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Family-owned auto parts company converts to NAPA brand

They say it's all in a name, but for Dick Seehase, it's also all in the family.
For 51 years, Seehase has been among the family members owning and operating The Parts Place. And while the Holt-based car parts company has spanned three generations and grown to nine mid-Michigan locations, the company prides itself on providing the highest level of customer service.
That quality of service, Seehase says, will be further ensured as the distributor of automotive parts and equipment switches affiliation from CARQUEST to NAPA, and adds an 18,000-square foot warehouse as the hub.
"It made perfect sense to go with a more traditional auto parts company," says Seehase of the changeover. "With our 50-year-old history and NAPA's 90, we'll be well-recognized and even more prepared to service our customers."
All eight stores will carry NAPA inventory and retain the nearly 60 professional staff who work in locations in East Lansing, West Lansing, Holt, Charlotte, Mason, Eaton Rapids, Williamston and Stockbridge.
The newly purchased warehouse on the corner of Waverly and St. Joseph will result in about three new staff joining the company. The space will also allow The Parts Place to carry about $2 million more in additional inventory to service all locations.
Seehase says the commercial market makes up about 70 percent of The Parts Place customers, with the remaining 30 percent coming from do-it-yourselfers.
"Years ago, lots of people could work on their own vehicles, but as the complexity has increased, we began servicing more commercial clients," says Seehase. "Our employees come from all different facets of the market, too, and know the business."
Seehase says The Parts Place changed affiliation in late April. He says he's anticipating the NAPA partnership will spur annual sales growth from about $9 to $15 million in the upcoming year.
"The NAPA brand name is one of the most recognized brands in the United States," says Seehase. "We're hoping to add more stores once we get our feet on the ground."
 Source: Dick Seehase, Company President, The Parts Place NAPA
Writer: Ann Kammerer, Development News Editor

Mark's Gourmet Dogs embarks on new business life after win on reality TV

Mark McGee always knew every dog has its day. He just never guessed his day would air on national television.
As the winner of the 2014 Food Network's Food Court Wars, McGee and his wife Krysta were awarded a year of rent-free space to expand their mobile hot dog cart operation to a fully-equipped restaurant in the Lansing Mall.
While many people learned of the success of Mark's Gourmet Dogs through the reality TV show, McGee says his path was charted years before when he took his first business class at Lansing Community College.
"I started at LCC with the idea of starting a hot dog cart," says McGee who had struggled through layoffs and diminished job prospects during the Great Recession. "LCC gave me the knowledge I needed to start a business. It was awesome. And it worked."
In 2009, McGee applied his classroom learning to setting up a food cart and bringing culinary flair to hot dogs and brats in Eaton Rapids. And when his son was born and his business took off, he and his wife started thinking about taking things to the next level.
"They'd already been talking about Food Court Wars when they came in," says Laurie Lonsdorf, Senior Business Consultant, Michigan Small Business Development Center at LCC. "But it was really iffy at that point, and they wanted to grow regardless of whether they made it or not. Ultimately, they knew they wanted an indoor location."
Lonsdorf began working with the McGees to identify locations and explore financing. She laid out checklists, provided suggestions on his business plan, and offered no-cost, confidential consulting about how the McGees could grow their startup venture.
"There's no way I could've done it without them," says McGee. "We needed their help no matter what happened, and when we found out we were on the show, things started rolling really fast. It's been quite a ride, but LCC and SBDC have been a great team."
When Mark's Gourmet Dogs took top prize and opened in the mall food court on May 30, Lonsdorf was there. She says LCC's SBDC will be to support and consult with the McGees on small business strategy as they hire four or more staff and enter the next phase of their business.
"Here's the funny thing though," says Lonsdorf. "While I couldn't wait to try Mark's food, I'm a vegetarian. I had the mac-and-cheese, coleslaw and Krysta's salted caramel ball. It was all great."
Source: Laurie Lonsdorf, Senior Business Consultant, Michigan Small Business Development Center at Lansing Community College
Mark McGee, Owner, Mark's Gourmet Dogs
Writer: Ann Kammerer, Development News Editor

