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Cornerstone Alliance says businesses made $28 million in new investments in 2014

During 2014 businesses in the far southwest corner of Michigan invested $28 million in the region, reports Cornerstone Alliance.

The Cornerstone Alliance team says it met with more than 100 current businesses in 2014 to identify opportunities for growth. As a result, nine local businesses made a commitment to invest $28.4 million in the region, affecting 308 jobs.

Of those 308 jobs, 162 are new and the commitment to invest in the region helps retain 146 jobs.

Cornerstone Alliance’s work to attract new business investment to the community included one-on-one visits with site selectors, location advisors, business decision-makers and influencers. The meetings took place around the country and in Benton Harbor, St. Joseph and other communities in the region. 

The team visited Atlanta, Orlando, Chicago, New York City and Dallas to meet with those who might be interested in locating in Southwest Michigan.  

Further, Cornerstone Alliance’s Small Business Services and Women’s Business Center team announced the launch of 20 new start-up businesses in 2014 throughout Berrien, Cass, and Van Buren counties. That represents Investments of $646,000 in 2014 and 47 jobs in the tri-county area.

The economic development organization also made it easier for those making decision on where to locate their business to find out about Berrien, Cass, and Van Buren counties by launching a new website. It features a searchable database of commercial and industrial properties for sale or lease in Berrien County, and a wealth of information supporting business investment in the region.

Cornerstone Alliance President Vicki Pratt says, "We thought we could get 10 businesses launched in 2014. We thought that was a fairly lofty goal, but guess what? We launched 20."

As they were expecting to have $500,000 in investment in the area, the first year of their three-year strategic plan was a success, Pratt says.

Source: Cornerstone Alliance

Whirlpool opens Benton Harbor Technology Center

What once was a warehouse is now a state-of-the-art technology center in Benton Harbor. The center opened Dec. 19 and is part of Whirlpool's  $155 million investment in the area that will be realized when a series of projects is completed in 2016.

At the same time it opened the Benton Harbor Technology Center, Whirlpool announced it will break ground on phase three of its Riverview campus in 2015. This phase includes a third, three-story building alongside two current buildings. The company also announced it will move forward with a third phase of renovations at its Global Headquarters facility.

Completion of those projects will represent the $155 million investment in the community. Plans for the new Riverview campus project as well as major renovations in the company's global headquarters building were announced four years ago.

With the opening of the Benton Harbor Technology Center, the area is now home to more than 1,200 engineers and technicians. The center serves as the global technology hub for all of Whirlpool's major categories including cooking, cleaning, laundry, and refrigeration.

The facility is Whirlpool Corporation's largest refrigeration technology center and focuses on next generation processes and technologies.

"This is not just a new facility," says Jeff M. Fettig, chairman and CEO of Whirlpool Corp. "It is a testament to our values as a company, our commitment to investing where it counts--right here at home."

Source: Whirlpool Corp.

TEDx introduces salons, it's time for Startup Weekend 5, and makers at Catalyst

Now that Beer Week is over, Kalamazoo recalibrates and sets its sights on what's new in the world of startups. Starting today, Jan. 22, and wrapping up Feb. 1 entrepreneurs will be the focus.

TEDx Kalamazoo invites the public to hear three speakers talk about their experiences as entrepreneurs as the group introduces a new salon format leading up to its main event in June. Upcoming salons will be on entertainment and food and beer. 

Today, Daniel Jefferies of Happy Graph, Joe Armstrong of Sportech Labs, and Kori Jock of La Vie en Orange will share their stories and lessons learned.

TEDx organizers say they hope listening to these three speakers will encourage our community to create ideas worth starting up.

The first salon will be at 6 p.m. Jan. 22 at Western Michigan University's Starting Gate, 161 E. Michigan Ave., Suite 400B, Kalamazoo.

Next up is Catalyst University, Jan. 29, to be at Wings Stadium for the first time. The daylong session put together by Southwest Michigan First offers a day packed with leadership lessons and inspiration. 

Another first this year is a contest between five companies in what Southwest Michigan First is calling the Makers Mart. Mamaleelu Cold BrewDamn Handsome Grooming Co.Lush Gourmet FoodsPop City Popcorn, and Handmade Kalamazoo have been asking their friends, and family, fans to vote for them since Oct. 27 in hopes of walking away with the $10,000 prize announced at Catalyst U. You can see their videos explaining what they make and vote for your favorite here

Finally, the month comes to a close with Kalamazoo's fifth Startup Weekend. Beginning at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 30 and continuing for the next 54 hours at the MLive Hub, 306 S. Kalamazoo Mall the startup-minded participants will pitch an idea, form a team, and launch a product.
“It’s pretty incredible to think this is the 5th Startup Weekend in Kalamazoo, and the event has now spread to over 400 cities in more than 100 different countries," says organizer Ryan Goins. "It is by far the best place to take a business from idea to reality, and over the last 4 years has become a pillar of the Kalamazoo startup community.” 

