Feyen Zylstra announces corporate leadership promotions

Grand Rapids-based electrical solutions and industrial technology firm Feyen Zylstra (FZ), announced that E.B. Sonheim has been promoted to Director of Marketing and Kevin VanDyke has been promoted to Director of Engineering and Virtual Design.

©2019 Photo by Two Eagles Marcus 2019-04-12 Twoeaglesmarcus.com

Detroit City Distillery honors bakery, tradition with its limited Paczki Day Vodka

Maybe it was the sugar talking, but one Michigan-based distillery has created a sensation with its odd yet tasty decision to blend paczki with vodka to make a drink that is selling out everywhere that serves it.

For the third year, Detroit City Distillery is bringing its limited-edition, paczki-flavored vodka to metro Detroit – and the alcoholic beverage has become a hit with bars, restaurants and paczki lovers across the region, said Michael Forsyth, founder and partner at the Detroit-based business.

Detroit City Distillery creates small batch artisanal whiskey, gin and vodka using the local ingredients sourced from farms near its distillery and tasting room in Detroit’s Eastern Market. Paczki Day Vodka will go on sale starting Feb. 22 with a special release party at DCD’s Tasting Room in Eastern Market and will be available through Paczki Day on Feb. 25 or until it is gone.

Taste sensation
Chances are, there won’t be much left as Fat Tuesday slides into the Catholic time of reflection known as Lent. Most people enjoy Fat Tuesday as a time to eat as much as they want before starting Lent, which asks adults ages 14 and up to fast and limit their consumption.

This strange but ingenious product started with Steve Orzechowski, the distiller for DCD and a proud Polish American. His experimental spirit decided to get creative, honoring Paczki Day in Hamtramck. Steve went to New Palace Bakery, bought dozens of paczki and tossed them into some vodka.

He chose New Palace Bakery for its long-time efforts to bake the finest desserts and treats around. But it also is a meeting places for people of all backgrounds to buy paczki, which is considered a treat for all people, not only those who are Polish.

The result of combining paczki with vodka was strangely delicious and beautiful, tinted a rosy pinkish color because of the paczki’s raspberry filling, Forsyth said. The result is a beverage that is smooth, buttery and has a distinct raspberry finish. Orzechowski recommends people sip it chilled or as a chaser with a paczki of their choice.

“We made a little the first year. Last year, it sold out immediately. There was no marketing or anything. People were calling for it for days,” Forsyth recalled. “This year, we decided to scale it up and make it available to bars and restaurants. Paczki manic ensued – we’ve had people contact us from as far away as Poland. … It’s been so much fun.”

Bottles are $30 each and will be available for purchase at Detroit City Distillery’s Tasting Room at 2462 Riopelle Street in Detroit. Customers must be 21 and over to taste or purchase alcohol. Craft cocktails and favorite polish treats will be available in a festive atmosphere at DCD throughout the paczki season.

Angela Roden joins Broder & Sachse Real Estate as senior regional manager to oversee multi-family property management

Broder & Sachse Real Estate has hired Angela Roden as senior regional manager overseeing multi-family properties. Roden provides guidance and training to staff and ensures safety and quality standards are maintained. Roden contributes 12-plus years of multifamily management to the teams at B&S.

Employers expand service incentives to motivate, engage, retain employees

Just about everyone who has ever worked for a large company remembers choosing a service award — a company gift to commemorate a specific service anniversary, usually beginning with five years.

Employees would pore over glossy catalogues to choose a jewelry, office or home item. While such gifts were relatively low-cost, especially in the early years of employment, they were usually appreciated as a “thank you” for five, 10, 20 or 25 years on the job.

But the workforce has changed in many ways in recent years. Low unemployment has created a challenging recruitment and retention environment for employers. Plus, the average tenure of workers is now only 2.5 years, according to Andrew Bishop, vice president of sales for Baudville Brands in Grand Rapids, a provider of corporate incentive programs and merchandise, and a member of the Incentive Marketing Association, a trade association.

Andrew Bishop

As a result, employers are moving from awards for years of service to “pre-boarding and onboarding gifts selected by the company to say ‘We’re excited to have you on board,’” Bishop explained. The gifts may be branded with company messages and are designed to give new employees a positive “Day One” experience. Workers often feel an “overwhelming sense of appreciation,” he said, for receiving this kind of welcome. Other recognition may follow on Days 45 and 90 and then extend to Year 1 and 3 anniversaries. Bishop said the typical company expenditure is $10 to $15 per year of service.

“It’s all about how to retain employees in a 3.4% unemployment environment. People don’t leave companies, they leave managers and leadership,” said Shawn Premer, chief human resources officer at Consumers Credit Union in Kalamazoo, and director at the Michigan Council of the Society for Human Resource Management.

