Nimble, Innovative Companies Shine as Michigan Economic Bright Spots

For many companies on this year’s list of Corp! magazine’s Economic Bright Spots, you can almost hear the collective sigh of relief.

Finally, challenging times have given way to something approaching prosperity.

And while many acknowledge that there remains room for improvement, a theme emerging from a list of this year’s winners appears to be the need to remain nimble, focused on what the customer really wants, and building or maintaining an environment that attracts and retains talent key to both a firm’s short- and long-term viability.

Will the state continue to be the beacon for even more “Bright Spots” observers are hoping for?

Taking this year’s “Michigan Economic Bright Spots” winners into consideration, odds are looking like they’re in our collective favor:

Allegiance Health

Jackson, Mich. Improving the health of residents in Jackson is among the expected benefits to Allegiance Health becoming a teaching hospital in 2014, a move that will see some 140 physicians-”50 percent of whom are likely to stay in the area once they complete their graduate medical education program. Doctors, who will have already graduated from a medical school, will be able to take their examination to become board certified in their specialty after going through the Allegiance Health program. Allegiance says its new program will include partnerships with local physicians and clinics, the Center for Family Health, Jackson Community College, Michigan State University and other educational partners. With shortages of physicians projected in the near future, the physician recruitment advantages of a GME program hold significant benefit for Jackson, says Dr. Ray King, chief medical officer for Allegiance, who says there are currently 400 physicians on his medical staff. CEO Georgia Foitasek added that as a result, Allegiance will continue in its dual role in the community. “We provide quality health care, and with 4,200 staff members and physicians, also serve as the largest economic engine in Jackson,” she said. “The GME program is the latest example of Allegiance accomplishing both goals simultaneously.”


Ada, Mich. Focusing on entrepreneurs has always been the mantra at Amway. “They are our foundation,” notes Doug DeVos, president. But times have continued to change since Amway began helping people drive their own business in 1959, notably on the technology front. “That includes digital technology that supports their sales efforts whenever and wherever they need it,” adds Steve Van Andel, chairman, who adds that the entrepreneurial spirit “is alive and well here in the U.S. and all over the world.” Both leaders say Amway’s position in the global direct selling business lends itself to optimism about the future. “That optimism comes from the fact that direct selling continues to have great appeal for people around the world,” says DeVos. Being in Michigan and staying here is all about that future. “Michigan is becoming a better place to do business with each passing day, and we’re proud of that fact,” says Van Andel. DeVos agrees. “Michigan’s strength lies in its people. As part of the process of reinventing ourselves, we need to continue to realize the talents of our people who are hard working, dedicated and possess a tremendous work ethic. That talent pool includes researchers, engineers, technically trained workers and more. Our employees possess skill sets that can stack up against workers anywhere in the world. Our colleges and universities turn out graduates that hit the ground running-”for big companies, small businesses and businesses of their own.”

Artistocat Transportation

Phil Bahr of Rehamann presents Sue Jarvis of Aristocat her award.

Warren, Mich. For CEO Sue Jarvis, offering unparalleled limousine service “in just about any city in the world” is among the biggest changes since the launch of Artistocat Transportation’s marketing campaign launched in 2005. Jarvis says the success is due at least in part to having a full-time IT professional on staff for the last three years. That person, Jarvis says, has been able to maintain Artistocat’s high rankings on search engines and also manages e-mail campaigns and other website projects. “Our clients love it because it takes less than two minutes to set up.” Michigan is exactly where Jarvis wants to be. “We have a great work force here. There are so many talented people that live in Michigan. I have always had great luck finding amazing talented people for my company,” she adds. “I believe Michigan has some of the nicest people in the country that live here. People just seem to be very willing to help out when it is needed. They give what they can even if all they can afford is a smile and some of their time to help out. There are lots of great charities here that help people. Michigan businesses are very conscientious of helping to keep as much business in Michigan as possible-using Michigan made products and services.

Basso Design Group

Phil Bahr of Rehamann presents Laura Oliveto of Basso Design Group with their award.

Troy, Mich. For Greg Basso, who heads a company with perhaps a dozen or so designers fluent in bringing the latest technology and a dedication to detail to a growing roster of clients, customer service is at least the core of a recipe for success. Add a bevy of awards for their work and you begin to get the picture: Basso Design Group is headed exactly where it wants to be in a business environment that Basso says works extraordinarily well. “We are very lucky to have some of the brightest and most talented creative and business professionals in the country,” says Basso. “It is through their abilities that we are growing at the level we enjoy.” Generating business that keeps a happy staff motivated is a key part of that growth. “We have seen very prestigious opportunities in markets, such as film, that are perfectly aligned with what we produce.” Even so, that doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges. “Those are what keeps us limber,” says Basso. It also helps that the firm has positioned itself with clients as a place they can feel comfortable and confident in Basso’s ability to bring an idea or market process to fruition.