Source: TEDx Kalamazoo, Catalyst U, Startup Weekend Kalamazoo

Online grocery service Door to Door Organics expands to Kalamazoo

When Door to Door Organics obtained $25.5 million from investors in its second round of financing the company was poised to expand.

Expansion in Michigan is part of the growth plan for the company founded in Pennsylvania in 1997 by David Gersenson. Door to Door Organics has been delivering organic produce from local farms in Michigan since 2009.

The company delivers fresh, organic, natural and local food directly to homes, offices, and schools throughout the West, Midwest and East Coast. Through five regional delivery facilities, it currently delivers organic groceries to 30 markets in 11 states. It has weekly and bi-weekly delivery options.

Since its re-incorporation in Colorado in 2005, Door to Door Organics has made more than 2 million deliveries and expects to have acquired more than 50,000 new customers by the end of 2015.

Kalamazoo is one of a number of local markets into which the company is expanding in the coming year. Door to Door Organics reports the online grocery industry is projected to grow from approximately $23 billion in 2014--3.5 percent of total online and offline grocery spending--to nearly $100 billion by 2019, representing 12 percent of total grocery spending.

Door to Door says its customers tell the company that supporting local farmers and artisan food producers is a key reason for choosing the online grocery shopping service. During the growing season, Kalamazoo customers will be able to choose up to 70 percent locally grown produce in their regular deliveries.

The company also will deliver handcrafted local foods, such as Ope's -- Food the World Can Live With, made in Kalamazoo. Lauren Oppenlander, owner of Ope's says, "As a local artisan food company and long-time partner of Door to Door Organics, we are excited to see them expand their service."

The Michigan team has shown great support for local food producers, and community organizations, Oppenlander says.

"Our goal is to increase access to local, natural and organic foods for busy consumers who often do not have the time to travel to several stores for the high-quality food they desire," says Chad Arnold, CEO of Door to Door Organics.

Source: Door to Door Organics

Tutu Run participants to take off Feb. 1 to raise scholarship funds

There will be women, men, children and for the first time dogs--all running in tutus in Spring Valley Park, 2600 Mt. Olivet Road, when the 2.2 mile Tutu Run takes off at 2 p.m. Feb. 1.

The run participants will be helping to raise scholarship funds for the Greater Kalamazoo Girls on the Run, earmarked for those who could otherwise not afford to be part of the program that teaches girls not only to move, but also is a positive youth development program for girls in third through eighth grade.

Last year, more than $175,000 was awarded in scholarships by Girls on the Run and 66 percent of the nearly 1,900 girls served by Girls on the Run requested either full or partial financial support.

Tutus are optional (but highly encouraged) and may be purchased with online registration or on the day of the event, in limited quantity. Many participants make their own tutus at home. For steo-by-step instructions search for “how to make a no sew tutu.”

Before the run gets underway there will be a tutu contest with judges considering nine categories, including best dog in a tutu for the first time. Other categories are: best overall tutu, biggest tutu, best male tutu, best female tutu, best kids tutu, best couple tutus, best group tutus, and fastest tutu. The two grand prizes, from Bissell, are worth more than $500 each. Other prizes will be awarded from Bella Patina and many other local businesses. The Tutu run is sponsored by Honor Credit Union.

“Tutu Run is what we call ‘The Happiest 2.2 Miles of the Year’! It was created three years ago to bring the people of our community together in a fun, festive way after the New Year and before partaking in any Superbowl Sunday parties!" says Melisa Ellis Beeson, Director of Greater Kalamazoo Girls on the Run. "It’s all about being active and having fun– exactly the things we encourage throughout our Girls on the Run program."

Registration is $25  with Tutu Run T-shirt or $15 without T-shirt). To register and for more information click here.

The 2015 Girls on the Run program begins the week of March 2  and will run through May 21 when the program culminates with the annual Girls on the Run 5k at Western Michigan’s Waldo Stadium. Nearly 5,000 total runners and walkers participated in the 2014 Girls on the Run 5k event.

For two area farms, merger means more hops to more clients

Fans of Southwest Michigan craft beer, independent agriculture and local business are happy to hear Hop Head Farms of Hickory Corners, one of the area's most prominent hop growers, announced a merger with Ceres Hops and Grain.