Shawn Premer

Of course, salaries, health insurance, retirement plans and other benefits are essential to attract and keep good workers but, in this environment, experts agree service awards and varied employee incentives are useful tools as well. While their format may now include a chance to expand work-related skills, some of the goals remain the same — enhancing company loyalty, encouraging good performance and building a positive culture.

Developing employee engagement
Companies such as Baudville Brands and Marketing Innovators in Chicago describe their role as promoting employee connections and engagement. Marketing Innovators’ website says “The true value of rewards, recognition, and even rebates, is all about connecting to people” and describes its services as an “engagement marketplace.”

Baudville offers incentive and awards merchandise of many types, as well as online methods for employees to track participation, whether in dollars, points or gifts. The company also helps plan recognition programs to achieve specific company goals. Its website describes its subsidiary companies as “working together to help make the most of every employee engagement opportunity from ‘hi’ (first day) to ‘bye’ (retirement).”

“The big focus is on employee engagement and the customer experience. The
more engaged employees are, the better care they will take of customers,” said Barbara Hendrickson, owner of Visible Communication in Livonia. A former owner of a company that sold incentive items, she now helps companies in the field with their online marketing.

Targeting business goals
“We spend a lot of time up front with clients to find out if they’re looking for a ‘feel good’ program versus one focused on business outcomes,” Bishop at Baudville said. Richard Blabolil, president of Marketing Innovators, said one trend in the field is “a high belief in the importance of culture. Companies want their employees to feel that they have the tools to be successful and that their company wants them to be successful.”

He believes that award and incentive programs have “moved from being a nice thing to do — something that looks good — to something that drives results.” Those results can be high quality performance, skill set development or accuracy of the work product.

Hendrickson concurs with this view of a shifting program focus. She says that programs are moving away from length of service to team and individual goals, such as rewarding people who go above and beyond their regular responsibilities. Incentive programs may reward a reduction in collections time or an improvement in customer satisfaction. The impact of sales incentives is easy to measure, she says, but evaluating the impact of incentives on employee safety and wellness or customer service is more difficult.

Barb Hendrickson

“It’s important to hire an incentive professional because there are a million ways to mess up and even demotivate people,” Hendrickson said. It’s important to set goals and then measure throughout the program and afterward, she added.

Both Premer and Blabolil refer to author Daniel Pink as an authority on what motivates people — especially his beliefs that mastery, autonomy and purpose are important to workers. They agree with him that money isn’t the driving force, especially once basic needs are met.

Money isn’t everything
“Not everything needs to be monetized. Appreciating how you add value to the company or as a team member is important,” Pink says. Blabolil speaks of a manager who “caught you doing something correct and recognizes it.”

He describes some of the criteria employees use for gauging their job satisfaction. “Do I like where I work? Is there growth and human connection? Do I trust that people are making good decisions? Do I like the people I work with?” he says.

“We want people to stay because they love being here,” Premer said. Younger adults are more interested in participating in specific projects and experiences to grow their skill set, she explained. They are more intrinsically driven.

Consumers Credit Union has a young workforce and the company developed a Career Play Book that offers online courses and identifies specific useful areas of competency for workers. Another program, “Grab a Job,” enables an employee to apply for a temporary assignment for up to 18 months to gain experience in a different area of the organization.

Rick Blabolil

Employees can also “Grab a Project” — taking on a special internal task to learn some new skills and try something different. These programs resulted in lowering turnover from 14% to 10%. “People don’t have to leave for opportunities,” she said, but the programs can require a lot of work to administer.

Some companies use a point system to reward employees who take seminars or reach sales goals. “There is an extensive redemption library,” Bishop said, that can be applied to travel or tickets. Some programs allow employees to use their award for a charitable donation and 5% of total redemptions go to charities, he reports. Today’s employee gift catalogues are usually available online rather than in print. Bishop said employees are offered a bigger selection — as many as 1,000 items. There are fewer items with company emblems and logos.

Premer and Bishop note that some organizations use software for peer-to-peer recognition, enabling employees to nominate their co-workers for special achievements. This recognition comes with points or gift cards. Premer says that mentoring programs for new employees are also gaining in popularity.

She says that incentive programs work better in a production environment because you “don’t want to motivate people to make bad decisions.” A recent example on a large scale problem of this type was Wells Fargo’s incentive program to expand the number of accounts and services used by its customers. Some bank staff responded to these incentives by opening new accounts for customers without telling them — a clear breach of customer relations and banking rules.

Hendrickson says that the Incentive Marketing Association does not recommend using cash as an incentive because “cash is easily confused with compensation.” She explains that cash incentives blur the line between what employees have been hired to do and doing extra things.

“Almost any kind of employee recognition program improves profitability and helps to retain more employees,” she adds, citing data from the Incentive Research Foundation. So bolstering employee connections and culture are not just “feel good” propositions, but potential enhancements to the bottom line.

Experts: Economy expected to move slowly, but forward

With unemployment hitting record lows and the economy seemingly humming along in 2019, everyone should be hopeful 2020 will bring more of the same.