Beene Garter

Grand Rapids, Mich. As West Michigan’s largest locally owned CPA and business consulting firm, Beene Garter continues to invest in the area, with one of the latest examples of that being the purchase of a large downtown Grand Rapids building, a 65,000-square-foot, five-floor structure that will house the 75-member firm while providing room for other growing firms. Managing partner Tom Rosenbach says the purchase means being able to manage the firm’s growth in an efficient manner. “It was time to expand into new space that allows us to have more public exposure.” Beene Garter says it intends on maintaining the historical warehouse setting in its new offices, while designing the space to accommodate the collaborative nature in which its consultants serve clients. “Our office space has been designed with our team approach to superior client service in mind and the location we have chosen is part of our long-term commitment to the area,” says Rosenbach, whose firm provides a range of audit, tax, business advisory and business support services. Wealth management services are offered through their subsidiary, BG Investment Advisory Services Inc. Beene Garter advisers specialize in particular industries, which is said to allow clients to work with specialists who understand their unique business environment and needs.

Blackford Capital

Grand Rapids, Mich. Staying positioned for success in an ever-changing marketplace means several things for Blackford Capital founder and managing director Martin Stein, among them developing strong relationships with local colleges and universities. But Stein is also proud of Blackford having created its Michigan Equity Investment Fund, a vehicle that he says will support the local economy by protecting and creating jobs within the state. “It will help to halt the export of capital out of Michigan from out-of-state private equity funds acquiring Michigan businesses,” says Stein, who adds that Blackford aims to raise $10-$20 million from investors over the next year to 15 months as it expects to invest in five to seven Michigan-based businesses. One such business is Custom Profile, a Grand Rapids-based manufacturing business. Stein says there are many advantages to staying in Michigan. “Those include working with stellar companies with strong core business values. Michigan holds true to its strong, vibrant manufacturing background -“ which is something that greatly appeals to us. In fact, 95 percent of Blackford’s investments in the past decade have been in manufacturing and industrial businesses.”


Aaron Chernow of Brightwing accepts the award from Phil Bahr of Rehmann.

Troy, Mich. A year ago, Brightwing CEO Aaron Chernow made a decision he calls a “huge leap”: that being the realization that the company not only needed a second tier of managers able to make the kind of strategic and tactical decisions the staffing company needed, but to take Brightwing to a whole new level of performance. “We realized we could get more out of our management team and this organizational shift has increased the level of awareness and experience of our entire organization,” says Chernow, who says all Brightwing managers now set strategic and tactical goals, individual budgets and profit and loss statements. The shift has helped Brightwing focus on the future in an entirely different way, all the while helping to grow other markets through the U.S. from a strong Michigan base. “We have realized that the Midwest values and strong work ethic of our Michigan employees transfers very well to other markets,” adds Chernow. From its Michigan base, Brightwing has been able to bring an emphasis on core values to the marketplace. “While you can teach skills and give people experience, you cannot teach core values,” says Chernow. ” Finding people with identical and/or compatible core values that are in line with the mission and goals of your organization is imperative for long term success.”


Phil Bahr presents Paul Hillman with the Award for C/D/H.

Grand Rapids, Mich. Building a successful technology consultancy is no walk in the park. Just ask Paul Hillman, who’s helped to shepherd C/D/H through the economic downturn. “We cut everywhere we could, but we didn’t touch salaries or staff,” says Hillman. “That was off limits to us.” As a result, C/D/H created loyalty and was able to rebound quickly. “We kept our well-trained, ready-to-go staff, plus we were in a position financially to purchase the Web development team from Plante Moran,” he adds. “This brought us a number of new clients and several new consultants.” And a renewed emphasis on a culture that “sticks together in tough times.” The fact that C/D/H doesn’t sell software or hardware is a strong selling point. “Making technology work for our clients takes focus,” says the company’s website. “We focus squarely on providing you solutions free from favoritism.” Today’s challenge is making sure C/D/H has the right people in place to continue its growth and show its customers-”in health care, financial services, legal services, education and local government-”how the West Michigan-based consultancy can make them even more successful.

Evangelical Homes of Michigan

Mike Semanco of Hennessey Capital presents Dianna Huckesstein with the award for Evangelical Homes of Michigan.

Detroit Bringing the best possible care to older adults in six Southeast Michigan counties is an ongoing but rewarding challenge, says Evangelical Homes CEO Denise Rabidoux. A growing opportunity for the organization is meeting the needs of “an overwhelming number of people who wish to live in their own home for life.” An organization-wide health and wellness initiative that includes personal trainers, lifestyle coaches, nutritional counselors, massage therapists and other professionals has proven to be very popular. “We want to help older adults currently being served on its campuses and in their neighbor homes to live more healthy and productive lives,” said Rabidoux. “We’ve also worked to extend in-home services to older adults living in their own homes in order to help them remain healthy and active,” says Rabidoux. The implementation of LifeChoices, a membership based solution to help older adults to “age in place.” And all from right here in Michigan, a fact from which Rabidoux says the organization has continued to benefit. “Since our organization was created in Detroit, we feel that a primary advantage for us is being familiar with and understanding the marketplace. Wherever we place our “shingle,” the community has opened its arms to us.”

