Innovation & Job News

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Pop-up ice skating rink coming to East Lansing Valley Court Park

Downtown developers and businesses invite residents to skate into winter fun.

Chamber recognizes established business leaders through new initiative

A new initiative acknowledges the contributions of the boomer generation to the ongoing growth and development of Greater Lansing.

Online marketplace of gently used clothing a perfect fit for tall community

Two entrepreneurs take fashion and clothing business to new heights through an innovative, online marketplace for the tall community.
 

New business accelerator launched through LEAP

As part of its charge to support entrepreneurial and startup activity, the Lansing Area Economic Partnership launched a business acceleration program in December to help companies move products from the concept phase to the marketplace.

Tax resolution service moves headquarters and staff of three to downtown Lansing

As the vice president of ALG Tax Solutions, Mark Hampton and founding partner A.J. Gross focus on providing clients with tax resolution, tax audit and litigation services, and tax preparation during the tax season. He's here, he says, to help you fight the IRS so you can focus on business.

Creative division of Courtland Consulting looks to double staff

Growth and expansion led a small business enterprise technology consulting company based in Mid-Michigan to move their creative division back under the parent company.
 
In May, Courtland Consulting consolidated with Strudell Studios to better serve clients. Dubbed Courtland Creative Division, the East Lansing studio has grown 40 percent over the past several years.
 
"It was the right time to merge," says Steve Trudell, owner and president of Courtland Consulting. "Our customers were positive about the move, and it makes sense to our employees, too."
 
Trudell founded Courtland Consulting in 1990 with the goal of providing consultant services to state and local governments in policy, program administration, system design, programming, training, e-learning, project evaluation and customer service. In 2008, Trudell "spun off" Strudell Studio to focus on creative services as well as to build the web development market.
 
Over time, the division grew, expanded markets, and continued to serve as the creative agency for Courtland's government work and contracts. In the past year, creative projects tripled, leading to double-digit expansion of new team members in sales, customer service and quality assurance.
 
Then as now, Courtland and its creative division serve a large number of community-based organizations, nonprofits, small businesses and local governments. The company recently celebrated 25 years in the Lansing community. Many staff work off-site, with others occupying a 2,000-square foot office space at 1500 Watertower Place in East Lansing.
 
"Giving back is a big part of what we do," says Trudell. "We believe in volunteer work. And on the business side, we're always sharing insights through blogging, speakers, and through involvement on economic development groups."
 
Courtland Consulting currently has 25 employees, with about half in the creative division. Trudell says the company is looking to double the staff by the end of 2015.
 
Source: Steve Trudell, Owner and President, Courtland Consulting
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
    
Got a story idea for Innovation News? Email Ann Kammerer here.

Long-time restaurant manager opts for scraps

Todd Powell has always found the value in things meant for the scrap heap.
 
Got an old washing machine, baby swing, furniture, or even a furnace? He'll take it. Worn-out file cabinets jammed with office paper? He'll take that, too. Any yard waste, old lumber or firewood? Give him a call. He'll be there to haul it away for free.
 
Powell founded Scrap King in late December after eight years of scavenging scrap metal, junk, and the assorted things people pitch and toss aside in modern life. He collects junk curbside, from people's homes and basements, and from an occasional dumpster. He picks up and hauls daily, making the rounds in Eaton, Ingham and Clinton counties, in search of aluminum, steel, copper and other items and materials he can exchange for cash at scrap yards, recyclers and second hand stores.
 
"The best thing is I'm on the road," says Powell. "It's a different situation every day—a different job, a different location. You meet a lot of different people. That's another nice thing about it."
 
Powell swapped a full-time job managing a Panera franchise for life as a scrapper. It was a leap of faith, he says, but it was more than a fair exchange, giving him the time and flexibility to spend with his wife, Kelly, and two baseball-playing kids.
 
The Charlotte-dad says he draws daily on his 25 years of experience in customer service-related businesses to bring a personal, professional tone to his new enterprise. For the naturally-friendly Powell, that comes easy, even on the most demanding days.  And it's paid off, with referrals and word traveling fast among friends, neighbors and businesses looking to clean house.
 