The collaboration adds 140 fertile acres in Berrien County, bringing Hop Head Farms current production size to 230 acres in Hickory Corners, Berrien County, and a series of contract farms spread across the state.

Formed in 2012 by Bonnie and Jeff Steinman, Hop Head farms has grown into a steady supplier of hops to breweries in 17 states and four counties.

“We're continually taking on new clients, but the merger gives us the confidence that we can supply more hops to more clients,” Bonnie Steinman says. "We want to supply more production beers to more breweries; our hops are primarily in specialty beers.

"First the concern (from breweries) was, can you give us that quality that we expect, then its volume, then consistent volume,"  Steinman continues. "Now we can put all of those together...We'll be able to do the volume and have the consistent quality.”

Hop Head Farms currently cultivates nine varieties of hops on premises and has several other types being contracted out to other farms. The addition of Ceres will allow the company to look at what hop varietals are trending, which styles breweries are asking for, and plant accordingly.

“Right now we're choosing varieties to plant in Berrien County and formulating a plan for spring and fall planting,” Steinman says. “At this point, in Hickory Corners, we've filled up that land as much as we can. It's exciting to have so much more going in.”

Ceres Farms, a subset of Ceres Partners formed in 2007 by Perry Veith, encompasses over 51,000 acres of land spread across Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Georgia, and Ohio.

Veith, an initial investor in Hop Head Farms, approached the Steinmans with the idea of a merger.

“He was one of the investors of Hop Head farms and became interested in growing hops. He thought this was a good business to get into," says Steinman. "He's an agricultural guy and loves craft beer. Ceres put in some vines in Berrien County on one of their pieces of land, and they became one of our network growers.”

Until the merger, signing up network growers was the sole avenue by which Hop Head Farms had grown in acreage over the past three years. Network growing, which is akin to working on a freelance contract, can at times, however, be a tenuous affair. Veith proposed the merger to gain a more permanent connection to Hop Head and it's knowledge and resource base.

“He decided he didn't want to be just a network grower and wanted to join his team's resources and land to what Hop Head Farms was already doing and he made the offer to merge,” Steinman says.

The merger will, in time facilitate an expansion not just of acreage, but also of employees: an increase in hop production will require more processing facilities and equipment. But for now, Hop Head Farms will roll with its current set up, playing all future growth by ear.

“The current people that are managing the properties will continue to do that. In the future we'll need more processing facilities to cover all the acreage. We would end up with some more employees, but that's in the future, right now we're still scaled to handle what we have at this time,” Steinman says.

Once both ends of the partnership settle into the merger, plans for more land purchases will begin to take shape, though all additions to acreage will be made strictly by Hop Head Farms, as Steinman says the idea of further mergers is not even on the table.

“There are plans for more land purchases," Steinman says. "We want to continue increasing the network growers as well. In different regions of Michigan I think we can grow different variants of hops better, just depending on the soil type and micro climates."

They'll be following the model that has worked for them. "Our model has always been to have our own acreage but to bring in contracted growers,” Steinman says."We buy their hops from them to process, and to market and sell."

More information on Hop Head Farms can be found here.

Information on Ceres Farms and partners can be found here. 

Writer: Jeremy Martin, Second Wave Media
Bonnie Steinman, Hop Head Farms

Multi-million dollar renovation is underway at McCamly Plaza Hotel

When the professional bull riders and the state wrestling champions come to Battle Creek they stay at McCamly Plaza Hotel. Being attached to the Kellogg Arena makes it easy for such groups to have access to the arena and the full service hotel.

Soon they also will be able to enjoy the results of the renovations currently taking place at the hotel. Work McCamly Plaza Hotel General Manager Bob Holsten says will total "several million dollars" is expected to be completed in the first quarter of 2015.

Currently underway are renovations to first floor corridors, areas where people gather before meetings, meeting areas, and the ballroom. New ceilings, lights, wall treatments, and flooring along with audio visual and sound equipment are part of the project.

The latest round of updates comes just few years after $6.5 million went into renovations to the 239 guest rooms and suites. "Hotels go through various stages of renovations at various times," says Holsten. "Rooms may be done at one time, while public areas and meetings spaces are done at another."

