Idea, New Horizons, KISD, GRCC, Michigan Works, The Right Place, SEI, Elevator Up, and The Factory."  

If you are interested in learning about this group, you can contact Iakiri at OST.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Up, up and away: Mighty in the Midwest is on the move

Mighty in the Midwest is a Grand Rapids-based web and mobile design and development company. It values organizational culture, collaboration, craftsmanship and its clients. It works on cool projects and it's growing. What's not to like?

Cliff Wegner, founder and CEO, says the firm  has been on a steady diet of growth since it was founded in 2007 with one employee, a 300-square-foot office and a focus solely on web development. "We have grown in staff and services," Wegner says. "We started with only web development and now provide content strategy, project management, and full-service web and mobile design and development. We've doubled in size in the past year, 33% since January, and are moving into a new space three times our current size this summer (Trade Center, 50 Louis)."

Wegner credits his organization's culture as key factor in Mighty's growth: "We have great work and great clients. We are focused on working with clients for the long term. The majority of our clients have been with us for 3-6 years. We have a team that works with that client so there is a sense of personal ownership."  

Besides encouraging a culture that emphasizes long-term relationships, Wegner says the firm's consistently thoughtful approach to work is another significant part of its success. "We have a group that appreciates the details. It requires a level of humility," he says. "How can I get help? Can we work on this together? We really care about work and craftsmanship."

Current projects for Mighty include a complete, strategic redesign of Hope College's website, ongoing work with Start Garden, and their almost three-year relationship with ArtPrize, where Mighty is responsible for the digital and mobile experience.

While there are no immediate job openings, Wegner says he expects to be hiring again soon, anticipating a sales position to be open in the summer. "We hire very, very slowly," he says. "Meaning, we hire if and only when we really need to, which is why we have very, very little turnover."

To learn more about Mighty in the Midwest, you can visit their website here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

First comes love, then comes a really well designed website

Sitting in a Tree is the two-year 'young' startup which provides an online platform and multiple website designs that allow couples to modernize the wedding invitation process.

Since November 2012, Laura Vaughn, co-founder, (along with Julia Jamieson) says they have helped facilitate invitations for over 650 weddings.  She also estimates they receive between 50-100 customer service emails each month, which has necessitated the hiring of a customer service representative, Megan Seeley.  "The volume is too high now for Julia and me to handle the customer service process" says Vaughn who explains that even though their sites are very user friendly to set up and use, it might the first time someone ever went through the process of managing a reservation site.

Seeley will be responsible for handling design and technical questions plus help craft the overall customer service experience for the the site.

Leveraging their experience with wedding R.S.V.P.'s, Vaughn and Jamieson are all ready working on their first product extension, a corporate event site that provides planners with a customized registration experience.  The site, called Blackbird, is near launch.

To learn more about Sitting in a Tree or Blackbird, you can view their sites here and here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

New job openings at Elevator Up and coLearning

Elevator Up, the West Michigan firm that specializes in building websites, apps and mobile experiences, is hiring.

Currently posted is the position for a new business developer. Two more positions, visual designer and product manager, will be posted in the near future. 

Aaron Schaap says the new positions reflect the need to serve the growth of their customers. "Hiring isn't a focus on getting larger but continuing to get better at what we do and putting the right people in place to lead. We continue to enhance our ability to not just help organizations balance business goals with users' needs, but to also help them craft those digital experiences and work with them to launch those products to market."

Besides the positions at Elevator Up, Schaap also has an immediate opening for his coLearning initiative, a learning platform that provides a wide variety of classes in the technical, design and marketing world taught by area professionals. "Now we're ready to develop a dedicated team to take it to the next level," he says. "Our 'admissions recruiter' is the first open position that will be responsible for filling classes and making sure people get into the right courses."

For both coLearning and Elevator Up positions, Schaap stresses the benefits of working for an organization that has a focus on intrinsic rewards. "We let people be part of the whole process. We have a lot of leadership opportunities in Elevator Up. There are specific roles but everyone has a lot of autonomy. We are very open as an organization."

To learn more about Elevator Up and coLearning, you can visit their sites here and here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor.

What's new at Springthrough? Glad you asked

When asked about "what's new" at Springthrough, neither CEO Mike Williams nor their new VP of Interactive, Michael Brown, hesitates in outlining an impressive list of projects, updates, and an optimistic vision for a collaborative and creative workforce in downtown Grand Rapids.

Brown cites a number of "significantly sized" proposals and bids on mobile projects involving iOS, Android and Windows 8 (It's not just an iOS world out there in West Michigan"), a "hot" market for touchscreen interactive, and Springthrough's Platinum Partnership with .NET web content management platform Sitefinity as examples of "what's new" for the 48-person (and growing) technology firm.

Williams follows up on Brown's updates, specifically highlighting the work the firm has done redesigning Haworth's website, Haworth.com. "Haworth has been a phenomenal partner. The launch of Haworth.com was a huge undertaking. It's become quite the partnership."  Springthrough's redesign of the site was awarded Top Five Site List by Sitefinity in June 2013.

Both Williams and Brown reference the potential in the marketplace for development of key strategic partnerships with local and regional creative agencies, with Springthrough adding the technology and enterprise expertise to complex, integrated projects such as the Haworth website and ecommerce store.

Looking at job growth, Williams said the firm is always looking for talent. "We have two distinct services; web and app development and consulting services. Both areas have openings. On the development side, we are currently looking for a senior software architect." Williams also adds that it is very possible they will also be adding 5-10 developers in the near future.

To learn more about Springthrough you can visit their site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
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