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MSU, Sparrow partner on new Center for Innovation

In 2009, Michigan State University and Sparrow Health System signed an affiliation agreement to combine talent, ideas and resources. That concept will soon be put into action with the new Center for Innovation, an initiative that will seek new methods to improve care and deliver patient-centered, evidence-based best practices, 
 
The Center for Innovation will accept proposals for research projects intended to transform the delivery of care. The goal of the center will be to develop, test, implement and evaluate new ideas to improve patients’ experiences while achieving national benchmarks for healthcare outcomes and bringing a greater value for consumers.
 
“Individuals from both Sparrow and MSU who have ideas will get together and make proposals for what they want to do,” says Dr. Barbara Given of MSU. “It’s important to have the practitioners from Sparrow Health System who know what it's like to be on the frontline with patients every day and someone from the research side from Michigan State and together they can go forward with a project.”
 
The new center will be overseen by steering and operational committees with representatives from Sparrow and MSU, along with consumers and community members. The Center for Innovation is currently located in the Sparrow Professional Building on Michigan Ave. Given expects an interim director will soon be in place and the goal is to have a permanent director hired in approximately six months. 
 
“I believe even before we have a permanent director we'll have an advisory group get together and have a call for proposals for projects,” says Given. “It would be beneficial projects going before a new director is in place.”

Jackson acquires life insurance company, 1.5M policies

Jackson National Life is already a big name in the insurance industry, and now they’re getting even bigger. The Lansing-based firm announced last week that it will purchase SRLC America Holding Corp. from Swiss Re for $621 million. 
 
“We’ve had a stated goal of diversifying our business portfolio and had indicated that we were looking for bolt on acquisitions that make logical sense to integrate with our business,” says Jackson’s Vice President of Corporate Communications, Matt Gonring. “This is something we’ve been looking for as on an ongoing basis.” 
 
SRLC is a life insurance company that will bring approximately 1.5 million policies to Jackson. Jackson will also acquire assets related to SRLC of approximately $10 billion. 
 
We’re excited to expand,” says Gonring. “It’s good to be growing. This supports our core capabilities and allows us to expand on them. We’re looking forward to bringing the businesses together.” 
 
The transaction will require several steps, including regulatory approval, and is expected to be completed in the third quarter of this year.
 

Grand River GM plant adds 600 jobs after $190M investment

Lansing is home to the two newest General Motors plants in North America, and the Detroit-based carmaker is now making the most of one of those recent investments. The Grand River Assembly Plant location is now adding a second shift and 600 new jobs. The workers have been hired to build the new Cadillac ATS.
 
GM began working toward the 600 new hires in October of 2010 when the company announced it would invest $190 million into the Grand River Assembly Plant to prepare the facility to build the new vehicle. The hiring began in March when GM started taking on about 40 new employees each week and beginning orientation and training. As of last week, 460 of the 600 new employees had been hired.
 
“The majority are new hires,” says Erin Davis, plant communications manager for the Grand River Assembly Plant. “Everyone’s really excited. It’s exciting whenever you get an investment and get a new vehicle. The ATS is a brand new platform that has never been done before in Lansing. It’s good for the community, the plant and for GM.”
 
The Grand River Assembly Plant was not only chosen for its relative newness, but also because of the proven track record of the Lansing-area workers.
 
“We’ve received numerous awards for our vehicles,” says Davis. “We’ve had a JD Power and Associates Bronze Plant Award, plus we have a great workforce who has demonstrated how well we can make quality vehicles.”
 
According to Davis, the new Cadillac should be ready for the showroom by late summer. 
 

Dart's $1B Solo Cup acquisition makes 15M Biggby cups a local purchase

The news of Dart Container’s acquisition Solo Cup earlier this year for $1 billion was clearly exciting, but what does it mean for the Lansing area? One of the region’s other favorite businesses is helping to put the transaction in perspective. Biggby Coffee has historically purchased their cups from Solo. Now, they’ll continue to order the same product, but their business will go to their cross-town colleagues at Dart. 
 
And that’s no small change. Last year, Biggby purchased 15 million cups from Solo. 
 
“Being an East Lansing-based business ourselves, it means a lot,” says Biggby Public Relationship Assistant Katie Koerner. “We get our coffee right from Paramount in Lansing. It’s always nice when we can work with another Michigan business. 
 
Dart’s new relationship with Biggby is sure to be a growing one. The coffee shop company celebrated its seventeenth birthday in March and marked the occasion by selling double the number of cups on the big day than it did on its birthday in 2011. 
 
“In some markets it was even higher than that with 70 to 90 percent more cups sold compared to the 2011 birthday celebration,” says Koerner. 
 
