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MSU's The Ave brings cultural exhibit to Michigan Avenue

The Ave project started with a conversation among community partners centered on an interesting fact. 
“The Mid-Michigan area has the same number of arts organizations per capita as Seattle,” says The Ave project leader and academic specialist for MSU’s Residential College in the Arts and Humanities Vincent Delgado. ”That’s something that is not well known.”
That notable statistic came from an economic development report, and the parties chatting over how to leverage the most economic benefit from the area’s rich cultural community included MSU, LEAP and the Arts Council of Greater Lansing. What developed for the conversation was The Ave. 
The pilot project brings a collection of stories and placards along Michigan Avenue that include telephone numbers to call and QR codes that passersby can use to see and hear cultural stories about Lansing. These placards were made by MSU students who spent a semester seeking out local stories and finding a new way to tell them. Students in semesters to follow will add to the 8 current placards. 
According to Delgado, The Ave project is about sharing the stories of Lansing’s cultural community, but it’s also about connecting students to that side of the city. 
Nearly 100 partners and students are already involved in The Ave, and the project has been funded with support from the City of Lansing Arts and Cultural Grant Program, funded and administered through the Lansing Economic Development Corp., with assistance from the Arts Council of Greater Lansing, as well as in-kind support from MSU. Future plans for the pilot program, should it continue, include expanding into other areas of the city.

Connection Graphics grows staff by 50 percent

Fifteen years ago, Connie Sweet found a way to combine her love of communications and her love of art by founding Connection Graphics. While the Potterville company began by offering graphic design, Sweet’s list of services has been growing. 
“We’ve been doing more and more brand marketing for our clients,” says Sweet. “When you practice good design, you have to incorporate marketing with that.” 
Sweet’s staff is now expanding as well with the addition of two new employees that will grow her total number of workers by 50 percent. 
Connection Graphic also produces MI Sports Page, a publication dedicated to covering local high school sports. The idea came from employee Thad Kraus who saw something missing in local news coverage. 
“He has a passion for high school sports,” says Sweet of Kraus. “We write about the athletes, and not just one key athletes, but sharing stories you might not hear anywhere else. We were losing a lot of the small community news.”
Sweet hopes to continue to expand the services of Connection Graphics, as well as the reach of MI Sports Page. 
“Our goals are really to focus on helping businesses to build their brand,” she says. “There is a lot of competition, but I think there is enough work out there, you just have to concentrate on your niche.” 

Franchino Mold and Engineering grows staff by 15, to add five more

At Franchino Mold and Engineering, they make things that make things. And it’s no easy job. 
“This is a skilled trade,” says Personnel Manager for Franchino, Brad Rusthoven. “We’re not a production shop where people are pushing buttons, and they are hard to come by. We’re kind of left to hiring inexperienced people and training them ourselves.”
The family owned business was founded in 1955 by Dick Franchino and is now operated by his son, Bob. The company produces molds and die cast dies that other companies use in manufacturing. Now, they’re making more and bigger products and are growing their staff to keep up. 
Fifteen new employees have been added to the Franchino staff in the last 18 months, and Rusthoven expects to add five more by the end of 2012. 
“The one niche that we’re really getting into is building medium to large mold and die cast dies,” Rusthoven says. “It’s hard to compete with overseas with the small stuff, but they can’t ship the big stuff very well. About a year ago, we produced what we believe is the largest production aluminum mold ever. It weighed in at over 300,000 pounds.”
Rusthoven says the bigger products could lead to a need for more space and larger facility for Franchino Mold and Engineering down the road.