Powell recently brought on two part-time staff to help with heavy lifting. His two sons sometimes ride along, providing a keen eye for the overlooked and unwanted.
 
"They think it's a treasure hunt," says Powell. "They absolutely love it."
 
Source: Todd Powell, Owner, Scrap King
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
    
Got a story idea for Innovation News? Email Ann Kammerer here.

Lansing Bike Co-op offers a shared space to keep cyclists rolling

Building on the bones of an old mechanics garage, a group of innovative bike enthusiasts are providing a space where Lansing residents can rebuild, repair and tune-up their bikes with a little help from their new-found friends.
 
In the works for about a year, the Lansing Bike Co-op opened for spring and summer hours, offering tools, space and knowledge for anyone wanting to learn the mechanics of their non-motorized two-wheelers.
 
"There are a lot of people who need to know how to fix their bikes, or have a bike that isn't worth taking to shop," says co-op president Aaron Fields. "Whatever the case, they rely on their bike for transportation. We saw that need and in the community and wanted to provide the resources."
 
The idea, Fields says, is for people to come to the co-op, get a diagnosis on what needs fixing, and then receive guidance on the tools and steps to follow to keep their bike rolling.
 
"We provide the guidance, you do the fixing," says Fields. "We're an educational resource."
 
The Lansing Bike Co-op received a $3,000 grant this spring from the Tri-County Bicycle Association and matching funds from the Ingham County Land Bank to renovate and equip the garage with plumbing and heat. 
 
"After we get those things installed we can go year round," says Fields. "For now we can only store stuff here and work in the parking lot."
 
The co-op is typically opened Wednesday nights until nightfall, with other hours posted on Facebook. The co-op also holds a "judgment free zone" Ladies Night on the first and third Sundays of the month.
 
"I learned how to fix bikes here," says Fields. "Taking a bike apart demystifies things pretty quickly. There's not as much to them as you think, and once you start messing around with them, you find out that they're pretty straight forward."
 
The co-op shares the two-bay building with Go Green Trikes—Greater Lansing's trike courier service. The Lansing Bike Co-op is all volunteer-based, with board members including Fields, Mike Tostoh, Emily Petz and Carrie Nelson. About 15 to 20 people on average stop in during open nights, with a donation of $10 per hour of stand time suggested but not required.
 
Source: Aaron Fields, President, Lansing Bike Co-op
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor

Got a story idea for Innovation News? Email Ann Kammerer here.

Elizabeth Williams School of Dance expands footprint with new dance company

An established studio in Williamston focused on the art of dance formed a new company this summer that offers additional performance opportunities.
 
Elizabeth Williams Dancers will augment the courses and education provided through Elizabeth Williams School of Dance. Membership is by audition, with company members performing at multiple locations around the community throughout the year.
 
Owner and founder Elizabeth Williams opened her school 22 years ago in Williamston after years of experience as a professional dancer and teacher on the East and West Coasts, Lansing Community College, Michigan State University and studios around Greater Lansing. Her Williamston studio excels in teaching and annual performances of ballet, tap and jazz. She says community interest and demand led her to start the separate dance company.
 
"My dancers keep getting better and better," Williams says. "We realized we had everything all set in place, and decided that we were pretty well good to go."
 
The non-profit Elizabeth Williams Dancers held auditions in early June. Williams says she hopes to build the company to about 40 members—including family members.
 
"If you don't dance, you can do things behind the scenes," Williams says. "Members can make costumes, do marketing, or other things."
 
Williams says she has always encouraged family members to get the full experience of dance, and invites parents and siblings of dancers on stage during year-end performances.
 
"It ends up turning on a lot of kids and parents to the art of dance through nothing more than just being on stage in a costume with their son or daughter," says Williams. "I've opened up a lot of eyes that way, and it's a great way to find related talents—from videography to sewing."
 
The Elizabeth Williams Dance Company is planning to perform at various festivals, community centers, and other venues throughout the year. The Elizabeth Williams School of Dance averages about 70 students a year and offers 24 classes taught or overseen by Williams, her general director, and a dance instructor. Williams also hopes to physically expand the 40-by-20 foot studio located at 128 W. Grand River in the coming year.
 
