Michigan Businesses Build Success at Home

The state and national economy certainly have their share of mixed messages.

Even though statistically the Great Recession is over, the rebound has been slow and painful, with housing prices still falling, unemployment levels still far higher than pre-2008 and state and local governments contending with budget deficits that by law they must solve. Yet Michigan’s traditional economic engine -” the automotive industry -” seems to be improving, and there are a number of other companies that are doing well.

Corp! Magazine will recognize Michigan’s “Economic Bright Spots” at its fourth annual awards breakfast June 11 at the Michigan State University Management Center in Troy. Among the wide range of companies to be honored are an automotive dealership, software providers, law firms, a snack food manufacturer, financial institutions and landscapers.

Michigan is a great place to do business, especially in the health care staffing industry, noted Daniel Lichocki, owner of one of the winning firms, A-Line Staffing Solutions LLC of Warren.

“Michigan has such a diverse and motivated population of health care professionals,” Lichocki said. “We have some of the greatest health care systems in the country right in our own backyard. Our Michigan customers are extremely loyal. It always seems that Michigan companies want to do business with other Michigan companies.”

Housing and mortgage companies took a hit during the recession, but Gold Star Mortgage Financial Group is one of the bright spots.

“While we are now in many places throughout the country, we trace our roots to Michigan, and customers here have been loyal to us for many years,” said Daniel Milstein, CEO of Gold Star. “Michigan has a very dynamic population of quality, hardworking individuals (with) whom we want to build long, lasting relationships.”

For two years, it was grim in the automotive industry, and a number of suppliers diversified their workload to other industries, including ANX, a services company. The firm added many new positions in sales, support, engineering, IT and finance in 2010.

“Michigan provides an outstanding talent pool of technical and business talent,” noted Rich Stanbaugh, ANX president and CEO, as he spoke about the state’s many advantages.

“One of the advantages of doing business in Michigan has to be the people,” added Bob Fish, CEO of Biggby Coffee. “Michiganders in general are down-to-earth, hardworking and fun-loving. When we opened our first store in 1995 on the campus of Michigan State University, we had 35 other competing coffee shops in the area. If it was not for the support and loyalty of Michigan residents, Biggby Coffee would not be nearly as successful as it is today.”

One capital investment firm moved from the West Coast to be in Michigan.

“One of the most significant advantages of doing business in Michigan is the individual talent within the state,” said Martin Stein, managing director of Blackford Capital LLC. “We closed our operations in Southern California and offered all of our employees at the time the opportunity to move with us to west Michigan. None of the employees chose to do so. We were forced to staff the new office with an entirely new team. We have been so impressed with the strength of talent that we’ve recruited for our team, which is now the best it has ever been.”

“No state in the country can beat Michigan with the availability to product development specialists,” said Sean Halpin, president of Halpin Design. “Naturally, the automotive industry attracts the best engineering minds in the world. No one place in the world can put teams of local talent together in an efficient, cost-efficient manner. That’s why we see Toyota, Nissan and Hyundai with engineering and design facilities here. They know where the talent is in this country. When we run national recruiting efforts, the talent still continues to come from Michigan. We are finding that many of the talented people that moved out of the state to provide for their families are coming back from all over the world.”

A repeat winner of Corp!’s Economic Bright Spots Awards, A-Line Staffing Solutions of Warren is a national staffing supplier providing qualified and reliable professionals on a temporary, direct hire, travel and on-call basis to the health care industry. “In order to keep pace with the ever-changing economy, we have had to put a greater emphasis on service levels to our customers,” said owner Daniel Lichocki. “I’m sure this may sound cliché, but we have found that we must treat every customer as they are our top priority no matter what size. We have also realized the importance of keeping our staff up-to-date on industry trends. The further ahead we are of our competition, the faster we can respond when our customers’ needs change.”

Founded in 2004, A-Line Staffing has grown every year of its existence -” especially in 2010 -” which Lichocki credits to tailoring its efforts to its customers’ wants. The major upcoming issue for the firm is finding qualified people to hire. For example, A-Line has found it difficult to fill two internal open positions. “This is definitely a sign that things have turned around in Michigan,” Lichocki said. “I am confident that we will eventually find the right people, but we are definitely going to have to step up our recruiting efforts.” Being a staffing company, it typically experiences hiring trends earlier than most other businesses, so Lichocki plans to increase advertising. www.alinestaffing.com

American Lawn Corp. is a full-service design/build/maintenance company that was founded by Dan Ornsten in 1961. Co-owned by Dan and his wife, Jan, its experienced landscape designers and installers create custom designs to meet customers’ needs and budgets. “We have chosen throughout the past 50 years to stay in Michigan and to be an active part of this community,” said Jan Ornsten. “We value the strong relationships we have built with our customers. We believe in interdependent relationships, where they depend on us, and we depend on them.”

Offering residential and commercial customers a variety of landscaping services year-round, American Lawn’s team of landscape designers and installers can create simple projects, such as planting annual flowers and a few shrubs, to a complete yard of trees, shrubs, flowers and mulch. Its maintenance program includes lawn cutting, edging, trimming, gardening, fertilization plus many other value-added options to their residential and commercial customers. The company lights and decorates homes and businesses for the holidays; during winter its crew plows, cleans and salts sidewalks, driveways and parking lots.

“To further position ourselves for success, we have held off hiring new staff and have instead maintained our current staff and ensured plenty of work for them. We also have become even more efficient and productive by restructuring our driving routes to accommodate the increasing gas prices,” Ornsten said. With rising gasoline prices cutting into profits, the company has tightened up routes, offering price packages and payment plans to better serve customers. www.americanlawncorp.com

Headquartered in Southfield, ANX (formerly ANXeBusiness) has offices in Research Triangle Park, N.C., Overland Park, Kan., Philadelphia, San Diego and Toronto. Owned by One Equity Partners, ANX’s roots are in the automotive industry. It provides network and information security solutions, unified threat protection technology and managed services that enable secure content delivery within and between enterprises.

“During the last few years, we sought opportunities to expand our service offerings to industry verticals and geographies that were not affected as deeply as automotive,” said Rich Stanbaugh, president and CEO. ANX increased health care business by acquiring ETSec. Combining ETSec’s team of specialists and technology to securely deliver clinical test results from laboratories to doctors with ANX’s system allowed the combined company to launch a new service that dramatically changed how information is securely exchanged among health care providers. ANX’s other recent innovations include interconnecting with the European Network Exchange (ENX) in mid-2010, which enabled more than 1,600 suppliers and OEMs in North America and Europe to establish secure, private connections without increasing cost; re-engineering ANX’s secure remote-access technology so businesses can adopt and deploy cloud-based technologies in a secure and cost-effective manner; and integrating its managed security and managed compliance services so customers can better assess their own security and operations risks.

“We have seen a number of great opportunities as our automotive customers have become healthier,” Stanbaugh continued. “We are adapting the nonautomotive technologies and making them suitable for the automotive industry. We believe in the American automotive industry -” and the manufacturing base in America in general -” and are excited about serving these industries as they rebound from severe economic conditions.” While other companies cut back on their staffs, ANX added many new positions in sales, support, engineering, IT and finance in 2010. www.anx.com

The employees of Sterling Heights-based Apex Digital Solutions provide green information technology services.

Apex Digital Solutions Inc. of Sterling Heights provides managed, traditional and green information technology (IT) services. Founded in 1998, the company is committed to excellence, personal and professional growth. “We focus on the key areas of service, speed of delivery, agility in technical service and the ability to execute accurately,” said CEO Jason A. Lambiris. “To accomplish this we have invested in technology to monitor and drive the service levels we achieve for our clients. With the proper tools in place, Apex can reduce or eliminate problems before they even happen.”