Retia Medical raises $7M, adds two jobs

A Technology Innovation Center startup has reached a major funding goal of $7 million. Medical device company, Retia Medical, moved into the TIC last September. The company has developed a less-invasive cardiac output monitor than is currently on the market that is also able to maintain its accuracy for critically ill patients.
“I strongly believe in what is called the ‘double bottom line,’” says Marc Zemel, Chief executive officer of Retia Medical, “which means focusing on generating superior financial returns and superior returns to society. Medical equipment naturally falls into this category and the cardiovascular field impacts a large swath of society.” 
According to Zemel, what makes Retia’s device so innovative is its ability to continue functioning when patients are unstable. 
“That is when accuracy is most critical,” Zemel explains. “Over 18 million high-risk surgical patients and ICU patients can benefit from this technology. Recently, the UK heath system estimated that they could save up to 1100 pounds per patient through implementation of this monitoring technology and the optimized treatment protocols that it enables. Not to mention the number of lives it can help save and improved quality of life that it can impact.”
Along with the funding, Retia is currently looking to expand its three-person staff with two additional biomedical signal processing engineers. Zemel says the company is focused on building and proving the product in the clinic making it available to as many people as possible.
“We are extremely grateful for the support of the TIC and the Michigan State community,” says Zemel. “So many people have contributed their time and efforts and we could not have gotten this far without them.”

Owosso-based MMI Business Services to add three Lansing jobs

Todd Meyer left the corporate world to start a new kind of company to serve the needs of businesses years ago. Since then, he’s kept to a consistent strategy for growth. 
“I started the company in 1989,” says Meyer, president and CEO of Owosso-based MMI Business Services Group. “From there it was a matter of finding quality people to join.”
Now, he’s looking for even more of those quality people. Though MMI’s corporate office is in Owosso, the firm has sales offices in Lansing and Flint, and Meyer is now looking to add three news positions to his Lansing location. 
“People are dealing with the recession differently,” says Meyer. “Our decision was to grow our way through it.”
MMI offers an array of business service to clients, including financial and insurance services, benefits services and general business consulting. 
“We’re really focused on working with the owners, mangers and employees of small and mid-sized companies,” Meyer says. “We do a host of different things all under one roof that you don’t typically see in any one company. You have an insurance agency, you consulting people and you have website people here.” 
Though the MMI Lansing office is currently downtown, Meyer hopes to eventually expand into two Lansing-area offices, with one on the east side of town, and another on the west. 

Annabelle's Pet Station expands pet play areas and training services, adds four jobs

It’s been a busy few years for Annabelle’s Pet Station since their opening in January of 2009. When Ann Andrews and Angela Brown first opened the doors of their doggie daycare, they averaged about three dogs per day. Today, they’re up to 30. 
To make more room to grow, Annabelle’s has undergone a year long renovation project that resulted in new play areas and expanded training opportunities. The business now has the capacity to host 50 dogs each day. 
“We now will have three play floors: one for large dogs, one for small and one for medium dogs,” says Andrews. “People are finding how handy it is. It saves their homes; it saves their sanity.”
With their growing clientele, Annabelle’s has also been taking on new employees. The 13-member staff is up four new positions since last year, and will soon bring on four more. In addition to its regular staff, Annabelle’s employs four trainers and a groomer. 
“It’s not just play all day,” Andrews says. “We work with the dog’s temperament. We do structured time with them too. There’s den time, a little bit of free play, structured play and some time outside.”
In the future, Andrews hopes to add overnight pet sitting services to Annabelle’s offerings, as well as an eventual overnight camp for canines and their families. 

Two local printing companies merge to become Keystone Millbrook, to add five jobs

Big changes have been underway in the local printing industry thanks to the merger of two of the area’s largest printing businesses, Keystone Printing and Millbrook Printing earlier this year.
“It was a long process, but it’s been an exciting one was well,” says Stephanie Murray-Killips, marketing director for the new Keystone Millbrook. “We were able to maintain the majority of our positions.”
According to Murray-Killips, the new company combined two shops with unique specialties that allowed most positions to remain unduplicated after the merger. Not only was Keystone Millbrook able to keep most of their employees, the firm of 50 workers is now hiring more.
“The two companies really had a long standing history of exceptional customer service,” Murray-Killips says. “It was a good fit in terms of company values.”
Five positions are currently posted, and Murray-Killips says demand will determine whether the company hires one or more employees for each new position. Between the merger and campaign season, that demand is currently looking strong. 
“We have just completed one of the greatest sales periods of our companies' history this past month,” says Murray-Killips. “I believe a lot of it has to do with our sales team being invigorated.”
The new Keystone Millbrook website is currently underway and will soon be unveiled to the public. 