“Once finished, downtown Battle Creek will have a completely new hotel and conference center,” says Downtown Development Director Rob Peterson. “Few downtowns in our market have accommodations that can rival what McCamly will offer.”
During the 2013-14 fiscal year,  Kellogg Arena hosted 48 events bringing in over 77,500 visitors and generating $11.4 million in economic impact, reports the Calhoun County Visitors Bureau. In the next year the hotel will host visitors in town for the Professional Bull Riding Event, the MHSAA Wrestling state championships, MYWAY State Championship State Wrestling Championships, MVENA State Pool Tournament, School Nutrition Association of Michigan, the Order of the Eastern Star, and DECA, among others.

“Our location is ideally located to accommodate business and leisure travelers,” Holsten says. With its partnership with Calhoun County Visitors Bureau and Kellogg Arena, the facility is positioned as the premier location for conferences, social and sporting events, weddings and accommodations for the business traveler, he adds.

McCamly Plaza Hotel is owned and operated by Grand Heritage Hotel Group, which operates over a dozen independent hotels and resorts across North America and Mexico.,Since 1989, Grand Heritage has focused its efforts on hotel redevelopment.  

John Cullen, President of Grand Heritage says: “We are committed to downtown Battle Creek and excited to be a part of the continued investments.”  

Source: Bob Holsten, McCamly Plaza Hotel

At Just Move Fitness emphasis is on having fun while getting fit

As big name chain gyms spring up around them, the independent fitness center Just Move Fitness and More continues to gradually make a name for itself as a place where people find fitness is fun and that it can become a part of their everyday life.

Sara Burhans and Heather Christy are co-owners of the gym at 626 Romence Road in the Hillside Plaza across from D&W in Portage and have been building the business in the 3,000 square foot space--2,000 of which is dedicated to the main studio--since late 2012.

For those who are used to gyms where members work out on lots of heavy duty equipment -- this is not that gym. Burhans and Christy focus on group classes, where participants cheer one another on as they meet their fitness goals. It's a supportive environment where classmates get to know one another and help provide accountability and encouragement.

Their focus on teaching people the fun of movement has attracted people of all ages and fitness abilities. "Most people are in their mid-30s to 60s, and we have women in their 70s," Christy says.

There is no fee to join and classes can be paid for as students drop in, purchase a package of classes, or buy the unlimited option.

The newest class being taught at Just Move Fitness is  Shockwave, an intense rowing circuit class that has been called, "the most efficient total body workout in the world" and consists of rowing sprints and other full-body exercises in a circuit format.

The rowing machines come with a tub of water that provided resistance as the person exercising pulls. The class "rows" a certain distance and everyone in the class must continue to "row" until all of the rowers have completed their rowing distance. It leads to a lot of mild competition as rowers encourage one another to make the distance.

Shockwave classes began Jan. 10 and immediately began to fill up. "People have gotten addicted to it very quickly," Christy says. There also are cardio and strength classes, called Ripped. Dance fitness classes are some of the most popular. Just Move also offers aqua fitness classes through an agreement with Portage Central Middle School.

As the name of the fitness center suggests, there's more. Just Move Fitness hosts a lot of parties, they even have one suitable for bridal parties. They've had proms, yoga parties, and dance parties complete with disco ball.  

Running the gym has been challenging for the two women who had no background in starting their own business. "Our growth has been slow and steady," Christy says. "Everyone says it takes three to five years to become established and we have found that to be true."

What has been encouraging to them is that a number of their participants have found they liked it so well, and believed in their methods of having fun while getting fit, that they went on to become certified as fitness instructors and now teach at Just Move Fitness and More. They now have 10 to 12 instructors and 25 classes a week.

"We have something for everybody," Christy says.

Source: Heather Christy, Just Move Fitness and More

Nonprofit Leadership Alliance names WMU program best in the U.S.

The undergraduate program in nonprofit leadership at Western Michigan University--a program that allows students to actually award grants to meet community needs--is the one in the nation that exemplifies overall best practices.

The Nonprofit Leadership Alliance announced Jan. 7 that WMU's Nonprofit Leadership Program is this year's winner of the Sprint Program Excellence Award. The alliance is a national organization of more than 40 collaborating universities and nonprofit organizations.

Students studied community needs, set priorities, issued requests for proposals, and analyzed 23 proposals. They visited nonprofit sites and conducted a Nonprofit Celebration. The School of Public Affairs and Administration allocated $18,000 and the students raised an additional $2,000 to re-grant $20,000 to local nonprofits during the  2013-14 academic year.

For this year, the students have another $13,000 from the school and have raised an additional $2,000 so they can award $15,000 to community organizations in spring 2015.  

