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Eastern Leaders sets sights on micro loans, land bank

The Eastern Leaders Group has some lofty ambitions for Washtenaw County, but they all seem attainable when looking at their 33 page plan.

The group is made up of local leaders from the public, private and university community dedicated toward improving the eastern half of the county. The idea is to harness their collective power and influence to make these improvements, such as building on Eastern Michigan University's reputation and resources.

One of their checked-off goals includes the opening of the Ann Arbor SPARK East business incubator in downtown Ypsilanti this year. The group expects the incubator to help make Ypsilanti and the surrounding area more attractive to new economy firms and the high-paying jobs they create.

The Eastern Leaders Group also plans to push for a number of other tools, such as the creation of land bank and micro loans for promising start-ups. The land bank is expected to help save foreclosed property from demolition, put them back on the tax roles quickly and stabilize area with heavy foreclosure rates. The micro loans would help fledgling small businesses grow, especially in this time known for its credit crisis. They're part of larger goals aimed at stabilizing the area and developing local businesses.

These tools, especially the land bank, will also help the Eastern Leaders Group bring in more federal money to push its programs forward.

"What we're trying to do is leverage all of that funding," says James McFarlane, a project manager for Eastern Leaders Group.

Source: James McFarlane, project manager for Eastern Leaders Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

Ypsilanti's SPARK East to show off new digs this Friday

The doors of Ann Arbor SPARK's East incubator have been open for a few months, but now the public can come on in and have a looksee this Friday afternoon.

Anyone and everyone is invited to drop in at the new economy business incubator in downtown Ypsilanti between 1:30 and 8 p.m. Ann Arbor SPARK employees will be showing off the new, edgy digs in the restored Mack & Mack building with tour and a press conference.

The incubator will also be showing off its first eight tenants. They range from LaVision, the anchor tenant, to a number of start-ups like Smart Dining and Brainstorm Creative. The incubator is only half full so far, and has plenty of room for virtual tenants.

"We have the same opportunity in SPARK East as we do in SPARK Central (downtown Ann Arbor) to be a virtual tenant," says Elizabeth Parkison, managing director of marketing and public relation for Ann Arbor SPARK.

A virtual tenant is sort of the cheapest, bare bones way of taking advantage of an Ann Arbor SPARK incubator. Virtual tenants pay $95 a month and can take advantage of things like the conference rooms, drop in to use the office space and the business acceleration services. The big difference between virtual tenant and actual tenants is the actual tenants can use the space as their everyday office.

All of these options and more will be available during Friday's open house. SPARK East is located in the ground floor space of 215 E Michigan Ave next to Bombadills Cafť. For information, call (734) 372-4070.

Source: Elizabeth Parkinson, managing director of marketing and public relation for Ann Arbor SPARK
Writer: Jon Zemke

Ypsilanti Brainstorm Creative bets big on lotto tech, hopes to add 25-30 people

Investing in the lottery isnít normally regarded as a sound investment, but it's one that the people behind Brainstorm Creative are getting ready to really cash in on this year.

The downtown Ypsilanti-based firm believes its newest lotto-based technology, Millionairesgreetings.com, will let it quintuple its staff this year. Right now Brainstorm Creative employs six people. It hopes to add 25-30 people as it starts to put the technology out in a pilot phase in October.

"We are optimistic about a full launch," says Joseph Gough, president of Brainstorm Creative.

Millionairesgreetings.com is service where customers can send a card to someone that comes with a lottery ticket. If the person who receives the card wins, they get 80 percent of the prize while the send gets 20 percent.

"It's a marriage between greeting cards and lottery games," Gough says.

Brainstorm Creative, a spin-off of Indian Trail Productions, recently set up shop in Ann Arbor SPARKís East Incubator in downtown Ypsilanti. It won a free one-year lease starting this month during the ACE Awards.

"I really like it," Gough says. "I think they have some pretty progressive ideas about setting up a creative community there."

Source: Joseph Gough, president of Brainstorm Creative
Writer: Jon Zemke

Smart Dining sets its table at Ypsilanti SPARK office

Making a choice about going out to dinner takes lots of information, especially when a group is making that decision. Enter Smart Dining, the company that strives to provide.

The downtown Ypsilanti-based firm serves as a resource for local restaurant websites, menus, reviews and discounts. A click on its website can provide easy access to all of this valuable information, making dinner choices easier.

Of course it's never as easy as it sounds. The company started off with a partnership with The Ann Arbor News two years ago and lots of immediate promise. Unfortunately, The Ann Arbor News' plans changed. Smart Dining is focused on avoiding that same fate, revamping its website and business model.

"How do you create an advertising vehicle that isnít an in-your-face piece of junk mail?" says David Kanaan, president and co-owner of Smart Dining.

