FIRST Robotics open house to showcase student innovation and imagination

Sprinkled across Macomb County are impressive groups of high school students who are working hard to become STEM leaders and innovators as part of FIRST Robotics. FIRST, which stands for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology,” was founded nearly 30 years ago as a mentor-based program and competition. Its mission is to build science, engineering, technology and life skills in young people – work that can help prepare students for the future economy. What does that mean exactly? Well, it is estimated that 65 percent of today’s kindergarteners will have job titles that do not currently exist. And many of those roles will be related to STEM. So it is imperative that young people have opportunities to explore and become educated in these fields. FIRST Robotics is a great platform for that and it’s why nearly 84,000 Michigan high school students participate on local teams.

Here in Macomb County, there are hundreds of FIRST Robotics students and our team count stands at 16. Earlier this year, five of these 16 teams showcased their talents at the FIRST Robotics World Championship. They included:

  • ThunderChickens: Founded 20 years ago, the ThunderChickens are based out of Sterling Heights and the Utica Community Schools. The team, which has more than 100 students, has been to the FIRST Robotics World Championship 17 times, winning the event twice. In 2018, the ThunderChickens were a runner-up.
  • Blue Devils: Based in Richmond, the Blue Devils have 25 student participants. At the close of the 2018 competition, the Blue Devils were announced as a runner-up.
  • Byting Bulldogs: The Byting Bulldogs are based out of Romeo. The team has 55 student members.
  • The Fighting Pi: Formed in 2006 at the Macomb Academy of Arts and Sciences in Armada, Mich., Fighting Pi is made up of more than 40 students.
  • I. AM.ROBOT 4810 (pictured below): The I.AM.ROBOT team has 58 members. It was founded seven years ago at the International Academy of Macomb.

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Area businesses will have the opportunity to connect with these movers and shakers of tomorrow at a FIRST Robotics open house and panel discussion hosted by students from the International Academy of Macomb and the I.AM.ROBOT First Robotics team on Monday, Nov. 19, 2018 from 3:45- 6 p.m. The event will feature representatives from the majority of Macomb County’s 16 teams as well as guest speakers that include Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, Michigan Intermediate School District Superintendent Michael DeVault and First Robotics in Michigan President Gail Alpert. Interested individuals are welcome to attend and meet students, experience their innovations and hear from mentors and coaches on why FIRST Robotics is an integral part of fueling our talent pipeline.

For more information on the event or to secure your spot, visit www.eventbrite.com/e/macomb-county-first-robotics-open-house-and-panel-discussion-tickets-51719054083.

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Risks and opportunities of USMCA (NAFTA 2.0) to be highlighted at symposium

After more than a year of negotiation, the United States, Mexico and Canada reached a trade deal on September 30, 2018. So – what will the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement – USMCA – (NAFTA 2.0) mean for U.S. companies already doing business on the ground with Mexico and Canada?

Butzel Long law firm and the Macomb County Department of Planning and Economic Development will try to answer that question during a free symposium on Thursday, October 25 from 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. at the Velocity Collaboration Center – Macomb/ OU Incubator (6633 Eighteen Mile Road, Sterling Heights). The co-sponsored event will feature speakers discussing the risks of, opportunities around and responses to the new trade deal.

“Since the beginning of 2018, we’ve seen an unprecedented flood of new tariffs either threatened or enacted – tariffs on solar panels and washing machines, steel and aluminum tariffs, tariffs on Chinese imports, tariffs on automobiles and automotive components,” said Jim Townsend, attorney and chair of Butzel’s Macomb County Development Team. “We will address how local companies can seize opportunities and minimize threats to their businesses along with key strategies to protect from shifting trade rules.”

Featured presenters include John Paul Rea, director of Macomb County Planning and Economic Development. Additionally, Butzel Long attorneys who have expertise in international trade law will offer key updates, including:

  • Les Glick, a co-chair of Butzel Long’s International Trade and Customs Specialty Team. He has extensive experience in the areas of international trade and customs law.
  • Catherine Karol, who concentrates her Butzel Long practice in transactional negotiations, litigation, regulatory compliance, mergers and acquisitions, divestitures and bankruptcy proceedings.
  • Raul Rangel, a corporate attorney licensed to practice law in New York and in Mexico. Mr. Rangel works closely with other Butzel attorneys to represent organizations doing business in Mexico and the United States in a broad range of industries.
  • Mitch Zajac, who concentrates his Butzel Long practice in the areas of automotive, intellectual property, regulatory and emissions compliance and sports and entertainment law.

If you’re interested in diving into this complex and timely topic, you can RSVP by contacting Nairi Bagdasarian at bagdasarian@butzel.com or 313-225-7012. Please note that reservations are required and seating is limited.