PM Environmental grows nationally and locally with five new Lansing jobs

The last 20 years have been good to Lansing-based PM Environmental. The environmental consultant firm now operates in 14 locations throughout the country, boasts a nationwide staff of 90, and continues to grow at a rate of 10 to 15 percent each year. This year is no different.
“All of our offices are growing,” says owner/founder and CEO at PM Environmental, Mike Kulka. “We’ve just had a consistent strategy to have smart, organic growth. We get good quality people."
Those people, Kulka says, are the company’s greatest asset. In Lansing, the PM Environmental staff has grown to 35, five of whom have been added in the last year.
“It’s a good stable workforce,” Kulka says of his firm’s home of Lansing. “There is a lot of good talent. [Co-founder] Pete Bosanic and I met at Michigan State, so we love hiring MSU grads.” 
PM Environmental works with both private and municipal entities to assist with environmental due diligence. Kulka expects the company’s growth to continue with the possibility of adding offices in Cinncinnati and Texas in the next two to three years. 
“We’re happy being headquartered in Lansing and hope to keep growing our business there,” Kulka says.

Ciesa Design expands into marketing services, adds two new jobs

Things are changing over at Ciesa Design. The Old Town firm, which formerly focused primarily on design, is now branching out into additional marketing services. 
“A lot of our clients are exploring other avenues for their design work,” says Ciesa’s Director of Marketing and New Media, Jennifer Middlin. “We’re taking on work that is a more full service strategy instead of just doing project work. Design only goes so far if you don’t have a strategy behind it.” 
The expansion of services has also resulted in an expansion of staff. Ciesa has grown to a staff of 15 with two new positions added this year. 
“There are a lot of exciting things happening,” Middlin says. “This fall will be very busy for us.”
Some of that busyness will include new social media services, such as the recently launched Suites, Eats & Streets Facebook campaign for Dean Transportation. 

Web Ascender adds four new positions

Web Ascender’s president, Ryan Doom, has set a pattern of steady, deliberate growth for the Okemos-based design, development and marketing firm – and growth just keeps on coming. 
“We could definitely grow faster than we have. However, it's extremely important to me that everyone of our clients have a great experience with us and get a quality product when we are completed. We also like to work on projects that are challenging, unique and fun. We definitely turn down as many projects as we accept."
Web Ascender has created two new positions this year, and is looking to hire two more new positions in the near future, which will bring the firm up to 11 employees. Doom says the continued growth is due to more work with entrepreneurial web applications, larger clients including Fortune 500 companies, and a growing pool of local municipal clients. 
“We continue to do a lot of work outside of the region and the state,” says Doom, “which has been another reason we have been able to continue our growth.”

XG Sciences continues growth with seven new jobs

It’s been a busy year for XG Sciences, the Lansing-based manufacturer and seller of xGnP® brand graphene nanoplatelets. After announcing a $4 million partnership with global performance materials company, Cabot Corporation, late last year, the firm has moved into a new facility and has hired an additional seven employees since the beginning of 2012.
“Things are going pretty well,” says XG Sciences CEO Mike Knox. “There has been a lot of interest in our products. Maybe half of our job growth has come from adding research scientists.”
In addition to researchers, XG Sciences has also been adding engineering positions and administrative jobs as well. The seven new jobs in 2012 bring the firm’s total number of staff to 30. The company will be celebrating its move into the Oakwood Executive Park on August 16 with a grand opening. 
Knox says the company will continue to grow as demand for their products increases and their research continues to evolve.
“Most of our scientists are continuing to work on downstream applications for our materials,” he says. “We’ve been doing quite a bit of work with energy storage.”
In accordance with the $1.1 million in tax incentives from Michigan and Delhi Township XG Sciences received last year, the company plans to hire up to 50 employees over the next five years.