One of Apex’s best growth opportunities occurred when Lambiris was dining with a group from a growing firm. After discussing technology and services in a relaxed environment, they scheduled a follow-up meeting. “Over the next few months and many meetings, Apex designed a managed service package that fit that firm’s needs as it grows or provides flexibility if it needs to reduce its size,” Lambiris said. Michigan has led the nation for years because its industries, manufacturing, legal and financial services, research and development, heath care, retail and other businesses constantly renew themselves. Apex has positioned itself to serve small and midsized clients looking for best-in-class service. “A technological challenge facing most businesses is the move to cloud-based computing and mobile devices,” Lambiris continued. “Our company has adapted to this by becoming certified in the latest virtualization technologies from leading world-class companies such as Microsoft, HP and Citrix. This allows us to build cost-effective solutions for our clients and prospects.” www.apexdigital.com

Originally called Cross and Peters Co., Better Made Snack Foods Inc. of Detroit was founded on Aug. 1, 1930, by Cross Moceri and Peter Cipriano, who wanted to make a better potato chip. Since then, Better Made has become a Michigan snack food leader. Every year, the company uses 50 million pounds of potatoes, which are purchased in bulk and washed, peeled, sliced and inspected before going to the fryers, where they are cooked in 100 percent cottonseed oil then lightly salted, packaged and shipped to area stores. Since Better Made uses locally grown potatoes, the company places much emphasis on its “Made in Michigan” roots on its packaging, said CEO Salvatore Cipriano.

“We benefit from the efforts by many in the business community to raise awareness of Michigan-made products,” he continued. “We’ve placed a greater emphasis on servicing our customers’ stores. We work with our customers to place the products that sell well in each particular location, and we work to gather the best displays in the best possible locations.”

By working with several Michigan chain stores, Better Made has secured additional display space -” helping to boost sales. It’s an example of Michigan firms supporting one another. Rising energy prices and material costs are definitely big concerns, Cipriano added, and the company is looking into several energy-saving plans to keep its momentum moving forward. www.bmchips.com

Audrey Wong Chung, owner of Beliza Design, says Ann Arbor has a strong workforce.

Specializing in luxury goods for men and women, Beliza Design LLC of Ann Arbor creates jewelry and other fashion goods that allow customers to creatively express themselves in any setting or situation. The company could have moved its headquarters to New York, but CEO and founder Audrey Wong Chung said she chose to remain in Michigan because the state “has a wide range of resources and infrastructures that really empower businesses, especially entrepreneurs, to succeed. This is the state where the automotive industry was birthed. There is a spirit of innovation that pervades the entire state and its people. I find the employees in Ann Arbor to be extremely innovative, motivated and passionate. That is why I chose the heart of my company to stay in Ann Arbor.”

Chung founded Beliza Design in 2008 after a career as a management consultant. Trained to understand the importance of continuous improvement, she used that knowledge to inspire her employees to create a culture of innovation and constant improvement. Due to the recession, Beliza Design found ways to increase efficiencies even while improving customer service. “Our focus has always been on performance and excellence,” Chung said. The firm’s best opportunity within the past year was when it launched its Vasati brand -” designs inspired by nature and humanity -” and gained international recognition. The company also created The Vasati Foundation to donate to charities focusing on the health and well-being of women and children. “Our biggest challenge every year is the challenge we impose on ourselves,” Chung added. “In line with our culture of continuous improvement, we will continue to strive to be nimble and flexible in a dynamic economic landscape. Above all, the biggest challenge is to stay within our core competency, which is to offer the best products and customer experience.” www.belizadesign.com

Biggby Coffee, headquartered in East Lansing, is a franchised coffee shop chain co-owned and co-founded by CEO Bob Fish. Fish opened the first Biggby shop in 1995 with co-founder and Vice President Mary Roszel and President and co-owner Michael McFall. Sandy Green, vice president and partner, joined them in 2005. “Biggby Coffee thrives in Michigan due to our unfaltering set of core values and the focus we have on excellent customer service,” Fish said. “Our motto of ‘B’ happy, have fun, make friends, love people and drink great coffee plays right into our goal of making sure each and every Biggby Coffee customer leaves in a better mood than when they entered one of our cafes.”

The coffee shop chain has also thrived because it has drastically streamlined its operations, allowing franchisees to trim store-opening costs by about 40 percent. “The single-best opportunity for Biggby Coffee (was in March 2011) when we celebrated our 16th birthday,” Fish said. “At every store we offered 99-cent Tall Sweet and Creamy hot drinks all day, along with discounted drink upgrades. While we have done a birthday celebration in the past, this year we had one of our best turnouts yet.” Many potential challenges are growth opportunities, Fish added, such as opening more locations not only within Michigan but also outside the state. www.biggby.com

Headquartered in Grand Rapids, with an office in San Francisco, Blackford Capital LLC is a private investment firm that acquires, manages and grows middle-market manufacturing, distribution and service companies. “Blackford’s biggest change in this past year undoubtedly has been its relocation from Southern California to western Michigan,” noted Martin Stein, managing director. Although most of its former staff did not move to Michigan, the firm found many qualified candidates, hiring from Western Michigan University, Grand Valley State University, Aquinas College and Calvin College as well as recruiting individuals from Brigham Young University and Boston College.

During the past five years, Blackford made approximately 20 investments, of which 70 percent were in the Midwest and the East Coast, and the vast majority of its investments are in manufacturing and industrial businesses. “We realized to thrive and position ourselves for success in the future, we needed to locate ourselves in the heartland of industrial America, much closer to the investments we expected to
be making in the coming decades,” Stein explained. “Blackford is a strong believer in the strength and resilience of American manufacturing. We recognize that this investment thesis puts us at odds with many current investment leaders in today’s changing marketplace and economy -” American manufacturing is all too often derided. Nevertheless, we have been able to generate superior returns over time by investing in manufacturing businesses and helping them grow through engineering excellence within their industry, international expansion capabilities and differentiation through unique product and service niches.”

Blackford invests predominantly in old-line, hard-core manufacturing businesses, but it also was one of the first private equity firms in the world to invest in Navatar, a salesforce.com-based customer relationship management (CRM) software program to manage its deals and portfolio performance. “Generally, manufacturers and industrial businesses were some of the hardest hit during the recent economic downturn. Blackford viewed this as a temporary phenomenon and used it to bring success to our firm in four big ways,” Stein said. “We doubled the number of companies that we evaluated in the past year, from 2,000 to 4,000; increased our investment in manufacturing business by acquiring seven discrete manufacturing companies; reinvested capital into the engineering, sales and manufacturing operations in many of our manufacturing portfolio companies; and expanded our portfolio companies overseas.” For example, Amtech opened operations in China. BSI opened a European sales and distribution center. IPI pursued international clients more aggressively, and Source expanded its Asian operations. www.blackfordcapital.com

Having recently celebrated its 20th anniversary, the law firm Cardelli, Lanfear & Buikema P.C. is known for its trial attorneys’ proven record of success. One of its best growth opportunities in recent years was being named preferred counsel for United Technologies Corp., noted Thomas Cardelli, founding partner. With offices in Royal Oak and Grand Rapids, the practice’s clients include Otis Elevator Co., Carrier Corp. and Pratt & Whitney. “Michigan is still a population and technology center of industry, as well as a place that people want to live,” Cardelli said. “Some of the biggest challenges in the next year will include rising costs to do business, taxes on businesses and unemployment claims.” To better serve its clients, the law firm increased its use of digital dictation, remote server access and centralized email. www.cardellilaw.com

Founded in 2001 and headquartered in Berkley, Certified Restoration Drycleaning Network (CRDN) specializes in restoring textiles damaged by fire, smoke, water or exposure to mold and other contaminants. It operates in the United States, United Kingdom and Canada. “CRDN’s garment and textile restoration services are a win for homeowners by saving money, for insurance companies by reducing claim costs,” noted Wayne M. Wudyka, CEO. “The CRDN model has proven viable through multiple economic downturns -” a testament to the value of and need for our services.”

During the past year as economic pressures mounted, the insurance industry became more focused on developing and implementing direct-repair programs with specialty service providers such as CRDN. These programs allow an insurance carrier to define and monitor a range of service-level requirements, including all aspects of performance as well as costs. By developing relationships with executives at more than one-third of the top 50 U.S. insurance carriers, CRDN launched and grew its direct-repair program. The company’s staff works every day with insurance adjusters and homeowners who have never experienced an insurance claim. CRDN’s textile restoration services save an average of more than 80 percent compared with replacement.

