Innovation & Job News

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Michigan start-up marries urban planning with aerial drone technology, advances in NY-based contest

The seemingly unlikely partnership between a pair of urban planners and a professional drone pilot has resulted in a unique company that has captured the attention of the state of New York. It's the sort of groundbreaking company that can only be formed at a kitchen table over pizza and red wine.

Urban planners Adrianna Jordan and Daniel Brooks own the Oakland County-based firm Pivot Planning & Design. While enjoying dinner in Jordan's home with friend and professional drone pilot Zachary Halberd, the idea for their new company together, Quantifly, was born. Quantifly employs aerial drone technology to provide unique data sets in parking and traffic study analysis.

"Urban planners, transportation engineers; they've been doing things the same way for more than 50 years," says Jordan. "There hasn't been a lot of innovation in the industry."

Quantifly fills that innovation gap and they're being noticed for it. In just a year, the trio has advanced as finalists in the second round of the GENIUS NY program. Already guaranteed $250,000 in prize money, Quantifly now has the opportunity to win up to $1 million in grand prizes should they win an April event.

The fact that it's New York is an important one. Halberd says that Syracuse, New York, is considered the Silicon Valley of autonomous aerial drone research.

A stipulation of the contest is that the company must move to New York. The state takes a small percentage stake as it invests in the business, too. But for the $250,000 already won, and a shot at $1 million, the trio says it's worth it.

Despite having to move the company to New York, the Quantifly founders will keep some of their operations here in metro Detroit. It's an appropriate place for this type of research, they say.

"For all the work going into autonomous flying vehicles in New York, there's work going into autonomous vehicles here in Detroit," says Brooks. "It goes very well together."

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

Autoliv creating 384 jobs over 5 years

The auto-safety manufacturer Autoliv is consolidating its operations in Southfield into one facility and is expecting to create 384 jobs over five years boosted by a $2.6 million grant approved by the Michigan Strategic Fund.

"It was a cost-saving move to consolidate all four of our electronics-based employees under one roof for our employees to better collaborate and efficiently serve our customers," the company tells Metromode.

In October, the company broke ground for its 180,000-square-foot Electronics Technical Center. Construction is expected to be completed in the first half of 2019.

Jonna Construction, Harley Ellis Devereaux, and Signature Associates have all been tapped with work on the new facility. Autoliv's hiring plans will mainly be in engineering, research, design, and development in sensor and radar technology, brake systems, and camera technology, according to the company.

Autoliv is a leading automotive safety supplier of airbags, seat belts, steering wheels, and more. With autonomous driving the engine for the future of mobility, the company says Autoliv is "fortunate to be among the leading companies providing technology to help save more lives."

"We are unique in that our products must work as designed because they have only one change to get it right," the company tells Metromode. "From airbags, seat belts, steering wheels, to night vision, radar, stereo vision cameras, safety is our business, and we trust that our customers and the end costumers will rely on us to keep them safe on the journey. "

Also, Autoliv's Auburn Hills Technology Center is undergoing what the company describes as a "refresh" over the next year and a half. Among the upgrades include workspaces, cafeteria, and conference rooms. Progress is underway on an estimated $1 million expansion, according to the City of Auburn Hills. The additional 124 spaces will bring the total number of parking spaces to 589, according to the city.

Autoliv has 70,000 employees across 80 facilities in 27 countries.

Honey creating oasis for mothers in Ferndale

As the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention, and that essentially sums up how Brooke Miller created honey, a comprehensive wellness space for mothers and mothers-to-be in Ferndale. The mom of two was then inspired to open honey because it was something she wanted—and couldn’t find.

She first opened in Royal Oak after sharing the idea with a friend who had a room to rent. It took a year to build relationships with other moms, find out what they wanted, and write up her business plan. She then relocated to Ferndale, significantly expanding her space. Honey recently marked its one-year anniversary in the Ferndale location.

“I went from a room to a business,” Miller says. And the business has been flourishing since the move, with the addition of new services and staff.

The 2,000-square-foot space on Hilton Road is an oasis for mothers whether they need some rest or to do some work. It looks and feels more like a good friend’s living room, with candles and flowers decorating the calming space, a dark gray couch with plenty of pillows and a large chalkboard that communicates honey’s mission and vision. 
The foundational programs are the six-week group sessions, separated into different sections depending on the age of the child. In addition to the groups, honey offers psychotherapy and counseling services (Miller is a licensed psychotherapist), a full-service salon, a photo studio, and business coaching and networking.