WMU's Nonprofit Leadership program is designed to prepare students for entry-level professional positions in nonprofit organizations. The minor requires 18 credit hours of course work in such areas as communication, marketing and public relations, cultural competency and diversity, financial resource development and management, leadership and advocacy, legal and ethical decision making, program development, and volunteer and human resource management.

In additional to traditional course work, this minor requires service to the university and the community.

Applications for the 2015 award were by invitation only and required creation of a video and PowerPoint as well as a live online presentation. Students in the WMU Nonprofit Leadership Student Association focused their application on recruitment, service learning, internships, the rigor of the WMU program, and involvement with the local community. Their video can be seen here.

WMU's undergraduate minor in nonprofit leadership can be taken with any major from any college. The University also offers a concentration in nonprofit leadership within the Master of Public Administration program.  

Source: Cheryl Roland, Western Michigan University

Kalamazoo Beer Week is back for fifth annual celebration of the craft

For most of us, early January is a time of reflection, and repose following the shopping, travel, logistics and overall chaos that is the holiday season.

There are, however, a few members of the greater Kalamazoo community who are now entering a time of manic activity that surpasses the whirlwind of November and December.

"We made it through Christmas and New Years, but Kalamazoo Beer Week is like way beyond that," says Brian Steele co-owner of Kalamazoo's Boatyard Brewing Company.

The eight-day festival of events, classes, beer tasting, games and general revelry, now in its 5th year, has become an annual tradition for fans of craft beer in Southwest Michigan, but it's also a time of anticipated--although welcomed--stress for brewery owners and employees.

"Having fun is the most difficult part of brewery ownership. We are exceptionally busy; I leave here; I'm dog tired; and want to go home. Any time off we have we want to spend with our families," Steele concedes.

But to support everyone who has helped make Beer Week, and the overall craft beer industry such a success, Steele, along with co-owner Dan Gilligan, will none the less make time to attend some of the more than 200 events taking place at area breweries, and bottle shops.

"It's so difficult for us to get out, but I'm going to make it a priority to at least to make one event at each of the Kalamazoo breweries," Steele says.

It's hard for Steele and company to mingle because Boatyard will be hosting 12 events, during the week, making the brewery, located at 432 E. Patterson St, one of the busiest sites of the week.

"Were really trying to spread the gospel of Boatyard Brewing to everyone in Kalamazoo," Steele says.

Steele knows that Kalamazoo brewers and beer drinkers are basically a family, so beyond just tasting events and parties, Boatyard will also be working hard to foster a community atmosphere by welcoming both the Kalamazoo Libation Organization of Brewers (KLOB) and Fermenta, an all female brewing club whose membership includes Boatyard brewer Amy Waugaman.

Fermenta, which began only a year ago is a nonprofit trade organisation for women in the craft beer, wine, and spirits industry. Its aim is to promote the work of women within the fermented beverage world, as well as allow members a fun and unique way to network and share their knowledge and experiences.

The 2015 Kalamazoo Beer week will be Fermenta's first opportunity to take part in what has become a highly anticipated event on the local and regional brewing calendar.

"I think Fermenta is really going to be a powerful organization within Michigan and I think the rise of women in the fermenting industry is going to take off. It's a grassroots organization. They’re just getting started, but Amy is a fantastic example of what women do in the fermenting arts," Steele says.

Fermenta and Boatyard will be co-hosting "We Can Brew It!" on Friday, Jan. 16. The night comes with a 1940's theme and will feature live music and dancing, and opportunities to meet some of the group's members or for potential members to get more information the group.

"It's great if someone decides they want to be a member of the group, but we've had events where people are just curious about a certain subject," says Pauline Knighton of Shorts Brewing Company and a founding member of Fermenta. "We always have men who come and are interested. For us, it's just important that we're providing educational and networking opportunities for women, people who either want to learn more, or are trying to get involved in the industry."

The educational aspect of "We Can Brew It" will feature a discussion on hop selection in Pale Ales as well as a brewing demonstration from Waugaman.

Fermenta, which boasts a membership split of both industry professionals and amateurs seeking to more knowledge is but one group of dedicated brewers who will be gathering at Boatyard, and showcasing their wares during Beer Week.  KLOB, a home brewers society, active since 1993, will be out in force as well, descending twice on the nearly one-year-old brewery.

The first event, on Jan. 12, will be the release party for an Oatmeal Stout brewed in collaboration with the home brewers and Boatyard. The second event, taking place on the final day of beer week will be a glorified, public welcome, version of KLOB's monthly meetings.

"Dan and I both have our roots in home brewing so we thought it would be cool to support these guys and work with them on a beer as a collaborative effort," Steele says.