“Doing business in Michigan today is much different due to our new governor,” Wudyka added. “We have a renewed optimism in the state’s pro-business mentality, similar to the environment when we first got into the business in 1992 when Gov. Engler was in office. The political and economic environment of the past few years created some difficulties for businesses that now are changing for the positive. As a fiscally responsible and stable company, CRDN has been positioned favorably for banks and lenders seeking a good-credit business to loan to, which is an advantage. Michigan also has offered accessibility to an extensive talent pool to build our employee base.” Entrepreneur Magazine in January named CRDN to its “Franchise 500” list for the fifth straight year. www.crdn.com

As mid-Michigan’s largest health care provider, Covenant HealthCare was founded in 1998 as the result of the merger of Saginaw General (dating from 1887) and St. Luke’s (1886) hospitals. Under the leadership of President and CEO Spence Maidlow, the hospital group has more than 600 beds, offering a complete range of medical services to people in 15 counties, especially around the Saginaw Bay area.

One of the biggest challenges facing Covenant -” and all hospitals in the nation -” is the uncertainty of health care reform and what the exact changes will entail, noted Larry Daly, director of planning and business development, but it’s likely the increased use of electronic medical records to reduce costs and complexity will be part of the mixture. And Covenant HealthCare is well down the path to meeting the information technology (IT) challenge while boosting customer service.

“We made an over $25 million investment in IT a few years ago,” Daly said. “It takes years to incorporate it and get it to work right, but in doing so we’ve made connections between all the individual physicians and the different technical parts of the medical center.” For example, if a patient comes into one of Covenant’s urgent care facilities and the doctor determines emergency care is needed, any work that was done at the urgent care site -” including X-rays and lab tests -” can be electronically handed off to the emergency care physician. All of Covenant’s physicians use electronic medical records, which reins in medical complexities while positively affecting patient care.

Additionally, Covenant has its eye toward providing a quality experience to patients, families and its staff because customer service has become a critical part of the health care mix. “Years ago, when you walked into a hospital room, they were wards with dozens of people with only curtains to separate them. Now hospitals are more hotel-like with valet parking and a whole range of things that makes the uncomfortable aspects of being in a hospital less of an impact on your health,” Daly said. “We strive for 90-percentile performance in customer satisfaction, and that’s a very realistic target.” www.covenanthealthcare.com

The law firm Dawda Mann of Bloomfield Hills represents a clientele of Fortune 500 companies, financial institutions, publicly and privately owned companies of varied sizes, and emerging businesses located throughout the United States. It also helps individual clients with their tax, estate and personal planning matters. “Dawda Mann is keenly focused on our clients’ changing needs,” said Edward Dawda, founding member. “When our banking clients moved personnel from loan documentation to special assets, Dawda Mann altered its personnel to match their requirements. We collaborate with our clients by developing alternative billing methods and create profitable strategies for them.” Founded in 1995, the firm has a wide range of internal and external resources, including in-house attorneys who speak Spanish, German and French, while covering a wide range of legal practices such as automotive, banking, business and tax, environmental, energy and sustainability, employee benefits, film and entertainment, health care, labor and employment relations, litigation and real estate, plus trusts and estate planning.

“While other law firms were retracting in the marketplace, Dawda Mann brought in four lateral hires and expanded our branding efforts,” Dawda noted. “Michigan is still the ‘Motor City’ and is rich with natural and human resources. Southeastern Michigan has more engineers per capita than any other place in the world. Wayne and Oakland counties and other government leaders have suffered the agony of a harsh economy and have responded by proactively seeking ways to improve the business climate. Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano’s Aerotropolis is just one example.” Rising and disproportionate health care costs is one obstacle that Dawda Mann intends to overcome. Its employee-benefits attorneys are seeking new and innovative methods of providing employees with the health care they deserve at a cost that the business can afford. www.dawdamann.com

DFCU Financial is Michigan’s largest credit union, with $3 billion in assets. Headquartered in Dearborn, it has issued the largest dividend in the history of credit unions -” more than $90 million -” for five consecutive years. “We have prospered in both good and bad economic times due to a focused business strategy, commitment to operational excellence and a carefully managed growth strategy,” said Mark Shobe, president and CEO. “Our business strategy remains narrow to ensure that we do fewer things but in a high-quality fashion. In addition, we deliver our products and services in a very low-cost way, making resources available to enhance the value proposition to our customers. And finally, we are pursuing a strategy of market diversification in a slow, methodical way to reduce the risks associated with growth by acquisition.”

The recent merger with MidWest Financial provided DFCU Financial with the opportunity to expand into the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti area. The credit union has affiliations with organizations such as Ford Motor Co., Henry Ford Health System, Oakwood Health System and the University of Michigan Health Systems. As a result of the recession, DFCU has faced substantially increased regulatory costs and large expenses associated with replenishing the deposit insurance fund depleted by the increased level of bank failures. www.dfcufinancial.com

A global leader in silicone-based technology and innovation, Dow Corning Corp. was built on innovation, a legacy that has continued, especially during the past five years. The Midland-based company, founded in 1943, invested approximately $5 billion for research, development and manufacturing of materials critical to the fast-growing solar technology industry. It’s also worked closely with customers in the electronics, health care, construction, textiles and automotive industries, and others all over the world.

“These investments, combined with our continued growth into new and emerging economies, are positioning Dow Corning and its joint ventures -¦ well for the future,” said Robert D. Hansen, president and CEO. “Amid the global economic recession, we’ve experienced growth and opportunity in the alternative energy field. Dow Corning employees and our customers play a key role in one of the solutions to the complex energy challenges facing the globe. We believe the world’s need for renewable, locally generated energy will continue to grow well into the future.

“Michigan has been home to Dow Corning and its joint venture companies, such as Hemlock Semiconductor Group, for nearly 70 years. The state’s education system produces bright, creative and innovative talent, and when you combine that with the hardworking personality of the state and the culture and lifestyle this state offers, this is a wonderful place to live and do business,” Hansen said.

“We operate in a very global economy,” he continued. “We need to invest in R&D and next-generation technologies that will become the solutions to the energy, sustainability and economic challenges facing us early in the 21st century.” www.dowcorning.com

ePrize of Pleasant Ridge is more than just a marketing or sweepstakes firm. Founded in 1999 to provide promotion and loyalty programs for its clients, ePrize expanded into the social media and mobile marketing channels to allow brands to reach consumers through a suite of online and interactive promotions. Matt Wise joined ePrize on March 1, 2010, as CEO and focused on strategically expanding the company’s mobile and social-enabled solutions to allow integration between social networks, microsites and mobile communications devices so its clients can cost-effectively engage consumers.

“By expanding our offerings and technology, in the first quarter of 2011 alone we sold and developed more social and mobile components to our campaigns than we did in all of 2010,” Wise noted. “Consumers are changing the way they communicate at light speed, and therefore the marketing and technology world needs to keep up. We continue to invest in R&D to stay ahead of the curve.” The state has a number of good universities and competitive companies, allowing ePrize the opportunity to pick the best graduates for its organization, he added. www.eprize.com

Founded in 1959, Experi-Metal Inc. is a specialty manufacturer providing prototype services for a variety of products, items and industry applications including tooling, low-volume metal stampings, fabrications, trim moldings, specialty items and subassemblies, plus design and engineering. Based in Sterling Heights, its clients are in the aerospace, military/defense, automotive aftermarket, commercial vehicle, homeland security and alternative energy business sectors.

“We are a cutting-edge global entity competing in prototype automotive, aftermarket, military, alternative energy and miscellaneous other market niches,” said President and CEO Valiena A. Allison. “We have talented, creative and dedicated employees who strive for excellence on a daily basis.” The company diversified its customer base in niche markets that have varying potentials for profitability. Recently the economic indicators for both local and national manufacturing are showing consistent month-to-month improvement, Allison said, noting that state and local leaders have shown an awareness of the importance of having a “business friendly” environment. This policy will encourage businesses to locate in Michigan, expand current operations and create new good-paying jobs, she said. www.experi-metal.com

To enable its staff to better meet its members’ specific financial needs, Genisys Credit Union, headquartered in Auburn Hills, targets its training program on member servicing and counseling. The credit union also reorganized its report and accountability structures to ensure better alignment toward sales and service objects; continued development and implementation of technologies that increase efficiencies while improving member convenience; and focused on expense reductions and control by reviewing all existing processes and streamlining where possible, noted CEO Jackie Buchanan. The credit union’s key corporate core values are being trustworthy, people focused and dedicated to providing quality service.