Your Creative Escape triples space with new downtown Eaton Rapids location

After being a stay-at-home mom for some time, Traci Lawson was itching to get back into the working world. One day, while driving through downtown Eaton Rapids, she saw a sign on a vacant storefront that said “For Lease, $700 per month.” 
“I said to my husband, ‘I think I can sell $700 of something in a month,’” Lawson says.
She was right. Lawson and her husband Jaime opened Your Creative Escape, a paint-your-own-pottery studio in March of 2011 and received such a positive response, they were running out of room. 
“We could seat 49 people in that store and we were very often full to the gills,” Lawson says. “I hated turning people away.”
Exactly one year after opening, Your Creative Escape has moved to a 3,000 square foot studio on Hall Street in downtown Eaton Rapids, tripling the business’ original footprint. Lawson attributes their extraordinary growth to the community atmosphere that has grown in the studio. 
“It’s like a big conversation,” says Lawson, “and there’s lots of laugher. It’s a fun environment. There are many people who didn’t know each other before and now it’s like a big family.”
Your Creative Escape is also a fun alternative to going to the bar for many local adults. The pottery studio is open until midnight on Fridays and features such fun events as Diva Night. The studio is currently working with the Island City Dog Park Club on a community fundraiser.

Simplified Tax opens Eaton Rapids, North Lansing locations

Simplified Tax & Accounting Services has been locally-owned and operated in the Lansing area since 1945, but in the last few years, the company has been growing at a notably fast rate.
“We’ve been consistently opening one new office a year,” says Ryan Lowe of Simplified, “and this year we happened to open two.”
Those two newest locations are in Downtown Eaton Rapids and on North Larch on Lansing’s north side, and are 800- and 1,400-square feet, respectively. They employ four new workers each, and bring the total number of Simplified locations to eight.
According to Lowe, the company’s success has been due to the quality and personal service they give to their clients.
“I think our reputation in the community has grown of being an appropriately priced tax service with skilled preparers,” he says. “What we’ve found is that the comfort people feel when they come to our offices makes them tend to stay with us.”
Lowe expects Simplied’s growth to continue in the upcoming year.  

8,000 sq ft pet store offers unique services to pet owners

To say Laurie Griffith is big into pets is a bit of an understatement. In addition to holding a Master’s in Animal Nutrition, Behavior and Genetics, Griffith has worked as a trainer, breeder, exhibitor, groomer, veterinary assistant and behavior consultant for rescue groups nationally and internationally.

“A pet store just seemed like the logical step,” she says.

Her new, 8,000 square foot Eaton Rapids facility is just as comprehensive as her resume. All Creatures Great and Small Pet Resort, Spa and Canine Training not only carries specialty training and exhibition accessories and all the services the name implies, but also has a special focus on education.

“We have a pet education series once a month,” says Griffith, “often with topics suggested by clientele.”

As Griffith’s aim is to educate pet owners, not encourage impulse ownership, no animal are sold at All Creatures. At any given time, however, a variety of visiting pets can be found there, such as her children’s potbelly pig, rats or even a pair of tortoises who are best friends with a pair of bunnies.

“We wanted to open a local business and support the community’s pet needs,” Griffith says. That same impulse has led her to carry many Michigan-made items, such as homemade treats, heating pads and locally made toys.

All Creatures opened in December and celebrated its grand opening in March. The shop currently employs Griffith’s family members and supports an internship program, training two local students in pet care and training.

Source: Laurie Griffith, All Creatures Great and Small Pet Resort, Spa & Canine Training

Writer: Natalie Burg, News Editor 

All Photographs © Dave Trumpie

Consumers Energy Signs 100 MW Energy Deal with Wind Turbine Manufacturer

Consumers Energy is one step closer to building its first wind energy park in the next two years.