Source: Elizabeth Williams, Owner, Elizabeth Williams School of Dance
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
    
Got a story idea for Innovation News? Email Ann Kammerer here.

Franchise junk hauler and soon-to-be mover cleans up dirty job

There's a new business in town that's cornering the market on "hunkiness."
 
Beginning in July, College Hunks Hauling Junk will dispatch well-trained, personable, and well-groomed staff to whisk away those piles of debris, useless furnishings, old appliances and electronics, and other unsightly items and scraps that invade the space of any household or commercial office.
 
"Will 'hunks' really show up at your door?" says Clark Burkle, owner of the new franchise. "We say yes. That's because each and every staff member represents the acronym of what 'hunks' stands for."
 
Hunks, Burkle explains, stands for Honest, Uniformed, Nice, Knowledgeable Service. While being a student isn't a qualifier for being on the College Hunks team, image, customer service, and reliability are when it comes to serving clients.
 
"We're very solid about setting and keeping appointment times," says Bill Willbrandt, Burkle's business partner. "We don't just give you a window or time range. We're working hard to bring professionalism to what's sometimes considered a 'dirty job.'"
 
The College Hunks franchise will be the first in Greater Lansing for the national company. With headquarters in Tampa, Fla., the franchise offers home movers, officer movers, junk removal, donation pick ups and moving labor services across the United States and Canada. Burkle's operation is one of a handful in Michigan, and among about 50 nationwide.
 
The East Lansing-Okemos based College Hunks will focus on the junk removal side of the franchise for starters, then expand into local moving services come fall. Burkle says he and Willbrandt decided the franchise would be a good fit for the area—both based on the availability of a labor pool, a mobile university community, and the growing population of downsizing seniors.
 
"One man's junk is another man's treasure," says Burkle. "A lot of what we remove we'll recycle. We'll be working very hard to minimize what goes into a landfill and to find a home for every piece we collect."
 
Burkle plans to hire eight part-time employees. The franchise will have two trucks—one for junk hauling, the other for moving come fall.
 
Source: Clark Burkle, Owner, College Hunks Hauling Junk and College Hunks Moving
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
    
Got a story idea for Innovation News? Email Ann Kammerer here.

Computer engineer connects patients and caregivers through remote system

Nevin Brittain started his career in engineering technologies helping large corporations securely share data and collaborate. Two years ago, he began applying his expertise to help caregivers securely and safely monitor patients and loved ones living at home.
 
Brittain says he wasn't necessarily looking to change the arc of his career when he launched Health Numeric, but rather to address a problem he had seen first-hand.
 
Shortly before graduating from college, his great-grandmother died from complications of diabetes. Her health, Brittain says, had been affected by the absence of common and collaborative communication among caregivers, as well as the lack of an effective system for monitoring her in-home care.
 
"I knew one day that I wanted to pursue and solve that problem," says Brittain. "After graduating and working for a while, I had the knowledge to provide a solution."
 
Brittain went on to develop a HIPAA compliant cloud platform and support service that aids physicians, nurses, family members, and others involved in a patient's care. Comprehensive information obtained through a remote monitoring system allows caregivers to monitor a patient's daily health vitals, generate progress reports, and receive notifications when measurements go beyond a set range.
 
Health Numeric works by pairing medical devices a patient uses to check weight, glucose blood pressure or other conditions with Bluetooth technology. The technology then transmits real-time data to a cloud-based platform that can be accessed by caregivers.
 
"It's very simple to use," Brittain says. "It connects to devices that are familiar to the patient and doesn't require the patient to have Internet access. Once we install the system in the home, it feels no different to patients than what they've been doing in the past. Now there's simply someone at the other end, providing another level of comfort."
 
Brittain says the goal of Health Numeric is to help patients be more successful in staying in their homes by reducing the probability of medical complications and hospital readmissions.
 