“Genisys continues to lead in providing members with 24/7 access to their accounts through an extensive list of electronic conveniences,” she said. As part of this initiative, Genisys launched services -” so members can access their accounts and conduct business on their own time -” such as eDeposit, Mobile/Texting Banking and an iPhone application. Members can open new accounts, renew certificates, set eAlerts, pay bills and much more with free online banking. Genisys also has a debit MasterCard rewards program redeemable for travel, merchandise, gift cards and more. “With so many different options, there’s a convenience to fit every lifestyle,” Buchanan said. “In today’s business climate, consumers are researching and looking for opp-ortunities to save money and receive quality service.” An increasing number of people are leaving the traditional financial institutions and joining credit unions, which are locally owned and operated.

An active community supporter, Genisys sponsors more than 325 events -” including being the premier sponsor. In 2010, its staff, family and friends volunteered more than 4,000 hours of community involvement. The organization’s corporate initiatives included the Holiday Extravaganza Parade presented by four communities, OLHSA Walk for Warmth and United Way of Southeast Michigan.

Noting the challenges facing the credit union, Buchanan said, “Genisys has seen a large decrease in its outstanding loan balances. In addition, we have seen the ‘captives’ make more and more of the new auto loans these days. As a result, Genisys is constantly looking for more ways to find loan products to fit our members’ needs.” Testing a credit rebuilder loan, the credit union offers some mortgage loans that offer very low interest rates, and it introduced some low short-term auto loan rates. The credit union partnered with outside companies like Michigan Saves and a local auto dealer to help generate more loans. www.genisyscu.org

Instead of a cookie-cutter approach to the restaurant business -” where practically every menu is the same and the decor similar -” the Gilmore Collection admittedly does things the hard way to provide variety to its customers and serve different demographics in different markets. And Gregory Gilmore, CEO of the Grand Rapids-based chain, said he likes it that way.

“We have properties on the lakeshore that serve the beachgoer that can shake the sand off as they approach the bar,” he said. “The No. 1 thing we’ve done is add value across the board. We’re letting the consumer make the choice to spend a little or a lot. At a steakhouse, for example, a customer (can select) a 30-day-aged piece of Kobe beef for $30 to $40 or a nice cut of steak for $12. We’re employing a lot of balance on our menus and giving the guests a lot of value. That opens our doors to more guests.”

The Gilmore Collection is also civic-minded and has an affinity for preserving older historic structures. Two of its restaurants are in buildings that were constructed in 1873. Another is housed in a structure dating from 1888, and many others date to the turn of the 20th century, including the B.O.B. in Grand Rapids. The B.O.B. (an acronym for Big Old Building) is a 70,000-square-foot, four-story red brick building constructed in 1903. Originally the Judson’s grocery warehouse, the building was vacant for decades before Gilmore’s renovations saved it from demolition. The only new building in the chain is the Blue Water Grill, a new Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired structure on a small lake near Grand Rapids. The Gilmore Collection’s roots stretch back to Gregory Gilmore’s father, who acquired the Hotel Jerome in Aspen, Colo., in 1968. Later, he and several partners opened the Thornapple restaurant in Ada. After growing up in Grand Rapids, though, Greg Gilmore believes in the state and says he has his finger on the market’s pulse. www.thegilmorecollection.com

In a business sector that has lost more than half of its workforce in recent years -” with about 350 banks and lenders closing -” Gold Star Mortgage Financial Group of Ann Arbor has grown more than 700 percent since 2005. Gold Star’s growth exceeds the financial industry’s median growth rate of 128.6 percent by nearly six times. Founded in October 2000, Gold Star ranks fourth based on growth percentage in the state.

“The global financial meltdown resulted in a radical shift in the way companies do business, and as a consequence a large constriction of the number of available mortgage professionals occurred,” said Daniel Milstein, CEO. “At Gold Star we declined to originate any subprime loans. Instead we focused on solid transactions for borrowers with good credit scores. We avoided placing our clients into loans with high interest rates; with an eye toward our clients’ future, we preferred to help them rebuild their credit to get them better rates and terms under safer products. This resulted in lower company profits; however, our concern has never been maximizing the commission for an individual loan -” our competitors failed because they put their paychecks first.”

When the mortgage industry shrank, Gold Star used this opportunity to hire experienced mortgage professionals. “As a Top Workplace in Michigan for two years running, and one of the fastest-growing companies in America, we felt that our best opportunity was to seek out talented professionals who could bring their knowledge to our clients,” Milstein added. “We have a rigorous training program that familiarizes professionals with our systems and methods of doing business, and we are happy to combine that with our business model for the benefit of homeowners.” Mortgage companies are in a highly regulated business that is constantly changing, making it hard to predict the next big challenge. Likely there will be further contraction of the size of the mortgage industry. “We favor having clients for life and we are confident that the relationships that we build will result in more satisfied customers. That has been our business model for the last 10 years, and it will continue to be one of the core principles on which Gold Star operates,” Milstein said. www.goldstarfinancial.com

Commercial work for office buildings and subdivisions used to be Great Oaks Landscape Associates‘ bread and butter, but when the recession hit, the company turned to a renewed emphasis on residential work and strengthening its maintenance division -” including its snow-removal program. It even opened its 20-acre nursery in the Novi area to the public, creating a thriving retail outlet. More than just a landscape company, Great Oaks is a design-and-build firm with six landscape architects and designers with a nursery that can provide large and unusual plant materials.

“We are currently doing work for a rock star, a baseball player and a hockey player -” homes from up to $1 million, but also smaller projects starting at $5,000,” said Gary Roberts, president and creative director. “The people who come to us are the ones who want the design, functionality, the creativeness and uniqueness in their landscapes.” Founded in 1981, the company has a well-earned reputation of high integrity and high level of performance and contacts with building architects, interior decorators and developers. That loyal base of supporters continues to provide business leads of all sizes to Great Oaks. “When opportunities come along we give our customers good service, good product and good respect, and it’s helped us out quite a bit,” Roberts said. “Some of the smaller landscape companies are going out of business or don’t compete with us.” The biggest challenge facing the firm this year is just trying to find enough qualified, quality work that can keep its trade groups busy. To help generate more leads, Great Oaks has turned more and more to online marketing. www.greatoakslandscape.com

The combination of Grede Foundries Inc., Blackhawk Foundry (USA) and Citation Corp. into Grede Holdings LLC in 2010 resulted in the most diversified foundry company in North America serving the automotive, heavy truck and industrial marketplaces. It also has one of the strongest balance sheets in the industry, noted Doug Grimm, chairman, president and CEO. The company is making capital investments and strategic acquisitions to weather economic cyclicality while meeting growth objectives.

Combining Grede, Blackhawk and Citation under one banner created a win-win situation that allowed Grede Holdings to quickly clear its debt while giving it an unparalleled array of products and capabilities, Grimm said. “Michigan provides direct access to work being done by the car companies,” he added. “The state government is also doing much more in terms of attracting new business and is granting incentives to bring new opportunities to the state.” The challenge moving forward is planning the proper capacity to meet short-term and long-term goals. Most recently, Grede acquired two foundries in Mexico to serve that growing and important market. Rising raw material costs are another obstacle. The company has also developed innovative technologies, such as lost foam manufacturing that reduces part weight (leading to reduced emissions), complexity and cost, which are all key objectives today’s manufacturers are seeking. Grede is now the world’s largest manufacturer of ferrous lost foam castings. www.grede.com

Sean Halpin, president of Halpin Design, says the Sterling Heights company has adapted to economic changes.

Since its founding in 2001, Halpin Design of Sterling Heights has worked for many of the largest automotive corporations in the world and numerous independent automotive developers. “We have done three things to make changes to adjust and thrive in this new economy,” said Sean Halpin, president. “Once we added the staffing division to support Big Three studio engineering, stylist, clay modelers, class-A surface developers, metal fabricators, program managers and more, we were able to develop a database of talent that could be used to develop teams to support these specialized needs. Through the years while developing relationships with these skill sets, one of the Big Three added us to the staffing list and we have grown from two to 25 employees since October of 2010.