Megan Ochmanek is a communications specialist for the Macomb County Department of Planning and Economic Development.

Sterling Heights-based business sparking global exercise and wellness revolution

If you drove up to the normal-looking Sterling Heights business park that ActivMotion calls home, you likely wouldn’t think that a world-class fitness tool used by celebrities and sports stars alike was designed and manufactured within. But it is. Just beyond a am logomain office and studio, you’ll find two men producing hundreds of ActivMotion Bars, a simple yet brilliant exercise solution that is sparking a revolution in the health and wellness community around the world. So what exactly is this innovative tool? From the outside, the patented ActivMotion Bar looks like a standard weighted bar. But hidden within are rolling steel weights that create active resistance by moving from one side of the bar to the other. Caps on the ends hold everything in place and allow the user to perform a variety of muscle strengthening exercises.

While this may sound like any other fitness tool, ActivMotion Bar focuses on improving balance and stability, two areas that are sometimes overlooked in a normal exercise routine. Think about it. When you work out, you likely run, lift weights and stretch. Those are all great activities, but they don’t always help your balance. And according to experts, good balance is essential for having a healthy and fulfilling life. It gives us the ability to walk and climb stairs and can also help prevent falls. So as you can see, performing exercises that focus on building core strength and balance are important. Which is where the ActivMotion Bar comes in. Holding the bar, you can feel the movement of the rolling weights. It takes focus and control to grip it in manner where they remain centered, forcing weaker muscles to work harder to stabilize themselves. Combine this with other exercise and users of the bar become stronger in ways not previously achieved.

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The individual behind this fitness innovation is Derek Mikulski, a trainer with a degree in exercise science and public health. While employed at a local gym, Derek began thinking about different ways he could work with his clients to better match the natural movements of everyday life. You see, in the gym, we move in isolation, but outside of that setting, we move in more 3-dimensional ways. Knowing this, Derek imagined a handheld tool filled with ball bearings that would make exercise more dynamic and functional. He then went to a hardware store and built a prototype ActivMotion Bar out of PVC pipe. Clients that used that first bar were immediately on board with the idea, helping Derek raise the funding to pursue the mass production of the tool.

After two years of prototyping and testing, the ActivMotion Bar organization was up and running and the tool was on the market. Today, the bar is made in a variety of weights and people around the world are responding with enthusiasm. Close to 2,000 are sold every month, with distribution to 30 different countries – figures that allowed Derek to open his Sterling Heights headquarters. The facility houses his business office, production facility and a fitness studio where exercise videos and tutorials are filmed.

From this base, Derek and five other employees are working to take the ActivMotion business to the next level. The first step is getting the bar into the hands of exercise and fitness influencers, something already underway. Currently, the ActivMotion Bar is used by celebrity trainer Gunnar Peterson (whose clients include Kim Kardashian and Hugh Jackman), trainers for various sports teams (including the White Sox, Lions, Tigers, UofM and FSU) and physical therapists at some of the country’s top medical facilities (including the Mayo Clinic).  These credentials alone show the bar’s effectiveness, but Derek and his team have taken it one step further. In 2015, they partnered with the University of Michigan’s Human Performance Innovation Lab on a study aimed at providing insights into muscle activation differences when using a variety of weighted exercise equipment. Results of the study showed the ActivMotion Bar performing significantly better than a standard bar or medicine ball – with seven of the nine muscles analyzed showing greater activation while using the tool.

Studies like UofM’s add further credibility for ActivMotion Bar and help push it forward towards greater success and market reach. So what’s next for Derek and his growing fitness company? Well, the first item on the agenda is innovating and expanding the ActivMotion product line – something that can now be explored due to a recent Kickstarter campaign that raised $40,000 in 36 days. He’ll also work on expanding his team of nationwide trainers that are experts in the ActivMotion Bar and offer classes using the tool. Perhaps there’s even future studies and collaborations in the works too, but above all else, Derek is focused on getting the bar into the hands of new users around the world. Which could be just about anyone. Gymnasts, dancers, football players, baseball players, older adults and physical therapists. The ActivMotion Bar can help just about every demographic. It even has the potential to change the very nature of how we train our bodies, with the end result being a stronger and healthier world. And while that may sound like an exaggeration, it’s certainly a positive goal. One that got its start in a Sterling Heights business park.

