Shine On! – State lights up from glow of
Michigan’s Economic Bright Spots

Turn on the radio or television or open a newspaper and chances are you’re reminded of Michigan’s economic challenges. No question, the state is feeling the effects of its industrial roots: the trees are swaying in the winds of change, even as residents sometimes feel huddling under the protective canopy is their best chance for survival. Yet not all news is bad news. Corp! magazine sought out-”and discovered in legion-”companies that are not only surviving but thriving. We call them Economic Bright Spots, and they’re not only giving others reason for hope-”their employees included-”but may even give those who continue to struggle an idea or two for improving their own fortunes. From hundreds of potentials, Corp! narrowed the selection to some 36 organizations, companies that have not only the positive attitude necessary to further success, but a tried-and-tested plan that could be a model for others willing to pay the ultimate business compliment: imitation. In part to further encourage future success, Corp! magazine’s Michigan Economic Bright Spot winners will be honored at a special event, to be held June 11, 2008 at the Michigan State University Management Education Center in Troy. Call (586) 393-8815 for further details.

Accident Fund Insurance Company of America

Accident Fund’s future headquarters in Lansing.

One might not consider workers’ compensation as an economic bright spot, but there’s no doubt that Accident Fund Insurance Company of America is making an impact. It’s Michigan’s largest provider of workers’ compensation and is 14th largest in the country. Not only has it seen growth in numbers-”678 employees, a 77 percent jump since 2000-”it’s also driving the economic engine of Lansing. In 2007, the Fund announced a $182 million project to renovate an abandoned Ottawa Street power plant into its new national headquarters, slated to open in 2011. “It was a cooperative effort between the city, state, the Accident Fund and our parent Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan,” says President and CEO Elizabeth R. Haar. “We had to have support from all of them to make this work. While it’s complex, it’s going to be fantastic for our company and also really good for the city and the state.” It’s also not the company’s first foray into development; it donates both money and employees’ time to economic development organizations around the state.

ADR North America
Ann Arbor,
In many respects, as tough as the Michigan economy may be getting, the demand for ADR’s procurement consulting services grows even more. One reason is its success rate in saving clients tens of millions of dollars in purchasing costs. Like the $400 million CEO Bill Michels says ADR saved a pharmaceutical company on a $1 billion purchase contract. Originally a British-based company, Michels became a partner, then bought the U.S. branch, all while retaining and enhancing ADR’s global reach (the firm has offices in the U.K. as well as Australia and South Africa). “We’re transforming supply chains,” says Michels. “Companies have to make sure their processes and systems integrate.” The firm’s 11 employees will account for revenue of over $2 million in 2008, with business up over 20 percent. Michels cites consistent success in being able to help clients succeed, especially as they begin to compete in a global economy. ADR’s “smart purchasing” approach includes helping assess purchasing skills and relationships through advanced tools. “There’s an increasing role for consulting when it comes to driving out costs in a business.”

Allied PhotoChemical
In a world that’s increasingly environmentally conscious, Allied PhotoChemical has an obvious advantage: it offers a 100 percent ultraviolet solution that eliminates the need for solvents or other harmful products in the coating of, well, just about anything. Those include the obvious-”tools, even truck brakes-”and applications that might not be as commonplace, including diabetic strips that can be coated without the use of heat. UV color coatings, dielectric products and silver and nano conductive inks are part of the Allied PhotoChemical portfolio. The technology is not just a time-saver; it usually results in dramatically less factory space, since the UV equipment eliminates ovens and conveyors, not to mention energy and emissions. CEO Mike Kelly, who runs the firm, says year-over-year business is up by 75 percent (tracking so far this year at 100 percent over 2007). “What we do will appeal to companies who are looking to streamline their operations, since we allow them to operate much more efficiently. In good times or bad, we’re going to be successful.”

While the term matchmaking doesn’t necessarily bring to mind a business relationship, it’s a good description of AMTECH USA, which includes AMTECH International and AMTECH Material Systems. Each division plays a unique role in providing American firms assistance in growing their Japanese business, says President and CEO Eric Heard. Since its founding in 1999, AMTECH has played a matchmaker role, putting North American auto suppliers in touch with Japanese OEMs. And Heard is clearly on the right path, having secured Japan-based Denso Corp. as a client. Born and raised in Japan (he moved to Troy, Mich. as a youngster), Heard has seen revenue double since 2005 and recently expanded AMTECH’s presence in North America and Japan. Noting the significant travel costs associated with sending representatives overseas to conduct business, Heard says AMTECH offers a solution. “Dealing with Japanese companies is a very expensive proposition because many decision makers are still in Japan. Our value proposition is that we are already calling on these customers on the behalf of clients.”

