Steel Supply & Engineering wins state grant to bring innovative stair-step to market

Sharon Hanks

Steel Supply & Engineering has landed a $265,000 state grant to help it launch a new stair-step product that's made from used shredded tires, replacing the traditional steel-and-concrete model typically used in commercial construction.

Jessie Beveridge, a project manager at the firm at 1222 Burton St. SE in Grand Rapids, says the rubber-like stairs can be molded with detailed designs -- such as a company's logo - and ordered in different colors. While the cost to the customer will be about the same as the older product, the yet-unnamed new stair-step eliminates several weeks in the construction process and is much easier to install, he says.

Beveridge was one of six employees handpicked in 2008 to be part of several innovation teams the company's parent firm, The Armada Group, Inc. formed to encourage entrepreneurship and innovation. He says Lori Visser, Steel Supply's director of administration, suggested creating the teams.

"I thought it was great that we set time aside if not every week, every other week, to say 'We're going to create something new. We're going to think out of the box,'" Beveridge says. "Everybody is busy, but everybody made time. It's exciting to be part of something new.

"In the process, we've got another game-changing product in the works that I can't talk about. Once you're in that mindset and you see the possibilities, you instantly think differently. You think, 'What's next?'"

More than 50 percent of the new patent-pending product is composed of a dual density polyurethane-based material and includes an internal steel skeleton, Beveridge says.

Beveridge says the company is grateful for the grant from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment to help bring the product to market. The team was helped along the way by Innovation Works, a program of The Right Place, Inc. that offers training and resources for inventors and entrepreneurs.

"It was a lot to tell (Armada Group owner) Jeff (Dean) that we've got this fantastic idea, but it's going to cost half-a-million (dollars) in start-up costs in today's bumpy market," says Beveridge. "This allows us to move faster and complete this process." He expects the product to be available in the market within 18 months.

In addition to Steel Supply that employs 175, The Armanda Group includes Imperial Metal Products, CoroTech Co., SS & E MetalCraft and Tall Grass Properties, Beveridge says.

Source: Jessie Beveridge, project manager, Steel Supply & Engineering, Inc., Grand Rapids

Sharon Hanks is innovations and jobs news editor at Rapid Growth Media. Please send story ideas and comments for the column to Sharon at [email protected]. She also is owner of The Write Words in Grand Rapids.

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