Part of that growth is surely due to all of the additional stores opened and jobs added over the past year. In 2012 alone, six new Biggby locations have launched, bringing the franchise-wide total to 132 stores in eight states. Another 15 are under contract to open soon. Each of those businesses employ 12 to 15 workers for a total of approximately 1,800 jobs including those at Bigbby headquarters.
 
“When you can keep things local, it not only benefits you as a company, but your customers as well,” says Koerner. 
 

Old Town and Mid-MEAC to host Scrappy Bike Rack event with $10K grant

Two area non-profits dedicated to making life in Lansing even better have joined forces on a project to make the city more beautiful, bike-friendly, and for one very exciting weekend, even more fun. The Old Town Commercial Association’s popular Scrapfest will have a new twist this year with a display of nine new bike racks made by teams of area artists from scrap metal that will then be installed around the city.
 
“The teams did submit their drawings in advance, so we have some that I think will be a really fun,” says OTCA Executive Director Louise Gradwohl.
 
OTCA and the Mid-Michigan Environmental Action Council received a $10,000 “Sense of Place in the Arts” grant from the Lansing Economic Development Corporation and the Arts Council of Greater Lansing for the event that’s being called the “Scrappy Bike Rack Project.” The goal of the project is to promote public art, scrap metal recycling, bicycling and placemaking. Participants include metal artists, as well as art and welding students at Lansing Community College.
 
“Julie Powers [of Mid-MEAC] came across the grant over a year ago,” says Gradwohl. “We decided at the end of December to launch it during Scrapfest when we already had metal arts on display.” 
 
The artistic bike racks will be completed by Friday, June 22, when they will be judged to determine if the bike racks are in compliance with the Scrappy Bike Rack Project’s rules and regulations. Racks that meet all requirements will be installed at Potter Park Zoo, Impression 5 Science Center, Lansing City Market and Old Town.
 

Ele's Place receives $5,000 grant to aid grieving elementary children

One in twenty children under the age of 18 will have experienced the death of a parent. While the statistic may be overwhelming, it’s compounded by the fact that the needs of children struggling with such loss vary from age to age and therefore requires specialized support. Ele’s Place has been working to address those needs in Lansing since 1991.

Thanks to a recent $5,000 grant from the Joe D. Pentecost Foundation, grieving children in the early elementary age group will receive specialized support for one year. 
 
“This particular grant sponsored the Monday Early Elementary support group, which has been among our largest groups,” says Molly Day, director of marketing and development for Ele’s Place. 
 
A total of 17 children have participated in this group since last September, with up to 11 children attending at any one time. The Joe D. Pentecost Foundation grant provided the resources for clinical staff to develop and implement age appropriate curriculum, for training of skilled volunteer facilitators who work directly with the children, and for supplies used for support group activities. 
 
According to Day, this particular foundation is a natural partner for Ele’s place, and has supported the organization in the past.
 
“The mission of the Foundation is to support and enrich the educational, social and economic life of the greater Lansing area,” she says. “Through its support of Ele’s Place, the Foundation makes a positive difference in the lives of grieving children, and strengthens our community as a result.” 
 

MSU researcher searches for new tuberculosis drug with Gates Foundation grant

Though we don’t spend too much time worrying about tuberculosis (TB) here in the United States, its worldwide infection rate of one in three people suggests it’s a disease worth more consideration. In fact, TB kills 1.7 million people every year. What’s more, because the drug regimen for treating TB is so lengthy, patients often stop taking their medicine early, resulting in the development of drug-resistant TB.
 
“We have TB contained here in North America, but if drug-resident TB were to show up here, we’d have a problem,” says Robert Abramovitch of MSU's Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics
 
Fortunately, Abramovitch does spend a lot of time worrying about TB. He’s been working with the disease for about six years, and has now developed an innovative new way to identify possible new treatments. 
 
“I build strains of TB that are biosensors,” says Abramovitch. “They glow in response to conditions they would experience during a human infection. If we can find a drug to stop the biosensor from glowing, that compound might have the ability to help treat the disease.” 
 
The glowing biosensor is so promising that Abramovitch was awarded a $100,000 Grand Challenges Explorations grant by the Gates Foundation to continue with his research. He’ll now use the biosensors to screen 265,000 chemical compounds. Abramovitch hopes to find 40 to 50 compounds that impede the sensor’s glow, on which he would then conduct further research with the goal of developing a new TB drug. 
 

Growing Showtime Events expands staff by 50 percent, looks for larger location

If anyone wants proof the fun is on the rise in the Lansing area and throughout Michigan, one only needs to looks as far as the growing Lansing office of Showtime Events. The local branch of the events company that also operates in Florida and North Caroline opened in 2007 without a permanent location and has now grown into 2,000-square foot facility with a growing staff – and the growth is set to continue.
 