Atlas Oil Company

Sam Simon

Sam Simon continues to grow his Taylor-based company, reaching out to 15 more states in the last 24 months, all while delighting in giving his customers exactly what they want, no matter what. “That’s what makes the difference,” says Simon. “We’re customer focused and very flexible. And we’re 24/7. That’s really it.” It’s also about creating and maintaining a culture that’s entrepreneurial in nature, something that Simon has done with a bonus program and incentives. “I believe in paying people well,” says Simon, who maintains 100 percent ownership. He’s also a firm believer in growth. “You grow or you go,” he quips. “I also believe in motivating people, in giving them a great environment, the tools to do their jobs and the freedom to get it done. Everyone wants to do good. Everyone wants to win. Give them all the things they’re looking for and they’ll treat customers right.” It’s a set of beliefs Simon says has carried him since his youth, when, as an immigrant from Iraq, he worked in the family gas station business.

Citizens Bank
The firm may have its roots at least partially in the world of automotive (William Durant is said to have borrowed money from Citizens to launch a business that became part of General Motors) but current CEO Bill Hartman says it’s the everyday clients of the firm that are the basis for its continuing success. “We did a lot of focus groups with clients and they love us: we create a sense of family with them. And we do a lot of things that make their lives easier, giving them service they wouldn’t expect from a bank.” Hartman says “a great staff of officers and employees highly committed to working with clients” goes out of their way to “try to put as much of the burden on us and as little on our clients.” The firm has branches in Wisconsin and Ohio, but calls Michigan home. Business deposits were up 39 percent last year, non-real estate Small Business Administration loans were up 316 percent and there was a 25 percent increase in new checking and savings accounts.

Clayton & McKervey, P.C.

This wall at Clayton & McKervey cites many reasons employees give for working at the firm, including: “You don’t have to leave Michigan to make an impact on the world.”

Sometimes, the process of helping other companies become economic bright spots also causes the light to shine on you. That would be the case for Clayton & McKervey, a 55-year-old accounting and tax services firm that serves middle market entrepreneurs. In the course of helping Michigan companies expand into other parts of the world, Clayton & McKervey has experienced revenue growth of 40 percent in the past three years and increased staff by 30 percent in the same period. “Typically, when we have clients going overseas, we’ll help them structure their entities and manage worldwide taxation,” says Managing Partner Donald Clayton, citing Canada, Mexico, China and the U.K. as recent examples. Kevin McKervy, company shareholder, adds that it’s not just about expanding overseas. “We are anticipating a lot of Chinese companies coming to this marketplace.” So much so that the firm has established a two person “China desk,” staffed by professionals with connections to the Asian country.

Co-founder and CEO Todd Smith calls Clear!Blue the “anti-20th century marketing agency,” a clear-as-one-can-get statement distancing the Michigan-based firm (with offices in Chicago and Germany) from advertising agency traditions. “Companies spend massive amounts of money in media,” says Smith. “We think it’s better to reach the target audience in more of a conversational, one-on-one, remarkable way than to spend $50 million on an advertising campaign. And we’re relentless in that pursuit.” With notable successes in doing just that (a Jeep “parked” on the side of a building is one legendary example), Clear!Blue is engaging customers in what Smith says is key: “Creating and sustaining conversations among our audience.” The agency, launched in 2000, expanded to Chicago in 2003. With more than 60 team members, the business continues to grow. “When we reach our target audience, it’s all with the hope and intention that the person we reach is going to take the message to another person,” says Smith “They become advocates for the brand. Delivering unique PR experiential marketing is at our core.”

DFCU Financial

Mark Shobe and Madison Heights mayor, Edward Swanson, at the DFCU grand opening in Madison Heights.