“Second, we continued to expose the www.ProudmaryProsthetics.com division of Halpin Design that focuses on delivering breast prosthesis for cancer survivors. Many women in the Midwest have been able to improve their living as survivors by wearing the lightest, most comfortable prosthesis in the medical industry. We use all automotive technologies, blended with Hollywood makeup artist materials, to make a beautiful, lifelike huggable prosthesis. And third we have continued to expose our 3-D scanning services by focusing on CSI-type legal work to capture information that can be used in court to help provide information to assist juries in their decision making on court cases involving product failure. Then we started entire car 3-D scanning and inspection of parts that are coming into production. This year we have started off with record sales and are very happy with the volume of activity.”

Halpin Design reaped the benefits of global exposure when it added its staffing division, which uses LinkedIn and Facebook to spread the word about open positions. Multiple tier one suppliers have asked the firm to recruit for their companies. www.halpindesign.com

Hemlock Semiconductor began production of polyscrystalline silicon for the electronics industry in 1961 as a Dow Corning manufacturing facility in Saginaw County. Today, Dow Corning is Hemlock Semiconductor’s majority shareholder. “Hemlock Semiconductor is and has been committed to making high-purity polycrystalline silicon for 50 years,” noted President and CEO Richard Doornbos. “In the last decade alone, polysilicon has also become the cornerstone material in the manufacturing of solar wafers and solar cells.”

Supplying top ingot, wafer and solar cells to manufacturers in the U.S. and around the world, Hemlock has benefited from the rapid growth of the solar energy industry. Michigan -” specifically the Great Lakes Bay Region -” is Hemlock Semiconductor’s birthplace, and management is committed to grow there.

“In addition to being our home for 50 years, the region offers a skilled workforce and a supportive community which allows us to serve our customers with high-quality products,” Doornbos said, adding that the company benefits from its close proximity to key raw materials and other support from Dow Corning in Midland. Hemlock Semiconductor’s objective in the coming year is to help the solar industry move toward being economically competitive with conventional energy sources and to become a sustainable energy option globally. www.hscpoly.com

Mark A. Davis, Howard & Howard Attorneys’ president and CEO.

Since the firm’s founding above a blacksmith shop in 1869, Howard & Howard Attorneys PLLC of Royal Oak has advised Michigan-based clients on their most challenging legal matters. “We were founded in Michigan and are proud to be based here,” said Mark A. Davis, president and CEO. “The state has a talented workforce, leading innovation and abundant natural resources, but above all, Michiganders share hardworking values and a resilient spirit during difficult times.”

The law firm thrived in the recession by a tried-and-true recipe of success: helping businesses solve problems with legal
counsel. Howard & Howard caters exclusively to businesses and business owners. As a measure of its successful strategy, the 140-year-old firm’s revenue grew to nearly $45 million last year, up from $37.9 million in 2009. “Our single-greatest opportunity in 2010 was taking advantage of new business prospects as the economy began to recover,” Davis noted. “The fallout during the recession caused many unforeseen challenges for some of our clients. Howard & Howard’s expertise in these situations helped the firm maintain current clients and expand its base, adding 1,021 new clients during 2010.” The firm’s challenge is to find innovative ways to help clients achieve success. To help, Howard & Howard offers competitive fees and alternative billing arrangements. www.howardandhoward.com

Southfield-based ImageSoft Inc. has added several experienced workers to its staff.

Offering IT solutions to streamline and improve workplace processes, ImageSoft Inc. of Southfield was founded in 1996 and has been growing ever since. “We benefited from the economic downturn by taking advantage of downsizing among many other Michigan-based businesses,” noted Scott Bade, president. “Michigan’s high unemployment rate enabled us to attract some of the industry’s most experienced people to our team -” people who otherwise may not have been available to a company of our size. We added several high-caliber, seasoned staff members who came to us from major national corporate environments.” With an eye to the future, ImageSoft assembled a second management tier, coaching and mentoring them to assume added responsibility. The company also adapted more formalized systems and standardized processes to manage the growth and to ensure consistency in the quality of service and product it provides to customers.

“Michigan is a unique area and home to global leaders in automotive, furniture design, technology, research and development, life sciences and other industries,” Bade said. “The Great Lakes State also offers superior training and educational opportunities through its centers for higher learning, including leading universities, colleges and community colleges. Moreover, the availability of a talented and highly motivated workforce in Michigan, combined with a comparatively low cost of living, makes the state a good place to live and conduct business.” The company continues to explore new opportunities, new products and new geographic markets. www.imagesoftinc.com

Founded in 2001, IPexpert Inc. provides training for Cisco CCIE R&S, CCIE Voice, CCIE Wireless and CCIE Security certifications. Its client list reaches many of the Fortune 100 companies and many firms around the world. “Consumers are still uneasy about spending,” noted Wayne Lawson, founder, president and CEO. “We are at an advantage -” an education is one of the best investments one can make. Students will be able to make large career advances and personally see the benefits of this purchase.”

In response to the changing marketplace and economy, IPexpert’s employees spent a lot of time perfecting the quality of its product portfolio and improving the quality of each training product or service it offered. “We listened to our customers. Their feedback provided us with everything we needed to be successful in this economy and made our products stand out against our competitors,” Lawson said. “With the new wave of wireless technology, we were able to enter into a new and growing market with the development of wireless training materials. Technology is constantly changing and in high demand. These new developments make it easy for us to evolve into these new markets.” www.ipexpert.com

Founded in 1966, Litho Printing Servicing Inc. of Eastpointe grew from doing document design, printing and bindery work for southeastern Michigan businesses to where it can accept nationwide print and design orders and ship anywhere in the world. The biggest challenge for the firm is adapting to rapidly changing technologies.

“Ten years ago you didn’t have to buy new equipment, and now we have to buy something new every single year, whether it’s new computers or upgrading the software or digital machines,” said President Dale Heid. “We recently upgraded to high-speed digital and faster printing equipment. Our delivery times are much faster for less cost, and the quality has actually improved. We increased our business 20 percent.”

Despite the capital costs of adding the new equipment, Litho Printing is debt free, and that’s allowed it to keep its prices down for customers. In the age of the Internet, printed material remains an important advertising need for businesses -” especially handouts to drive people to their websites, Heid noted. Litho Printing works with the health care community by providing high-quality printing of forms, signage, promotional material and other items for physician and medical practices. Its ObituaryPrint.com provides official memorial printing services for people who have lost a family member or friend. And the company has eco-friendly printers and recycles all supplies and paper. Numerous promotional items offered by Litho Printing include plastic and canvas bags, banners and signs, bottle openers, calendars, candy wrappers, caps, cups, coffee mugs, golf balls and tees, jackets, key chains, magnets, mouse pads, pens and pencils, sewing kits, lanyards, visors and sticky note pads. www.lithoprinting.com

A former professional DJ and product line manager for Delphi’s Consumer Electronics Group, Jake Sigal founded Livio Radio in 2008 in the guest bedroom of his Ferndale home thanks to a $10,000 loan from his parents. Since then, the Internet radio firm has taken off with more than 20 successful products available on the market.

“What makes us different and useful in this marketplace is offering consumers two things -” more music, less work and no monthly fees,” said Sigal, the company’s CEO. “We are launching and selling products that make car Internet radio a reality, giving consumers an alternative to satellite radio and making more use of smartphones where they already pay a monthly usage. Smartphones are everywhere and data is getting faster year over year. These are the ingredients to bringing Internet radio into the car, and we are prepared with award-winning software applications for iPhone and Android plus hardware to bring Internet radio with you on the go.”

Michigan offers affordable rent and housing and direct flights to anywhere in the world. Now that Internet radio is coming into full bloom, Sigal said he expects to have many new competitors so his firm will need to rely on its customers’ continued support as it produces the next generation of gadgets to stay on top. www.livioradio.com

Lumen Legal of Royal Oak is a legal services and law-professional staffing company with operations in Chicago, Kansas City and Washington, D.C. Founded by David Galbenski, Esq., in the early 1990s, the firm pioneered domestic and offshore outsourcing solutions for corporate clients and law firms. It provides document-review services to corporations and law firms for major litigation, due diligence and bankruptcy proceedings. Galbenski is also chairman of the Global Board of Directors of EO (Entrepreneurs’ Organization), which has more than 7,000 members in 38 countries.

