Macomb’s food producers make my stomach smile

Grasshopper outsideI work for the Macomb County Department of Planning & Economic Development as a senior economic development specialist, and I love my job not only because I get to help businesses grow, but also because my stomach loves my amazing food business clients. I recently met with one new bakery in Roseville called Grasshoppers Bread Company.

A family-run small business, Grasshoppers Bread Company is owned by Michael and Barbara Byrd and their daughter Samantha. While watching Michael work his culinary magic making some delicious products with a roller, dough and some flour, he told me how their business began.

Grasshopper pastriesGrowing up, Michael spent time with his great-grandparents up north, and they showed him how to make bread. When he lost his automotive job during the Great Recession, he went to a local Michigan Works! office and was offered an opportunity to go back to school. Through the culinary arts program at Macomb Community College, he learned the skills needed to become a professional baker.

Michael was baking from his home under Michigan’s Cottage Food Law, and when a building became available, he jumped right on it. He said the Grasshoppers business name was from an old cartoon character that family and friends used to call him, and he thought it would be a great name for the business. They opened a week before Christmas and sell 10 different types of breads. They also sell pretzels, buns, cheesecake, brownies, almond croissants, and are working on new items all the time. They even have what is called a Turtle Pocket made out of caramel, chocolate and pecans. Another great product is similar to an Almond Joy with almond paste chocolate and coconuts. Yes, you read that right, and I’m sorry if you are drooling now.

Grasshopper pastriesOne of the products that I had a chance to taste was a triple apple cider cake with a frosting made from Barbara’s grandmother’s recipe. I kept saying how amazing it was, and that put a huge smile on their faces because they care that you will be happy with your purchase.

Grasshoppers Bread Company plans to bring in a professional cake artist who will be doing different styles and 3D designs on wedding, birthday and other event cakes.

They also sell wholesale and supply bread to neighboring Motorcity Meatball Kitchen – another local business I love. It always makes me happy to see businesses combine their powers to create a super product. It would be like combining Batman and Superman if Batman and Superman were culinary artists.

Getting back to reality now, Grasshoppers Bread Company makes Italian white bread six days a week and one other bread each day. Monday is Italian herb, Tuesday asiago/cheddar or what I call a slice of happiness, Wednesday is Boston (white), Thursday they make a honey wheat, Friday is rye, and Saturday you can get yourself some challah/cinnamon raisin.

I would be doing the business an injustice if I did not say that they make this bread old school. From start to finish, it takes three days to make each loaf. This might seem like a lifetime to wait for food. Luckily for you, you need only to walk through their doors, take a big whiff of all the fresh products being made, and make that delicious purchase. You will thank me, and you are so welcome.

Grasshoppers Bread Company
15680 13 Mile Road, Roseville, MI 48066
586-218-8770.

Jack Johns is a senior economic development specialist with the Macomb County Department of Planning & Economic Development. He specializes in assisting food and agriculture, automotive, energy and retail companies.

 

Macomb then and now

On a daily basis, we are bombarded with facts and figures about how the economy is doing: the jobs report, quarterly GDP, auto sales, stock indexes. Those with an agenda may have an overly bleak or optimistic viewpoint, while others seem far too concerned with the price of tea in China when all you want to know is how things are going in Macomb.

Macomb County’s economy is strong. But just how strong depends largely on perspective. The county has undergone significant economic growth since the turn of the new decade, but still hasn’t fully recovered from highs reached back around the new millennium.

In 2010, Macomb County had an unemployment rate of 13.9 percent. Nearly 60,000 individuals of the county’s approximately 425,000 labor force were drawing unemployment. In 2015, that number dwindled to 6.1 percent (roughly 25,000).

The economy in Macomb County has steadily improved since bottoming out in 2009, where Michigan was hit especially hard during the Great Recession.

To go back to when things were best, you have to look back to 1999 when Macomb County hit its maximum – 427,668 people in the county had jobs and unemployment was only 3.3 percent. Today, 390,572 are employed, up from a low of 350,776 in 2009.

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Where are the jobs coming from?

Manufacturing in Macomb County declined for nine straight years from 2000-2009, but has since rebounded six straight years. Health care and accommodation and foodservices industries have seen growth, while retail and construction have both declined.

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Looking at these industries over the past 15 years highlights two key points. The first is that manufacturing was and continues to be Macomb County’s driving economic force. The second is that it has also been the industry most sensitive to change. From 2000 – 2009, manufacturing in Macomb lost 54,095 jobs (51.82 percent – more than half!), then from 2009 – 2015 gained 19,755 of them back. The change in the number of manufacturing jobs outnumbers the entire number of jobs in many of Macomb’s major industries.