The collaboration gave Boatyard an opportunity to gauge what was trending the world of homebrew and gave KLOB members a chance to work with commercial equipment.

"Our system has been so streamlined that I told them this was going to be a whole lot more boring than home brewing," Steele says

Though Steele jokes that the vast majority of time spent brewing is actually spent waiting and watching the equipment, the end product, delicious locally produced craft beer, is anything but boring as is being proved by this weeklong celebration that continues to grow each year.

Besides favorites such as the third annual Bell's Snow Jog, a three-hour long race and adventure challenge through downtown Kalamazoo, and the KBW pub crawl, new happenings this year include a brewery trolley, provided by Dan's Ultra Party Bus, and a trend we can all get behind--pairing beer and dessert.

Some of the combinations of carbonation and confections include: Tapestry Brewing cookie and beer pairing and Short's Ice cream and beer pairing. Of course, there will be plenty of classic beer and food pairings as well, many of which will feature complete meals.

And for those seeking a less than four-star culinary experience, Shakespeare’s Pub will be hosting the second annual Dark Horse anti-beer dinner on Jan. 14. The night will feature "Hot Pockets, Ramen Noodles, Pop Tarts, and more."

As is the case every year, Kalamazoo Beer Week is a chance to enjoy all that the greater Kalamazoo brewing community has to offer, try something new, learn a thing or two about the brewing industry and to (safely) have as much fun as you can handle.

For more information on Kalamazoo Beer week and for a complete list of events please visit here

Jeremy Martin is the craft brew writer for Southwest Michigan's Second Wave.

Lane Automotive expansion to create 138 new jobs

With  $1.9 million in Community Development Block Grant funds to Watervliet Township in Berrien County Lane Automotive Inc. will be able to undertake an expansion project that is expected to generate 138 new jobs.

The funds in part will go toward on-the-job training for new employees. And Lane Automotive will offer at least 70 of the new jobs to those of low or moderate income.

The company got its start in 1964 when George Lane, who had been building drag race cars out of the garage of his home in Coloma, decided to start a part-time business supplying speed equipment to local racers.

As his positive reputation grew he moved the business into a store front of its own and the business continued to grow. This original building would undergo several additions during the next decade as Lane Automotive's retail trade grew and the wholesale side of the business began to develop.

Over the next 12 years the company continued to grow and in 1987 ground was broken on a new 53,000 square foot building. The company's next move-- in 1998-- was to Watervliet into a building three times the size of the one it had just moved out of. Details of the company's growth can be found here.

Today, Motor State Distributing, now the largest division of Lane Automotive, is one of the leading speed equipment warehouse distributors in the world and the company has found it was ready to expand again.

The site for the business in Michigan was chosen over competing sites in Tennessee and Indiana.

Source: Lane Automotive Inc. 

Whirlpool buys Lake Michigan College M-Tech building

Lake Michigan College will be able to expand current and offer new academic programs in engineering technology, mechatronics, robotics, prototype and design technology, and energy production with a boost from the sale of the college's M-TEC building, located at 400 Klock Road in Benton Harbor.

Details of the sale were not disclosed, but the purchase by Whirlpool will help the school move toward its goal of having a new technology center on the Napier Avenue Campus in Benton Harbor.

The 44,000 square foot M-TEC building, built in 2000, sits on 9.783 acres of land. "The facility has served its purpose well over the past 14 years," says Lake Michigan College President, Dr. Robert Harrison, "but the increase in operational efficiencies, the expansion of program and service offerings, and a better learning environment for students, made a strong case for the move."

Consolidating M-TEC programs onto the college’s main campus will improve students' access to services like financial aid and academic advising. Technical classes will also be located nearer to general education classes like math, business, and English.

When the new center is completed it features will include a FABLab and a simulation lab. The College has received a federal trade grant to purchase state-of-the-art equipment.

The new tech center will be built and its programs are being enhanced in response to an increased demand for skilled workers in the region. In January 2014, the college conducted a survey of dozens of representatives from area businesses.

They identified the training, facilities, and programs that would meet their needs, and together they pledged to bring 260 new, high-skilled jobs to the area within three years of the center opening. Businesses surveyed included Vickers Engineering, Edgewater Automation, Whirlpool Corporation, Dane Systems, Hanson Mold, Eagle Technologies and the Cook Nuclear Plant.

"Manufacturing is strong in southwest Michigan," says Harrison. "We must constantly evolve in order to prepare students with the high-tech skills they need to help our industries thrive."