Hinman Group

Kalamazoo, Mich. This development, property management and leasing company, founded in 1977 by Roger E. Hinman, continues to succeed in what it does-”notably creating and maintaining successful business partnerships.” Those very important relationships allow us the opportunity to continue to grow in ways that make good long-term sense,” says Hinman, whose company is headquartered in the Kalamazoo area. Some 60 people work at Hinman, leasing and managing the more than 50 properties owned by the company. Hinman brings its own perspectives of owner, investor, manager, broker, and developer to build dynamic, lasting business relationships. A diverse portfolio of office, retail, and residential properties is at the heart of a real estate marketing and management organization with a long-range view. The company’s property portfolio ranges from corner drug stores to shopping centers, and restaurants to towering office buildings. The company’s newly constructed two story, 24,000 square-foot office building has achieved Gold Certification in Leadership in Energy Environmental Design, the first newly constructed office building in the Kalamazoo/Battle Creek area to have gained that distinction.

Hirotec America

Mike Semanco of Hennessey Capital presents the award for Hirotech America to Scott Abbate.

Auburn Hills, Mich. Expansion is one of the best examples of a company succeeding, and by that measurement, Hirotec America is on the upswing, having recently announced it will be opening new facilities in both Chesterfield and Port Huron. The result for the automotive supplier of body shop assembly tooling and hemming systems is the requirement for some 200 new workers. Katsu Uno, Hirotec Aemrica’s chairman and CEO, has said adding two additional manufacturing buildings is in response to a growing demand. “(We have) grown exponentially in the last few years and expanding our local manufacturing capacity is the next chapter in our story,” says Uno. The company expects to take most of the year to fill the positions, roughly half of which are for engineers, with the remainder being open to skilled trades such as builders, electricians and robot programmers. Brian McGinnity, Hirotec’s chief financial officer, said the company “is proud to be creating new jobs and investing in Michigan’s local economy.”

Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn LLP

Mike Semanco of Hennessey Capital presents Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn with their Award.

Detroit While it’s the ranked as the largest law firm in Detroit, Honigman (as it’s commonly referred) says being in the city has wide-ranging advantages for its client, says its CEO and chairman David Foltyn. “We successfully compete with some of the leading law firms across the country as the result of our extraordinary skill, vast experience, client service ethic and its efficient fee structure. The firm’s Detroit and Midwest roots provide a great advantage when competing for business with top law firms due to its ability to provide a high level of legal services and a lower cost structure than East and West coast firms or those in money-centered cities like Chicago.” That helps with recruiting efforts as well, especially with those who want to return to the area due to family ties or because of Michigan’s cost of living, its array of cultural institutions and family-friendly neighborhoods. Today, Honigman operates an international practice from its offices in Detroit, Bloomfield Hills, Lansing, Ann Arbor and Kalamazoo with more than 230 attorneys and 350 staff. Honigman’s attorneys practice in more than 50 different areas of business law and consistently receive high ratings from their peers and clients, both nationally and in Michigan. “Our approach is built on relationships,” says the company’s website. “That means a comprehensive and sustained focus on service at the highest levels throughout the firm to meet and anticipate our clients’ evolving needs.”


Mike Semanco presents ICONMA, LLC with their award.

Troy, Mich. ICONMA, a consulting firm that provides professional services and project-based solutions to Fortune 1000 organizations, says investing in people and resources comes with a single goal: “providing our clients with the highest quality service in the most responsive manner.” Owner/CEO Claudine S. George says the company is “unique in our ability to provide a full spectrum of staffing services and solutions. “Our goal is to become a one-stop destination for our customers’ staffing and outsourcing needs. Our vision is to be a preeminent provider of innovative business solutions, leveraging key technologies to improve our customers’ competitiveness, growth, and profitability. Being headquartered in Michigan remains part of that strength. “We understand that our greatest assets are our highly skilled and professional consultants,” said George. “Because of this, we have created a work environment which fosters career development, stability and personal growth. The result for our customers is a knowledgeable and stable consulting staff they can depend on to operate more productively and to improve profitability, top-line growth, customer service and cost management.”

Independent Bank Corp.

