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Entrepreneurship : Innovation & Job News

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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.  

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. 

Pruess Pets celebrates 30 years, grows staff by 10 percent

The Preuss family has been in the pet business since the 1960s when Rick Preuss’ mother opened a small fish store in the family’s home. Half a century later, Old Town’s Preuss Pets is celebrating its 30-year anniversary as the premier pet store in the region. 
The 25,000 square foot location on Grand River began in 1982 as a 2,000 square foot shop in Haslett. 
“For the first year and a half it was pretty much a family-run store,” says Preuss. “I thought it was the greatest profession ever. Soon enough, we started growing, from our understanding of what it is that people really need, to what it takes to run a successful family business.”
Preuss Pets now has 70 employees and is continuing to grow. The staff has increased by 10 percent over the last two years, and two to three new part-time staffers will be hired when construction on the store’s new pond, water garden and waterfall area is completed in May. 
Preuss credits his business’ continued growth to his family’s commitment to not only their customers, but also their pets. 
“It’s helping pets help people,” he says. “The pets are the stars of the show. Our job is to understand what the animals needs and to understand how to relate that to people so they can see those needs.”
Preuss Pets celebrated their anniversary with special events and activities in April. 
“Celebrating the anniversary will go throughout the year,” Preuss says. “I hope we can continue to have this gift to share with the community for another 30 years.”

Zeppelin's Music Hall brings new music options to Michigan Ave

Lansing native Michael Malott has had a full and successful music career already, but now he’s bringing his time and talents back to his hometown with his new venue, Zeppelin’s Music Hall.
The intimate space with a 60-person capacity is located on East Michigan Avenue in Lansing, across from The Green Door and next door to Emil’s Restaurant. Currently featuring live music Thursday through Sundays, Malott feels his music hall concept fills a need in the Lansing music scene.
“I spent a lot of time in New York City, and I like the warmth of the smaller clubs,” he says. “I didn’t see anything like that here. There are a lot of young, emerging artist out there who are under the age of 21 or 18 are excluded from playing a lot of places.”
Zeppelin’s does not serve alcohol and is therefore an all ages club. Marlott explains that this is important not only to give young musicians a place to play, but also to give young music enthusiasts a place to hang out.
“I would rather have them sitting in my club listening the music and not drinking and driving around, doing stupid stuff.”
Zeppelin’s will feature a wide range of music, including acoustic nights on Sundays, jazz nights, and even a taping of a variety show similar to The Gong Show that will air on public television.
“We have a reggae artist coming in from Kingston, we have a rock band from New York coming next month,” says Marlott. “It’s rock, industrial, punk, reggae, jazz and bluegrass. It’s everything.”

Injured MSU wrestler launches LynX Action Sports Apparel while in recovery

It’s impressive enough that Michigan State University student Collin Dozier, who attends the school on a wresting scholarship can already look back on herniating a disc in his neck so badly that it broke in 2011 and say, “Everything happens for a reason.”
More impressive still is that Dozier has good reason to believe it. After being in a neck brace and unable to attend class for months following the injury, he was able to keep up in school, rehabilitate himself back to 100 percent, and is now launching his own line of clothing with LynX Shreds, also called LynX Action Sports Apparel
“If I didn’t hurt myself I would have been wakeboarding in last summer,” says Dozier. “It’s almost been a blessing in disguise.”
Instead, the MSU student was busy building a business. He began with a concept developed by himself and some of his friends from his hometown of Virginia Beach who nicknamed their favorite wakeboarding area The Lynx. They made shirts, hats and stickers with a Lynx logo and sold them locally.
“Everybody wanted to know who we were,” says Dozier. “The name just stuck. When I came to MSU, I was still wearing my Lynx stuff and people liked it.”
Dozier has now designed and developed an entire line of sports apparel, including t-shirts, hats, dryfit workout shirts, as well as MMA gloves and shorts available online. Developing the business over the past year has given him the opportunity to partner with his father, a long-time businessman himself. 
Dozier has also received promotional help from his fellow student athletes, such as Draymond Green, Greg Jones, Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol who help to promote the clothing line. 
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