Spartan Internet creates two new positions

New services and rising demand has kept Spartan Internet on the path toward growth. The local firm now has a staff of more than 35 and is currently hiring for two new positions. 
“We’ve added some additional services focused on our small business market segment,” says Spartan Internet President Ryan Vartoogian. “Those include some rapid web development services, as well as some additional online marketing services targeting small, growing businesses.”
Vartoogian also attributes Spartan Internet’s continued growth to growing demand as companies who may have put off investments during the economic downturn are beginning to invest in their online presence. 
“A lot of our services are designed to get people to market fast,” he says. “It’s an opportunity create some quick momentum to change the environment they’re operating in.”
Spartan Internet is also exploring additional partnership opportunities focusing on business-to-business organizations. Vartoogian says the firm’s avidly read blog is another contributing factor to the business’ continued growth. 

Supported Intelligence to help with business decisions, creates six jobs

Have a big decision on your mind? Should you open a second office? Should you hire additional employees? If you’re like many business owners facing risky decisions, you may have found that no matter what you plug into a spreadsheet, the darn thing just can’t give you enough information to really make a decision. 
East Lansing-based Anderson Economic Group is launching a new company with a tool designed to do just that. Supported Intelligence has been built around a new software that incorporates what’s called Rapid RecursiveTM methodology for valuing investments and strategic options. That is, it helps businesses make better decisions. It all came about when AEG Principal and CEO Patrick Anderson began to realize that there had to be a better way to address risky choices than a spreadsheet. 
“When I looked at how people handled risky decisions in their real lives,” says Anderson, “I realized they handled them better than what was descried in the MBA books. I’ve been developing techniques that would match, mathematically, what people do themselves.” 
The result was six years of developing Supported Intelligence. The company is currently located in AEG’s East Lansing office and expects to launch their first product using the Rapid RecursiveTM methodology in September 2012. Anderson says the software will benefit a variety of businesses within an array of industries. Eventually he hopes to develop future software to even help individuals make life decisions, such as when to buy a house. 
Supported Intelligence currently employs six workers, and Anderson expects that number to double over the next year. 

New clean energy trade council to advocate for industry, create three jobs

As demand for renewable sources of energy continues to grow, a new trade organization in Lansing is ready to help Michigan play a significant role in the new energy economy. According to the new Energy Innovation Business Council, Michigan’s new energy manufacturing sector supports more than 20,700 jobs a year and has an economic impact of $4.9 billion a year.
“Michigan has a significant advanced energy and cleantech industry and is emerging as a global leader in the sector, yet it lacked a state wide organization that could bring its member businesses together,” says Lauren Bigelow, interim president of the EIBC. “The EIBC was created so at there was an industry association for these companies to network, share best practices, coalesce the collective vision and bring an industry voice for investors and the public as well as state and federal policy makers.” 
The EIBC launched this year as a voluntary membership organization. A search is currently underway for a permanent president, and Bigelow expects the organization to employ two additional employees, one in administration and another in policy. Though an exact location will not be selected until after a president is in place, Bigelow says it will likely be in downtown

“The EIBC aims to diversify and accelerate the growth of Michigan’s energy sector and create partnerships to expand business opportunities,” Bigelow says. “By securing access to capital, engaging the public and policymakers, advocating for policy, and advancing energy innovation, EIBC can help generate jobs and develop Michigan’s clean energy economy.”

TechSmith adds 11 new positions, soon to hire 15 more

When Olympic athletes and internationally recognized education innovators such as the Khan Academy are using your products, something very right is happening. That’s the state of affairs at Okemos-based TechSmith. The screen capture and recording software company has been growing since 1995, though they’re experiencing a notable growth spurt as of late.
“There has been a ton of momentum behind cloud and mobile products,” says TechSmith’s Natalie Ebig Scott. “We’ve shifted employees around to work on cloud-based infrastructure. That’s required some new skillsets and talents as well as new training of existing staff.” 
TechSmith currently employs 232 full time employees and approximately 30 interns. Eleven of those positions have been added since January, and another 15 are currently in the process of being filled. 
“Between continuing our momentum behind our desktop product and the fact that we have about 10 million users worldwide,” says Scott, “you mix all that up and, there is so much going on here. There are lots of opportunities for people to move up here.”
Some of those users are Olympic athletes utilizing the Coach’s Eye application. One such athlete’s use of the software was covered by the technology media site Mashable. According to Scott, future plans for TechSmith include developing a method to close the feedback loop with customers, so they are better able to communicate with each other about the content they create with the products. 
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