“We offer a unique product,” says Showtime Events Lansing Manager Jason Wood. “We give our clients a great product for a great price. When we were so new the biggest challenge was gaining trust. Once we gained that trust, it was game on.”
 
Showtime Events in Lansing recently added two new permanent staff members, increasing their previous numbers by 50 percent. The company also employs 10 part time employees to staff events, as well as interns. Their current 2,000 square foot location on Brookside Drive is certainly a jump from their original, remote operations, but they’re already looking to grow again. 
 
“We’re now looking for a 6,000 square foot building,” says Wood. “We’re hoping to move maybe this summer.”
 
Wood attributes the growth of Showtime Events’ Lansing office to the company’s great customer service and high quality events, and also the recovering economy. 
 
“We feel that the Michigan market is coming back really strong,” Wood says. “We’re one of the first things to be cut out of budgets, but now people are able to start spending more on their events.”
 

Hager Fox plans to grow sales by 33 percent with new focus, branding and marketing position

Hager Fox Heating and Air Conditioning has been servicing the Greater Lansing area since 1941. With the creation of a new position of sales and marketing manager, the company has a growth plan in place to make the next 70 years in Lansing even better, starting with a strategy to grow company sales by a third over the next 18 months. 
 
The growth plan began with the hiring of Matthew Anderson in the sales and marketing position and the first steps of a rebranding process. The company has introduced a new logo, as well as a new website, which will continue to evolve with increased search engine optimization and new content this summer. The rebranding process will also soon include the drafting of mission, vision and core values statements, as well as service standards. 
 
“We want to make sure we’re setting ourselves apart in the industry,” says Anderson.
 
Hager Fox will also be broadening its target market beyond the traditional residential and replacement services and into commercial markets.
 
“New construction is taking off in the Lansing area again, so we’re going to be right on top of that,” says Anderson. “And as new homes start to get built again, we’ll be looking at that market as well.”
 
The goal of the changes is to create an additional $1 million in sales over the next 18 months with the existing staff, after which the company may add more employees as sales continue to grow. 
 

MSU researchers seek to aid cerebral malaria survivors in Malawi with clinical trial

Cerebral Malaria is an incredibly serious issue in the central African country of Malawi impacting thousands of children each year. With a mortality rate of 15 to 25 percent, the disease is a serious one, even for those who survive it’s acute phase. As a part of a longtime partnership with Malawi, Michigan State University researchers discovered that a third of cerebral malaria survivors developed serious neurological problems including epilepsy. 

“The indicators [in children who developed problems] were a higher maximum fever and seizures during admission,” says Gretchen Birbeck, a professor of neurology and ophthalmology in the College of Osteopathic Medicine. “If we could do something better with fever or something better with seizures, that could be a potential intervention.”

Now, Birbeck and a team of MSU researchers will expand upon their work by attempting to do just that. In a small clinical trial of 40 children, they’ll administer levetiracetam, or LVT, an anti-seizure medication used in the United States and other developed nations during the acute phase of the disease. 

The research is being funded with a nearly $2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

“If we can find the drug is safe and effective enough we’ll be able to do a fully blown clinical trial,” Birbeck says.
Birbeck learned of the NIH grant award in May, and hopes to begin the trial in January of 2013. Though only time will tell if the drug is effective, according to Birbeck, even partial success could have a big impact.  

“We do know that around 125,000 cases of epilepsy occur in Africa because of cerebral malaria,” she says. “Even if you prevented injury in 10 percent of kids, that’s a cumulative thing.”
 

Comerica grants $100,000 to non-profit for small business loans

Lansing-area entrepreneurs will soon have a new tool for getting their startups off the ground. Comerica Bank announced last week it will give the Entrepreneur Institute of Mid-Michigan (EIMM) a $100,000 grant for its JumpStart Microloan Program for small business owners. 
 
Comerica's Community Reinvestment Staff has worked with EIMM for a number of years,” says Kathleen A. Pitton, vice president of corporate communications for Comerica. “Our bank was looking for ways in which to support the community through microloan programs and was impressed with the grant proposal received from EIMM for support of their microloan program.”   
 
Comerica Bank is the first company to fund the EIMMs microloan program, which has loaned about $250,000 since 1997.
 
“Michigan is an important market for Comerica,” Pitton says. “EIMM's microloan program benefits the community through its support of microbusinesses and as well as the low- and moderate-income residents of the Lansing area who will benefit through the program's creation of new jobs.”
 
Proceeds from the grant will help EIMM to provide resources to small businesses in the City of Lansing and Ingham and Eaton Counties in Michigan. Former loan recipients include Chad Jordan, owner of Cravings Gourmet Popcorn. Loans range from $500 to $15,000.  
 