The business services have been so successful that honey is launching a six-month business program called Final Push to help women entrepreneurs not only build a foundation upon to create their business but also to give them the resources to ensure their long-term success. 
Miller, a Michigan native who moved to California for several years for college and work and recently returned with her family, took some time to answer questions about her business and show Metromode around honey, which was in the middle of upgrading its childcare room and co-working space when we visited recently.

What inspired you to come up with the idea to create a comprehensive wellness space for moms that includes yoga, beauty services, and co-working?

What inspired me in the first place was simply that I was looking for this space. I couldn't find it. So I started it myself. My daughters were two and four months at the time, and I started honey with the hope that there were other moms out there who wanted the same thing I did: community.

My job has shifted though, from building what I needed to building what the mamas in our community want, need and deserve. Honey belongs to our mamas. We've added healing and supportive services along the way that they have asked for. It's been an honor to run a business where I'm most often able to say, yes ... we can do that for you.

You cater to moms and moms to be. On your website, you share your personal struggles and how it was motherhood that brought you to your knees. What was it about motherhood that was more challenging than brain surgery, depression, and a childhood fire?

Everything I've been through in my life like depression, brain tumors, fires, and anything else, was and has been about me—my body, struggles, my traumas, my choices, my healing. Becoming a mother has been a personal journey, but the act of mothering, although we like to pretend is about us, isn't at all. 
It's about ushering another human towards their path, giving them as many tools as they are willing to receive, and taking a big deep breath as they do life in the way that is best for them. … There is nothing more transformative, scary, messy, beautiful, magical, nauseating, joyful than motherhood. Brain surgery is nothing compared.

Moms are often bombarded with conflicting information. What are some examples of this?

There is a lot of information out there—people want to express themselves. People who just want to “help.” It's not specific information that's bad per se, it's just … too much information. Too many people getting their help all over the place. Everyone thinks they have the truth ... and they share it online, in line at the grocery store, when they come to see the baby. 
When a new mom who isn't sure what her personal truth is yet, isn't sure what her unique right is, and isn't confident on her way yet … it can be mind-numbing-heart-racing-self-judging-overwhelming.

My team and I always focus on calming those outside voices, helping moms connect with the inner wisdom they were gifted when they became mothers. Their maternal instinct is powerful, and it's always there—although sometimes pushed down by the stampede of information coming towards them at all times. From our space to our programs to the music in the background. We strive to have less noise, more heart.

Honey is located at 3136 Hilton Rd., Ferndale, MI 48220. 248-232-2555.

Novi's Morrison Industries aims to hire 100 employees over two years

Morrison Industries, which makes steel shipping containers for the manufacturing industry and custom shipping racks for automakers, is growing, and opening a second manufacturing plant in Novi. 

Production at the 50,000-square-foot Morrison Industries North is on track to begin in January. The goal is to start production with 15 to 20 employees and aim for 100 employees "over the next 24 months," the company says. It'll be looking to hire in the following jobs: welder, fabricator, maintenance and general office staff.

"The central location in the metro area allows us to provide the most convenient access to our customers, with locations in both the northern and southern regions," the company says.

Morrison Industries, founded in 1979, is based in Morrison, Tennessee, and counts GM, Mercedes-Benz, Tesla, and Toyota as some of its clients.

"We're not a stranger to growth and expansion," CEO Jacob Wilson says in a memo posted on Morrison Industries' website. "Over the last 25 years, our family-owned company has grown to be one of the most trusted names in auto-rack manufacturing. We are excited to better position ourselves to serve both current and new customers."

123Net surpasses over 100 employees

123Net, an internet service provider based in Southfield, recently hired its 100th employee—and the company continues to grow.

According to the company, the "arms race for more bandwidth has driven 123Net to continue hiring to keep pace." The jobs filled recently include fiber team employees, fiber designers, a software designer and several sales employees.

123Net offers services in sectors like automotive, healthcare, software, finance, and its mission is to get the the entire state connected. According to the company, which was founded in 1995, it is continuing to expand its 3,500-mile fiber network throughout Michigan. It also aims to expand its team at least 30% every year.

"We pride ourselves on hiring diverse, Michigan-based talent," 123Net President and CEO Dan Irvin says in a release. "This business was built on the backs of hardworking Michiganders hired from our own backyard."


Brose expansion to add 300 jobs

Brose North America, an auto supplier headquartered in Auburn Hills, is expanding and adding 300 jobs. 

Brose, a subsidiary of Brose in Germany, will be investing $105 million locally over the next five years — the Auburn Hills headquarters and also a manufacturing plant in New Boston. Brose told Metromode the site's expansion is a result of new business that requires welding, paint, and track lines as well as the need to increase seat structure assembly lines.