Despite some tremors in the financial sector, DFCU Financial is on solid ground, starting 2008 with $1.8 billion in assets. Michigan’s largest credit union has ranked in the top 10 in financial performance among peer credit unions across the nation. The resulting windfall -“ more than 125,000 DFCU members received anywhere from $50 to more than $10,000 in a special dividend of more than $17 million distributed in January 2008-”didn’t go unnoticed. A single mother who works full time and goes to school, wrote to DFCU, “Thank you, thank you! A thousand times, thank you!” President and CEO Mark Shobe says those comments also speak to the company’s bottom line. “The business value is that people remember that you did something good for them.” One of those is the creation of the Career Transition Program, launched in 2006 to help automotive workers facing layoffs. Committing $10 million, DFCU teamed up with the Michigan Credit Union League and Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Growth, its combined $40 million program now funding low-interest educational loans to credit union members around the state, specifically financing college tuition and vocational training for former auto workers.

Diversified Industrial Staffing

Todd Palmer

By 2010, there will be 10 million more jobs in the U.S. than there are people, says Todd Palmer, quoting Department of Labor statistics. The statistic spells both opportunity and challenge to Palmer, president and founder of Diversified Industrial Staffing, a company that finds and places skilled people in manufacturing trades such as welding and tool and die. While Southeastern Michigan may be rich in talent, many jobs are still unfilled, one factor being an aging baby boomer generation. “The work is physically demanding, so they may be taking buyouts, retiring or changing jobs,” notes Palmer, who underscores the point: there are plenty of jobs but not enough applicants to fill them. Palmer has kept the company growing, expecting more than 40 percent growth this year. So even with high Michigan unemployment numbers on the rise, Diversified Industrial Staffing continues to recruit and place new employees every week. Now that’s an economic bright spot.

Duperon Corporation
Wastewater might not be a particularly glamorous business, but for the father-daughter team of Terry Duperon (president and CEO) and Tammy Bernier (VP and COO), it’s one that has worked well. Founded by Duperon in 1985, Duperon Corp. operates in both North American and international markets, including a large share of Michigan wastewater treatment. In fact, you might owe them a bit of gratitude for keeping your home or business high and dry. “We help keep communities from flooding,” says Bernier. “We are located at water intakes or outlets and we screen materials out of the water so that the equipment, such as storm water pump stations and hydroelectric plants can do their processing.” The patented screens and grates that keep the water flowing is what fuels Duperon’s growth. In 2004, the company moved to downtown Saginaw’s Renaissance Zone, then purchased an 18,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in 2006 to house growing operations. This growth has kept other local companies healthy. “Our fabricators, machining, sandcasting and coating are all done by local suppliers,” says Bernier.

Emagine Entertainment, Inc.

Independent movie theater chain Emagine Entertainment thrives in Michigan, despite competition from large chains.

Quipping that the movie business is “more fun than crunching numbers,” CPA-turned-Emagine Entertainment founder and chairman Paul Glantz still finds financial skills are critical to operating a successful independent movie theater chain. Starting in 1988 with the purchase of the Clarkston Cinema (no longer open), Glantz says the early years in the business were “thinly capitalized.” Then came the 1997 opening of Cinema Hollywood in Birch Run and later, Emagine Novi and Canton. Believing Canton was “by far an underserved market,” Glantz says the new theater spurred nearby competitors to reinvest in their venues. While competing against large national chains is a challenge, Glantz sees opportunity. “There’s no such thing as an easy business; the theater business is no exception. My premise is that one can compete, but you have to differentiate yourself. We try to differentiate ourselves by offering the best movie experience possible.” Noting that Michigan has “more entrepreneurial owners of theaters than anywhere else,” Glantz shared with Corp! plans to build a luxurious theater in Bloomfield Township in the near future. Popcorn, anyone?

Energy Efficient Healthy Homes, LLC

Ken Trever

While some of Economic Bright Spots honorees have succeeded by reaching out beyond the state’s borders, it would be fair to say that Energy Efficient Healthy Homes, LLC is all about Michigan. This Milford home builder is firmly rooted in the state -“ starting with its owner Ken Trever, who endeavors to use Michigan materials and contractors whenever possible. An authorized PolySteel distributor, Trever says he is committed to energy efficiency, boasting that the PolySteel Insulating Concrete Forms he uses save 50 to 80 percent of the cost of heating and cooling compared to traditional materials. The PolySteel wall system, he says, combines solid, reinforced concrete with high-density expanded polystyrene and galvanized steel, giving the structures energy efficiency and structural strength. The environmental impact is lessened in another area, reducing the use of lumber from forests as well as making homes and buildings mold resistant. “We are totally committed to building healthy, green homes using all Michigan resources,” says Trever, adding that his unique construction method is a viable alternative for any size home or commercial building.