Health Numeric is headquartered in the East Lansing Technology and Innovation Center. Brittain works with four onsite personnel and about 10 developers and contractors. A frequent blogger and information provider, Brittain is also engaged in a pilot study through Wayne State University that examines the efficacy of monitoring patient care from home.
 
Source: Nevin Brittain, Founder, Health Numeric
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
    
Got a story idea for Innovation News? Email Ann Kammerer here.

New trail attracts thirsty visitors to Mid-Michigan

Visitors and "staycationers" in Greater Lansing can follow an additional path to leisure and entertainment through the area's new beer, wine and spirits trail.
 
Inspired by the legendary Kentucky Bourbon Trail as well as winery and brewery tours across Michigan, the Greater Lansing Convention and Visitor's Bureau banded with area wineries, distilleries, cider mills, breweries and brewpubs to form the new Makers and Shakers Trail.
 
The trail highlights 13 members of Mid-Michigan's growing libations industry, stretching from downtown Lansing to St. Johns. Trailblazers can go online for a brochure and map, as well as suggestions for eateries, transportation resources, and festivals that celebrate Greater Lansing's culture of craft beer, wine and spirits.
 
"The trail is a great way to get people excited about all the new places," says Tracy Padot, vice president of marketing and communications for the Greater Lansing Convention and Visitor's Bureau. "Our mission is to attract people from outside the region to come to town, spend the night, and see and experience the attractions along the trail."
 
The CVB introduced the Makers and Shakers Trail during the recent Tourist in Your Own Town celebration in late May. Padot says the concept has been bubbling since fall as a way to collectively market area attractions and build Greater Lansing as a tourist and "day-tripper" destination.
 
"People from outside the region will be more surprised than residents about all we have to offer," Padot says. "Residents have been tied in for years. The trail gives us even more cache as a place to visit."
 
Source: Tracy Padot, Vice President of Marketing and Communications, Greater Lansing Convention and Visitors Bureau
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
    
Got a story idea for Innovation News? Email Ann Kammerer here.

Ma Ma C's sauces it up with new deli in Lansing City Market

For Carol Davis, the secret has always been in her sauces.
 
But recently, the food entrepreneur from Laingsburg has ventured into serving deli-styled sandwiches for the lunch crowd through the Lansing City Market.
 
Ma Ma C's  offers daily combo specials that range from specialty hot dogs to tacos to pita sandwiches. Open since March, Davis also provides yogurt and fruit cups, bottled water, and gourmet popcorn for the diner looking for a lunch or snack on the lighter side.
 
"We're completely homemade, and everything we have is primarily made with Michigan products," says Davis. "We try to keep our prices around $6 for lunch. That's a good deal."
 
Davis says her son and co-owner John Buono persuaded her to start the deli based on the success of her popular line of Ma Ma C's sauces and other core products. Since 2008, Davis has been concocting and canning flavorful gourmet finishing sauces, glazes, marinaras, guacamole and pickled vegetables like asparagus.  Davis says she's perfected her line of 12 core products made with tomatoes, onions, celery, green and red sweet peppers, salt, vinegar, sugar and spices that can be paired with meats, pastas, chips, and added to recipes and sauces.
 
Deli customers can sample sauces and core products on particular lunch selections, as well as purchase them through the City Market site. Sauces and core products are also found at area stores including Merindorf Meats, up north around Houghton Lake and Harrison, at the Flint City Market, and at occasional craft shows.
 
"The location here is a good start to see if we want to do a deli," Davis says. "I just like meeting new people and having a good time making food."
 
Ma Ma C's is located near the south door of the Lansing City Market in a 16-by-12 foot vendor space. Davis runs the deli with her son, and hopes to move to a brick-and-mortar location depending on customer response.
 
Source: Carol Davis, Owner, Ma Ma C's
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
    
Got a story idea for Innovation News? Email Ann Kammerer here.

Enormous mural celebrates REO Town history

Beginning in 1904, the REO Town Motor Car Company and Diamond REO filled the landscape of Lansing's South Side before shuttering in 1975. Starting this summer, REO Town Motors will fill the landscape again when a local artist installs a mural that celebrates the Oldsmobile era.
 