The company will be hiring for human resources, finance, logistics and engineering, as well as production operators, paint and welding technicians, maintenance workers, and quality technicians.

The investment is part of a $2.7 million grant approved by the Michigan Strategic Fund, which, in 2014 had approved a $4.25 million grant for Brose. In total, Brose will be adding 775 jobs and pumping $202 million into the expansion. 

Brose was founded in Germany in 1908 and established its North American operations in 1993 and manufactures, markets, and supplies auto parts including window, door, and seat systems, according to Brose. It also has a plant in Warren.

The company had a busy 2017 as it opened two new plants: one in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and one in Belvidere, Illinois. The expansion in New Boston, along with an expansion in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, are scheduled to be completed in 2018. Brose also said construction is underway for a new plant in Queretaro, Mexico, that should open by 2018.

Oakland County cities, townships recognized for entrepreneurial climate, job growth

The iLab's eCities research group at UM-Dearborn, which analyzes the influence of entrepreneurship, economic development, and job growth, released its annual study that recognizes communities that create inviting business environments and encourage entrepreneurial growth and highlights how local governments are supporting and growing the business climate.

Some of the communities that received a five-star designation in Oakland County include Troy, Rochester Hills, and Huntington Woods; Berkley, Pontiac and Madison Heights are a few cities designated as four-star.

“It is a great benefit when residents can access the products and types of businesses within the city limits,” Berkley City Manager Matt Baumgarten said in a release. “We will continue to work toward maintaining a positive environment that fosters creativity and sustainability for Berkley’s entrepreneurs and all businesses to thrive in.”

According to eCities, the projected entailed researchers at iLabs, University of Michigan-Dearborn’s Center for Innovation Research in the College of Business collecting data on 277 communities and their development. Then a panel with backgrounds in entrepreneurship, development, and government selected the ones to be recognized as the top communities.

Final Girls convenes women filmmakers across metro Detroit for community, collaboration

Women filmmakers in metro Detroit are one step closer to fulfilling their mission to build community in the traditionally male-dominated film industry, with help from more than $15,000 from a Knight Arts Challenge grant and a successful Kickstarter campaign.


The Kickstarter wrapped up on November 2, raising $5,291 to match a $10,000 Knight Arts Challenge grant.


The collective of women in the film and video industry was founded by documentary filmmaker Andrea Claire Morningstar, who was inspired to start the group after meeting with the national women filmmakers' group Film Fatales at her film’s premiere at the SXSW Film Festival. Back in Detroit, Morningstar pow-wowed with local filmmaker Jasmine Rivera, and the pair decided to launch a Detroit chapter of the organization.


“Women are a minority in the industry. It's still very much a boys' club and together we have common experiences being a minority in the industry that we share, that makes us all feel a little less crazy,” says Morningstar. “We all tend to be pretty strong and independent, and I think that there's a trap in that, and you end up putting up with a lot of crap.”


The group quickly realized, however, that they needed to start their own organization to better fit the needs of women filmmakers in Detroit.


“The Film Fatales have a pretty strict policy that you have to have directed and distributed a feature film to be a Film Fatale. I loved the camaraderie, but I wasn't a feature director and I only knew one feature director in Detroit. So I wanted to start something that has the feeling and the support of a women's film groups without the restrictions of having to be a director because I just didn't feel like that works for Detroit.”


So in 2014, Morningstar and a small group of women began meeting as “Final Girls,” so named for the trope of the last girl in a slasher flick (although Final Girls’ members work across a spectrum of genres). Within a few months, the group had grown to ten active members, who began sharing their struggles and stories and lending support to one another.


“I think everybody was really hungry for that kind of support, and it was one of the only places that women filmmakers met with other women filmmakers on a regular basis,” Morningstar recalls. "One of my favorite moments was when somebody needed a dolly--that thing you push along the tracks to get a smooth shot--and four people raised their hand and they all had dollies that were available.”


Today, the group has grown to 20 active members with a larger community of approximately 80 women across the state, according to Morningstar. And the camaraderie has yielded more than equipment sharing, says Morningstar; several collaborative creative projects have arisen organically from the conversation.


As the group grew, they identified a suite of features they would like to offer, which led to the successful Knight Arts Challenge Grant application. The funding will cover out-of-pocket meeting expenses as well as help to fund visits by guest artists, networking events, and works-in-progress screenings.


Special attention to serving underrepresented groups is part and parcel of the group’s core values.


