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Municipal Supply celebrates 50 years with website launch

Home businesses weren’t as common in 1961 as they are today, but that didn’t stop Howard and Verna Wohlscheid from starting Municipal Supply Company that way, and the company is now celebrating its 50th year in business with the launch of a new website. 
 
Municipal Supply moved to its current location on Industrial Drive in 1977. The company sells water and sewer materials to cities and contractors with an emphasis on excellent customer service.

“In starting our new website, we feel we are getting our name out there to more and more people,” says Brian Wohlscheid, President of Municipal Supply Co. “We feel that in launching this website, we are staying on top of the technology available to us.”

Municipal Supply worked with the Center for Business Innovation and Spring Arbor University on the new site. The university used the site as a teaching opportunity for students. 

“It was a positive experience for all of us,” says Wohlscheid. “We appreciated all of the input and hard work that each of the students did.”

The goal of the new website is to enhance communication with customers through announcing product promotions and news in the municipality industry.  

“We especially wanted to have a place to share our story and for customers to learn more about who we are as an organization,” Wohlscheid. 

Municipal  Supply Company has grown to six full time employees. According to Wohlscheid, the company’s goal is to continue with their practice of great customer service connecting directly with customers. 
 

New social media content management venture, Thearit, joins the TIC

Though the mobile and web application company Venturit is not brand new, its revolutionary new product is. Not only the social content management tool, Thearit, an exciting new web application, but it’s on track to become its own business. That’s why Prabode Weebadde, Venturit founder and CEO and Thearit co-founder Brian Collins decided East Lansing’s Technology Innovation Center was just the right place to get the new product ready to develop into its own entity. 
 
“Brian and I were thinking up ways to do some learning applications that were social media based, because his background is learning technology,” says Weebadde. “We developed the application to leverage social content online, and give a unique interface for your audience to interact with your social media campaign.”
 
Thearit allows organizations to curate online content from such sites as YouTube, Flickr and Instagram, as well as uploading other content. Users are then able to monitor and measure campaigns. The application is already being used by The Michigan State University Alumni Association, the Lansing-based non-profit Rock Star Warriors, University of Sydney, the Scottish Agricultural College, Fukuoka University, the Mother Sri Lanka and political candidates.
 
“The next level is to make it it’s own company,” says Weebadde. “When we looked around for a building that was available, we found the space that we needed and the coaching that we needed at the TIC. We found it was a good fit.”
 

iCab to add high tech taxi options, adding15 jobs to the Lansing area

Getting around the Lansing area is about to change. Beginning in July, iCab will bring the power of hailing a cab into the hands of anyone with a smartphone and someplace to go. 
 
“I was talking with my father,” says Valentino Hernandez, whose father John Hernandez has owned Grand Limousine in Lansing for 25 years. “I said, ‘I think this city needs something more unique for taxi services. Not in the vehicle sense, but so customers can interact with drivers through smartphones or texting. I started doing some research and started working on app development.”
 
Instead of calling a taxi service and waiting for an hour or more for a car to arrive with little to no information, as taxi users often do now, iCab will allow customers to be connected to a taxi via GPS as soon as they hail it. They can pick the cab that is closest or with their favorite driver, and watch as the cab moves toward them. 
 
“It’s a virtual hail,” Hernandez says. “The driver will know exactly where that phone is. If the client doesn’t know the address of where they’re at, or if they go from one location to the next, it will keep them live. If it’s raining and want to run inside and grab a coffee at Biggby, they can just go.”
 
The iCab Grand Opening will take place a Reno’s East this Friday and Saturday. Hernandez will launch iCab with four cabs and 15 employees. His goal is to grow the fleet to 10 vehicles in 18 months. 
 

Yoor Mom Skateboards teaches kids entrepreneurship in Grand Ledge

If you think Yoor Mom Skateboards is an unusual name for a business, that’s because there is nothing usual about the new Grand Ledge shop. While overseen by adults, the store is actually a collection of skateboarding related businesses operated by kids. 
 
“We’re calling it an ‘incuskater,’” says Jerry Norris, owner of Jadian Enterprises and father of Yoor Mom Skateboards founder Rain Norris. “It’s an incubator for skateboarding companies. My son, who is 11-years-old, came up with the brand and the name.”
 
Now 20 students ranging from 11 to 19 years old and representing nine businesses are testing out their skateboarding related business ideas in the 600 square foot Grand Ledge shop. They are not only learning about entrepreneurship, but  they are also tracking their local economic impact and raising money for the Grand Ledge Skate Club. 
 
“We’re calling this the Summer of Skatenomics,” Norris says. “We’re keeping track of all the money we’re spending, and we’ve spent over $3,000 in the local economy. We’re also teaching kids business things and having business training sessions. Now we’re seeing them starting to train each other.”
 
Norris and the Yoor Mom Skateboards team have high hopes for the growth of their project. They have created a Made in Grand Ledge brand, and are working to connect with manufacturers in Dubai and California to produce their goods. Meanwhile, students are learning welding, screenprinting and carpentry in the shop. Eventually, they’d like to create a manufacturing facility in Grand Ledge and start a microloan program.  
 