While manufacturing is the single biggest industry within the county, it is worthwhile to point out a few other trends. Construction has also been impacted by the recession and has seen a downturn (and subsequent rebound). Health care and social assistance industries meanwhile have showed continuous healthy growth across the entire time period.

Earning a living wage

Jobs are only part of the story. What those jobs are paying is equally as important.

Since the turn of the millennium, private sector wages within the county have steadily risen, even during the recession.

chart3

Looking specifically at the county’s dominant industry, manufacturing, and using 2000 as a base year, there are 32.9 percent fewer manufacturing jobs in Macomb County, yet during the same time period, wages grew 29.7 percent. Manufacturing in Macomb and as an industry is becoming more automated, where the value per hour worked has increased, yet the manpower needed to accomplish tasks has decreased.

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Those who have jobs in manufacturing are finding them to be lucrative opportunities. The average weekly wage in manufacturing in Macomb is now $1,430 per week. This is 49.2 percent higher than the average for all private sector jobs in the county of $958 per week.

What does it all mean?

While there are certainly no guarantees, the data seem to make a case for the following: Manufacturing will continue to be the bedrock of Macomb County’s economy, and wages within that industry are likely to continue to rise. Job growth may slow, but the days of double digit unemployment from 2009 – 2011 are clearly a thing of the past and not likely to return in the short or medium turn.

Economists with Economic Modeling Specialists Intl (EMSI) predict the employment within the county to grow to 360,658 by 2025. Over the next 10 years, their models show Macomb growing payroll by 4.6 percent while the state of Michigan sees a 6.0 percent growth.

Posavetz, Nick IMG_0221Nick Posavetz is a Senior Planner for Macomb County, often providing content for the Macomb Business & Make Macomb Your Home websites and associated social media accounts. If you have something you’d like to feature, reach out to him at posavetz@macombgov.org

Soup with a cause

Senior Economic Development Specialist Jack Johns recently went on a retention visit with Utica-based Motown Soup and shared their incredible story with me.

beef barleyMotown Soup is a nonprofit company that assembles dried soup ingredients and packages them as convenient, ready-to-make mixes. Some of their most popular soup mixes are chicken noodle, white chicken chili and chicken pot pie. Most soup mixes make two quarts, cost $8 and are ready to serve in around 20 minutes. They have expanded their product line to also include mixes for dips, cookies and corn bread as well as sampler packages that come in beautiful, Michigan-themed boxes.

This businesses operates out of the state-licensed kitchen in the basement of Trinity Lutheran Church on Van Dyke in Utica. Food companies headquartered in church kitchens is not a new concept, but it is perhaps not well known. Yumbitz, a growing Macomb County cookie company, bakes in the commercial kitchen at St. Luke Lutheran Church in Clinton Township, and Ethel’s Edibles also started making gluten-free baked goods in a church kitchen until they purchased a commercial retail and bakehouse space in St. Clair Shores.

Measuring in lineWhile some businesses can make food out of their home under the Cottage Food Law, they can only conduct direct sales to customers. In order for a food company to sell their products in retail stores, restaurants or over the Internet, the food must be prepared in a licensed commercial kitchen that adheres to strict codes, undergoes regular inspections and often contains expensive equipment.

“It can be difficult for a startup business to find an affordable commercial kitchen to work in,” said Johns. “Churches give entrepreneurs the opportunity to start their business and get their products out there, even before they have the money to buy their own commercial kitchen. Many companies in Macomb County have started this way.”

As a result of their meeting, Johns was able to provide Motown Soup with a list of distribution companies that may potentially lead to savings on supplies. Additionally, he put them in touch with another Macomb County small business about the possibility of including locally-made noodles. Motown Soup is also interested in starting to sell at farmers markets, so Johns connected them with the Mount Clemens Farmers Market director to submit an application.

While delicious sounding, this narrative isn’t quite the incredible story I promised in the introduction. That part comes now. Motown Soup is completely staffed by volunteers – and there are more than 100 of them. Why are so many people willing to give up hours each week to make soup? Because Motown Soup donates nearly all of their profit to other area nonprofit organizations.

Michigan sampler boxIn 2014, Motown Soup donated a whopping $100,000 to soup kitchens, free clinics, homeless shelters and food pantries. Locally, that includes Roseville-based Lighthouse Outreach Center and MCREST, Fraser-based Hope Center and Samaritan House in Washington Township. Since 2005, they have donated nearly half a million dollars and are certain to beat that by the end of this year.

Motown Soup’s products can be found at Art-Is-In Market at The Mall at Partridge Creek and can also be ordered online through their website. These mixes are great to have on hand at home for an easy meal and also make a thoughtful gift. And when you support this local business, you’re also helping many other great organizations that are fighting hunger and poverty in metro Detroit.

Caitlin Gerds-Habermas is an associate planner in Business Outreach and Communications for the Macomb County Department of Planning & Economic Development.