The Jackson-based company has signed a contract with a national manufacturer to supply 56 wind turbine generators for the utility’s Lake Winds Energy Park in Mason County on the state’s western shore.

The contract calls for Vestas-American Wind Technology, Inc. to manufacture, deliver and commission the V100-1.8 MW turbine units. The total installed generation capacity of the units is 100.8 megawatts.

“Securing this agreement is a major milestone in the development of our first wind energy park and continues our commitment to environmental stewardship,” says John Russell, president and CEO of Consumers Energy.

“Consumers Energy already is the largest supplier of renewable energy in Michigan. By the end of 2012, including the addition of our Lake Winds Energy Park, about eight percent of the power that Consumers Energy supplies to its customers is expected to come from Michigan-based renewable sources.”

Consumers Energy provides natural gas and electricity to 6.5 million of the state’s 10 million residents in the 68 counties of Michigan’s lower peninsula.

Source: Consumers Energy

Writer: Louise Knott Ahern

WKAR To Begin Construction of New 1,000 Foot Broadcast Tower

It was once the third-tallest structure in the entire world, but the famed WKAR broadcast tower on Dobie Road in Okemos will be replaced over the next few months with a new antenna designed to improve radio and TV reception for public programming.

The Michigan State University Board of Trustees approved construction of the new, 1,000-foot tower at its June 18 meeting. It will be finished by January 2011, after which the original 1953 tower will be dismantled.

The new tower will improve reception quality for WKAR’s television programming and its AM and FM radio broadcast channels. All have suffered from poor signal strength since the federally mandated conversion from analog to digital, said Diane Hutchens, WKAR communications manager.

“We have lot of people in Eaton Rapids and Jackson to the south of us who have a difficult time picking us up, even with converter boxes,” Hutchens said. “These are people who depend on public broadcasting for a lot of their news programs and entertainment programs, and they are so frustrated.”

During construction, WKAR will periodically operate at a reduced rate and will alert viewers and listeners ahead of time.

Funding for the project comes from a variety of sources, including grants, private donations and matching contributions from MSU.

Source: Diane Hutchens

Writer: Louise Knott Ahern

Delta Dental Receives Environmental Award for Work on Pond and County Drain

Delta Dental in Okemos (4100 Okemos Road) received an Environmental Stewardship award from Meridian Township last week. The award was in recognition of Delta Dental's environmental efforts as it adds a second building to its 57-acre campus.

The project broke ground in 2008 and will be completed in 2011. The total cost of the project will be between $80 million and $90 million.

In addition to a second building, the project includes a new data center and an expansion to the Delta Dental Pond, which is also the county drain. New plants and trees are being added to rejuvenate the setting of the campus.

"Many people have seen our amazing new building rising from the ground during the past year, but that may have overshadowed some tremendous work that was accomplished at ground level, and below, with the renovated pond and county drain," says Ari B. Adler, communications administrator for Delta Dental of Michigan.

The new trees, flowers and grasses will take some time to grow in and complete the new look of the campus.

"Things will still look a little scruffy for a couple of years," says Adler, "but what you’ll see here after the plantings take hold will be well worth the wait."

Source: Ari B. Adler, Delta Dental

Writer: Daniel J. Hogan

Photo: Becky Johns

New Riverside Family Practice Opens in Eaton Rapids Medical Center

To better serve the medical needs of Eaton Rapids area residents, the Eaton Rapids Medical Center opened the new Riverside Family Practice at 2487 S. Michigan Rd.

The practice officially opened in June 2009, but is experiencing sizeable growth.

“We’re very busy and it happened a lot faster than we anticipated,” says Nancy Staffeld, vice president of Patient Services for the Eaton Rapids Medical Center.