Ionia, Mich. With a rich heritage that began with its founding as First National Bank of Ionia in 1864, Independent continues to build on that history, the most recent example being its ranking as “Highest Customer Satisfaction with Retail Banking in the North Central Region” from the J.D. Power and Associates. President Brad Kessel, who came to the job in April 2011, is part of a transition that will be complete at the end of 2012, with the retirement of Mike Magee Jr. as CEO. Kessel says the J.D. Power ranking is a testament to those who call Independent Bank their home. “I am very proud of our associates for achieving the highest rating in customer satisfaction. It’s exciting to see our service mission ‘to impress every customer every day, every time’ take flight and grow relationships with customers across the state. Independent Bank now has total assets of approximately $2.4 billion and provides a full range of financial services, including commercial banking, mortgage lending, investments and title services.


Mike Semanco of Hennessey Capital presents the award for Intellitrends to Marlene Stone.

Clarkston, Mich. “A trusted adviser.” Getting to that point in a business takes initiative, hard work and a sense of mission. Just ask Marlene Stone, president and COO of Intellitrends, which for more than two decades has been building, one client at a time, a sense of achievement and mission. Stone points to one client in particular that Intellitrends has served and grown with for 11 years. “We have conducted research, market studies, and consumer opinion research to validate, encourage, advise and guide their strategy,” she notes. “We provide this client with our full attention, respond and anticipate every request, need and advice on an minute by minute basis. Our client truly appreciates our responsiveness, and strategic thinking.” That’s not an isolated case, says Stone. “Because we have been based here for the past 22 years, we have established an extensive customer base, most of which are located in Southeast Michigan. Our close proximity to our clients allows for us to establish and maintain a personal relationship, conduct onsite strategy meetings, present in person, research findings and recommendations. We can be at our clients or host them at our offices. We feel this is a strong advantage and feel our clients do too.”

IT Resource

Karen Washington of Comcast Business Class presents the award for IT Resource to Gary Lutz.

Coopersville, Mich. Headquartered just west of Grand Rapids, IT Resource is a company that’s endured the lows of economic life in the Wolverine state. But now, as managing partner Gary Lutz points out, it’s a very different (and happier) picture being painted. “Our single best opportunity has been the improving economy. We have been able to stretch customer’s dollars further, providing more bang for their buck-”especially for our customers in still depressed vertical markets.” And customers in rapidly improving vertical markets have translated into what Lutz says is “explosive growth and the ability to respond quickly and efficiently.” Being in Michigan has forced the company to stay “sleek, nimble and very flexible.” The challenge? Finding more talented and capable employees to contribute to a rapidly increasing customer base. Even so, IT Resource is working to make sure both the company and its customers will thrive. “We’re expanding our automation efforts as a way to provide 24×7 support without having to add significant numbers of additional staff.”

Just Baked

Livonia, Mich. It’s not every company that can say it’s made its name in cupcakes, but that’s the case with Just Baked, a firm that now has 12 locations in southeastern Michigan. Founded by Pam Turkin and headquartered in Livonia, the firm is busy franchising its concept, producing gourmet cupcakes that sell for about $3 or $27 for a dozen. The chain is generating national press and has been featured in The Huffington Post, which said the company plans to have 50 franchises by the end of the year. Again, it’s cupcakes in more than 50 different flavors that are the star attraction. Also on the menu are brownies, cookies, scones, munchie mix, granola, and decorated layer cakes. Baked goods are made in Livonia and delivered to the retail locations, which get calls for catering, particularly for weddings. The company continues to roll out new products, including a cookie program that’s on the horizon. Customers make a one-time jar purchase with cookies, and they can bring back the empty jar for a cookie refill.

Kyyba Inc.

Tel Ganesan accepts the award on behalf of Kyyba, Inc.

Farmington Hills, Mich. It may have started out as “just an IT company” but Kyyba Inc. has diversified in a way that likely helped the company at just the right time, says Tel Ganesan, president and CEO. “With the economy crashing, we knew we needed to diversify and not have all our eggs in one basket.” That new basket came in the shape of engineering services, the growth of which has allowed Kyyba to “take off” with significant growth the welcome result. Being based in Michigan, Ganesan says, has given Kyyba access to the kind of people he knows the company will continue to need to sustain that growth. “Not only do we have great universities and a business friendly atmosphere, but we recently find the auto industry making a comeback. We believe that the economy is starting to grow and will reach new levels in the years to come; we want to be part of that comeback and part of that growth.” Ganesan has no illusions as to what that growth will include. “The biggest challenge will be the fight for good talent. We will have to differentiate ourselves more as the number of openings grows and the talent shrinks.”

LaFontaine Automotive Group

Highland, Mich. Being part of an automotive retailing group, especially one with some nine locations throughout the greater Detroit area, may have been challenging-”dare we say devastating-”but survival has its benefits. For Ryan LaFontaine, owner and general manager, that includes having expanded and maximized the company’s digital exposure, quadrupling the resources allocated to the e-commerce side of the business. Adding a Buick GMC franchise in Ann Arbor didn’t hurt either. LaFontaine says having a knowledgeable customer base is something that continually sets the bar higher, a challenge he embraces. “We need to continue to be better at what we do after having survived the past few years. We will do so by getting better in three key areas: Continuing to expand our digital brick and mortar, increasing the training of our people, and involving people in our marketing.” The result, says the head of the family business, should speak for itself in future growth and a customer base that keeps returning, generations from now.