“There's this sea change going on in the industry, not just in our industry but every industry and it's like, ‘okay, we've had these issues for awhile and now it's time more than ever to do something’. You see kind of this emerging wave of more diverse stories being told,” says Final Girl member Eden Villarba-Sabolboro, who recently immigrated from the Philippines. ”I feel like women now more than ever have to be the ones to tell their own stories, especially minority women.”


For Morningstar, that sense of community is the path to building a better future for all women, filmmakers or not.


“People feel excited to be part of other people's creative process. I know that when it's happened, just casually between us as filmmakers we get really excited about one another's work,” says Morningstar. “We come up with ideas, resources for one another, I think that can happen on a larger community level in a way that really benefits everybody in the community, not just the filmmakers.”


U-M tech commercialization programs receive $2.66 million in state funding

A recent funding renewal will allow two University of Michigan (U-M)-administered programs to continue their mission of supporting collaboration among state universities and spinning off technologies developed at universities into startup businesses.

The Michigan Strategic Fund – an oversight board for the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) – approved $1.4 million for the Michigan Corporate Relations Network (MCRN) and $1.26 million for Technology Transfer Talent Network (T3N), funding each program for another year.


"The state continues to fund these programs because they show results," says Stella Wixom, executive director of the U-M Business Engagement Center and principal investigator of the MCRN grant.


MCRN started in 2011 as a collaboration between six state universities but has since expanded to include all 15 state universities. T3N, also created in 2011, was started with help from the MEDC to provide talent programs and resources to support the commercialization of university projects.

Talent resources provided by T3N include a fellowship program, a mentors-in-residence program, university post-doctoral fellowships, and a statewide talent resource network.


"These programs touch on three key areas that are integral parts of commercializing technology: business engagement, technology transfer, and research," says Denise Graves, MEDC university relations director. She says the renewed funding will allow both programs to "expand and refine" the work they're doing supporting all 15 public universities across Michigan.


While the focus of both programs is on finding commercial channels for university-created technologies, much of the work they do is about "building relationships," Graves says.


That relationship-building includes setting up mentorship programs and getting interns into small and medium-sized businesses.


Graves says mentors with "deep industry knowledge" are matched with faculty to help them commercialize technology, get first customers and funding, and provide feedback to faculty on what they need to do to make the technologies viable in the marketplace.


Wixom says the state is interested in exposing students to small and medium-sized companies that students might otherwise overlook. The grant money will help students get internships in those smaller companies.


"A lot of those companies are thrilled with the talent and convert those internships to full-time positions, and the students are more interested in staying after having hands-on experience at those companies," Wixom says.


Wixom says it's important to note that the collaborations among state universities to create technology spinoffs is "a really unique offering."


"It makes us competitive in the country in terms of companies locating here," Wixom says. "I've talked to folks in Texas and Mississippi who are trying to emulate this model. The partnerships and support from the state make us attractive and friendly to businesses."


Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at


Photos courtesy of MCRN and MEDC.

Now pouring: Eastern Market Brewing Company officially opens in the market

Adventures in renovating old buildings often reveal all sorts of surprises.

In Eastern Market, an old meat packing plant has recently been redeveloped into a brewery. The long German-style wooden tables have legs made out of old ammonia cooling pipes. An old meat scale has been re-purposed. So, too, has the meat rail.

And when Dayne Bartscht, co-founder and co-owner of Eastern Market Brewing Company, was tearing out ceilings, old meat hooks started cascading from above.

They worked those into the interior design, too.

Bartscht and his crew recently celebrated the official opening of Eastern Market Brewing on Friday, Oct. 20.

For Bartscht, it's been important to remain connected to the building's past, as well as the market's. Working old relics into the decor is one thing, but he says he's also committed to celebrating and becoming part of the rich community that is Eastern Market.

"There have been at least nine different breweries in Eastern Market over the past 150 years," says Bartscht. "It stopped when Stroh's left. We're hoping to bring brewing in the market back to life."

Taking advantage of their location, many of the ingredients that go into Eastern Market Brewing's beers come straight from the market itself. The brewery isn't building a kitchen, but instead will have a food truck parked outside the building. And Bartscht says that customers are allowed to bring in meals from any of the surrounding Eastern Market restaurants, be it from Supino Pizzeria, Russell Street Deli, or otherwise.

At any given time, the brewery plans on having ten to twelve beers on tap. It's small batch brewing, so customers can expect the beer selection to change over failry quickly.