Pleasant Ridge,
Not many companies claim to be “the biggest in the world.” But Josh Linkner’s ePrize has a list of clients that lend credence to the claim, at least when it comes to interactive promotions. Linkner, who launched ePrize in 1999, says some 74 of the world’s top 100 brands have come calling, faced with the challenge of engaging prospective customers in a world where traditional print or broadcast just don’t cut it. “The reason we exist is to fundamentally change the way brands interact with consumers,” says Linkner, who says ePrize is “half ad agency, half software company.” He adds: “We’re connecting consumers on a personal basis. As our clients learn more about their passions, they can reach out in proactive ways.” Linkner’s biggest challenge is dealing with the sheer growth, some 40 percent last year. Even as ePrize maintains its position as “the dominant leader” in its field, Linkner says running the company is “like rebuilding the plane while you’re flying it.” He continues: “We have great technology and great people, but we’re constantly reinventing ourselves, architecting for the future.”

Harbor Industries, Inc.
Charlevoix and Grand Haven,

One of Harbor’s point-of-purchase displays.

The next time you’re in a retail store and select your purchase from a display or shelf, you just might be coming into contact with the work of Harbor Industries. The family business, founded in 1946, designs, manufactures and distributes point-of-purchase displays and store fixtures for retail environments. “Most of them tend to have advertising incorporated into them, so they’re more than just utility shelving,” says Tim Parker, president and third generation owner, adding that Harbor treats its 320 employees like family -“ offering premium-free benefits. Like many of the companies profiled here, Harbor Industries expanded -“ albeit a bit unusual. In 2000, the company enlarged its Charlevoix manufacturing facility, which consisted of an original building plus 20-some additions put on over the years. “What we ended up doing was a little unique,” explains Parker. “We built a new facility on top of the old building and continued production at the same time in the old building.” Adding another 90,000 square feet in 2001, the company has now turned its attention to being green -“ putting in systems to conserve water and electricity.

Looking for the best word to describe i3Logic’s mission? How about change. Indeed, the company, headed by managing partner and president Rom LaPointe (he and a partner purchased a predecessor company in April 2004), has adopted a “Be the Change” theme as it specializes in helping clients adapt to an ever-changing business environment. “Our main focus has changed over the years,” notes LaPointe. “Today we’re focused on training and technology for business change management, helping clients train for that change.” Since acquiring the company, LaPointe’s team has doubled its revenue every year, last year booking more than $5 million in fees. In 2007, i3Logic merged with BE Consulting, its primary training development supplier. LaPointe says i3Logic’s custom web-based product support tools help deliver what employees really need. But he’s also clear about who gets most of the credit for the company’s success. “i3Logic has built a tremendous reputation, but our success could not have happened without the talents and personalities of our people aligning with the culture and values they embody each day.”

ImageSoft, Inc.

ImageSoft owners: James Leneschmidt, Scott Bade and Steve Glisky.

“Our whole business is about efficiency,” says ImageSoft President Scott Bade. The company, founded in 1996, provides content management systems that streamline the flow of business information -“ something that’s critical in today’s knowledge-based economy. So whether it’s unstructured data like documents, pieces of paper, e-mails or information not in a database, ImageSoft can scan it and in doing so, simplify business, increase productivity and control costs. Customers include insurance, health care, government, manufacturing and education -“ all industries with volumes of information to manage. Insurance companies “see dramatic cost savings almost immediately,” notes Bade, adding that cost savings translate into a competitive edge. Working with several county governments in Michigan, ImageSoft has developed enterprise solutions for Ottawa, Washtenaw and St. Clair counties, as well as cities like Novi and Northville. “In addition to government entities, we have helped other Michigan companies save millions of dollars and create new jobs for Michigan residents due to the efficiency of our systems,” concludes Bade.