Munro & Associates

Karen Washington of Comcast Business Class presnts Sandy Munro with the award for Munro Associates.

Troy, Mich. A Michigan-based company that’s also global in its reach, Munro & Associates Inc., lead by CEO Sandy Munro, has its hand in all sectors of innovative designed products, not just automotive. Even NASA, a Munro client, calls the firm an “innovative factory.” And one defense contractor calls Munro’s process “an extension of the war plan.” Pretty heady stuff. But so is helping to reduce the cost of building 1,000-foot-long ships by half. Or playing a role in the development of cutting edge medical devices that help save babies. Even the building of a product, one molecule at a time, for use in Alzheimer’s patients is on the Munro list of projects. Sandy Munro says being in Michigan means having an available depth of technology and engineering talent not found anywhere else in the world, although clearly the man with his name on the door is part of what makes things click. One example? A visit to a German company in business for more than 170 years resulted in savings of more than 700,000 euros a year through three immediately implementable ideas.

NAI Wisinski

Grand Rapids, Mich. Based in Grand Rapids, NAI Wisinski, a commercial real estate company, is understandably bullish not only on Michigan broadly speaking but in the West Michigan region. President and Partner Jim Decker points to the area being the home of office furniture giants such as Steelcase, Haworth and Herman Miller, but also points to the region as being the center of one of the largest investments in life sciences in the country, with more than $1 billion invested in research and patient care-”propelling Greater Grand Rapids onto the elite list of America’s top sustainable, knowledge-based economies. The company lives and breathes values that it says will continue to see it grow. “We are a values driven company dedicated to the highest degree of customer service,” notes Decker. “We find joy in our work, and in serving the company and our customers. We share our expectations with each other and strive to maintain a workplace built on mutual values, trust and goodwill.” Those core values were written with contributions from every associate. “They originate from us, inspire us and are present in all that we do.

Netvantage Marketing

Karen Washington of Comcast Business Class presents Netvantage Marketing their award.

East Lansing and Grand Rapids, Mich. Managing partners Adam Henige and Joe Ford began their venture in an area that was literally unheard of just a few short years ago: search engine marketing. Ford says branching out into social media consulting now makes those two offerings a key differentiator in the Midwest and a key to its success. So has expanding into the Grand Rapids area. “We are fortunate to have several clients in West Michigan, and we feel our new office will continue to be a strategic fit for us as we expand in that market,” says Henige. At the same time, the partners acknowledge that they can, quite effectively, work anywhere. “We choose to stay in Michigan due to the lower cost of doing business, the people, and the quality of life,” says Ford, who adds that having world class universities nearby makes recruiting high quality talent that much easier. What may not be so easy is keeping up with the ever-changing Google and Facebook environments. Says Henige: “Both entities are making large scale changes to how businesses can use them to market, and they are making changes in a very rapid fashion. [But] our staff does a great job of researching and staying current in our subject matter, so we are confident that we will successfully adapt to these challenges.”


Ann Arbor, Mich. This maker of fitness equipment, while incorporated in 1997, has as its genesis the ideas of Dick Sarn, a mechanical engineer who in the 1960s developed a transformational heart-lung machine used in open-heart surgery. Today, the company has embraced a vision to transform lives by helping people achieve the important balance of physical fitness and wellness. NuStep Inc. designs and manufactures their award-winning recumbent cross trainer models and collaborates with leading exercise physiologists, ergonomic specialists, and health experts, helping it to become the brand of choice by physical therapy centers, cardiac rehabilitation clinics, and health and wellness centers across the country, including the Mayo Clinic, Vanderbilt University, and the University of Michigan. The company was recently presented with the President’s “E” Award, which honors companies that make significant contributions toward increasing U.S. exports.


Karen Washington of Comcast Business Class presents Ronia Kruse with the award for OpTech.

Troy, Mich. A willingness to adapt to changing markets is something CEO Ronia Kruse credits with not only the survival but the success of OpTech, originally an IT supplier that focused primarily on the automotive sector. That’s changed, of course, with OpTech now having branched out into government, banking, manufacturing, insurance, utility, and health care. The resurgence of the automotive sector has meant the company is now positioned to succeed on multiple fronts. But its base in Michigan has also meant OpTech is keeping busy as it works hard to attract talent that it knows will only become more scarce as the automotive sector continues to rebound. Kruse says OpTech will meet those challenges with vigor. “We’ll adapt to the challenges by continuing to train and develop our current employees, and also by hiring the best talent acquisition specialists in the business to find the talent we need to exceed our clients’ expectations.”