Right?

Not so fast, according to some economic experts. While there seems to be no real fear of a deep falloff in the economy, some experts seem to think the country is in for at least a slow start to the new year.

When looking at 2020 (and beyond), experts at ITR Economics in Manchester, N.H., are saying you need to study two sides of the same coin to get an accurate picture of what may be coming.

For instance, when talking “big picture” and consumer spending (eating out, buying retail, going to the movies), they believe there will be a slowdown, though positive growth is still on the way. But when it comes to the industrial side and investment spending, cloudy times could be coming.

Alex Chausovsky, director of Speaking Services for ITR Economics, said growth rates aren’t expected to go negative, but they’ll approach zero-growth before beginning to rise again in the second half of next year.

“Although the economy is still growing, that growth has been slowing,” said Chausovsky. “Growth rates are still positive, but they’re coming down … We expect that to continue until mid-2020.”

Perception is everything
Paul Traub, senior business economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago’s Detroit Branch, said there’s “a lot of positive sentiment” out there, driven by “perceptions of the economy,” including things like job growth, income growth, and more.

Traub said there “are signs” President Trump’s 2017 tax cut is “starting to wear off,” at least at the income level.

Jim Robey, director of regional economic planning services at the Kalamazoo-based W.E. Upjohn Institute, talked about the economic outlook for 2020 at the annual Economic Outlook for West Michigan event in Grand Rapids.

“The big difference, though, is the difference between expectations of businesses and those of consumers,” Traub said. “If you compare … consumer expectations from CEO expectations, it’s near record level lows. Consumers are a lot more optimistic than business leaders.”

Jim Robey, director of regional economic planning services at the W.E. Upjohn Institute, had a mix of things to say to a gathering in Grand Rapids, Mich., last month. W.E. Upjohn Institute, headquartered in Kalamazoo, is a not-for-profit, nonpartisan, independent research organization which studies policy-related issues of employment and unemployment.

Robey, speaking at the 23rd annual Economic Outlook for West Michigan, said while many pundits are forecasting a recession, the “fundamentals of the economy are solid.

“Nearly all forecasters are looking at positive, albeit slower, growth in gross domestic product over the next two years,” he told the gathering, hosted by The Right Place, Inc., a regional economic development organization.

Among his points:
• Many measures, including output and light vehicle sales are returning to trend.
• With consistent labor force participation rates and unemployment rates that are arguably below full employment (nationally, statewide and regionally), employment growth is forecast to be relatively flat.
• For Grand Rapids, growth in Gross Regional Product is forecast to be +1.8% overall, +1.1% for goods-producing industries, +2.2% for service-producing, and +.6% for government.

Michigan a good place for business
At the same gathering, The Right Place Inc. President and CEO Birgit Klohs highlighted several notable accomplishments from 2019, as all eyes turn toward 2020.

The results come from The Right Place’s 2017-2019 Strategic Plan (the group’s plan for 2020 is set for release Feb. 5) and highlighted projects and development that have taken place, including:
• In 2019, the organization completed 20 economic development projects, resulting in 1,591 new and retained jobs, $144.9 million in new and retained payroll and $239.6 million in new capital investment.
• Tracking against The Right Place’s 2017-2019 three-year strategic plan, the organization has spurred the creation of 5,192 new and retained jobs, on a goal of 4,200; $309.5 million in new and retained payroll, on a goal of $150 million; and $799.9 million in capital investment, on a goal of $500 million.

Maybe such success shouldn’t be surprising. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, Michigan is a pretty good state in which to be a business, particularly a small business.

According to the SBA, the Great Lakes state has once again ranked among the top states for doing business, this time coming in 12th in the Tax Foundation’s 2020 State Business Tax Climate Index.

Birgit Klohs, president/CEO of The Right Place, Inc., mingles with guests at the 23rd annual Economic Outlook for West Michigan event in Grand Rapids.

Constance Logan, Michigan District Director of the U.S. Small Business Administration, said Michigan is one of only two states in the Midwest to be in the top half of the rankings. Combined with a cost of living that is 10% below the national average, Michigan “has repeatedly earned its reputation as a business-friendly state.”

SBA’s own Office of Advocacy reports that Michigan small businesses employed 1.8 million people, or 49.2% of the private workforce, in 2015. Firms with fewer than 100 employees have the largest share of small business employment. And private-sector employment increased 0.8% during the 12-month period ending in January 2018.

Slower growth predicted
According to Logan, small businesses will “continue to play a vital role in building a healthy economy in Michigan.” According to economists, though, Michigan is experiencing slower growth that is predicted to last into 2020.

“We know that small businesses contribute the majority of net new jobs,” Logan said. “As we head into the next decade, SBA will continue to focus on programs and services that support both startup ventures and existing businesses that are growing and creating job opportunities.