Lumen Legal assembles, deploys and manages combinations of contract legal professionals to meet defined corporate cost-containment goals. Designing and delivering comprehensive in-house contingent staffing strategies, Lumen can manage large-scale document-review projects for clients. Corporations also use Lumen for direct-hire search services to identify top legal talent. The firm has a proprietary database of several hundred thousand legal professionals. Compiled from www.lumenlegal.com.

Inspired by Thomas Edison’s “Invention Factory” -” his laboratory formerly in Menlo Park, N.J. (though now at Greenfield Village) -” Menlo Innovations LLC is a custom software design and development firm. Founded in 2001, it is located in Ann Arbor and in 2007 was named one of the Inc. 500’s fastest-growing privately held firms in the U.S.

“We stake our financial performance on our culture, trading away up to 50 percent of our cash revenue for leveraged stakes in our client companies,” said President Richard Sheridan. “We succeed financially if the product succeeds. This produces alignment between culture and business goals. These investments are paying off, comprising close to 15 percent of 2010 revenues.”

The economy has been a challenge, with many of Menlo’s clients delaying decisions on large projects, yet the company’s diversification strategy paid off as royalty revenue climbed significantly. Menlo offers its standard-rate clients the option to receive a 30 percent discount on services in exchange for an ability to flex their deadlines. “They get more work done at the same price, or spend less for the same amount of work,” Sheridan said. “In return we get the ability to speed up their projects if we have extra staff ‘on the bench’ -” thus increasing short-term cash flow. This will work well during busy times, too, as we retain the option to slow their projects down when a new high-priority client arrives.” www.menloinnovations.com

The brain trust of Mindscape at Hanon McKendry of Grand Rapids: Vice President of Operations Mike Simon (from left), co-founder Paul Ferrier, Vice President of Product Development Aaron Brander and co-founder Pete Brand.

Mindscape at Hanon McKendry of Grand Rapids has developed and designed more than 500 websites and Web-based applications since its founding in 2001 by Pete Brand and Paul Ferrier. Some of its latest work is for Two Men and a Truck, Bissel, Michigan State University, Meijer, Zondervan, Chevron, Colortyme, Amway/Quixtar, Herman Miller, Alliance Defense Fund, Autodie, Babbitt’s Sports Center, Woody’s, Family Farm and Home, Pine Rest and Sassy Baby Products.

“We’ve invested in innovation as a strategic way to better serve our clients,” said Brand. “For example, we began a partnership three years ago with a well-respected integrative branding firm, Hanon McKendry. We also purchased a programming team, added social media strategy to our portfolio and developed a branded-content division to expand our services in the last year. All of these services expand our capabilities and showcase to our clients additional ways to reach their customers.”

As companies require more transactional websites, there is a huge need to connect what’s happening in the back office -” accounting, inventory control, regulatory compliance and customer service -” with what’s happening on the Web. Because demand for custom programming was on the rise, in September 2010 the company acquired Venux.net, which provides custom Web and business applications (apps). Venux’s mobile app portfolio serves a wide range of industries, including manufacturing, distribution, service, health care and retail. Mindscape formed a new Customs Solution Group and has two development teams -” one dedicated to continuous upgrade of the packaged webTRAIN platform and the other providing individual and custom Web and application development.

“The fit (between Mindscape and Venux) was good,” added Ferrier. “More than adding capabilities, we’re modeling Mindscape in a way that can be scaled up to meet all of our clients’ needs for full digital engagement and back office integration.” www.mindscapesolutions.com

In business since 1863, Morley Companies Inc. of Saginaw serves clients in and around Michigan with group travel planning, research, turnkey meeting and event production services and more. Morley’s slogan is: “The hand of service in the mitt of Michigan, where every transaction is wrapped in the fine paper of dignity and tied with the stout cord of integrity.”

For group travel, it can handle seminars for 20 VIPs to conventions of 10,000 dealers. Business-theater needs can be met, whether it’s simply supplying a video projector or designing, building and producing an exciting, entertaining, impactful stage production. It also designs and builds corporate exhibits and displays. Receiving a $7.7 million tax incentive from the Michigan Economic Growth Authority in December 2009, the company pledged to create more than 900 new jobs in the Saginaw Bay area. In 1982, Louis Furlo Sr., a longtime Morley employee, acquired a division of the company, which is today run by his three sons, Paul, Christopher and Louis. Compiled from www.morleynet.com.

Nanocerox Inc. of Ann Arbor makes nanoscale, exotic ceramic oxide powders for a range of potential applications, including armor for military vehicles, missile-guidance systems and industrial lasers. The company works with the Army’s Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) to develop a lightweight, transparent ceramic armor that can be applied in military and commercial settings. Current ballistic glass adds hundreds of pounds to military vehicles and poses other problems, including distortion and glare. This ongoing project is working to solve these issues through the development of nano-engineered armor materials for transparent and opaque armor systems. Nanocerox’s process involves baking rare earth elements at temperatures of at least 900 degrees Centigrade and results in powders with diameters from 20 nanometers to 75 nanometers (the average human hair is about 100,000 nanometers wide). It works with customers to develop nanostructured materials in the form of dry powders, liquid dispersions, coatings and multifunctional ceramics. Its president and chief operating officer is Peter Gray. Compiled from www.nanocerox.com.

Since its founding in 1992 with only one employee in a shared office, North American Bancard Inc. has grown to more than 400 employees in a 100,000-square-foot-plus headquarters building in Troy. Providing point-of-sale credit card payment processing and other services to more than 100,000 clients, its revenues exceed $275 million. Its clients process more than $7 billion in credit card, debit card, EBT, check guarantee and conversion, prepaid/gift and ATM transactions annually. North American Bancard is a registered MSP/ISO of HSBC Bank USA, National Association, Buffalo, N.Y., and Wells Fargo Bank, Walnut Creek, Calif.

“North American Bancard is dedicated to providing the highest level of service to its merchants, and that means being able to adapt to the changing marketplace and economy,” said President and CEO Marc Gardner. “We strive to be on the forefront of our industry by implementing the strictest security standards and offering the latest innovations in products and technology to our merchants. This past year we have focused on new product development, specifically with our mobile payment solution, Pay Anywhere. Pay Anywhere is a mobile payment processing solution which NAB designed with its merchants in mind.”

Although NAB wasn’t the first to market with a mobile payment processing application -” allowing users to accept credit card payments on their smartphone -” Gardner said it is affordable with superior hardware and technology, has ease of use and provides customers the peace of mind that comes with NAB’s proven credit card processing experience. www.nabancard.com

Founded in 1995, Plex Systems Inc. of Auburn Hills delivers all of the software needed to run a manufacturing company over the Internet, providing its customers with an entire suite of manufacturing operations management systems (MOMS) programs it calls Plex Online. Plex Systems serves the automotive, aerospace, defense, electronics, industrial, medical device and food/beverage industries.

“In its early years, Plex Systems was successful at delivering traditional software systems, but we felt that these projects were too costly, time-consuming and difficult for both us and our customers,” said Mark Symonds, CEO and president. “The entrepreneurial team knew that traditional software could not keep up with the needs of manufacturers who were just beginning to experience cost, productivity and quality pressures from the global market. They knew that manufacturing suppliers of the future would require extensive flexibility to easily set up plants wherever and whenever they were needed and to interlink with other plants all over the world.”

Plex Online’s development as a “software as a service” (SaaS) solution coincided with the economic recession, driving improvements in industries that were being hit the hardest and providing one of the answers they needed to combat the impact of the recession. Many manufacturers of all sizes have recognized Plex Online as a breakthrough technology innovator, especially with the addition of a user-friendly customization tool called “VisionPlex” in late 2008. VisonPlex is a subscription-only pricing structure with industry-leading disaster recovery capabilities. “Plex Online customers don’t need expensive servers, operating systems, database software, backup equipment or the IT specialists to manage all that and periodic software updates,” Symonds said. “Web-hosted Plex Online is always up-to-date, with new opt-in enhancements available every day.”