Pure Packaging Solutions

Donna Freddolino of Davenport University, IPEx presents Kevin Caruso the award for Pure Packaging Solutions.

Ferndale, Mich. When Kevin Caruso founded Pure Packaging Solutions three years ago, it was after extensive experience in the industry he’s come to love. “I saw an opportunity to align with specific manufacturers, offering their products to my customers and their end users,” says Caruso. “The advantage is that I’m able to bring the best solution from a variety of suppliers.” Whenever possible, Caruso says Pure Packaging tries to work with Michigan-based suppliers. “Usually we focus first and foremost in the Detroit area, if not that in Michigan,” says Caruso. “That means the supply chain is as close geographically as possible.” But Caruso says being able to shop around for the best solution is also something that drives Pure Packaging. “We have a good, wide range of knowledge and that’s a value-added proposition.”

Reliance One

Donna Freddolino of Davenport University, IPEx presents the award to representatives from Reliance One.

Auburn Hills, Mich. What do you do when demand outstrips supply? If the supply happens to be IT and engineering professionals, one solution might be what Reliance One implemented-”a “Priority Zone” that gives the staffing firm the ability to move recruiting resources on any particular opening a customer has deemed as high priority. Co-founder James Paquette, who in 1998 formed Reliance One with partner James Beath, says the idea has taken off, even with customers who at first might have been skeptical. “We now have clients calling in a ‘Priority Zone’ with the understanding they will have the maximum coverage on their position and that they will not lose the best candidates to their own competitors,” says Paquette. When a mid-Michigan hospital ran into cost challenges with the hiring of credentialed consultants, Reliance One proposed a solution: a rigorous six-week training program that would lead to certification. Some 50 employees went through the program, saving the client hundreds of thousands of dollars in the process. While Paquette admits concerns with the economy still linger, he remains optimistic, especially given the diversification Reliance One has implemented. And with the state of Michigan listed as number three in the nation in the number of engineers graduating (and now one of the most competitive tax structures in the country), Paquette says the result will likely be even more hiring, which is more good news for firms like Reliance One.

Roush CleanTech

Brian Carney accepts the award for Roush CleanTech from Donna Freddolino.

Livonia, Mich. It’s part of the much larger Roush Enterprises, but that doesn’t mean Roush CleanTech is no sloucher. Indeed, the company brings what President Joe Thompson calls a “focused discipline” on a specific market segment-”a liquid propane auto gas system that completely (and transparently) replaces a vehicle’s OEM fuel system. Thompson uses one word to describe the key ingredient in Roush CleanTech’s innovation: listening. “When we listen to our customers, amazing innovation happens through collaborative customer interface,” says Thompson, who adds that a diversification strategy at Roush includes using internal Roush resources for the new vertical market segment. Thompson says the biggest opportunity the Roush subsidiary has been “to extend our competitive gap with respect to quality. And we invested in making sure our customers felt that advantage.” Thompson says it was a logical choice for Roush CleanTech to be located close to both the Roush Enterprises and Ford Motor Co. corporate headquarters, one reason being the large pool of skilled people familiar with the automotive industry and advanced manufacturing processes. Managing growth is one of the company’s biggest challenges, says Thompson. “We need to avoid any reductions in quality, over-investing in the growth of our product line, and over-subscribing our supply chain. Success in this market is a process, not an event.”

Solucient Security Systems

Mike Wanstreet accepts the award for Solucient Security Systems from Donna Freddolino.

Grand Blanc, Mich. With national statistics showing up to 98 percent of all alarm activations turning out to be false, Solucient Security Systems (rebranded following the 2010 acquisition of Stanley Alarm Systems) is on solid footing for growth. President Mike Wanstreet says a goal of offering security coverage that accommodates trends in technology required substantial change. One addition to the company’s product line is EyeQ, a verified video technology that captures live video of “motion” taking place at a location, immediately sending the clip to the company’s central monitoring station. “At that moment, our trained operators are able to immediately verify what’s happening and instantly dispatch police,” says Wanstreet. “This is substantial.” Solucient’s verified technology leads to a higher rate of apprehension. That, adds Wanstreet, means exceptional credibility with law enforcement. With a sharp increase in the demand for copper, resulting in epidemic levels of copper theft, Solucient installations are capturing widespread attention. Wanstreet says the challenge will be in hiring the right talent. “It is because of our solid growth and strong revenues that change will be inevitable,” he adds. “Our driving force in 2012 will be not to lose focus.”

Suburban Collection Showcase

Blair Bowman of the Suburban Collection Showplace accepts the award from Bob Holland of Vistage.