“Businesses are facing uncertainty in how long this economic expansion will continue and SBA’s programs will be even more relevant to ensure that small businesses have access to capital, take advantage of a global marketplace, and get their foothold in the federal contracting arena,” Logan added.

Meanwhile, ITR’s Chausovsky said, indicators such as the U.S. Industrial Production Index, JP Morgan, the Wilshire Market cap, the U.S. Purchasing Managers Index and even the stock market all support ITR’s conclusion that the industrial economy could be in for a rough start to the new year.

Chausovsky said that, after a solid 2018, the industrial economy will have seen two relatively flat years (2019 and 2020). The bulk of the negativity, he said, will be concentrated in the first half of 2020.

“There’s an expectation of a split in the economy; investment territory is going to feel a little more pressure, with a mild recession in first half of next year, and it will level out toward end of year,” he said. “The stock market, the Wilshire Market Cap, is also confirming that pressure on the industrial economy in the first half of 2020.”

In Michigan, experts are saying that, while trade tensions and a shifting rate environment pressured U.S. business sentiment in the third quarter, key economic signs remain positive and companies continue to post revenue growth.

What the numbers show
Michigan’s business climate was better in the third quarter of 2019 than in the second, according to the latest business index from Citizens Bank. This is the second time the index has been released publicly, and Rick Hampson, president of Citizens Bank Michigan, said the index bodes well for 2020 because Michigan companies have been expanding since the first quarter of 2017.

“Michigan’s economy continues its upward move and I think that’s very positive for the state,’’ said Hampson. “We have a good mix of companies with a long track record of success and new businesses that are working to change the trajectory of our economy. This bodes well for 2020.’’

The Michigan business index for 2019’s third quarter was 52.4, up from the previous quarter’s index of 51.6. An index above 50 indicates an expansionary business trend. The index is created using public and proprietary information gathered from private and public companies. That data includes revenue, manufacturing volumes and wages.

In the latest report released by Citizens Commercial Banking, the Citizens Business Conditions index dropped from 61.2 to 60.2, but remained well above 50, showing continued confidence.

More than 500 business leaders attended the Dec. 11 Economic Outlook for West Michigan event in Grand Rapids.

“The U.S. economy continues to show its resiliency, powered by consumers who continue to ignore the increasing geopolitical noise as they head into the traditional holiday shopping season,” said Tony Bedikian, head of Global Markets for Citizens Commercial Banking, in December. “The slight dip in the Index seems to have been caused by continued trade uncertainty, but even that was not enough to make much of a dent in the indicators overall. While there seems to be growing concern about next year, it also seems as if economists have been saying that every year for at least the last several years.”

The Index is derived from a number of underlying components, most of which, Bedikian pointed out, remained strong during the third quarter of 2019.
• While the Manufacturing and Non-Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Indexes (PMIs) from the Institute of Supply Management (ISM) were down from second-quarter readings, the ISM Non-Manufacturing PMI remained in expansion territory.
• The ISM Manufacturing PMI declined enough to signal contraction in the sector, with the ongoing trade war between the U.S. and China a likely key driver of uncertainty for manufacturers.
• National unemployment figures decreased during the quarter and, while wage growth slowed from the previous quarter, it remained at a healthy level.
• Proprietary measures of business activity among Citizens Commercial Banking’s more than 7,000 clients across the United States remained strong.

The Index draws from public information and proprietary corporate data to establish a unique view of business conditions across the country. An index greater than 50 indicates an expansionary trend and points to improved business growth for the next quarter.

Job figures
The fact that the unemployment rate is either slightly dropping or holding steady doesn’t necessarily mean it’s all good news for the state’s workers.

In Michigan, for instance, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was essentially unchanged in October, inching down by a tenth of a percentage point above the state’s October 2018 rate, to 4.1%, according to data from the Michigan Department of Technology, Management & Budget. The U.S. jobless rate edged down over that period by two-tenths of a percentage point.

However, payroll jobs fell sharply by 22,000, or 0.5%, over the month, due largely to a strike in the auto industry that began Sept. 16 and ended six weeks later (persons on strike are counted as employed, having no impact on the unemployment rate. However, they are not included in the count of jobs, contributing to fewer payroll jobs.).

Nationally, the jobless rate advanced by one-tenth of a percentage point over the month and was 0.5 percentage points below the Michigan rate.

“Michigan payroll jobs fell temporarily in October due to the large, nearly six week-long strike in the auto sector,” said Jason Palmer, director of the Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives. “Job levels in the manufacturing sector should rebound, as autoworkers are now back on the job.”

Chausovsky called the employment figures a “lagging indicator” that reflects the economy “after the fact.” While acknowledging people do have jobs and are starting to see a rise in wages, he issued a caution about how to keep it going.

“Our main piece of advice is to make sure you’re retaining top performers and don’t look at the mild lull in activity next year as a reason to cut back,” he said. “You should look at it as a way to keep people for the rise in 2021.”