Staffeld is hopeful that the medical center will earn a rural health clinic designation, which would allow Riverside Family Practice physicians to receive greater reimbursement for serving Medicaid and Medicare patients, giving these patients greater access to health care.

The Riverside Family Practice is a family practice, but also offers internal medicine and pediatric care. The new practice has three exam room as well as lab services.

Source: Nancy Staffeld, Eaton Rapids Medical Center

Ivy Hughes is the managing editor of Capital Gains and can be reached here.

450 Sq Ft Shop Brings Crafts, Artistic Outlet to Eaton Rapids

The 450 square foot Carol’s Arts & Crafts paper making shop has added a new artistic element to Eaton Rapids.

The shop is owned by Carol Gooder, a retiree who started making cards and paper crafts 10-15 years ago.

“I had been making cards with some friends from church, and about four years ago saw stores begin to close locally, and when the economy started to nose dive, folks had to drive distances for card-making,” she says.

Gooder decided to keep local crafting options open and started her company as a vendor in the Junk Fairy.

“I couldn’t really grow any more there so I made a move,”she says. “That move didn’t really work out so I opened the doors to the shop I have now.”

Gooder also offers in-store scrap booking and card making classes.

“It has been holding its own,” says Gooder. “We haven’t grown tremendously, but folks are excited that the store’s there.”

Carol’s Arts & Crafts is located at 109 S. Main St.

Source: Carol Gooder, Carol’s Arts & Crafts

Ivy Hughes is the managing editor of Capital Gains and can be reached here.

Eaton Rapids Opens Business Incubator In Former Vacant Downtown Building

Formally a vacant building, the 104 S. Main St. building in Eaton Rapids has been renovated and turned into a small business incubation center.

“The goal of the incubator is to offer early stage companies a place to start so we can foster and then incubate them and help them grow,” says Jennifer Painter, board treasurer for the center.

Like other incubators, the Center for Incubation and Education offers tenants reduced rent, access to shared services and access to advice from experienced business professionals. Young companies, those that have been around for less than two years, are ideal for the space.

“If we can help with shared expenses and give them an environment to grow and learn from those around them, they will hopefully become profitable, expand and grow jobs and wealth in Eaton Rapids,” she says.

With three tenants, the Center for Incubation and Education is currently at capacity. Tenants include a marketing company, chiropractic technology company and a nail technology company.

“If we had several people looking for space, we would consider expanding,” Painter says. The Center for Incubation and Education is run by a board and is in downtown Eaton Rapids.

Source: Jennifer Painter, Center of Incubation and Education

Ivy Hughes is the managing editor of Capital Gains and can be reached here.

Blossoms Etc. in Leslie Celebrates First Year With 1,400 Sq Ft Expansion

Before celebrating his business' first anniversary, Bill Roberson, owner of Leslie-based Blossoms Etc., started planning a 1,400 square foot addition to his existing 1,200 square foot flower shop. The expansion will include the renovation of an existing, abandoned building that sits behind Blossoms.

“The needs of the customer base and the community is the reason that we’re expanding,” Roberson says.

The expansion will provide space for a conference area where customers can comfortably sit down and work with professionals to plan flower arrangements.

“We want it to be a comfortable place for people to sit down and gather ideas,” he says.

Blossoms Etc. sits on the site of a former gas station. The gas station was abandoned years ago and the tanks were filled with sand.

“We didn’t really have to deal with environmental obstacles, just the rehab,” says Roberson. Roberson renovated the entire building, putting a bay window in the space that used to be the gas station garage.

Blossoms Etc. serves communities from all over the Capital region.

“Even though this is a small town, we want to be a destination place,” he says.

Dawn Meyer manages Blossoms Etc. and has helped beautify the community by placing planters along downtown sidewalks.

Source: Bill Roberson, Blossoms Etc.

Ivy Hughes is the managing editor of Capital Gains and can be reached here.