While it may be too early to call it their flagship beer, Bartscht considers the Market Day IPA to be their baseline IPA. They'll incorporate different ingredients into the beer each month, depending on what's in season at the market.

A can seamer is on site, so customers can take home beer straight from the tap.

Eastern Market Brewing Company is open Tuesday through Thursday from noon to 10 p.m., Friday from noon to midnight, Saturday from 10 a.m. to midnight, and Sunday from noon to 8 p.m. It is located at 2515 Riopelle St. in Detroit.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

Young entrepreneur develops web platform for learning American Sign Language

The nice thing about learning a new language is that you can go to the country of origin and study with the native speakers. Learning German? Go to Germany. Learning Spanish? Go to Spain. It's always a nice option for a language student, to study abroad.

Well, not always. The fact is that when learning American Sign Language, you can't just go to a country full of Deaf people. Sure, the classroom and its formal lessons are important when becoming fluent in a language, but so, too, is small talk, where you learn the everyday nuances of speaking with someone.

Grosse Pointe resident Ashlee Trempus has come up with a new method to address that very issue. It's called SignOn, an online video platform that allows for one-on-one interaction with a Deaf person. Users log-in to a website that features a two-way video portal where users can chat with a Deaf Ambassador over the course of a 30-minute session. It's a virtual immersion program designed to improve the experience for the Deaf people fluent in ASL as well as those trying to learn the language.

It's important for Trempus to hire only Deaf people as ambassadors for the site.

"ASL is really the Deaf's language. They know how to use it. It's theirs. We're just learning it from them," says Trempus. "Who better to learn it from than an actual Deaf person? Who are you going to practice it better with?"

Trempus didn't grow up wanting to become an entrepreneur, and she has an unusual path to becoming one. Her father's job in the automotive industry had the family moving all over the place, from California to Michigan to Germany and back to Michigan again. As a child in Germany, Trempus was enrolled in a German public school. It was there where she became fluent in that language, in addition to the English she grew up speaking in the United States. She's always had a knack for languages.

Back in Michigan, Trempus took an ASL class in college and became interested in it so much that she started going to school to become a certified interpreter. Schools in Michigan require that students complete a certain number of hours of conversation with a Deaf person. Typically, coffee chats are scheduled where students meet with a Deaf person to chat in ASL. But Trempus says that the chats are often ten students trying to talk to one Deaf person, an issue SignOn's one-on-one video chats addresses.

Over the course of her academics, Trempus was stymied by a chronic illness that left her homebound for a period, impeding her ability to go to the coffee chats and complete her required hours of conversation. It was then when speaking with her ASL mentor and future SignOn co-founder, Paul Fugate, that the duo brainstormed the online platform. SignOn was officially launched in February 2016.

"The students that are connecting want to become interpreters or they're finding out if they want to become interpreters," says Trempus. "It gives the Deaf a platform to mold the students into interpreters.  They can say how they prefer things to be signed. It gives them more stake in the game of creating better interpreters."

Since launching in early 2016, SignOn has hired 25 Deaf people from across the country, though most are based here in Michigan. The platform has been picked up by seven Michigan colleges and universities, and Trempus hopes to bring that number to 20 by the end of the year.

Not all users, however, are linked to the academic world. Trempus says that the first person to log-in to SignOn was a mother who just learned that her own child was deaf.

Name and title:

Ashlee Trempus, CEO and Co-founder of SignOn

Year you founded SignOn:

LLC was formed in 2015
SignOn was launched in 2016

One interesting job you had before SignOn:

Educational Interpreter for Detroit Public Schools

What has surprised you about running your own business:

The work day never ends; running a business is a 24/7 job. The excitement also never ends. The amount of networking and support among the entrepreneur community in Detroit is amazing. Everyone is willing to share their experiences and knowledge.

What's a favorite moment in pop culture that's involved ASL, and why:

When Nyle Dimarco won "Dancing with the Stars" and "America's Next Top Model." By Nyle winning these two shows, it brought more attention to the Deaf community. People got to see Nyle interact with his interpreter and use ASL on a national platform.

Curious? Check out SignOn at

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

Local poet finds 'creative heaven' in Pontiac

Vickie Brent-Touray is on a quest to unlock the creative talents of Pontiac's people. To that end, the poet has launched a series of events throughout the city designed to reawaken the audience's imagination. 

Brent-Touray started Yaktown Poets, a poetry performance event series that attracted 100 people on its first night, in 2014. Not only has that event grown in size and scope, it revealed to Brent-Touray a deep-seated need within the people of the community to express their creative selves. Not just the self-identified poets, she says, but everybody. It's why Yaktown Poets now runs a regular open mic series out of the Alleycat Cafe in downtown Pontiac, where anyone who signs up has an opportunity to express themselves.