Industrial Control Repair
Paul Gutierrez began Industrial Control Repair with a relatively tight focus-”control systems for welding equipment-”but has broadened the business as the economy changed. Launched in 1992 with a partner, the venture quickly diversified beyond its automotive roots, although Gutierrez acknowledges the company remains deeply connected to the industry, which is responsible for as much as 90 percent of its revenue. ICR performs mission-critical industrial electronic and mechanical repair services for some of the largest companies in the world, among them Toyota, Ford, Nissan, BMW, Chrysler, FedEx and General Motors. Programmable logic control customers include Allen Bradley, GE Fanuc, Mitsubishi and others. But growth is key. “We knew we had to grow or be pushed out of automotive,” he says. Even as he boasts that business has grown every single year (he anticipates 7 percent growth in 2008), Gutierrez says doing business in Michigan is not without its challenges, even to someone who has grown up in the state. “It’s tough,” he says. “Business owners are seen as being the bad guys.”

Information Systems Resources

Luther Elliot

Company founder Luther Elliott knows enough about the changing world of technology that reinventing his own business, launched in 1989, is about adapting for success. “In the mid-90s, computers became more of a commodity business, which meant we had to change our model to one where service was the basis for what we do,” says Elliott. “It meant a complete change in our service, one where we add value to our customers.” Today, Information Systems Resources has three distinct lines: hardware, software sales and professional services, and life cycle services (where the company will gather obsolete computers, perform a clean delete of the stored information and either resell or recycle the hardware). Elliott says company services are in great demand, notably in hospitals, insurance companies and other organizations that are bound by government regulations regarding IT services. “We do quite a bit of work in the defense area,” he adds. ISR has recently consolidated three warehouses into a state-of-the art facility in Dearborn, where it will move this summer.

ITC Holdings

Construction of a new ITC facility in Michigan which was slated to open in Spring 2008.

The story of ITCTransmission (a subsidiary of ITC Holdings) is one that has Joseph Welch as a central character. A former executive at Detroit Edison, Welch held positions of increasing responsibility in the specialized area of electricity transmission-”bringing those much-needed electrons from the source of generation to our homes and businesses. When changes in the regulatory landscape prompted DTE to divest itself of the transmission assets, who better to do so than the guy who was already responsible? The result: ITC, now publicly held and turning a profit. The organization is also expanding, beyond its Detroit-area roots to western Michigan (Michigan Electric Transmission Company), Kansas (ITC Great Plains) and even helping other regions expand their own opportunities (through ITC Grid Development). Welch says business continues to look up. “2008 is expected to be another strong year for ITC as we continue on our mission of investing in the electric transmission grid to improve electric power quality and reliability, enable the entrance of renewable resources and provide customers with equal access to wholesale power markets.”

J.S. Vig Construction

J.S. Vig Construction staff.

Some 40 years after her father Joseph Vig Sr. formed the company, Valerie Vig and her brother Joe Jr. are at the helm, adhering to a solid set of core values, among them integrity, quality and safety. “For him, integrity was the most important thing,” says Vig’s COO daughter of her father, who passed away about 10 years ago. “As we grew in the industry, we carried those core values with us. Every job we build, we start with those core values. We do what we have to do.” Vig says taking care of customers means doing what’s necessary to ensure they’re satisfied, even if it costs money to do so. “We’ll do whatever it takes to make them happy,” she says. Vig says success also means reaching out to those with whom the company works. “It’s very important to us that we treat our subcontractors with respect. We have a core group that enjoys working with us.” In a struggling economy, those values become even more important. “We don’t have any unsatisfied customers that we know of.”

Lean Logistics
Offering supply chain management “software as a service,” Lean Logistics has Meijer among its key clients (others include heavyweights like Procter & Gamble, Pizza Hut, Chiquita brands and Burlington Coat Factory), its technology helping to manage the entire delivery lifecycle. As CEO and founder Dan Dersham explains, Lean Logistics’ online offerings (there is no installation required) interface with existing systems software to manage workflow. “What we did was unique,” says Dersham, who founded the company in 1999. “We brought disparate processes into a single, common platform that has a network effect in that when we sign up a large manufacturer, they’re already connected to other customers.” The key enabler, he adds, is being online. “We can solve problems based on volumes that no one else can.” With some $4 billion in annual freight costs currently being managed by the Lean Logistics systems, Dersham says customers benefit from better pricing and performance. Sounds like it’s working: Lean Logistics is growing at a compounded rate of 40 to 50 percent a year.