Trade policies
U.S. trade policies under President Donald Trump could also have an effect on the economy, according to Chausovsky, who said there are “typically winners and losers” when it comes to tariffs.

Some companies benefit from these kinds of protectionist trade policies, he said, while others don’t.

He tells the story of the Whirlpool Corp., the largest domestic manufacturers of washing machines. In 2017, he said, Whirlpool lobbied the International Trade Commission, which then imposed a 20% tariff the following year.

Since then, he pointed out, the consumer on average has spent $90 more on a washer than in the past. The really interesting thing is, he said, despite the fact there’s no tariff on dryers, consumers were paying higher prices on dryers.

“When the price of washing machines went up, so did the price of dryers, despite the fact there was no tariff,” Chausovsky said. “It highlights the fact that there are unintended consequences because of these protectionist trade policies.

“We advocate letting the market figure it out,” he added. “U.S. exports have declined by 8% over the last year and we believe it’s partly because of protectionist policies, and reciprocal policies by other countries.”

The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago’s Traub said consumers are starting to shy away from goods affected by the tariffs, because prices on those goods are starting to rise. That means instead of going to a more high-end store like Lord & Taylor, for instance, shoppers are looking for better deals elsewhere.

And the tariffs are beginning to have a negative effect on the economy, according to Traub. Not a debilitating one — there is still growth, just smaller — but an effect nonetheless.

“When you have tariffs, not only are you not selling your own goods, you’re not buying (from other countries),” said Traub, who pointed out that trade was an average 2.8% prior to the tariffs, as opposed to some 1% now. “That means the world is slowing down. You’re buying less stuff from China, so China is slowing down. You’re buying less stuff from Europe, so Europe is slowing down. And they’re buying less stuff from the U.S., so the U.S. is slowing down.”

Michigan franchisee opens first Code Ninjas location to teach kids to code

As the franchisee of Michigan’s first Code Ninjas location, Jason Umphrey is using his skills as a teacher, his work as a Microsoft Certified Trainer and his love of being a professional software developer to show kids and teens how much fun coding can be.

The state’s initial Code Ninjas is opening its Macomb location on Romeo Plank Road in February, and Umphrey will open the second location in Rochester Hills in late March, he said. The goal is to give students not only the basics of coding and programming but important life skills such as problem solving.

These are lessons most kids are eager to learn, Umphrey said. More importantly, it puts them on the other side of the screen – or in the power position outside of their Xboxes and smartphones. When they learn how to build video games, they learn everything else about consumer behavior, how to market a new game, how to accept other ideas or criticism and many other lessons.

“Older generations had things such as Lincoln Logs or Tinkertoys. These were tools available to imagine worlds that we can come in and create, whether it was a spaceship, car or anything else,” Umphrey said. “They’re all great games, but kids today now have an opportunity to learn code – and they use it like paint on a canvas.

“Most of the time, consumers of software and applications – kids are consumers of these games,” Umphrey added. “Now, they can actually create their own and get on the other side of the screen with our curriculum and classes build something. They can show what they’ve created to mom and dad or share it with their friends and get feedback. Then they can come back in and build on or go onto the next game.”

Code Ninjas founder and CEO David Graham is a professional software developer who previously owned a successful chain of coding camps for adults. After numerous inquiries from parents, Graham realized there was an unmet demand to teach children coding skills. He launched the Code Ninjas brand in 2016.

The company, themed around martial arts, transforms kids into coding Ninjas as soon as they step foot in the ‘Dojo’ where they start out as white belts and move up to black belts as they progress. These centers, which are located nationwide, focus on building video games, robotics, drones and other STEM activities.

The program keeps kids motivated with “Belt-Up” celebrations where they receive color-coded wristbands to mark their graduation to the next level. By the time a child finishes the program, they will publish an app in an app store.

For parents, Code Ninjas offers something else, as well, Umphrey said. It is a safe place where kids can explore, use their creativity and gain real insights into coding and technology – everything they’ll need for jobs in the future whether they pursue coding or not.

“I see the value in teaching not only adults but transferring that knowledge down to kids at a younger age because they’re going to be faced with code in their lifetime in one way or another,” Umphrey said. “Even if it is writing it in a simple Excel spreadsheet, many careers require some kind of coding. You need those fundamentals in a lot of workplaces today.”

Umphrey and his wife also have been active with youth programs in the past and believe opening a Code Ninjas is the perfect opportunity to teach kids skills that will be vital for them when they enter the job market. As a couple and the parents of two kids, Umphrey said they understand how to teach, what kids want to learn and how busy families are looking for real ways to bond, to have fun and to gain valuable skills in the process.

For those busy parents, Umphrey said Code Ninjas has weekday drop-in hours so people can bring their kids in at any time convenient to them. These open hours have less formal training or classes so students can jump in and work without having set start or finish times. Every family that has run late a few times or a few hundred times will likely appreciate that, he notes.