M3 Group adds six jobs, restructures for continued growth

To say it’s been a busy year for the Downtown Lansing-based agency Motion, Marketing & Media, or M3, would be an understatement. After rolling out their new “Special PRops team” and undertaking a statewide social media road trip under the hashtag #MeetMichigan, the firm has continued to grow, adding six new positions and undergoing an internal restructuring – all in time to celebrate M3’s 10-year anniversary in August. 
 
The startling growth, says The Bugler of M3, Anna Daugherty, was all a part of the plan.
 
“In 2011, one of Chief Conversation Starter and President Tiffany Dowling's goals was to work on expanding into new markets, not only in Michigan, but nationally,” Daugherty says. “She made it a mission for the company to take on bigger clients in new regions, and in order to accomplish this goal, she hired several new employees to grow our sales team and two creative teams.”
 
Those new positions follow the M3 tradition of highly descriptive, whimsical names: cruise director, video virtuoso, Account Executive, Funstructor, Social Media Coordinator and The Big (Web) Kahuna.
 
In order to accommodate such growth, M3’s internal restructuring included promotions and a new entertainment marketing department, which includes film, television and radio show development, product placement and special events.
 
“Growth and creative team development are key to achieving our strategic goals this year,” says Daugherty. “Another main goal is to beef up our sales department. We are also working on landing more state and federal contracts.”
 

LE&A PR group expands Lansing staff and office

The Lansing office of Lambert, Edwards and Associates (LE&A)has undergone a lot of change in the last nine years, with the most current change being staff growth and an upcoming expansion. 
 
The public relations office began as an office of John Bailey and Associates in 2003. When LE&A purchased the company in 2009, it changed names and became part of a statewide company with offices in Grand Rapids and Detroit. With the addition of two new staff members in the last year and another position soon to be filled, all of those changes have led to growth. 
 
“It’s been a good year,” says Emily Gerkin Palsrok, managing director of the public affairs practice of LE&A in Lansing. “I think the economy in Michigan has bounced back, and through that, clients are reengaging.”
 
The office itself, which is located above Edmund’s Pastime in Downtown Lansing, is experiencing growth as well. An additional 500 square feet will soon be added on to the office’s existing space, and the office design will be reconfigured to accommodate the company’s growth. 
 
Palsrok attributes the growth of LE&A in Lansing to the strength of the business company-wide.
 
“We have three strong, bi-partisan offices statewide,” she says. “We’re also very diversified as a company. Public affairs is just one area we focus on.”
 
Four to five additional new positions will soon be added to LE&A offices statewide. Should a Lansing-area candidate be a good fit for a position open in another city, they could be added to the Lansing office. 
 

Blended Learning Academies to bring new curriculum, 12 jobs to DeWitt

Dr. Tim Brannan teaches education at Central Michigan University, so it’s no surprise that when he and his company Brandino Properties purchased the vacant Gunnisonville Elementary Building in DeWitt, he had a vision to use the property to bring innovative new learning opportunities to students. In addition to building an assisted living facility on the site and leasing space to Little Scholars Preparatory School, the 26,000 square foot building will soon become Blended Learning Academies, a 256-student public school for sixth through eighth graders.
 
“We’re going t be a one-to-one school,” says Brannan. “Every student and teacher will have a learning device, that will either be an iPad or a netbook.”
 
The school’s digital curriculum is known as STEAM, focusing on science, technology, pre-engineering and mathematics with an added emphasis on arts and athletics.
 
“We’re moving toward taking [education] where the individual learning needs of each student are,” Brannan says. “We’re also extending the school year to go through the summer. There will be summer camp-like activities, so as the kids need to catch up, they can do that, and if we have some advanced kids, they can participate in some extra programs like studying alternative energy.”
 
Brannan intends for the Blended Learning Academies to be open for school this fall and is now taking applicants. The school will employ a staff of up to 12. Brannan also cites interaction with the on-site assisted living center as added value for students’ education. 
 
“We are hoping that unique blend of seniors and students will be an avenue for cross-learning and activities that will allow them to help each other,” says Brannan.
 

ASK adds four new positions with plans to double staff

Lansing’s ASK is growing. The provider IT hardware, software, and service solutions that got its start almost 20 years ago has grown its staff by approximately 25 percent over the last two years, including four recent new hires in the positions of office administrator, account manager, technical assistant and technical consultant.
 
“Our small and medium business solutions have driven our growth for the past four years,” says President of ASK Mike Maddox. “These companies rely as much on their technology, as do the large multi-national companies. The difference is that they do not have the budget, or staff to adequately manage the latest technology. That is where ASK solutions comes in.”
 
Maddox attributes ASK’s growth to the company’s focus on customer service.
 
“Our values have remained constant, and they are based on doing the right thing for the client, every time,” he says. “Our ability to provide world class IT solutions, at a price that small businesses can afford, has been the engine for our growth.”
 