Smart Dining's four people are doing this in Ann Arbor SPARK's new East Incubator in downtown Ypsilanti.

"It's a fantastic place," Kanaan says. "If you saw what they offer to small businesses it would be stupid to go elsewhere. What they offer is unbeatable."

He is taking those vibes and getting ready to go forward on them. He thinks Smart Dining is one year away from hitting on all cylinders and then sky is the limit.

"The chance for expansion is infinite," Kanaan says. "It's all about gaining traction in one market and moving onto the next."

Source: David Kanaan, president and co-owner of Smart Dining
Writer: Jon Zemke

Ypsilantiís LookInTheAttic named 1 of Michiganís 50 companies to watch

It's not hard to find LookInTheAttic these days, especially now that the downtown Ypsilanti-based firm has been named one of the Edward Lowe Foundation's Michigan 50 Companies to Watch.

It's easy to see why when you look at the company's year-to-year growth. Steady success has allowed the eight-person firm to add one more person to its staff and open yet another position. It hopes to create yet another job later this year, as the company continues on its growth track.

"We're consistently seeing 20-30 percent growth every year, even in this recession," says John Coleman, president of LookInTheAttic.

The store specializes in selling antique reproduction hardware and housewares both at its storefront and online. Although the store is based out of a historic storefront in downtown, most of its sales (about 85 percent) are from online purchases. That percentage of business inspired the owners to start Silver & Gold, an online jewelry store.

Coleman didn't decided to open up in downtown Ypsilanti because of what it could be but because of what it is today.

"The building prices are right," Coleman says. "It gives us a billboard on Michigan Avenue and a nice place to work."

Source: John Coleman, president of LookInTheAttic
Writer: Jon Zemke

Ypsilanti's ETCS looks to pair local talent with jobs at job fair

For years Washtenaw County's Employment Training and Community Services has been all about connecting employers with future employees, and vice versa.

Now the Ypsilanti-based agency is reaching out beyond the county's borders, taking part in the 2009 Livingston Regional Job Fair in Howell on April 22. The idea is to combine the workforce and employers of both neighboring counties to get more local people employed.

"We're trying to do as much outreach as possible to let employers know how much talent there is available here," says Dorion Holbrook, corporate and business services representative for ETCS.

Businesses looking for new employees and workers looking for new jobs are both invited to come to the event at Crystal Gardens Banquet Center, 5768 E. Grand River Ave. in Howell.

For information, contact Dorion Holbrook at holbrookd@ewashtenaw.org or (734) 544-2952.

Source: Dorion Holbrook, corporate and business services representative for ETCS
Writer: Jon Zemke

Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti pushes envelope with news consumption

A media revolution is taking place in Washtenaw County and the first casualty appears to be The Ann Arbor News, a venerable 174-year-old local institution.

Replacing it will be a news website, AnnArbor.com, and a newspaper that publishes every Thursday and Sunday. The Ann Arbor News as we know it will cease to be in July. Booth Newspapers, which owns the paper, plans to continue providing news coverage in the Ann Arbor area.

The purpose of reporting on local news will be the same, but the website's staff will be significantly smaller than the newspaper's current staff. How that reporting is done, what it looks like and how it's presented are still details that are being worked out.

"This is not the end of local journalism in Ann Arbor," says Laurel Champion, publisher of The Ann Arbor News and who will serve as the executive vice president of AnnArbor.com. "This is just a changing in how it's served."

But what happens next for local journalism is not as clear. A number of independent, web-based news organizations have popped up in recent years, including this publication, YpsiNews.com, The Ann Arbor Chronicle and the Ypsilanti Citizen. Local blogish websites, Mark Maynard and Arbor Update, have also surfaced as information alternatives.

Much of the initial conversation in the aftermath of The Ann Arbor News' announcement has centered on how the business model for newspapers is irreparably broken, leaving a huge void when it comes to a community voice and watchdog. Some are not so certain.

"The model of current journalism is broken," says Steve Pierce, owner and managing editor of YpsiNews.com. "It's not unusual that the people who broke that model are running around saying the sky is falling."

Almost in the same breath, Pierce says the recent developments with The Ann Arbor News are a "huge concern for me." Pierce started his website in 2006 after he thought local news coverage in his community was lacking and decided to step up. He isn't a journalist by trade, but his sometimes muckraking site has served as a watchdog of local government and events.

But he concedes the community needs more than just him. He credits The Ann Arbor News for having the wherewithal and deep pockets to go after the hard investigative stories.

"There is no way my little media outlet can afford to do that," Pierce says. "The Ann Arbor News has been willing to spend the money on important fights like the President's house and the EMU murders. Even if The Ann Arbor Chronicle, Ypsilanti Citizen and Ypsi News combined resources there is no way we could take the EMU lawyers to task."