Novi, Mich. Originally founded as the Novi Expo Center in 1992, what owner Blair Bowman calls “Oakland County’s Convention Center” is growing by leaps and bounds, even as the 320,000-square-foot facility comes through the challenges of an economic downturn. But that hasn’t slowed down Bowman, who is actively managing a 20,000-square-foot expansion in exhibit space and a 126-room hotel that will carry the Hyatt Place brand, the chain’s select brand. Bowman says providing “service above all else” is at the key of the center’s success. “We have an excellent location, within 30 miles of everywhere in the area,” he says of the facility that was formerly known as the Rock Financial Showcase before the Suburban Collection acquired naming rights. Bowman is particularly proud that he continues to build on the success of the center without any government funds. “At the same time, we’re in the middle of an area that generates tremendous economic benefit and that’s something for which we’re very proud.”

Toyoda Gosei North America

Troy, Mich. Headquartered in the suburban Detroit area, Toyoda Gosei North America is part of a global company that began doing business in 1949. With a heritage that includes a foundation in the world-renowned Toyota Production System, Toyoda Gosei has carried that culture of continuous improvement throughout its operations, including its corporate citizenship. “Our focus on continuous improvement extends beyond our products and processes to the communities where we do business,” says the firm’s website. “Through a combination of financial contributions and volunteer efforts, Toyoda Gosei actively supports programs that result in sustainable civic, cultural and environmental improvement -” all vital components of a thriving community.” The company says it continues to extend its business as a global system supplier of automotive components, notably a new line of Light Emitting Diode products. As electric cars spread rapidly, Toyoda Gosei is also pursuing advancements in polymer technology with a focus on weight reduction; replacement of metallic parts with resin, and reduction of the amount of material for each component.

Trivalent Group

Grandville, Mich. When your business is about keeping your clients as efficient as possible, including using the latest in “cloud” storage for critical data, you’d better be flawless in your execution. For Trivalent CEO Larry Andrus, that’s a given. But Trivalent Group continues to build a depth of experience, implementing several new projects, even as the company enjoys continued growth in the health care industry. All the while, Andrus says Michigan is playing a key role in Trivalent’s success. “We are optimistic that the state’s economy will continue to improve and that our focus on mid-sized companies will help to lead growth opportunities,” he says. That sense of optimism is something Trivalent includes reaching out to a client base in uniquely local ways. “We share a sense of collaboration with our clients, partners, and employees,” says Andrus. “This translates to a commitment to supporting our communities by buying and investing locally because, after all, we are in it together for the long term.” But Andrus isn’t taking his eye off the ball when it comes to what counts. “The flow of data through the business continuum is constantly accelerating,” he says. “We focus on helping our clients manage, access, protect, and store their critical data, one of their most valuable assets.”


Bob Holland of Vistage presents the award to Trubiquity.

Troy, Mich. It’s called “Managed File Transfer” and in a world that now runs on data, that’s a big deal. And Trubiquity is one of the big players on a global scale. CEO Stephen Koons says the ability for the company to help its clients “scale quickly” is among its key strengths. “We have developed and acquired new technologies enabling our clients to connect, move, and share their critical business information internally and with their global supply chains,” says Koons, who adds that the company proved its mettle in the economic downturn. “The flexibility we offered our clients has contributed to the value of our long term relationships.” As the economy improves, Trubiquity is positioned to benefit from those relationships. Being in Michigan is also a real benefit to the company, adds Koons. “The open business environment that exists here is really exceptional. We have locations in places like California, the United Kingdom, and Germany, which can add a lot of additional complexity to your day, especially when dealing with regulatory, employment, or other business and administrative issues. Here we have access to one of the single largest industry concentrations of manufacturing and engineering. It’s also a place where you can meet face to face with so many clients in such a short period of time, as well as network very effectively through very active industry organizations.”

TTi Global

Bob Holland of Vistage presents the award for TTI Global to Kevin Dever.

Rochester Hills, Mich. A company that opened its doors in 1976, the predecessor firm that eventually became TTi Global focused on technical manuals, eventually expanding into the development of training programs. Since then, Lori Blaker, the daughter of the founders and now TTi’s CEO, has opened offices in China, Thailand, Japan, Mexico, Brazil, Chile and Venezuela. Still headquartered in Michigan, TTi “is always looking for ways to improve our processes, streamline our work flow and be more efficient,” says Blaker. “This equates to cost savings that improve pricing and profits.” It’s also about being global. “Because we are a global organization, we are able to offer global solutions to our clients. That allows our clients with global offices the benefit of working with just one supplier. It achieves cost savings for them, and ensures quality and consistency.” Even so, this is home. “Michigan remains a key automotive hub,” says Blaker. “For us, and our work with automotive clients, that is a very important connection. Michigan has a highly experienced workforce from which we can draw from, and is a beautiful place to live.”


Chris Scharrer of Leadership Oakland presents the award to Wellco.