"We can't pay your rent, but we can certainly create a space where you can forget about the fact that your rent needs to be paid, or that you got to go work on Monday," says Brent-Touray. "Where you can just enjoy yourself. That's really important to me."

Brent-Touray has also started the Wonder Women Breakfast Club, a series of breakfast events that gather women at area restaurants to encourage empowerment and community. She has big aspirations for the club, hoping to eventually expand it to include retreats and an expo. And she's planning to start a Yaktown Poets group for children.

There are two main sources of influence that have inspired Brent-Touray's never-ending enthusiasm and drive for organizing these events to empower others.

First are her parents, southerners who moved to Pontiac to work in the automotive industry. Brent-Touray remembers her parents throwing big parties, events where she watched the art of hospitality first-hand.

Teachers have also played a major role in Brent-Touray's development. Having always had a love for reading and writing, it wasn't until she walked into Lorene Phillips's ninth grade Language Arts classroom at Pontiac Central High School that Brent-Touray realized that she could be a writer. She says that she never really connected to literature until she walked into that classroom, which displayed images of black women writers and performers on the walls. It had a profound impact her.

"When I saw all those faces, I knew that I could have my picture up there, too," she recalls. "Because I can write."

Brent-Touray went on to college to pursue psychology and later became a teacher, all the while writing on her own time. It was while taking a creative writing course at Wayne State University that Brent-Touray was emboldened by professor Chris Tysh, who encouraged her to pursue her poetry. She moved to Atlanta for five years, where she published her book of poetry, A Peace of My Mind.

She eventually returned to her hometown of Pontiac, where she lives today and launched Yaktown Poets. The events and her creative life are going so well, she says, that her husband tells her that if life gets any better than this, they're just being greedy. She says that to be a catalyst for the release of creativity in others "is like playing in the grass."

"I don't know if I believe in this whole idea of heaven with streets paved with gold," says Brent-Touray. "I think I'm in heaven right now."

Name and title: Vickie Brent-Touray, local author (A Peace of My Mind, Vickie Brent-Touray, available on and Barnes and and Founder of Yaktown Poets.

Year founded Yaktown Poets: 2013.

One interesting job she had before Yaktown: Remedial Behavioral Specialist for St. Vincent's, "in a former life."

Favorite poet and poem: I can't bring myself to a limit, but ONE is the Ntozake Shange's choreopoem entitled: For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When The Rainbow is Enuf

Something unique to the poetry scene in Pontiac: We're as interested in inspiring those who have "dormant creativity" as we are interested in those who are ready to showcase their talent.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

Downey Brewing Co. spreads its roots in Dearborn

Tucked away in a light industrial stretch of town is Downey Brewing Company, Dearborn's latest craft brewery to open to the public. In a part of town that favors function over form, the brewery's bright red door is the only thing that stands out among the browns and grey hues of industry. There's no big sign--nothing to call to attention to it at all, really. Blink and you might miss it.

But beyond the door is a cavernous space, complete with everything you'd expect from a brewery's tap room: Brewing equipment, a bar, lounge, tables and chairs, and games like cornhole and darts. There's a cool factor here, a meat-and-potatoes brewery where the beer comes before design, and one that's maybe a little hard to find.

"I think we've got a really interesting feel, being in the location that we are and the building that we're in. At first I thought that might be kind of a detriment to business, being out of the way, but everyone has the Internet these days," says Dan Downey, the co-owner tasked with publicity for the brewery. "And people are always in search of beer."

It has an industrial feel to it, which is something that befits the Downey family. The Downey Brewing Company Tap Room is located in what used to be "the junk room" for KDG Finishers, a paper die cuting company in the commerical printing industry, still in operation today. Dennis Downey started KDG in the 1980s and his son, Dean Downey, now runs the family business. Dean also runs the brewery with his two sons, Dan and John. The three Downeys, co-owners Dean, Dan, and John, opened the tap room in November 2016.

The Downeys took a DIY approach to starting their brewery, clearing the old equipment and boxes out of their future tap room, building the cooler and bar by hand, and painting the 20 ft. ceilings themselves. A crowdfunding campaign in 2014 helped raise $25,000, which was then used to purchase the commercial brewing equipment. Grandpa Downey was kind enough to lease the space to his son and two grandchildren for a dollar.