There will be a continued transformation of traditional business software into Web-based SaaS services during the next year, Symonds predicted. As a result, some current market giants may be replaced by Web-centric newcomers. Yet, other competitors will turn toward Web-centric solutions, so Plex Systems will need to respond quicker than ever to serve growing market needs. To meet the challenge, the firm recently launched a 14-site Plex Online implementation for Inteva Products, a large global supplier, in under 12 months, and it achieved similar launch times with others. www.plex.com

Premium Event Services of Ann Arbor is a corporate-event production and destination-management company providing convention, meeting, conference and special-event solutions for its clients. Founded in 2002, the company has strong client and vendor relationships and is committed to industry ethical, environmental and professional standards. “The landscape of business has changed -” single-date events are no longer the mainstay of our company or the industry, for that matter,” said Michelle Yurcak, president. “As a result, we evaluated our core competencies, the strength of our team and the needs of business clients. We have positioned ourselves as the leading destination-management company in Michigan.”

Not only does PES produce corporate events, it also provides ground logistics and destination management for clients. “With this in mind, we have focused on re-educating our existing clients about our services, seeking new clients that match our competencies, participating in industry continuing education and solidifying our expertise with new certifications in Meeting Planning and Destination Management,” she said. “We have spent a great deal of time creating a website that is cutting edge and impresses what we are really good at. As a result, we have seen an increase in our custom team-building programs, have managed more complex events and have secured several ground logistics contracts with national companies.”

While Michigan’s economy took some hits during the recession, Premium Event Services benefited because many companies are holding meetings close to home, specifically in metropolitan Detroit, instead of at exclusive locations out of state. As a result, PES saw a 60 percent sales increase from 2009 to 2010. “Our greatest opportunity in 2010 came from a General Motors program held in multiple southeast Michigan locations,” Yurcak said. “GM staged a VIP Drive Experience for over 1,000 of their dealers and we designed a flawless logistics plan to move their guests from the airport, to the hotels, inter hotel shuttles, to Milford Proving Grounds, Lansing and everywhere in between over a six-day period.”

The biggest challenge ahead is trying to provide the same level of great service to its clients at reasonable prices in the face of rising inflation. “The cost of business continues to go up with fuel, health insurance, staff increases, and yet we find clients would like to receive the same service yet pay prices from five or 10 years ago because their budgets are capped,” Yurcak added. “Educating our clients is the most important thing we can do. We provide our suggestions to our clients as to what will work and what will not within their budgets.” www.premiumeventservices.com

Founded in 2004 by physical therapists Patrick Hoban and Brandon Lorenz and business manager Tony Castaldi, Probility Physical Therapy of Ypsilanti began with a passion to take physical therapy to a new level, with an eye toward creating amazing experiences for patients. According to the company’s website, the founders were tired of “working in a sterile world of typical physical therapy clinics, where the customer service is subpar and the treatment is generic.” Probility Physical Therapy became so successful that other therapists wanted to learn about its special brand of treatment. The result was the creation of one of the largest physical therapy continuing education companies in the country -” Great Lakes Seminars -” with the associated Certified Integrated Manual Therapy (CIMT) program. Therapists in each Probility clinic are nationally recognized through Great Lakes Seminars and teach courses on the shoulder, knee, foot/ankle, myofascial release and various courses on the spine. Compiled from www.probilitypt.com.

Service Express Inc.’s Broadmoor Technical Center stocks more than 60,000 parts in inventory to keep servers up and running.

Since 1986, Service Express Inc. has delivered on-site data center maintenance for mission-critical servers. Formerly a division of a Grand Rapids reseller, SEI was incorporated as a separate company in 1993. “Our No. 1 focus is our people,” said President Ron Alvesteffer. “We hired an additional recruiter to proactively recruit for all positions as we prepare for continued growth. We jumped into the social media world with our Facebook and LinkedIn pages and launched our company blog. Our goal is to get our brand out to the right people so they see the great opportunity here at SEI and want to be a part of it.”

SEI is expanding its business in the Midwest and Southeast. With the more customers, service calls and inventory needs, Service Express has hired more people to meet growing demands. “Finding the right people in a timely manner is a big challenge,” Alvesteffer said. To reach the right candidates with the special combination of talent and aptitude, the company uses LinkedIn, Facebook and also YouTube. www.seiservice.com

In the quaint village of Bellaire near Torch Lake and Grand Traverse Bay, Shorts Brewing Co. believes in the power of smallness. Opening its doors in April 2004 in a renovated 100-year-old hardware store, the founders’ philosophy was to bring an appreciation of craft beer to the north with product education and creativity -” which the company calls “beer liberation.” The key officers include Joe Short and his wife, Leah; Chief Financial Officer Scott Bale, a native of England who used to be a database designer for EA Sports; Tony Hansen, whose tasks include overseeing pub production and research and development; and Jon Wojtowicz, who is the field representative (a role he likes to call “beer liberator”). Beer production started at 178 barrels the first year and grew to 2,000 barrels annually by 2008. In January 2008, the microbrewery purchased a former manufacturing facility in Elk Rapids, on the other side of Torch Lake from Bellaire. A year later, the Elk Rapids plant was producing its first beer -” including six-packs. Compiled from www.shortsbrewing.com.

Founded in 1941 in Grand Rapids, the law firm Smith Haughey Rice & Roegge has about 90 attorneys with comprehensive legal experience in more than two dozen practice areas covering business and corporate law, health care law, governmental law, labor and employment relations, litigation and trial services, personal legal services, and real estate and construction law. “A recent achievement is improved financial performance and no lawyer layoffs during a time when most law firms struggled,” said William J. Hondorp, CEO. “Smith Haughey added attorneys in 2008, 2009 and 2010.”

Another factor that keeps paying dividends dates back nearly 20 years when the law firm decided to expand by opening an office in Traverse City. Since its inception, the Traverse City office has grown from seven to 30 attorneys and is thriving. Within the past year, Smith Haughey took advantage of the current real estate market and moved into the historic Flat Iron Building. Built in 1860, the Grand Rapids building is on the National Register of Historic Buildings. Not only will the renovated building be LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified, it will decrease the firm’s occupancy costs.

“Possibly the greatest advantage is the quality of life Michigan offers to our employees,” Hondorp said. “From top-notch K-12, higher education and health care institutions, to clean air, fresh water and the beauty of nature, it all adds up to make for an attractive lifestyle.” www.shrr.com

SRT Solutions of Ann Arbor, co-founded by Bill Wagner and Dianne Marsh, delivers software to businesses that consider technology a strategic imperative and want to use new platforms. “In contrast to our competitors, SRT doesn’t learn a technology to solve a problem,” Marsh said. “Our abiding commitment to innovation means that its team understands enough about the different possible solutions to recommend a strategy that fits the problem a business wants to solve. SRT Solutions can implement the strategies it recommends and deliver on its promises through software.”

The firm recently focused its business development efforts on growing companies in the Midwest, aligning clients’ culture with SRT Solutions. This way, SRT and its clients build a long-term relationship. “SRT Solutions wants to be part of that economic success story that is growing, younger companies in Michigan and the Midwest,” added Wagner. “We want companies to access the best software in the world to help them grow.”

SRT’s culture of collaboration includes having everyone routinely switch offices (even the founders), pairing on software projects, participating in the annual Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum’s technology event and working to develop a mobile application for a software conference. Experimentation and learning is encouraged as a way to discover the best tools to implement for its clients. SRT is active in the tech community, hosting and participating in more than a dozen software developers groups monthly. It contributes back to that community through an active blog network, submits articles for influential trade publications and develops several open source software projects. “The entrepreneurial culture in the Ann Arbor region makes it an ideal place for SRT Solutions to grow,” Marsh said. “Not only are there ample opportunities to connect with other entrepreneurs, but there are ample opportunities to get the support businesses like SRT Solutions need to grow.” www.srtsolutions.com

Stonebridge Financial Partners LLC of Bingham Farms is a comprehensive financial services firm with services for business owners and individuals, retirement and estate planning, and more. “Many families and small-business owners were forced to re-evaluate and make significant changes to their financial strategy during the recent recession,” said Jeffrey Ivory, partner. “Over the last five years we niche marketed our financial services toward professionals and executives faced with financial restructuring. We created the Finances in Transition (FIT) Series specifically to speak with families and business owners about how to take a more proactive approach to managing their financial situation.” Stonebridge’s Career FIT workshops were offered nationally in collaboration with various organizations and focused on assisting professionals and executives experiencing a career transition.