ASK plans for that growth to continue. Now at a staff of 17, Maddox expects the firm to double its number of employees over the next five years. 
 

Cravings Popcorn invests in larger-than-life sign and area non-profits

Things are popping over at Cravings Gourmet Popcorn. The Old Town snackerie has recently unveiled two new significant investments – one in the business itself, and another in the community. 
 
“I’ve always said I had the worst sign in Old Town,” says Cravings owner Chad Jordan. “I had a specific idea in mind. I wanted to have a sign that people would stand in front and have their picture taken.”
 
Jordan’s vision was fulfilled by a six-foot-tall, four-foot-wide, popcorn-box-shaped sign that made its debut during Be a Tourist in Your Own Town day in June. Jordan worked with Lansing’s Young Sign & Awning on the sign and invested about $4,000 into the project. And just as he’d hoped, passersby have been stopping to take their photo with the larger-than-life sign. 
 
Less visible from the outside, but with perhaps an even greater impact, Cravings has recently launched its Community Popcorn Project. The program gives local non-profits the chance to apply for free popcorn for events that raise money or awareness for a community cause.
 
“I think it’s important that all businesses complete the cycle,” says Jordan. Customers buy from them, and they should be appreciative of how the community has helped their business to grow. They should give back to the community in a way that is possible for them.”
 
The Community Popcorn Project allows recipients one jumbo-sized bag (80 cups of popped popcorn) of the Three Way Mix or Theater Style flavors. Applications must be completed two weeks prior to the event.
 

CARQUEST to celebrate 50 years growing in Lansing

CARQUEST The Parts Place had its humble beginnings nearly 50 years ago as Holt Auto Supply Inc. in Holt. It all started when co-owner Dick Seehase’s father and grandfather decided they wanted to be in the auto repair business without having the mess with being on call 24-hours a day for towing and repairs.
 
“They met a man by the name of Sam Rogers who had an auto parts store. Sam got him set up in the business,” says Seehase. “They opened their doors on November 15 of 1963. November 15 in Michigan! He took in 33 dollars.”
 
Fortunately for the Seehase family, not every day was as quiet as the first day of hunting season for Holt Auto Supply. In the five decades to follow, the company would take on the name CARQUEST The Parts Place and grow into eight locations in Holt, East Lansing, west Lansing, Mason, Charlotte, Williamston, Stockbridge and Eaton Rapids. CARQUEST now employs 65 workers.
 
“The whole idea was to be wholesale-oriented,” says Seehase, explaining CARQUEST’s success over the years. “Seventy percent of our business is commercial business. Now that automobiles have become more technologically advanced and therefore more difficult to work on for do-it-yourself people, that has been good for us.”
 
According to Seehase, the family is looking forward to another 50 years of serving the Lansing area, which has been their home for generations. CARQUEST The Parts Place will begin their official 50-year celebration this November and continue through 2013. 
 

Truscott Rossman expands staff, adds Grand Rapids office in first year

It’s been a year of change and growth for Truscott Rossman, the public relations firm that was the result of a merger between The Rossman Group and the John Truscott Group in January of 2011. Since that time, the new firm has created four new positions and has opened a new office in Grand Rapids.
 
According to Kelly Rossman-McKinney, CEO and principal of Truscott Rossman, the successful year can be attributed to the complementary strengths of the two firms now working in tandem.
 
“I think the bipartisan combination,” she says, “and the opportunity to really provide a depth and breath of service to our clients is unparalleled to anyone anywhere in the state.”

The more recent addition to the Truscott Rossman staff includes a new associate account executive and a senior writer and account executive. Rossman-McKinney expects the firm’s notable growth to continue.

“It’s possible we’ll add someone in the next six months,” she says. “We’re very deliberate about growth. We don’t add a position until everybody is maxed-out to their own time and ability. But it’s looking to be a great year, and we’re loving every minute of it.” 

Two Men and a Truck expands by 33 percent, adds 25 local jobs

Lansing’s own Two Men and a Truck are moving on up. The company has grown 33 percent over the past two years and is currently operating 224 locations in 34 states. This year alone, Two Men and a Truck have signed three new franchise agreements, opened four new satellite offices and transferred five stores to new ownership. 

“Our growth is tied directly to our goal of being the number one moving company in the world,” says Kelly Rogers, franchise development director for Two Men and a Truck. “Our system understands that every move we complete must deliver on our mission statement -to continuously strive to exceed our customer’s expectations in value and high standard of satisfaction. During the recession we never lost focus of this.”
 
That national growth has also meant growth here in Lansing. The company headquarters now has a staff of 76, after adding more than 25 positions over the last two years. According to Rogers, new positions will continue to be added at the company headquarters as Two Men and a Truck expect to see another 20 percent growth in 2012. 
 
“Double digit growth and efficiencies in the system that drive customer satisfaction are definitely areas of focus as we set goals,” says Rogers. “In addition, we are looking at expansion on the East and West coasts as well as several creative initiatives we expect to accelerate our growth in coming years.”
 

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.
 

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. 
 

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.  
 
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