Each Downey has their own role in the company. The youngest brother, John, is considered the main brewer, with Dean, the father, contributing a few brews, too. Dad also uses his experience running KDG to handle the day-to-day operations of running a business. The oldest brother, Dan, handles the marketing and publicity side of things. Annette, Dan and John's mother, helps out around the tap room. And the grandfather, Dennis, comes by from time to time, too.

"My grandfather gets a kick out of it. He enjoys seeing us start a business because that's something that he did. He was an entrepreneur. He's having a lot of fun with it, and kind of advises us some times on different decisions," says Dan. "I think he takes pride in it."

And then, of course, there's the beer. There are eight beers on tap, rotating between the classic flagship beers and the more experimental brews. There's the traditional, like Mr. I.P.A., an American IPA named to honor the recently deceased Mike Ilitch. And then there's the more creative, like Yin and Yang, the former a more traditional dark stout while the latter an unconventional white stout.

Dan says that going into Downey Brewing Company, so much of the focus was going into beer production that they weren't initially going to open a tap room. But a law that allows for breweries to self-distribute the first 1,000 gallons they make changed their mind. Now, since opening the tap room last November, 75 percent of their production goes into feeding the tap room. Bigger brewing equipment will have to be ordered soon.

Name and title: Daniel Downey, Chief Marketing Officer

Year Downey Brewing Company opened: Grand Opening was November 5th, 2016

One interesting job you had before running Downey Brewing Company: Haha I've had quite a few, take your pick: Paper route, Pushing wheel chairs from gate to gate at the airport, sales and marketing intern for Comcast, working the Test Track at Walt Disney World, Real Estate Broker, Bouncer, Marketing Director for KDG, etc.

What is the motto on your family crest and what does it mean to DBC: Lamh Laidir an Uachtar. Which is Gaelic for strong hand upper most. To us, that means, Strength from above.

What's the funnest thing about running a business with your family: I would say coming up with the beer names is probably the funniest part. Sometimes there is a bit of a back and forth discussion on what will be the official name of a new beer.

Downey Brewing Company is located at 13121 Prospect Rd. in Dearborn.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

Into the lab with Pontiac's Exferimentation Brewing

For co-owners Eric Benton, Andrew Stamper, and Scott Boughton, it's passion that has them brewing beer until 3 a.m..long after their shifts in the automotive industry have ended for the day.

The three friends opened Exferimentation in July 2016, though they started working on their quirky signature beers for several years before that. The co-owners consider themselves the "mad scientists" of the brewing trade, eschewing the traditional ales and lagers for something more unique. Hence the name Exferimentation, from"Experimenting with fermentation."

There's Clownpocalypse, a toasted coconut cream ale born out of a conversation co-owner Eric Benton had about a zombie clown apocalypse. There's the Pink Tickler, a hibiscus wheat beer that's also the brewery's most popular. And there's a red ale with rosemary, cayenne pepper, and black pepper, a pineapple-rhubarb wheat beer, and a lemon-coriander sour beer, to name just a few. The trio is always working on other unique flavor combinations, testing them out on their all too willing loyalty program members, the Mad Scientist Club.

It all started out so innocently.

"We started homebrewing on my back porch and progressed from there to a small industrial space in Rochester," says Benton. "We had a club and brewed ten gallons at a time. We had that for 18 months, and by the time we got to the end of the 18 months, we had 30 people showing up and drinking all of our beer. They were drinking more than we could make," says Benton. "We figured that it was time to go pro."

Though it may seem like a current trend, homebrewing has been around for thousands of years. And like the many brewers before them, the Exferimentation crew learned how to brew beer through the trial-and-error process. Come up with an idea, see what works, let people try it, and proceed based on their enthusiasm for the product.

Keeping their focus on the beer, Exferimentation has spent the bulk of their money so far on brewing equipment. Work on the tasting room, a storefront in downtown Pontiac, was done themselves. The trio rehabbed the floors, installed the tile, and built the bar and tables all by hand. And this done in the evenings and weekends, working around their "regular jobs."

In searching for the right space for their bar, Exferimentation looked at a couple of locations before finding downtown Pontiac. The historic storefronts, walkability, and the potential for economic revival made it obvious that it was the city that Exerimentation was about to call home.

"We didn't know that we wanted Pontiac until we went into Pontiac to look. And then we absolutely knew that we wanted Pontiac," says Benton.

Benton's big on the city's future, saying that he thinks it's about two to three businesses away from a development tipping point, leading to it becoming a bustling destination for a night on the town.