If you’re interested in pursuing a new type of exercise routine, check out the ActivMotion Bar on its website here. You can also view the tool on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

**ActivMotion is a client of the Macomb County Department of Planning and Economic Development (MCPED).  The business development group assists companies in many facets of expanding and growing a company including:

  • Support with accessing state and local incentives and financing options
  • Assistance with workforce recruitment, training and retention programs
  • Identifying available sites for expanding or relocating a business
  • Access to business counseling services
  • Market research and marketing
  • Workshops and networking opportunities

The economic development specialists for MCPED are focused on growing, retaining and attracting businesses to Macomb County. To learn what resources are available for your business, visit macombbusiness.com or email info@macombbusiness.com.


Megan Ochmanek is a communications specialist for the Macomb County Department of Planning and Economic Development.

Manufacturing Day gives students behind-the-scenes access to local plants and factories

What do you think of when you imagine a manufacturing facility? Perhaps you picture a dirty, overcrowded setting with dim lighting and old machines. Alongside that you see workers doing dull, repetitive jobs. Well, what if I told you that’s not the case at all? That those ideas are manufacturing myths and scenes from the past? Would you believe me?

Because the reality is this: Most of today’s advanced manufacturers have bright, clean buildings. They have workers tasked with highly-skilled, interesting jobs. They are growing and making products essential to our everyday lives. All told, manufacturing is on the rise and companies are ready and willing to hire the next generation of talent.

But how do you dispel myths and long-held ideas while also inspiring this talent pool? One answer is the national celebration of Manufacturing Day, also known as MFG Day, an event that features high school students visiting area advanced manufacturing facilities to see the industry in action and meet people who make things. By giving young people this behind-the-scenes access, you can open their eyes to potential careers and opportunities that they may not have previously considered.

mfg day header

Here in Macomb County, we’ve held a Manufacturing Day celebration for the last five years. Our most recent was this past Friday, October 5. In all, an estimated 2,400 students from 28 MISD schools attended 82 tours given by 72 host companies – our largest event yet. During individually organized visits, students got to experience everything from the design and production of anatomically correct prosthetic solutions to the creation of vehicles. For instance, a group of students from Adlai Stevenson and Warren Career Prep Center got inside access to FCA Automobile when they toured the U.S. Warren Truck Assembly Plant.

The day started with a welcome and introduction from FCA, Macomb County and MISD leadership. A question and answer session led by Plant Manager Andy Ragalyi followed. During this activity, students learned fun facts like what the most popular Ram color is (A: white) and how many trucks are produced at the plant everyday (A: 1023). They were then provided with safety equipment and led on to the plant floor, where they were carted to sections of the facility to see the line in action. Trucks in various stages of assembly were the main attraction. Some areas had trucks with only the body complete, others featured trucks in the testing stage. But the feature consistent throughout was the constant movement of FCA employees in and around the vehicles as they slowly moved down the line. These workers expertly attached parts, worked with robots and assisted with quality assurance – demonstrating how and why a complete Ram comes off the line at Warren Trucking every 53 seconds.

The hands-on portion of the tour took place in an area of the plant dedicated to work hardening, a term used for employee training. Here students participated in activities that would help them prepare for working on the line. For instance, in an area designated dexterity, students competed in a timed race to move wooden pegs from one end of a board to another. The exercise was both fun and educational in that it allowed students to see how workers train to use both of their hands on the plant floor.

The day wrapped with a presentation on the types of careers available at FCA, a helpful guide for students who were interested in pursuing a job in manufacturing after graduation. Which brings us back to the ultimate goal of Manufacturing Day – exposing young people to the interesting and well-paying careers that are currently available in the field. Through tours at FCA and at the 71 other host site companies, we accomplish that. And as previously mentioned, this behind-the-scenes access helps this generation understand that the manufacturing jobs of the past are not the manufacturing jobs of the present. There’s opportunity out there, we just have to help make the connection.

Macomb County’s Manufacturing Day is made possible through the support of an active planning committee and the generosity of host sites and sponsors. 2018 sponsors included:

All-In

  • Advancing Macomb
  • Dominion Technologies
  • FCA
  • Fori Automation
  • Futuramic Tool & Engineering
  • Proper Group International
  • PTI Engineered Plastics
  • Siemens
  • Workforce Intelligence Network

Big Supporter

  • AIM Computer Solutions
  • Baker Industries
  • Ford Next Generation Learning
  • GM – Warren Transmission
  • KUKA North America
  • Lanzen Fabricating
  • Macomb County Chamber
  • Michigan Works! Young Professionals
  • Paslin
  • RCO Engineering
  • Romeo Rim
  • Sterling Heights Regional Chamber
  • UHY Advisors

Contributor

  • American Society of Employers
  • Mitsubishi Chemical Performance Polymers

For more information, visit http://business.macombgov.org/Business-Events-ManufacturingDay. And to see more pictures from this year’s event, click here.

Megan Ochmanek is a communications specialist for the Macomb County Department of Planning and Economic Development.