Bioenergy Partnership Leads to New Hires, Expansion in Lansing/Eaton Rapids

A partnership between Bernard Sheff, owner of Eaton Rapids-based Sheff and Son, and UTS Bioenergy, will likely create jobs and physical expansion in Eaton Rapids and/or Lansing.

The new company, UTS-Residual Processing, specializes in industrial and agricultural wastewater treatment, solid-liquid separation, water resources engineering and agricultural waste management and anaerobic digestion.

Sheff started talking with UTS Bioenergy owners about working together, and at the end of September the two created UTS Residential Processing.

UTS-Residual Processing processes diary farm manure and wastewater into fiber nutrients that can be applied to land or used as irrigated water.

“I’ve been going to Europe for five years to look at anaerobic digesters and the gains Europe has on us in bioenergy and alternative sources,” Sheff says.

Sheff has offices and a warehouse in Eaton Rapids. He also has a warehouse in a former auto plant in Detroit.

“Right now, we’re going to stay in our offices,” he says. “They’re serviceable, but they’re not pretty. We’re focused on getting the process going, doing the design work and getting the equipment in the fields. Once that happens, we’ll look into moving into larger offices.”

Sheff says he’s been looking to Lansing for additional facilities.

“We plan to be growing pretty quickly,” he says. “We’re hiring for engineers and we’re looking for technical sales people. We’ve already added two people.”

Source: Bernard Sheff, UTS-Residual Processing

Ivy Hughes is the managing editor of Capital Gains and can be reached here.

$323,500 MSHDA Grant Supports Grand Ledge Downtown Residential Rehabs

The City of Grand Ledge received a $323,500 grant from the Michigan Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) to rehab downtown buildings for residential space.

The grant encompasses 12 blocks in downtown Grand Ledge and is specifically designated for the rehabilitation or creation of new apartments.

“The expectation is that there will be private landlords that will be a part of the project with apartments being created above the storefronts in the downtown,” says Jon Bayless, city administrator for Grand Ledge. “We think these will primarily be along Bridge Street in the heart of downtown.”

Property owners will contribute some of their own funds to the project. Bayless says the city expects to rehab two existing units and create six new ones.

Bayless says some of the projects within the central business district will also qualify. The city first needs to identify properties that may be available for the funds and then hire a third party administrator to fulfill the grant agreement.

“We have not received a grant like this in the past,” Bayless says. “This is a new experience for us and we’re hoping to have the same kind of success downtown Eaton Rapids has enjoyed.”

Eaton Rapids has been engaged in similar rehabs for the last couple of years.

“We think it will bring more people in to live in the downtown, which is good,” he says. “When you have more people living downtown you have more activity, and we would expect that to be good for the local economy and the central business district.”

Source: Jon Bayless, City of Grand Ledge

Ivy Hughes is the managing editor of Capital Gains and can be reached here

All Photographs © Dave Trumpie

Outreach Extends Lansing Community College Programs to Eaton Rapids

After more than three years of discussions with Eaton Rapids schools, Lansing Community College (LCC) finally has the green light to expand its services to Eaton Rapids.

Starting in the fall, the college will start offering select courses in Eaton Rapids.

“We think Eaton Rapids is a good community partner and they seem very committed to encouraging their students to go to college,” says Jean Morciglio, executive director of extension and community education. Morciglio says Eaton Rapids Public Schools’ Superintendent William DeFrance was a driver behind the expansion.

Several LCC students live and work and Eaton Rapids and must make the commute to Lansing to attend their classes. Expanding into the community will decrease their need to travel.

“We want to try to make it more convenient so people can get their needs met in the Eaton Rapids community,” Morciglio says.

Initially, LCC will not have its own educational facilities in Eaton Rapids and will instead use Eaton Rapids Public Schools’ buildings.

“If there’s an interest and there’s commitment and people like the courses, we will build them as much as we can,” she says.

Source: Jean Morciglio, LCC

Ivy Hughes is the managing editor of Capital Gains and can be reached here.

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