The building where Exferimentation is located, 7 N. Saginaw St., is already abuzz. Directly across from the recently renovated Flagstar Strand Theatre, 7 N. Saginaw St. hosts a vintage clothing store and, not one, but two breweries. Five days after Exferimentation signed the lease on their storefront, Fillmore 13 Brewery signed theirs. The two breweries share a hall. But the competition doesn't irk the Exferimentation team one bit. All it means, says Benton, is that there are more people drawn downtown.

Part of that, he says, is that he knows craft beer fans are the type to try as many new beers as possible, and not settle into a single establishment. It's a "the more, the merrier" situation that creates the foot traffic a business desires. 
And in talking about beer towns, Benton has his eyes set on a certain city in west Michigan known for its dozens of breweries, which holds the title of Beer City, USA.

"Look out Grand Rapids, here comes Pontiac."

Name and title: Eric Benton, co-owner (other owners are Andy Stamper and Scott Boughton)

Year Exferimentation opened: Opened 7/21/16

One interesting job you had before running Exferimentation: I was the chocolate and frappucino buyer for Starbucks.

What's the best brewery soundtrack: Best soundtrack to me is Sigh No More by Mumford & Sons.

What's your favorite beer flavor of all time: We love citrus around here, especially grapefruit. It's becoming commonplace these days, but grapefruit with its slight bitterness fits just right with an IPA.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

Common Grace in Dearborn seeks to create coffee with a purpose

Dale Tremblay-Dulong wants to up Dearborn's coffee game. It's what motivated him to open Common Grace Coffee Company in west downtown Dearborn, which started serving customers earlier this year.

But it's not the only thing motivating Tremblay-Dulong. The first-time entrepreneur believes in the power of community, he says, and the rich diversity of Dearborn's population is one of the main drivers for Common Grace opening in this particular city.

Another motivating factor is a desire to develop and maintain relationships with coffee workers around the world. Tremblay-Dulong says he wants to be more purposeful in purchasing coffee, using importers and distributors who have relationships with the farmers and can tell their stories. Creating direct relationships with the farmers is also a possibility, he says.

All these motivators are reflected in the Common Grace motto: For the city. For the craft. For the world.

"We recognize that coffee is most often consumed as a commodity. People consume it most days of their lives and it's the center point of our gatherings. But it's also a lot of people's livelihood all over the world," says Tremblay-Dulong. "We want to value the craft of coffee while trying to buy coffee that is intentional and makes a difference."

Tremblay-Dulong didn't grow up wanting to start his own coffee shop. He worked in the restaurant industry in the past and had left the field to go into church ministry. That's where he thought he was going to stay. But coffee brought him back.

He first came up with the idea for Common Grace in February 2016, and the shop opened just one year later. In the meantime, Tremblay-Dulong started roasting coffee and selling it at local farmers markets. He was searching for a location on the outskirts of town but found one right in west downtown Dearborn, a twist of fate that Tremblay-Dulong says couldn't have gone better for the company.

The shift to the coffee business was a surprising but positive development.

"I guess it's something that was brewing inside me all these years that I didn't even know was brewing," he says.

In the short time Common Grace has been open, Tremblay-Dulong is amazed to see what's taken place. He says he's watched a community develop, with people becoming more connected all while being exposed to great coffee. He glows at the story of receiving a letter from a customer sending the staff at Common Grace a note of appreciation.

Besides people being drawn to its craft coffee, Common Grace is looking to foster community through different events. There's live music once or twice a week. Book clubs and conversations are a regular occurrence. Tremblay-Dulong hopes to expand the shop in the future and has different coffee concepts planned. But he believes that a guiding purpose for Common Grace is to create a platform for gatherings, and intends to keep that vision front and center.

And for Tremblay-Dulong, the city of Dearborn itself plays as big a part in his vision for Common Grace as anything else.

"This is a super diverse community. Much of the world lives in segregated pockets of people living next to each other without ever meeting, but Dearborn is full of people that are different from each other," he says. "It's a city filled with people who would never normally grow up next to each other."

He says he's excited about that diversity and hopes that Common Grace can be a neutral ground for the city and its residents from all backgrounds.

Common Grace Coffee Company celebrated a soft opening earlier this year and remains open up to its official grand opening party, which Tremblay-Dulong hopes will be in mid-April.

Name and title: Dale Tremblay-Dulong, Owner

Year Common Grace opened: 2017 we opened but started in 2016

One interesting job you had before running Common Grace: Jimmy Johns delivery driver

What's the all-time best coffee and snack combo: Coffee and almond chocolate croissant

What's the best soundtrack to running a coffee shop: Don't Stop Believing by Journey

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.
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