Royal Oak, Mich. In good times, hardly anyone notices. Wellco President Scott Foster is referring to medical cost trends, which are clearly heading in a direction no business owner or manager wants to see, especially in times of economic turbulence. “The immediate need for critical evaluation of Return on Investment is inescapable,” says Foster. And that’s where Wellco steps in. “We’re the first and only wellness industry leader to offer effective evaluation systems for health and wellness programs,” says Foster, who founded the company on a premise of building ROI systems for companies that want to document and track their avoidable health costs and conditions. “Typical employee health and wellness programs have no data to show if they are even working,” adds Foster. A recent launch of a trademarked “Wellness Positioning System” allows a company to evaluate its health and wellness efforts and identify the most effective opportunities. Foster says the company isn’t so much a provider as a “fixer,” a fact that he says has propelled Wellco forward. “Rather than be a wellness provider, we became a company that fixes wellness programs. As a result, our competitors became clients.” Foster says being in Michigan means being close to some of most loyal clients and top talent base in the country. “Michigan supports innovation and has the wherewithal to withstand the challenges and opportunities of any successful business.”

Welsh & Associates

Kalamazoo, Mich. For CEO Sheri Welsh, being in Michigan means being at the core of what her staffing company needs to produce a good inventory of talented people-”an excellent education system. “We are fortunate to have a good public education system and an abundance of great colleges and universities-”both public and private-”which turn out well-educated graduates who stand ready to move into the positions we seek to fill on behalf of our clients.” Even as Welsh acknowledges past challenges (the firm implemented a companywide training program and began a coaching program as well as changing the way it tracks performance), she says the firm is even better positioned to compete, improving both the quality of its services and its efficiency. Welsh points to a local economy that’s robust, diverse and business friendly, all of which makes the region “a great place to do business.” Besides, Welsh is a Michigander through and through. “I was born and raised in the Detroit area, along with my parents and my grandparents too. I can’t image living or doing business anywhere else.”

West Construction Services

Kyle Westberg accepts the award for West Construction Services from Chris Scharrer of Leadership Oakland.

Pontiac, Mich. Now located in downtown Pontiac, West Construction Services is showing its expertise by example with its energy efficient, renovated offices in an historic home. The need, says principal Kyle Westberg, is “to ensure that the operational costs to operate their buildings be as low as possible.” And that means making the right decisions early in the construction process. West was successful in finding all of the financing sources necessary to close on a $20 million development project earlier this year. It’s a project that is already delivering dividends. “It shows our ability to assemble a complicated financing structure and close the deal,” says Westberg. “It also shows our abilities to convert an historic structure into a exciting new loft and retail development that will be a catalyst for new development to follow in Pontiac.” Designing the project to meet LEED Platinum certification, the structure, Westberg promises, will be affordable to operate, even as it creates a healthy living environment for its tenants. And best of all, it means West Construction will stay in Michigan. “We feel the natural resources that Michigan have to offer provide an advantage that no other state in the nation can offer.”

Wolverine Worldwide Inc.

Rockford, Mich. As Wolverine says on its website, few companies can say they have the world at their feet, both literally and figuratively. But such is the case with this Michigan company, a global marketer of branded footwear as well as apparel and accessories. One of the first in the industry to have leveraged the global potential of its brands, Wolverine has adopted a diverse business model that spans numerous countries and categories. “Our success is made possible by the countless individuals who have shared our passion for delivering trusted products throughout the years,” says the firm on its website. With a global footprint that spans approximately 190 countries and territories, as well as a rock-solid infrastructure, Wolverine Worldwide is dedicated to advancing its iconic labels, including the venerable Hush Puppies brand.

Your Source

Chris Scharrer of Leadership Oakland presents the award to YourSource Management Group.

Auburn Hills, Mich. A shifting economy lead YourSource to do what many others did to survive: diversify. That included expanding its service offerings and technology to better meet the demand of a changing market, a move that included a renewed recruitment effort. “In order to diversify our services we started with recruiting to ensure that we were building on our already strong foundation of great people that perform at a high level.” Owner Todd Lancaster says the company also made a significant investment in technology, developing a robust suite of solutions that could accommodate any company’s needs. “This included developing a Web based HR portal, migrating to new systems and integrating best-in-class providers. This diversification has allowed us to be able to work with any company at any size doubling our revenue while many competitors have gone out of business in the same time period.” YourSource also linked up with an insurance company, developing a unique model for its agents to offer value-added solutions. Lancaster counts being in Michigan among the company’s strengths. “The most important reason is that we have a hard working and very diverse workforce. This is in part because of our ever diversifying industries such as manufacturing, health care and IT, but also in part because of the excellent educational institutions we have in Michigan. Secondly, we are now working with a tax system that is becoming much more business friendly allowing us to be more competitive. We can be headquartered nearly anywhere with our solutions and being in a business friendly environment, especially in Auburn Hills, is important to us.”