During the past year, Stonebridge strengthened and refined its business focus by focusing on client relationships. “Because of the problems present in Michigan’s economy, sound financial management and a level of regional understanding are two things needed here more than anywhere else,” Ivory noted. “I know that Michigan has an incredible potential to grow and thrive. Doing business in Michigan is rewarding on a personal level as well as professionally, as I am able to help the people closest to my heart and offer a level of financial expertise where it is most needed.”

A challenge that is always present in the financial world is managing uncertainty. In today’s market especially, uncertainty is present on a global and regional level, and it is Stonebridge’s job to adapt to that uncertainty, Ivory said. The firm serves a smaller niche market and monitors changes so it can nimbly react in the way that will be most beneficial to its clients and the business as a whole. www.stonebridgefp.com

Starting with a single car dealership more than 60 years ago, Suburban Oldsmobile opened in 1948 in the Troy Motor Mall. Today the Suburban Collection is Michigan’s largest dealership group, selling some 29 manufacturers. Still family-owned, it is headed by Chairman and CEO David T. Fischer, son of the founder, and competes against other dealership groups owned by Penske, CarMax and AutoNation. Its store locations are clustered in Ann Arbor, Farmington Hills, Novi, Sterling Heights, Waterford, western Michigan and, of course, Troy. It also has dealerships in Florida.

“The impacts of the Internet and social media have influenced the way customers approach the car-buying experience,” Fischer noted. “The Suburban Collection is consistently updating and leading the industry in how we interact with customers via the Internet and social media outlets.” Social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter have helped the dealership group build relationships with customers online -” and car buyers encounter knowledgeable staff members when they come to the showroom floor. As testament to its dedication to quality customer service, the Suburban Collection earned many top awards over the years.

“The economy has been the biggest challenge,” Fischer said. “When credit is tight and there is massive unemployment, it is difficult for people to buy cars.” To overcome these hurdles, the Suburban Collection found new ways for car buyers to get credit to buy the vehicles they wanted. “We appreciate our customers who have been loyal and supportive and helped us grow even in this challenging environment,” Fisher added. “The greatest Michigan advantage is simply the people in Michigan. They are car people -” they know and appreciate automobiles. Michigan is a great place to sell cars.” www.suburbancollection.com

David T. Provost, chairman of Talmer Bank and Trust.

At the end of April 2011, First Michigan Bank officially changed its name to Talmer Bank and Trust, which is indicative of its growth beyond the state but also the financial institution’s dedication to customer service. In one year, Talmer grew from one banking center to more than 50 after acquiring CF Bancorp, headquartered in Port Huron; First Banking Center, headquartered in Lake Geneva, Wis.; and Peoples State Bank, formerly based in Madison Heights.

“We recognized that in order for us to grow in other markets, we had to change our name -” Michigan doesn’t really work in Wisconsin,” explained David T. Provost, chairman, president and CEO. “Our name is derived from a combination of my grandfather’s last name (Talmage) and Gary Torgow (chairman of Talmer Bancorp) grandfather’s last name (Merzon). To us, our grandfathers left legacies devoted to customer service, and we hope to embrace their legacies moving forward. We want all of our employees to be able to relate to the story we are hoping to capture with this name.” Along with its new name, Talmer is implementing a corporate program to instill these values in all employees.

The bank’s growth and acquisitions have afforded it the ability to not only retain jobs that otherwise may have been lost, but to also add employment -” 600 in Michigan alone.

“We worked hard for all of our employees to feel like they are part of a family. All of our recent changes are going to allow us to leave a footprint in the communities that we live and work, and that will be our greatest success,” Provost said. One of the biggest challenges facing the bank is telling its story to its customers -” conveying what kind of community bank it will be, which is the best in the business, the company said. www.talmerbank.com

Headquartered in Bloomfield Hills, TriMas Corp. provides engineered and applied products for the packaging, energy, aerospace and defense, and engineered components industries, and its Cequent unit makes vehicle towing, trailer and cargo management products for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and aftermarket suppliers. In January 2009, Dave Wathen, president and CEO, was hired to lead TriMas into the future. The firm, which went public in May 2007, has not only experienced a change in management, but also a change in culture.

“TriMas increased its focus on speed and continuous improvement in everything it does,” Wathen said. “As changes in the marketplace and economy occurred fast and were often hard to predict, TriMas worked hard to be flexible and the fastest responder. We quickly responded to customer needs, new requirements and changes in the marketplace. This allowed TriMas to capture additional growth when customer demand began to improve.”

Much of the company’s growth can be attributed to productivity savings, thanks to a focus on continuous improvement and other lean initiatives. TriMas created an organization solely focused on ways to increase productivity and efficiency while decreasing cost. New products were successfully launched, increasing the company’s market share. “TriMas’ best opportunity this past year was its ability to capture additional business due to competitors that struggled -” enhancing the company’s overall growth,” Wathen said. “With improved financials and a broad product portfolio, we convinced our customers we were here for the long haul. We even were able to buy a competitor out of bankruptcy, as well as deploy additional cash to buy another company to enhance the product portfolio of our energy-related business.”

TriMas expects the U.S. economy to be relatively flat in the coming year -” perhaps for the next several years. It is responding to this challenge by doubling efforts to sell its products in growing markets such as Asia and South America. “While North America will always be of utmost importance, we continue to diversify our footprint to provide for a flexible and successful future,” Wathen added. “With the new initiatives launched in each business, TriMas is well on the way toward a successful 2011.” www.TriMasCorp.com

Headquartered in Grandville, Trivalent Group Inc. is one of Michigan’s largest information technology firms, offering clients subscriptions to various managed service options. Bundling hardware, software, bandwidth and support capabilities together improves efficiency, reduces downtime and can result in significant cost savings.

“In addition to our manufacturing and commercial clients, we developed a vertical strategy for both the education and health care markets,” said CEO Larry R. Andrus. “The flow of data through the business continuum is constantly accelerating. We help our clients manage, access, protect and store their critical data.”

Trivalent provides clients with access to their data “anytime, anywhere and with any device” by offering flexible cloud services in response to the evolving needs of the modern office. Its business in the health care industry has flourished -” especially physician practices and nonprofit components.

“Business in Michigan is based on relationships, which has become increasingly true as of late given how the economic downturn has disproportionately affected our state,” Andrus said. “We believe that trusted relationships are integral to success in business and in life in general. We share a sense of collegiality with many of our peers as well as a commitment to supporting our communities by buying and investing locally because, after all, we are in it together for the long term.”

Also through a series of acquisitions, Trivalent has grown into new markets, notably Battle Creek, through its recent acquisition of Innovative Software Strategies. www.trivalentgroup.com

Scott Foster, founder of Royal Oak-based Wellco.

A wellness firm, Wellco of Royal Oak provides companies with health-risk appraisals and health return-on-investment (ROI) systems. For example, Wellco recently launched the Wellness Positioning System to track company wellness efforts and identify the most effective opportunities. This product incorporates data from wellness programs and health benefits into an actionable scorecard to improve wellness effectiveness, prevention impact, medical costs and integration.

Wellco is known as a firm that fixes health and wellness programs, rather than merely a provider of wellness programs. During a time when most employee wellness programs have no data to prove effectiveness, Wellco’s average measured return on investment is 1.9 to 1. Recognizing its valued services, many companies have turned to Wellco to integrate health benefits with wellness programs or to capitalize on new opportunities and grants from health reform.

“Michigan is highly supportive and loyal to its business community,” said Scott Foster, president. “It is a privilege to receive this distinguished award and to have the opportunity to contribute. We proudly carry our ‘Made in Michigan’ message throughout the nation.” Wellco’s biggest challenge has become balancing the additional priorities associated with momentum and growth. Plans to adapt include adding positions for support, operations and marketing. www.wellcocorp.com

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Richard Blanchard
Rick is the Managing Editor of Corp! magazine. He has worked in reporting and editing roles at the Port Huron Times Herald, Lansing State Journal and The Detroit News, where he was most recently assistant business editor. A native of Michigan, Richard also worked in Washington state as a reporter, photographer and editor at the Anacortes American. He received a bachelor of arts from the University of Michigan and a master’s in accountancy from the University of Phoenix.