At the end of June, Grand Ledge artist Tony Hendrick will adorn one of the original REO production facilities with a 56-foot by 28-foot mural. Hendrick's "Community Heart of REO" will be attached to the side of the now Quality Dairy building, just south of the railroad tracks on S. Washington Ave. Painted with acrylics on composite aluminum panels, the mural will face the site of the former plant, employee clubhouse, and epicenter of Ransom E. Olds' vision for a company and community that built cars and trucks.
 
Hendrick admits he didn't know a whole lot about REO Town and its history when he was first approached by the REO Town Commercial Association to do artwork that commemorated the Oldsmobile era. Since then, he's learned about REO Town heritage, and has met people who have both new and old connections with the company and area.
 
"Ransom E. Olds had a vision for a community withing the company," Hendrick says. "And what I've seen throughout this project is the continued passion and heart for this community."
 
Hendrick's mural has been in the works since February, and will integrate images of manufacturing and employee facilities, REO motorcars and trucks, and about a dozen portraits of former Diamond REO employees or family members. The R.E. Olds Transportation Museum supported Hendrick's work by providing studio space at the museum, and helped him connect with former employees, vehicle owners and historians.
 
"The biggest thing I love about working on community mural projects is I get to help people express something that I think all of us have inside us," Hendrick says. "That's the desire to connect and recognize that we're all one. I think this project is very expressive of that."
 
"Community Heart of REO" will be Hendrick's second mural for REO Town. His first was created for the Oldsmobile Centennial and hung in REO Town up until a few years ago. That  mural is now displayed at the R.E. Olds Transportation Museum. Hendrick's new project is supported by a $19,305 grant awarded in October 2014 through the City of Lansing's Sense of Place in the Arts Program.
 
Grand Ledge Artist Tony Hendricks plans to install his new mural "Community Heart of REO" on the Quality Dairy building at 1400 S. Washington Ave., beginning around 11 a.m. on Saturday, June 27. The event will coincide with REO Town's 3rd Annual Beer Fest. 
 
Source: Tony Hendrick, Artist, "Community Heart of REO" project
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor

Got a story idea for Innovation News? Email Ann Kammerer here.

River Town Adventures grows fleet in second season

Nate Williams says missing out on a Cedar Point trip two years ago was one of the best things that ever happened to him—at least from a business perspective.
 
Instead of getting wet on splash rides, Williams went kayaking with friends on Lansing's Red Cedar River. That day, he says, literally "launched a thousand ships"—or at least the idea behind the growing number of water vessels available to rent through River Town Adventures.
 
Williams opened the kayak and canoe rental business with his lifelong friend Paul Brogan in June 2014. Since then, River Town Adventures has grown from a fleet of eight kayaks and six canoes to 43 single kayaks, four tandem kayaks, 10 canoes, two paddle boards, and two paddle boats. A pontoon may join the fleet as the summer progresses.
 
"The very first weekend we were opened, we had every single boat on the river," says Williams. "We just kept buying boats all summer."
 
River Town paddlers can cruise 12 routes on the Red Cedar and Grand Rivers, meandering from Williamston to downtown, and from Dimondale to Grand Ledge. Paddlers meet outside the Lansing City Market on the River Trail and are shuttled with their rented boat of choice to their selected drop. Once on the water, paddlers make their way back downstream to River Town headquarters.
 
"You get to see the city from a totally different perspective when you're out on the river," says Williams. "It's really cool to go through downtown and see the Boji Tower and the Accident Fund and to go by the REO Museum. Plus, there's lots of nature within the city. You feel like you're 100 miles from everywhere."
 
Williams says he never expected River Town Adventures to grow so fast since he and Brogan were initially interested in simply providing a casual option for folks in town over long weekends.
 
River Town Adventures runs May through October, weather permitting, and employs six staff—four new this season. Williams and Brogan are also looking to build an "off season" business that involves providing limousine bus service for private parties.
 
Source: Nate Williams, Co-owner, River Town Adventures
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
    
Got a story idea for Innovation News? Email Ann Kammerer here.
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