Source: Lake Michigan College

Alamo Drafthouse to host latest Star Trek New Voyages episode

Portage public relations expert and sometime screenwriter Rick Chambers is about to see his third screenplay in the continuing voyages of the U.S.S. Enterprise on the big screen in "Mind-Sifter," based on one of the most loved short stories from the Star Trek universe.

It's the second time a Star Trek episode has beamed into Kalamazoo, specifically to the Alamo Drafthouse, which also screened Chambers' last effort.

"Rick and I have known each other since we worked together at Western Herald quite a few years ago," says James Sanford of Alamo Drafthouse, "and I am delighted to see how he took his love of 'Star Trek' to such an amazing level: He was always a huge fan and now he's actually creating his own additions to the franchise. We had a terrific response to the screening of his 'Holiest Thing' episode last year and we can't wait to host his new film."

The senior executive producer of Star Trek New Voyages, James Cawley, contacted Chambers in November 2013 and asked if he would be willing to write the teleplay for "Mind-Sifter."

"The story was published in 1976 in a paperback book titled 'Star Trek: The New Voyages,' and it's been extremely popular in Star Trek fandom. So it's an immense honor for me to be part of bringing it to life," says Chambers says.

Cawley was a friend of the story's author, Shirley Maiewski, who passed away in 2004, and Cawley was given permission to produce an episode based on her story, Chambers says. Maiewski, is widely known as "Grandma Trek" for her involvement as a Star Trek writer and advocate, and "Mind-Sifter" has long been admired as a tale that captured the magic of the original series.

"I remember being captivated by Shirley’s story when it was first published, and I’ve been in love with it ever since," Chambers said. "It was a huge honor to be part of bringing her story to life. The talented cast and crew of Star Trek New Voyages did an amazing job."

"Mind-Sifter" will debut Wednesday, Jan. 21. The free event will include a panel with actor Brian Gross, who portrays Captain James T. Kirk in the series, along with Chambers. Doors open at 7 p.m., with the episode beginning at 7:30 p.m.

In "Mind-Sifter," a tortured Kirk is lost in the past and presumed killed, and while his shipmates struggle to come to terms with his death, newly promoted Captain Spock (Brandon Stacy) is faced with a resentful crew, an enemy threat, and haunting mental images of his suffering friend.

"’Mind-Sifter’ is a powerful tale about loss, loyalty and determination," Gross says. "The events in the story completely upend the lives of the Enterprise crew. That made the episode challenging and fun to do, and I’m looking forward to watching it on the big screen in Kalamazoo."

Those who attend the screening in costume will help raise money for early grade reading initiatives in the community. For every person in a Star Trek costume or other science fiction outfit, Rick Chambers & Associates will donate $10, up to a total of $500, to United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region to support local programs aimed at childhood literacy.

"Knowledge, entertainment and imagination all rely on our ability to read," Chambers says. "This is a great way to have fun at the screening while helping more kids read well at a young age."

Chambers, owner and president of public relations firm Rick Chambers & Associates LLC and author of the novel "Radiance," has long loved the Star Trek stories. He says his motivation to craft the screenplays "has been the chance to write in a universe that inspired me to be a writer at a young age. Star Trek offers an incredible space for storytelling. One of its strengths is how it tackles social issues in unique, thought-provoking ways. That's a great opportunity for any writer."

Produced by Cawley Entertainment Co. and Retro Film Studios LLC, Star Trek New Voyages presents new adventures of the starship Enterprise crew based on the original Star Trek TV series. Guest stars in past episodes including original series actors George Takei, Walter Koenig and Grace Lee Whitney.

"It's been a blessing to be involved, not just for the writing, but also for the many great relationships I've made with the people involved," Chambers says. "They come together each year, from all walks of life, out of their shared love for 'Star Trek.' It's amazing to experience that."

Kathy Jennings is the managing editor of Southwest Michigan's Second Wave. She is a freelance writer and editor.


Aboard the bridge of the starship Enterprise in Star Trek New Voyages: Captain James T. Kirk (Brian Gross, seated), Mr. Spock (Brandon Stacy, left) and Dr. Leonard McCoy (Jeff Bond).

Captain James T. Kirk (Brian Gross) is interrogated by Klingon Commander Kor (Clay Sayre) in "Mind-Sifter," the latest episode from Star Trek New Voyages.

Captain James T. Kirk (Brian Gross), lost in the past with no memory and held in an asylum, is aided by Dr. Jan Hamlin (Rivkah Raven Wood) in "Mind-Sifter," the latest episode from Star Trek New Voyages.

Rick Chambers aboard the bridge of the starship Enterprise in Star Trek New Voyages.