Llamasoft, Inc.
Ann Arbor,
Moving stuff from one place to another as part of a business operation is rarely easy. Or straightforward. At Llamasoft, an Ann Arbor-based purveyor of supply chain planning, success comes at least in part by looking ahead-”in other words, thinking strategically. CEO Don Hicks, a Michigan native who launched the company after earning an MBA from University of Michigan, says Llamasoft is committed to solving the problems of getting things where they need to be (the essence of the supply chain challenge) by taking a different approach. “Business so far has focused on the software and modeling approaches to strategic planning. The problem is, once you have the tools, the hold up is usually how the customer thinks. We help people think better.” That includes understanding the complexity of a company’s supply chain infrastructure. So what’s with the name? Hicks says in coming up with the company’s name, he combined the idea of the “wise mentor of eastern cultures” (lama) with the functionality of the indigenous pack animal llama that’s essential for the proper functioning of trade.

McGraw Wentworth

McGraw Wentworth staff.

When it comes to keeping good employees, savvy employers know it’s more than just a good salary -“ it’s benefits. That’s where McGraw Wentworth comes in. “Our core service is to provide advisory services to human resources professionals to help them establish manage, administer and control the cost of employee benefit programs,” says Thomas McGraw, president and co-founder. That includes life and health insurance, along with flexible benefit, dental and disability benefit plans. Clearly, this Michigan company is doing something right. Starting with just three employees (including the founders) and no clients in 1997, the firm has grown to 61 employees and 143 clients. Education has been an important factor in helping McGraw’s market of mid-size companies. The company has published a number of communications over the last 11 years, informing approximately 2,000 Michigan organizations. The firm has also invested almost $400,000 annually in free seminars. Topics often provide “new ways of looking at old topics like health care cost containment,” says McGraw. And helping Michigan companies proactively manage their benefit costs makes Michigan a better place to live and work.

Media 1, Inc.
Grand Haven,

Chris Willis

The saying “knowledge is power” might be the mantra for Media 1 CEO Chris Willis, whose company creates custom learning programs for large global corporations. Starting out 15 years ago as a two-person technical writing team in a home office on a west Michigan blueberry farm, the company has come a long way. The 22-person firm provides consulting for performance support and creates online learning, classroom based learning and Web-based training. Topics range from sales and marketing, software support, procedure rollout, technical training and soft skills training. And while those seem rather typical in scope, it’s the Grand Haven firm’s approach that makes them stand out. “Everything we do is directed to helping our customers make more money and grow their own business. I tell customers, ‘let’s not worry about dollars per hour, but let’s figure out how to spend dollars to make more dollars, help your people work smarter, or make more sales to make more money,'” says Willis, a Grand Haven Chamber board member who serves on its economic development committee.

Media Genesis, Inc.

Media Genesis principals Brad Frederick and Antoine Dubeauclard.

Taking advantage of the Internet and all its potential has been the formula for success for Media Genesis, founded in 1996. “Basically we blend consulting, creative and technical skill sets to create two things: corporate Web sites including intranet, extranet, e-commerce, Internet and second, online learning,” says CEO Brad Frederick. Steady growth has led the 60-employee firm to begin a $3.7 million economic expansion plan to create 155 new jobs and purchase a larger facility, funded in part by a seven-year, $1.3 million MEGA tax credit. “One of our goals is to bring in young people to Michigan,” says Frederick “We bring them from Chicago, New York and give them a three-day trial with us and get them interested in the work. We’ve been successful doing that.” As far as his firm’s role in boosting the economy, Frederick is pragmatic. “Many companies today are going to live or die based on their ability to compete online. Having an effective online presence is critical for our clients to survive and thrive.”

Menlo Innovations
Ann Arbor,
Menlo Innovations boasts a software development process that’s not tied to any particular industry, something CEO Richard Sheridan says is producing results, and not just for Menlo. “The U.S. wastes over $55 billion a year on failed and poorly run software projects,” says Sheridan, whose team came up with a better way. “We apply ‘high-tech anthropology’ to help our clients fully understand their business problems and opportunities. If the solution requires software, we either develop it or train their staff to use proven methodologies to develop the software themselves.” Menlo has developed an approach to working with startup companies, slicing its rates in half in return for a “risk-based deferral of revenue.” Sheridan says sharing the risk (and the reward) helps entrepreneurs who have great ideas, but cash limitations. “Large companies just want to pay us,” he says. “But there are others where this is a big plus.” And Menlo’s 55-plus employees gain something as well. “The team gets excited about it,” says Sheridan. “And once they flex that entrepreneurial muscle, they don’t know how to turn it off.”