Chuniq PR opens in Lansing with big plans for growth

There’s a new public relations firm in Lansing, Chuniq PR. The new business is the brainchild of MSU Alum and Flint native, Zaneta Chuniq Inpower. After working at a Detroit-based firm, Inpower decided it was time to break out on her own. 
 
“It’s an industry you can earn a lot though experience, but it also takes a lot of gusto,” she says. “I’m very ambitious, and I saw the best thing for me was to open my own business.”
 
Even though she got her start in Detroit and already has clients around the country in cities such as Dallas and Houston, she had no doubts about where Chuniq PR would be located.
 
“The Lansing area has so much vibrancy,” she says. “It has not only students, but also a lot of really experienced PR professionals. It is a strong area for those who are practicing PR.”
 
Inpower says the goal of Chuniq PR is to help businesses increase their brand awareness and value. She has also made a commitment to supporting youth-focused non-profits with the business’ proceeds.
 
Inpower hopes to set up a downtown office in the next three to four years. She currently works with interns and plans to hire two permanent staff members before the end of 2012.
 
 

Phenometics to expand, receives start-up award, adds seven jobs

Phenometrics CEO Mimi C. Hall was surprised when she learned that her company had been named the Michigan Business Incubator Association's Incubator Client of the Year last month. Considering all that Phenometrics has accomplished since moving into the Technology Innovation Center six months ago, perhaps she shouldn’t have been. 
 
“We’ve gone from nothing – just a business plan - to shipping product,” says Hall.
 
And not just any old product, but a pretty amazing one. The Phenometrics Photo Bioreactor allows researchers who are working to develop biofuels from algae to bring that work into a controlled setting.
 
“It’s a great technology and we’ve grown very quickly in the beginning,” Hall says. “The staff at TIC and having the opportunity to be here has played a pivotal role in our development and growth. We’re taking the next step right now.” 
 
That next step will officially begin in June when Phenometrics moves out of the TIC and into a 2,300 square foot facility in East Lansing’s Alliance Building. The extra space will allow Phenometrics to manufacture certain parts of their product and assemble it on site. Since opening last fall, Hall has added seven staff members to the company. 
 
Hall’s future plans for Phenometrics are to begin developing new product lines, as well as expanding within the company’s current market. 
 

Huntington Bank to add more than 60 jobs in new Lansing area Meijer locations

Meijer has been changing the way Michigan customers shop since the 1960s. Now, Columbus, Ohio-based Huntington Bank is partnering with the grocery giant to change the way clients do their banking. Beginning with the new Bath Township location on May 17, Huntington Bank will open more than 20 branches inside Meijer stores that will be open seven days a week with extended weekday hours. 

“Customers really want banking to be convenient,” says Huntington Senior Executive Vice President and Retail & Business Banking Director Mary Navarro. “We decided we might as well put the banks where the customers already are rather than having them go somewhere else.”

The new Meijer branches will be full-service locations where customers can do anything from walk up to a teller with their grocery cart to sit down with a Huntington representative to talk about loans, investments, insurance and more. The branches will operate from 8:00am through 8:00pm on weekdays, Saturdays 8:00am to 5:00pm and Sundays 10:00am to 4:00pm.

The branches will vary from 400 to 1,250 square feet in size and will employ approximately seven employees per location. A total of nine locations will open in the Lansing area over the next year, bringing about 63 new jobs to the area. According to Navarro, Huntington has long-term plans to add a number of free standing locations in the Lansing area as well. 

“In general, we like Michigan,” she says. “It’s a state that has gotten their economic development efforts together, and we want to be a part of it.”
 

MSU researchers invent protein purifier to aid drug development

Developing pharmaceutical drugs is a lengthy and expensive process. Thanks to the work of two Michigan State University researchers, however, pharmaceutical companies could save time and money with a newly invented protein purifier.

For 15 years, MSU chemists Merlin Bruening and Greg Baker have been working on ways to improve the process of isolating a single, desired protein from other proteins. Separating these pure proteins is a necessary step to increase drug effectiveness and safety, and Bruening and Baker hope that making the process more efficient will help manufacturers deliver new drugs to consumers more quickly as well as reduce costs. 

The goal was a lofty one, but after so many years of working, a little bit of luck helped the researchers make a breakthrough. 

“Sometimes you get lucky or have a bit of serendipity,” says Baker. “We changed some of the conditions we used to make membrane and suddenly things got really nice."

The details of the invention appeared in a recent issue of the journal Langmuir and they demonstrate that high-performance membranes are highly suitable for protein purification. Though the invention has the potential to have a great impact on the industry, several steps remain before it makes its commercial debut.

“A provisional patent has been filed,” says Baker. “The next step is that we’d like to make it cheap enough so you can throw the membrane away at the end. If we can make it a little bit cheaper yet it can be even better.”
 
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