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GRAND RAPIDS — With gas prices rising and an increasingly large number of people living and working in cities, Nate Phelps says he found a great opportunity to realize his lifelong dream of owning a bike shop in Grand Rapids. 

Opened in March, Central District Cyclery is located in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids on Monroe Center in the space previously occupied by City Market. The retail store specializes in selling and servicing bicycles geared toward the urban rider, such as road and urban commuter bikes.

WEST MICHIGAN — Bob Bockheim can't quite put a finger on exactly what's going on right now or why, although he agrees with his colleagues that global economic uncertainty is probably to blame.

Nucraft Furniture Co., a maker of high-end office furniture and conference tables, started off 2012 strong but has since seen business slow as the industry approached midyear.

Over the more than two decades he's worked at Herman Miller Inc., President and CEO Brian Walker experienced the industry's highs and felt the pain of its steep decline during the recent recession. Today, Walker says he's "cautiously optimistic" about the industry's direction, and he's concentrating on what the company can do internally to affect its success. That's certainly kept the Zeeland-based manufacturer busy. "We're launching a total of a couple hundred products over an 18-24 month period," Walker told MiBiz during an interview at the company's showroom at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago during the NeoCon trade show. 

ROTHBURY — Rising customer demand, an ideal location and available capital created an opportunity for a local company to reopen one of West Michigan's idled foundries.

Muskegon-based Michigan Steel Inc. worked with one of its key customers to convert the former Kurdziel Iron foundry in Rothbury, Mich. into a steel foundry to meet a growing demand for railroad castings. The newly formed Rothbury Steel Inc. launched production in late April with hopes of becoming a $50 million operation within two years.

The Zingerman's way

Written by | Friday, 08 June 2012 19:21 |

GRAND RAPIDS — When Paul Saginaw and Ari Weinzweig created Zingerman's Deli, all they set out to do was create a tasty sandwich shop in Ann Arbor. Little did they expect that they'd go on to foster one of the most revered customer service models in all of business.

"Really all we wanted was a great corned beef sandwich," Saginaw told MiBiz during an interview in Grand Rapids, where Saginaw was attending the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies annual conference in mid-May. "We didn't grow up in foodie families."

WEST MICHIGAN — Business travelers like elbowroom, steamed hand towels and complimentary cocktails, but that's not what's most important.

What matters most is that flights are available when they need to fly, and at good fares.

Atomic Object makes move in Detroit

Written by | Tuesday, 05 June 2012 20:09 |

GRAND RAPIDS — In early June, Atomic Object LLC will open a satellite office in downtown Detroit, part of what co-founder Carl Erickson calls his "growth without growing" strategy. 

The 11-year-old mid-town Grand Rapids software development company, with some 34 employees and about $5 million in revenues, will open a small office in the Harmonie Park area of Detroit to serve a growing portfolio of clients in Southeast Michigan. The office has been dubbed AOD (Atomic Object Detroit).

HOLLAND — Automobiles of today have been described as computers on wheels.

They have back-up cameras, seat warmers, cylinder deactivation technology, antilock brakes and sophisticated electronic stability control systems.

A former cab driver who studied anarchism in Russian history at the University of Michigan, Ari Weinzweig never considered starting a business and really had no interest in the food industry. But Zingerman's Deli — the beginning of the "Community of Businesses" that he and Paul Saginaw went on to create — remains an Ann Arbor institution. The pair's success and Zingerman's extraordinary customer service model have created a legacy that transcends the Kerrytown neighborhood where the deli is based. Weinzweig was in Grand Rapids mid-May for the recent Business Alliance for Local Living Economies conference.

WEST MICHIGAN — Six months ago, MLive Media Group Inc. announced it would turn over a new page on the statewide newspaper chain’s business model.

Beginning in February, MLive scaled back the home delivery of printed newspapers to just three days a week as the company adopted a digital-first news strategy. The switch hurt the company's audited circulation numbers, but the magnitude of the slide depends on how one interprets the data.

Two years ago, Sheri Peters rarely had a client ask about mobile banking. Maybe one in 10, she estimates.

Today, as seemingly everybody out there has a smart phone or an iPad, at least half of the small business clients of Macatawa Bank that Peters talks to want to know about mobile banking.

An abundance of cheap natural gas could drive down costs for customers and potentially change how utilities decide to generate power in the short term.

If natural gas prices remain low, companies in downtown Grand Rapids connected to Veolia Energy's district energy network can also expect to see a decrease in costs. The utility uses natural gas to produce steam and is regulated by the city to tie its rate structure to the market rate of the fuel.

Erika Rosebrook is reacquainting herself with familiar faces in West Michigan. As the associate director for the Michigan Office of Urban Initiatives based in West Michigan, Rosebrook's job is to facilitate a discussion between the cities in the region and the governor's office.



Intermodal: Eastown is the nameplate on a new plan to bring high-quality street food to the city. The Urban Renaissance Group wants to develop shipping containers into customized small commercial kitchens around the city, offering a temporary location for entrepreneurs to try their hand at running a restaurant. The group wants to test the concept with a location on Wealthy Street, but needs to first get the city's and the historic preservation commission's approval to move forward.

Rather than get sent to rot in a landfill, about 100,000 tons of food processing waste will be converted into electricity once Michigan's first large-scale biodigester comes online this summer.

Construction on the $22 million Fremont Community Digester and electric generator is just now wrapping up, and testing at the facility should begin in a matter of months.
The project's developer, NOVI Energy, also signed a $55 million agreement with Consumers Energy to purchase approximately 380,000 megawatt-hours or 19,000 MWh per year of electricity from the plant over the next 20 years. The deal marks the first time the utility will buy energy made from food processing waste.

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