MGM Grand Detroit

MGM Grand Detroit Casino and Hotel.

Lorenzo Creighton has only been in Detroit a few months, but he’s convinced that the MGM Grand Detroit “can be competitive with any casino on the strip in Vegas.” That’s saying a lot since Creighton, the MGM Grand Detroit’s new president and CEO, most recently managed MGM’s New York/New York Hotel and Casino. Detroit’s first-ever Las Vegas-style destination opened to rave reviews last October. “I took a group into some of the hotel suites and they were shocked. They couldn’t believe they were in downtown Detroit,” recalls Creighton with pride. He’s equally proud of the economic effect his employer, MGM Mirage, has had on Detroit. Between the new casino and the previous temporary casino, it’s added up to a $1 billion investment in the redevelopment of downtown. And with just over 3,000 employees (more than half are Detroiters), the casino and hotel is one of the top employers in the area. “From the beginning when casinos were first conceived in Detroit, MGM Mirage made a commitment and kept it,” says Creighton.

Madison Heights,

Dilip Dubey, Netlink CEO.

It’s not too often a vendor will write your business a check at the beginning of an engagement, but that’s exactly what Netlink does. The IT and business process solutions provider is that confident in its Delta Platform technology and processes. “We will go in and look at what is the current IT spending and we guarantee a minimum of 20 percent savings,” explains CEO Dilip Dubey from the company’s new Madison Heights headquarters, which opened in Dec. 2007. “We actually write them a check for that savings. A lot of people can talk about savings, but in today’s economy our customers and partners are looking for immediate business results.” Dubey’s confidence seems to have solid footing, namely his research at U-M that developed the proprietary technology and processes. Apparently, it’s working, since Netlink claims Starbucks, GM, Takata and DTE Energy among its customers. It’s also got the confidence of the state government; the MEDC gave Netlink a $3.7 million tax credit over seven years in order to ensure that the company continues to grow in Michigan.

PTI Engineered Plastics
Clinton Township,

Artist’s rendering of PTI Engineered Plastics headquarters.

Low volume production might not seem like a formula for success in the manufacturing business, but it’s working for PTI Engineered Plastics. “We specialize in design through final production. We think our strong point is taking customer ideas and improving the designs, making them more manufacturable and bringing them to market more efficiently, effectively, and on or under budget. We are a low volume, high value manufacturer,” explains CEO and Founder Mark Rathbone. With a wide range of industry expertise, including automotive, medical devices, consumer products and electronics, PTI is busy launching a new image of itself as a dynamic company, says Rathbone. “If you develop your business strategies on the cheapest price in town, there will always be other countries who can beat that. Our whole look is not to grow our business through quantity, but by quality.” Judging by the company’s current construction of a new, expanded headquarters and state-of-the-art product development and manufacturing center in Shelby Township, slated to open this summer, it looks like PTI will continue thriving on its low volume, high quality model.

Rapid Global Business Solutions, Inc.
Madison Heights,
When you’re global in scope and reach, does it really matter where you’re physically located? For Rapid Global Business Solutions and Nanua Singh, a Ph.D. engineer/academician who flexed his entrepreneurial muscle to found the company in 1997, it may be more about staying close to both his academic homes: the University of Windsor, where he was head of the department of industrial engineering (having previously served as a professor at IIT in Delhi, India), and Wayne State University (where he was a tenured professor of manufacturing engineering). RGBSI provides a wide range of engineering services, staffing services, and offshore technical services from Bangalore, India. The company serves a variety of industries, including aerospace and automotive but also locomotive, off-highway and manufacturing. The company boasts the AS9001 aerospace certification as well as ISO-9001 and is a Certified Minority Business Enterprise in Michigan, all signs that the firm is getting ready for even greater success in the years ahead. “We’re poised for growth,” says Madhav Komaragiri, director of business development, who points to global growth in Germany, Canada, China and India.

Ryder System, Inc.

Ryder’s new Novi facility.