He is currently looking at other avenues to help deepen local pockets, like Spot.us, and keep local media watchdogs barking. Not that there aren't working watchdogs today. It's just that they are more in the puppy stage of life. But they have been able to bark loud enough recently to make local government meetings more accessible and open to the public.

"There is this notion that real journalists are doing investigative reporting, routing out corruption, asking tough questions," says Dave Askins, editor of The Ann Arbor Chronicle. "There is the idea of the Fourth Estate. We aspire to some extent to fill that."

Source: Steve Pierce, owner and managing editor of YpsiNews.com, Dave Askins, editor of The Ann Arbor Chronicle and Laurel Champion, publisher of The Ann Arbor News
Writer: Jon Zemke

Ypsilanti's ISSYS plans to hire 10-15 new people this year

ISSYS is betting its newest product, the ISDS-08, is going to make a big splash this year. Big enough that the Ypsilanti-based firm expects to hire 10-15 new people on the strength of its release.

"There has just been such a demand for it," says Doug Sparks, vice president of ISSYS.

The ISDS-08 is an in-line density meter. That means its measures and keeps track of things like fuel delivery in manufacturing applications. It can detect fuel quality, temperature and whether there is water in the line.

ISSYS spun-off from the University of Michigan in 1995 and uses micro fluids for research in products like fuel cells. Today it employs 30 people and the occasional intern and independent contractor. It's looking to hire a couple of engineers right now.

The company recently received a patent for developing a process of making microtube and microfluidic devices. These types of technologies are helping the company streamline the microfluidic process, making it cheaper.

Source: Doug Sparks, vice president of ISSYS
Writer: Jon Zemke

EMU MBA student healthcare research wins award

Most students write papers so they can graduate but at least one Eastern Michigan University student is writing papers that win awards.

The Association for Marketing and Health Care Research honored EMU MBA student Jarrod Sandel for his paper on healthcare. The Ann Arbor native's paper, which he co-wrote with the head of EMUís Marketing Department, deals mainly with providing healthcare at home and the role technology plays.

The paper follows the development of home healthcare (an option becoming increasingly popular as Baby Boomers age and finances tighten) and its market. It also expands on the how technology has evolved to play a role in this situation.

And this is all from a supply chain management major in EMU's business school. However, he does work for the IT Dept in the University of Michigan Health System.

Source: Eastern Michigan University
Writer: Jon Zemke

Ypsilanti-born ShadePlex starts to grow up with investment

The important thing to keep in mind isn't that ShadePlex now calls Toledo its home. It's that the idea for the start-up was born and nurtured in Ypsilanti.

Concentrate first reported on ShadePlex a year ago when it was just a start-up started among friends with an idea of putting solar cells on things like tents, struggling to get it off the ground. They're doing that now, however, from the University of Toledo's Energy Incubator.

The company made the move because it received a $50,000 product development grant from Toledo-based Rocket Ventures. Start-ups usually go where the venture capital firms that invest in them tell them to go. One of the company's co-founders, Brian Tell, still lives in Ypsilanti. The other co-founders live in Downriver and northern Ohio. The company hopes to hire 20-25 people in the next three years and hit $30 million by 2013.

ShadePlex is developing solar cells fabrics that can generate electricity. The idea is that putting them on something like a tent will allow a business or homeowner to generate more electricity somewhere that before only helped create a heat island.

Source: Brian Tell, president and co-founder of ShadePlex
Writer: Jon Zemke

EMU speaker to talk about buyouts, entrepreneurship in Ypsilanti

Eastern Michigan University has a few ideas about what locals can do with their buyout checks Ė start their own business.

The university's College of Business is hosting entrepreneur Robert J. Skandalaris on Friday morning for its "Breakfast with the Dean" series.

Skandalaris isn't exactly a household name but he has lived the life that most people would remember. He founded Noble International, a tech company listed on the NASDAQ that specializes in supplying laser-welded blanks and structural tube parts to the automotive industry.

Quantum Ventures of Michigan is another notch on his belt. The company acquires and development of middle-market firms. He also wrote "Rebuilding the American Dream," a book about innovation and entrepreneurship.

He will be speaking about "the economy and its impact on the buyout world."

The event will begin at 7:30 a.m. and will take place in room 114 of the College of Business, 300 W. Michigan Ave. in downtown Ypsilanti. Free parking is available in the collegeís parking structure on Pearl Street. For information, call Shirley Wentz at (734) 487-4140.

Source: Eastern Michigan University
Writer: Jon Zemke

Ann Arbor SPARK raffles off Ypsilanti incubator space at ACE

Everything an ambitious start-up needs to be successful will be up for grabs at the Annual Collaboration for Entrepreneurship Thursday.