Umphrey also said he is looking for additional instructors — or Code Senseis — for both locations to join the already-established team. His goal is to have a good ratio of female instructors, as well, so young women interested in robotics, programming or any other STEM profession have mentors to work with when they’re at Code Ninjas.

Ruth Ellis Center, FCA Foundation partner on LGBTQ+ leadership programs

Contrary to popular belief, leadership skills aren’t something you’re born with – they often are a series of lessons you learn from the people and experiences you have growing up, as well as an adult. That is why leadership training is important from a young age.

Creating leaders is one of the goals of the Ruth Ellis Center, a nationally recognized organization devoted to supporting LGBTQ+ youth. Thanks to a recent grant to the Highland Park-based organization from the FCA Foundation, the two partners are building programs that develop young leaders, one building block at a time.

But this grant and partnership is more than just a charitable donation, officials say. The work they’re doing together also is a symbol of the growing relationship between the two groups with the long-term goal of giving LGBTQ+ teens and young adults the skills they need to become leaders in a variety of ways, organizers say.

Teaching life skills
“The FCA Foundation spent time with us, playing a big role early in the process of what this program could be and would be,” said Mark Erwin-McCormick, Director of Development & Advancement at the Ruth Ellis Center. “They really wanted to understand what we needed. … They’re engaged in all areas of the organization as volunteers and partners.”

The $50,000 grant from the charitable arm of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles to the Ruth Ellis Center will be used to teach life skills, create leadership opportunities and boost education that leads to employment for lesbian, gay, bi-attractional, transgender and questioning youth.

To develop this programming, the Ruth Ellis Center worked closely with the FCA Foundation to determine the best use of these funds – something that not only shows the commitment of FCA and its foundation to the LGBTQ+ community but to community building in general, said Lilianna Reyes, director of Second Stories, its drop-in center.

Three levels
The first level aims to help students with immediate needs, such as resume help or advice on what to wear on an interview, Reyes said. The second level focuses on summer internships, which then turns into a pipeline for the third level, which is a part- or full-time job at the Ruth Ellis Center. This way, students gain the understanding of what it means to be an employee and what skills they need to display to move up in an organization.

These skills are critical for both the wider world in general but for the Ruth Ellis Center in specific, said Erwin-McCormick.

“Graduates of this leadership pipeline serve in leadership roles in this center,” Erwin-McCormick said. “This kind of training helps them see themselves as leaders, so other kids can see that same quality and potential in themselves.”

The FCA Foundation, the charitable arm of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, supports charitable organizations and initiatives that help empower people, build strong, resilient communities and generate meaningful and measurable societal impacts particularly in the field of education.

FCA has been recognized as a leader among U.S. employers for providing domestic partner benefits to its employees in 2000 and has achieved a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) Corporate Equality Index 11 times since the benchmark was established.

The Ellis Center has established a national reputation for its trauma-informed services for LGBTQ+ young people experiencing homelessness or in the child welfare system. Now in its 20th year in operation, the Center’s mission is, “creating opportunities with LGBTQ+ young people to build their vision for a positive future.”

The Center is nationally recognized for the quality of its innovative trauma-informed services for LGBTQ+ youth and young adults of color who may be experiencing homelessness, or in the child welfare system. Its core programs provide a continuum of services through:

  • Ruth’s House, the state’s only fully licensed and contracted residential housing program specifically for LGBTQ+ youth in foster care or the juvenile justice system.
  • Second Stories Drop-In Center, providing low-barrier access to critical safety-net and support services like food, clothing, shower facilities, and other resources.
  • Ruth Ellis Health and Wellness Center, affording LGBTQ youth and young adults access to integrated primary care and behavioral health services in an affirming and culturally competent setting.
  • Family Preservation Program, in partnership with the Michigan Department of Health & Human Services, and Dr. Caitlin Ryan of the Family Acceptance Project.
  • Ruth Ellis Institute, centering the experiences of LGBTQ+ youth to inform and change nation-wide systems of care through education and evaluation.

Detroit Impact Conference brought U-M students, city leaders together to talk

Recruiting Gen Z or millennials takes a new approach – and one way to find these employees of tomorrow is to go directly to them and talk up how much they have the ability to transform not only themselves but the communities around them.

The purpose of The Detroit Impact Conference, which was held Saturday at One Woodward in Detroit, wasn’t to recruit University of Michigan students – both undergrads and grad students – per se, but it certainly felt like a great pep rally not only for these young minds but for what they could achieve if they became entrepreneurs or nonprofit leaders in Detroit.

The event, which was attended by more than 200 University of Michigan students, business leaders, government officials and nonprofit leaders, was designed to introduce UM students to the city but to also talk about where the city is in term of development, investment and innovation.