Even while its corporate headquarters are in Miami, Fla., Ryder remains deeply entrenched in Michigan, with more employees-”some 3,000-”in the state than anywhere else. It’s a fact that Tom Jones, vice president of Ryder’s supply chain business, says is due to the increasingly important logistics management business inherent in the automotive industry. “For automotive companies, supply chain has always been a key component of their success,” says Jones, who is based at Ryder’s new Novi facility (one that allowed the company to consolidate some eight previous locations, the result being a single, more efficient building). “We’ve embedded a lot of technology into the building, but we’ve also incorporated significant energy savings as well.” Ryder customers rely on the company to “design the best network,” which may or may not mean Ryder’s name on the side of the truck. “We’re blind to that,” says Jones. “What we do is more intellectual, configuring the optimal movement of material, utilizing the capacity of the trucks for the freight, meeting the needs of production time and inventory.”

Soil and Materials Engineers

Mark Kramer

Mark Kramer points to the people at Soil and Materials Engineers as being the primary reason business remains solid for the civil engineering firm founded by his father some 40 years ago. Today, about 60 shareholders hold a minority position in the firm. “We have a lot of highly trained, highly schooled people with a lot of practical experience,” says Kramer. “We’re well known in the Michigan area for bringing that knowledge and expertise into development and construction projects, helping teams with difficult challenges.” In doing so, the firm has created an enviable marketplace position, typically charging higher fees than the competition. “We’re hired because our clients know we can provide solutions that justify those fees,” says Kramer. “And that goes back to the people, to their abilities and experience.” He does admit that in the current economic climate, there are challenges. “But we find ways to do more work and do it well.” Besides its Plymouth headquarters, SME has seven offices in Michigan and Ohio. And it makes money. “We’ve been profitable as far back as I can remember,” says Kramer.

The Rehmann Group, LLC

Phil Bahr

“Despite the economy in Michigan, we feel there is potential here if you are providing the right services and expertise,” says Phil Bahr, managing principal of The Rehmann Group’s Troy office. “We have clients who are having some of their best years.” Work at the second largest Michigan-based CPA, consulting and financial services firm, has definitely been on the upswing for its 12 Michigan offices and 550 staff. In 2003, revenue came in a $34 million, jumping to $64 million in 2007. Forty percent of the firm’s growth came from expanding services and gaining new clients, the balance from mergers. That intended growth has brought in considerable expertise, especially in helping Michigan companies compete globally. Debbie Fallucca, a firm principal who says R & D tax credits help the process, cites a client company that used the tax credits to develop medical-grade plastic containers.

Rochester Hills,

Nino DiCosmo

Just days before interviewing Nino DiCosmo for this profile, the familiar company name of Autoweb had given way to a new name -“Trubiquity — denoting its global presence through various acquisitions. This Michigan company has become a powerhouse in the business process automation and global data exchange software for the automotive, aerospace and consumer goods industries. Founded in 1995, it’s a major supplier of electronic data interchange software, moving 1.3 to 1.4 terabytes of data around the world between companies and their suppliers each month. Just in case you aren’t sure how much information that is -“it’s just over 1 trillion bytes. “First and foremost, we’re helping Michigan companies. The biggest issue that they face now is globalization. We are helping them automate their processes and become more efficient in their operations,” says DiCosmo, president and CEO. “We are also offering our Michigan-based employees opportunities to expand their skills and experiences through global opportunities.” Since Trubiquity has more than 5,200 customers in 40 countries, and 80-plus global sales partners, it seems the opportunities will only keep coming.

Rochester Hills,
A second-generation company founded by Lori Baker’s father in 1976, the firm has morphed from technical writing for the automotive industry (after all, someone has to write those ubiquitous service manuals) to a full range of training, staffing and outsourcing services. The company, owned by Baker and her mother (her father passed away suddenly in 1992), has offices in seven other countries: Japan, China, Thailand, Mexico, Venezuela, Chile and Brazil. “We’ve been growing at a tremendous pace,” says Baker, citing a year-over-year 20 percent boost in revenue. And she’s just getting started. “We’re seeing things starting to blossom right now. With the staff we have here at our home office and the feeder system for business development, we’ve got the experience, the expertise and knowledge to do even better in the short term.” The growth is across the board, including in TTI’s evolving international markets, especially China. “We’re designing service support and training programs, customizing solutions for the market there, all with local teams in place,” notes Baker.