A whole lot of start-up know-how will be available at the conference, but something more valuable will also be on hand Ė free space in Ann Arbor SPARK's new East Business Incubator in downtown Ypsilanti. Ann Arbor SPARK plans to raffle off one free year's lease.

That free space, worth $4,800, will include access to a VOIP phone system, T-1 internet connection, a full kitchen, two conference rooms, free parking and administrative resources such as copiers and cleaning services. There will also be access to Ann Arbor SPARK's business acceleration services.

Ann Arbor SPARK is also offering discounts on its Ypsilanti incubator space. Start-ups can have one month's rent free with a commitment of at least three months for a total of four months.

Officials at Ann Arbor SPARK are negotiating with two major anchor tenants for the Ypsilanti incubator. Both companies are expected to bring in up to half a dozen employees each.

"We're hopeful we'll know by the end of the month if either are going to sign," says Elizabeth Parkinson, managing director of marketing and public relations for Ann Arbor SPARK.

Ann Arbor SPARK has 8,000 square feet available in the ground floor of the Mack & Mack building on Michigan Avenue. Workers are finishing up the details of the renovation right now. The first companies are expected to move in during February.

"They're in the process of putting in the cubicles," Parkinson says.

Ann Arbor SPARK has incubator space in downtown Ann Arbor where about three or four spots are still available. It also has incubator space for life science-based companies at a laboratory incubator in Plymouth.

Source: Elizabeth Parkinson, managing director of marketing and public relations for Ann Arbor SPARK
Writer: Jon Zemke

Detroit PR Society recognizes EMU student as "rising star"

Stephanie Scheer is more than an up-and-comer in the public relations world, she's a "Rising Star" in the eyes of the Public Relations Society of America.

The society's Detroit Chapter honored the Eastern Michigan University senior late last year after she demonstrated "exceptional ability, professionalism and achievement" during her internship at Henry Ford Health System.

The public relations major is the president of the EMU chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America. As proof of her developing spin skills, she provided this quote to Eastern's PR team.

"It's an honor to have received the Rising Star Award from PRSA- Detroit as a student at EMU and Henry Ford's intern," Scheer said in a press release. "At Henry Ford Health System, I have the ability to take the lessons I have learned in the classroom and see how they apply to the corporate public relations environment."

Scheer is set to graduate and join the legions of PR flaks this spring.

Source: Eastern Michigan University
Writer: Jon Zemke

EMU expands nursing school to help meet nursing shortage

In case you have been living under a rock or not been to a hospital in years, there is a nursing shortage going on. Eastern Michigan University plans to do something about it.

The university's School of Nursing is expanding its programs to accommodate 102 more students next year. It's not enough to staunch the 7,000 nurse shortage we will be experiencing by 2010 (projected by the Michigan House Health Policy Committee) or the shortage of 18,000 nurses by 2015 predicted by the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Growth.

But it's a start. Those extra 102 nurses per year will help make an important dent. Especially considering that 90 percent of nursing students who go through EMU remain in Michigan.

"Most programs talk about whether or not their students will have jobs when they graduate," says Betty Beard, interim director of the EMU School of Nursing. "In nursing, we know that itís not if they will get a job, but what job offer they will take."


This year, EMU was forced to turn away nearly 500 students who were interested in becoming nurses because there wasn't enough room in the program. Let's hope that other institutions follow their lead and expand their programs as well.

Source: Eastern Michigan University
Writer: Jon Zemke


Eastern teams up with BCBS to improve health of Ypsilanti children

Eastern Michigan University and the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation are trying to take a bite out of childhood obesity.

The foundation has give EMU a $167,000 grant to work with students at four elementary schools in Ypsilanti Ė Brick, Childs, Model and Redner. The idea is to teach these 1,770 kids healthy lifestyle habits and hopefully shed a few of their fast-food, inactive routines. Getting a teachers and staff to follow suit would be icing on the cake.

"Reaching children at this early stage, before serious problems develop, can help them avoid obesity and associated chronic diseases later in life," says Ira Strumwasser, executive director and CEO of the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation.

The grant plans to recreate the atmosphere in these schools to emphasize healthy living in all aspects of life for everyone at the schools, not students. School employees are participating in stress management and nutrition workshops held by EMU faculty. School officials and university faculty will also study the health habits of students and teachers to see where improvements can be made.

The program hopes to start whipping the kids into shape in January. Students will be able to participate (voluntarily) as they learn to develop a positive physical and mental image, eat healthier, be active at least one hour per day, decrease video "screen time" to two hours per day and learn sports skills they can enjoy throughout life. Studentsí families also will be encouraged to participate.

Source: Eastern Michigan University
Writer: Jon Zemke
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