The conference is the flagship event for the Detroit Revitalization & Business Club, a student-led organization at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Organizers brought in keynote speakers to talk about major transformations, such as Ford’s redevelopment of the Michigan Central Station campus, as well as panels to talk about emerging and high-growth career fields, such as healthcare, information technology, mobility and clean energy.

Building on the past
The keynote speaker was Mary Culler, president of the Ford Motor Company Fund, who spoke about her work connecting Ford’s mobility developments within Corktown. Ford is renovating the massive Michigan Central Station into a mobility campus as well as many nearby buildings, parks and roads.

Bill Ford at Michigan Central Station

“There’s so much opportunity here that I think if we all work together, we can make a difference,” Culler told students, noting how much emotional weight has come with the station’s improvement, both in terms of what Ford’s investment as well as people’s stories about what the train station, which was built in 1913, means to the city and region.

The Michigan Central Station project includes 1.2 million square feet of office and other space within the Corktown neighborhood. It has four key buildings, including the station, The Factory and the Book Depository building, which will hold more than 5,000 employees when fully operational in a few years. There also will be public spaces with retail, restaurants and other hospitality options, Culler said.

Michigan Central is three major buildings in one, Culler said, with about 18 levels and 640,000 square feet. The first level will be amenities and community spaces. The second area will have Ford and partner workspaces. The top levels will have hospitality – something Ford is still working on defining, Culler said.

The event also included visits to multiple Detroit offices, including QZine and Bedrock’s headquarters, as well as introductions to Impact Project partners such as the Belle Isle Conservancy, The GreenLight Fund, Arts & Scraps and the Detroit Public Schools Foundation.

U-Haul trucks, trailers find a home in downriver location

U-Haul Company of Michigan announced that Lozon Hardware has signed on as a U-Haul® neighborhood dealer to serve the River Rouge community.

Lozon Hardware at 10563 W. Jefferson Ave. will offer U-Haul trucks, moving supplies and in-store pick-up for boxes.

Lozon Hardware owners Robert and Scott Lozon are proud to team with the industry leader in do-it-yourself moving and self-storage to better meet the demands of Wayne County.

Detroit Sailor mans sound-powered telephone aboard U.S. Navy warship

Boatswain’s Mate 3rd Class Brittiny Gardner from Detroit mans a sound-powered telephone on the bridge wing of U.S. 7th Fleet flagship, USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19), as the ship conducts maneuvering operations with America Expeditionary Strike Group. Blue Ridge is the oldest operational ship in the Navy and, as 7th Fleet command ship, actively works to foster relationships with allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific Region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Sarah Eaton)                                                                                                       

200129-N-DE082-072 PHILLIPINE SEA (Jan. 29, 2020) – Boatswain’s Mate 3rd Class Brittiny Gardner, from Detroit, mans a sound-powered telephone on the bridge wing of U.S. 7th Fleet flagship, USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) as the ship conducts maneuvering operations with America Expeditionary Strike Group. Blue Ridge is the oldest operational ship in the Navy and, as 7th Fleet command ship, actively works to foster relationships with allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific Region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Sarah Eaton)

LAFCU credit union offers $5K in college scholarships, $1K in charity donations

Because LAFCU believes higher education should be within reach of anyone with the passion to pursue it, all Michigan high school seniors are eligible to apply for the credit union’s Write to Educate contest. Winners are chosen based on a one-page essay. Deadline: March 31, 2020. www.lafcu.com

Christensen Law named top litigation legal firm

Christensen Law has been named a Tier 1 law firm for personal injury litigation in the Detroit region by U.S. News & World Report magazine.

Kar’s Nuts brings veteran food executive to Michigan

Kar’s Nuts, a manufacturer of premium and better-for-you snacking products under the Kar’s®, Second Nature® and Sanders Fine Chocolatiers® brands, recently announced the appointment of Mike Illum as chief customer officer.

Illum brings more than 25 years of senior-level sales experience to Kar’s Nuts.

UICA receives $40,000 from National Endowment for the Arts

The Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts in Grand Rapids has received a $40,000 grant from the NEA to support programming for its upcoming “A Beautiful Struggle” exhibition. The original, interdisciplinary exhibition explores the integration of black feminist and afrofuturist ideas.

Income Property Organization marks prolific year in 2019

Income Property Organization (IPO) experienced a prolific number of transactions in 2019, making for another record-breaking year by the Bloomfield Hills firm.
As one of Michigan’s leading customized brokerage companies, IPO saw continued growth with demand for the sale of multifamily units.

Grand Rapids New Car Dealers Association recognizes West Michigan automotive supplier

The Grand Rapids New Car Dealers Association, or GRNCDA, announced ADAC Automotive as the recipient of its 2020 “Celebration of Innovation: Automotive Supplier of the Year” award. The award was presented to ADAC Automotive President and CEO Jim Teets during the January 29 Charity Spectacular Preview for the 2020 Michigan International Auto Show. 