Food company, ReConserve, to redevelop industrial space on Angell Street

ReConserve takes bakery, cereal grain, snack food and similar food byproducts and recycles it into livestock feed.

The company has operations in Battle Creek and Grand Rapids, and was considering pulling out of Michigan.

Instead, ReConserve now plans to repair and modify two 100-year-old processing buildings and an office building at 170 Angell Street in Battle Creek.

The property will be a Brownfield Redevelopment and will undergo more than $8 million in capital investment. The project will bring back into active use approximately 45,000 feet of industrial space and nearly 2 acres of green space. It was approved for redevelopment by the Michigan Strategic Fund Board.

Working closely with The Right Place in Grand Rapids, Battle Creek Unlimited, Battle Creek's economic development organization, says it was able to collaborate for the region and keep the company in West Michigan.

ReConserve will install processing equipment, grain bins and a rail spur that will go directly into a specially designed building to accommodate loading and unloading of rail cars utilizing the Grand Trunk Railroad. The company also will be eligible for reimbursement for environmental and specific non-environmental activities it undertakes to reactivate the former industrial site.

ReConserve, which had its beginnings in California, was the first to design, build and install bulk loading systems helping the company become the largest recycler of bakery and cereal grain by-products and a recognized specialist in food waste removal.
In addition to the redevelopment, the project will put tax dollars into the City of Battle Creek and into the school district. The project's taxable value is expected to be approximately $2.15 million within one year of project completion

“The project will result in the rehabilitation of a blighted and underutilized property near downtown, provide and create employment, and increase the taxable value of the property,” says Cheryl Beard, Battle Creek Brownfield Redevelopment Authority Administrator.   

Source: Battle Creek Unlimited

Coldwater Township to be new home for Clemens Food Group pork processing facility

A 550,000 square-foot pork processing facility will be located In Coldwater Township and $12.5 million in Community Block Grant funds is helping to make that possible.

A new Clemens Food Group pork processing operation is expected to bring 810 jobs to Michigan and create $255.7 million in capital investment in the Branch County community. "Being able to recruit a company with 800 is a game changer for us," says Lisa Miller, executive director of the Branch County Economic Growth Alliance. "It doesn't happen but once in a lifetime. Economic development is very difficult. To be able to land this project is a big win for us."

The $12.5 million in Community Development Block Grant funds for the City of Coldwater will go toward infrastructure improvements, land acquisition, workforce development and on-the-job training for the new development.

To make the project possible Coldwater and Coldwater Township agreed to a land transfer. The transfer will allow the City of Coldwater to contribute $4.5 million toward the project for infrastructure improvements at the site, including water and sewer main extensions and a new municipal electric overhead distribution line.

That support, along with the block grant approval, is part of an overall package of local and state support that will total $55 million. This also includes nearly $16 million in tax savings as a result of the recently approved personal property tax reform.

The Clemens family is a recognized leader in pork production. Founded in 1895, the Pennsylvania-based Clemens Food Group is a sixth-generation, family-owned operation that includes farming, processing, transportation and logistics. The company has 2,200 employees. Doug Clemens, CEO, Clemens Food Group, says his company is "genuinely excited to be joining a great community of pork producers we've been working with over the past several years here in the state of Michigan."

Michigan is one of the nation's top pork producing states, ranking 13th in the country. There are 10,800 jobs related to the 2 to 2.5 million hogs marketed each year, says the Michigan State Extension office. With more than 2,600 producers in the state, the pork industry annually contributes more than $560 million dollars to the Michigan economy.

Pork exports previously accounted for a large portion of the economic impact in Michigan, generating an additional 700 jobs and $50 million of personal income for the producers. 

The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) worked with a group of Michigan pork producers for approximately three years and spent $100,000 to conduct a feasibility assessment for a pork processing plant in the state. This feasibility assessment was essential in convincing the Clemens Food Group to locate in Michigan.

Clemens Food Group considered both Michigan and Ohio for a Midwest expansion of its pork processing operations.  

“This decision by the Clemens family only underscores that Michigan’s food and agriculture sector is ripe for innovative business opportunity, economic development, and new jobs. It’s a growing industry and we’re excited to have a pork processing plant back in the Great Lakes State," says Jamie Clover Adams, MDARD Director.

Says MEDC President and CEO Michael A. Finney, "Clemens Food Group’s decision to invest here demonstrates to other global companies Michigan’s standing as one of the great agriculture centers in the U.S. with a business climate that enables their success."

Sources: Clemens Food Group and MEDC
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