“There are so many amazing suppliers right here in the Grand Rapids area that are revolutionizing automotive technology,” says George Sharpe Jr., GRNCDA president.  “It’s exciting for our association to recognize companies like ADAC Automotive and help show what makes Grand Rapids so special.  ADAC is a growing company, they are investing in our community and doing amazing work to improve vehicle access and technology for drivers throughout the country.”

In business since 1975, ADAC attributes its significant growth to continued reinvestment in its people, innovation and the support of communities in which it operates. It is a leader in vehicle access systems with integrated electronics and also designs and produces exterior trim and mirrors.

Photo (Left – George Sharpe Jr., Right – Jim Teets) – Credit: Mike Buck

Mika Meyers appoints 2020 leadership

Grand Rapids law firm Mika Meyers recently elected the following lawyers to its Management Committee for calendar year 2020: Benjamin A. Zainea (chair), Ross A. Leisman and Nikole L. Canute. Mika Meyers is a statewide full-service law firm headquartered in downtown Grand Rapids.

Attorneys provide pro bono legal Services to nonprofits on National Day of Service

As a business, service provider or any other kind of company, giving back to your community goes both ways. You give of time, talent or treasure – and you get back so much more in terms of volunteerism, understanding and relationships.

That is true with a special legal clinic Michigan Community Resources recently held, and the result is seven Detroit-area nonprofit organizations are now better prepared to achieve their missions after receiving pro bono services from the group.

On January 23, Michigan Community Resources (MCR) joined providers in seven other cities across the nation, from San Francisco to New York and Washington D.C., to present free legal consultations to nonprofit organizations serving the elderly, families and other vulnerable populations. The event was part of a National Day of Service for pro bono legal service providers.

Nonprofit clinic participants each received counsel from highly skilled attorneys who offered their services at no cost to participants. A total of 12 attorneys from firms including Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone P.L.C., Butzel Long, Honigman, General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co. assisted the eight participating nonprofits.

Catalyzing relationships
The clinic demonstrates the many ways MCR leverages the support of volunteer attorneys to provide transactional legal services to qualified nonprofits, organizers said.

“Michigan Community Resources has facilitated legal clinics for over 20 years,” Shamyle Dobbs, Chief Executive Officer for Michigan Community Resources, said in a statement. “Each clinic session illuminates not only the power of pro bono service, but also the deep commitment and impact of the nonprofit sector in our region. MCR is privileged to be positioned to catalyze relationships that result in moving the missions of nonprofit organizations in our region forward. The power in the connections forged is immeasurable.”

Organizers said that legal challenges and regulatory issues can be challenging for nonprofit leaders, who are looking to assess their financial transparency and fiscal oversight procedures. The clinic was developed collaboratively by Exponentum, a national network of business law pro bono providers including Michigan Community Resources, to help nonprofits improve their financial transparency and related compliance practices.

Attorneys from some of the oldest and most well-established firms in Michigan worked collaboratively with GM and Ford lawyers to provide guidance and support to a dynamic group of participants using the Nonprofit Financial Reporting and Tax-exempt Compliance Assessment Tool, developed by Exponentum.

Practical advice
Addressing the power of the clinic, Butzel Long attorney Paul Howarah said in a statement, “I think the key was that we were able to be really practical with our advice. We listened first to learn more about what the organization’s concerns were and identified a couple areas that could be improved upon. The individual left with a short list of immediate to-do’s that will help the nonprofit on both federal and state regulatory concerns.

“I think they were happy because we gave them advice they can handle, and we also referred them to other organizations such as MCR that can help in the future,” Howarah added. “I think they were grateful for the practical advice that we were able to offer.”

The clinic was hosted by Co.act Detroit and was made possible by funding from the Access to Justice Fund of the Michigan State Bar Foundation. An additional grant from the Tax Section of the State Bar of Michigan provided food and other support. The clinic also had the commitment to pro bono service of the attorneys involved.

Future programs for nonprofits scheduled by MCR include a workshop on real property issues faced by nonprofits in partnership with the Real Property Section of the State Bar of Michigan being planned for spring 2020. Other legal compliance clinics for nonprofit organizations will be hosted throughout the coming year. These are in addition to MCR’s regular Legal Pro Bono Referral Program, direct legal services, and Office Hours programs.

Stefanini to host career open house to hire 30

Stefanini, a global IT provider will host a career open house in Southfield on Wednesday, February 12 from 2-7 p.m. The company is looking to add over 30 IT service desk technicians, team leaders and services delivery managers as soon as March 2.

Faith Hospice announces new manager of Trillium Woods

Faith Hospice announced that Deirdreʼ Alt, MSN, RN, has joined the organization as manager of its Trillium Woods facility. Trillium Woods, located in Grand Rapids, is an inpatient hospice facility with 20 private rooms and around-the-clock care provided by its specially trained staff.