‘Tis the season for Shop Local Macomb! Here’s how your business can get involved.

pexels-photo-929245Like the song says, it’s the most wonderful time of the year! And if you own a small business, you likely agree. The holiday season provides the perfect opportunity for attracting new customers and boosting sales margins. Which is why the Macomb County Department of Planning & Economic Development (MCPED) is partnering with First State Bank and the Sterling Heights Regional and Macomb County chambers to bring back the Shop Local Macomb campaign. We want to help our more than 1,600 independently owned and operated retailers by encouraging local holiday shopping.

“Shopping local is one of the easiest things we can do to support our independently owned businesses,” said John Paul Rea, director of MCPED. “These retailers help us build vibrant cities and towns by attracting visitors and new residents. Which means that spending money at these businesses during the holiday season has an impact far beyond sales figures.”

Shop Local Macomb and its corresponding social media competition will officially launch on November 23. Like last year, this contest will ask individuals to upload photos of their local holiday shopping with the #ShopLocalMacomb hashtag for a chance to win one of five $500 gift cards (donated by First State Bank).

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In the interim, campaign organizers are asking independently owned and operated retail businesses in Macomb County to submit their Shop Local Saturday (November 24) deals and other holiday discounts to a digital portal here: http://bit.ly/ShopLocalMacomb. There is no charge to submit and all information collected will be promoted on MakeMacombYourHome.com and a variety of other mediums, like our interactive holiday shopping map.

Anecdotally, businesses that participated in this manner last year saw an increase in foot traffic on that Saturday.

“We heard from many businesses after the Shop Local Saturday event last year, and those that had the extra promotion through our outlets experienced a greater number of shoppers than they had in years prior,” said Melanie Davis, president of the Sterling Heights Regional Chamber of Commerce. “So submitting your deals and discounts is an easy and free way to spread the word about your business and get new customers.”

Businesses interested in sharing their holiday deals through the free online portal are asked to do so by Friday, November 16. And those that would like to help us promote the Shop Local Macomb campaign can download a flyer here and use the #ShopLocalMacomb campaign hashtag on social media. All told, this extra support can help us make this holiday shopping season in Macomb County the best one yet.

For more information on the Shop Local Macomb campaign, visit http://www.makemacombyourhome.com/shoplocal.

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

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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.

am bar fitness

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.

Free webinar this Friday for system that assists small to mid-size businesses with federal contracting

Nearly 4,000 Michigan businesses are currently serving the defense industry, but according to the Michigan Defense Center, there is room for more. To open up access, the center recently launched the Bid Targeting System (BTS), a web-based tool application that supports companies with government contracting experience and companies which have not done business with the government in the past. Through business intelligence and predictive analytics, the BTS helps organizations quickly identify and prioritize federal contract opportunities and save time and money in the pursuit of that work. The resource also scores companies the way a federal contracting officer would, giving small and medium-sized contractors the same advantages that large primes derive from their in-house experts.

On Tuesday, September 25, the Michigan Defense Center, the Macomb County Chamber of Commerce and the Macomb County Department of Planning and Economic Development hosted the first public training for the Bid Targeting System at the Velocity Center in Sterling Heights.

The session was led by Dustin Frigy, a leader at the Defense Center. He helped attendees gain a thorough understanding of the system and showcased its features and benefits, which include:

Features:

  • Prioritize bid opportunities with custom search filters and criteria weights
  • Automatically match your firm with top bidding opportunities
  • Receive daily email notifications of new bid opportunities
  • Save and manage your favorite bid opportunities with total user control
  • Custom and standard reports, including company specific “Firm Report”
  • Multiple search features: NAICS, Region, SBA Program, Bid Due Date
  • Extracts & integrates business intelligence from various sources
  • Grant funding available to hire professional bid writers

Benefits:

  • Personally manage your bid opportunity search profile
  • Save time and money pursuing federal bids
  • Develop a practical roadmap to becoming a successful federal contractor by leveraging information from multiple sources
  • Understand your firm’s strengths and weaknesses, the same that federal buyers are seeing
  • Customize strategies to improve score and grow your business faster
  • More informed business decision-making on pursuing federal bids

The in-person training proved to be extremely popular so a free online training has been announced for this Friday, September 28. The 60 minute webinar and Q&A session will be hosted by the Michigan Defense Center at 10:30 a.m. If you’re interested in participating in the webinar, please RSVP by responding to frigy@michigandefensecenter.org. And if you know of another individual or company that might want to join, please feel free to share this article.

Lauri Cowhy is a senior communications specialist for the Macomb County Department of Planning and Economic Development.

Macomb Community College’s entrepreneurship courses offer business owners a path to success

There are many resources available for entrepreneurs here in Macomb County. From consultants to courses, business owners have access to a wide variety of assistance that will help them succeed. Recently, Macomb Community College announced several non-credit classes and workshops aimed at this demographic. Seven continuing education courses, which are sponsored in cooperation with the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Macomb Community College, were created for the new entrepreneur and those who want to stay in business. They contain the skill development critical to the success of any business and provide information on topics ranging from marketing to financing.

We sat down with Don Morandini, former director of Macomb County Planning and Economic Development, to discuss several of the classes that he will be teaching.  He shared some background on who should enroll in these courses and why they are relevant.

Q: Who should attend this course and what will they learn? 

A: Current business owners and new business owners.  Students will learn about:

  • Your industry and customers
  • Where your customers are
  • What could make a business successful

Q: What do you find is the number one issue most entrepreneurs encounter while starting up a business? 

A: The number one issue is understanding who customers are and what they want.  Entrepreneurs need to think like their customer.

Q: How does this course work to address that? 

A: Students put a plan together and do the research in constructing that plan by:

  • Knowing the customer and who their potential customers are
  • Considering the customer by how much they might pay and location
  • Considering how customers want to buy, either online or in-store

Q: Why are continuing education courses (like this one) important for business owners? 

A: The entrepreneurship continuing education courses offer value for the dollar and continuous growth because learning about entrepreneurship helps you understand your competition and stay relevant.

Q: Do you have any anecdotes that you could share from previous courses you have taught? Any success stories that demonstrate why entrepreneurs should attend?

A: An existing entrepreneur doing residential cleaning expanded their business by offering commercial cleaning.  Also, a retiree opened up a clothing retail business, which has been up and running for over 5 years now.

Individuals interested in these courses can sign up over both fall and winter semesters. The program is not offered in the spring/summer. For information or to enroll, contact the program coordinator at 586-498-4121 or continuinged@macomb.edu.


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

SMT Automation provides a solution for workforce shortages

Finding a talented workforce is top of mind for every organization. But sometimes there are barriers to getting the right people in the right positions. Especially for industries that require specialized employees, like manufacturing.

pexels-photo-1216589One of the main issues for employers in that field is a massive shortage of skilled workers. This is a problem across the country, but here in Michigan, where manufacturing makes up 87 percent of the state’s GDP, it’s become very serious. According to recent reports, there are 80,000 jobs that cannot be filled because of the scarcity of trained workers. The effects of this shortage can be very negative for profits, and if not addressed, it could lead to businesses shuttering their facilities and moving elsewhere.

That’s where Macomb County-based SMT Automation comes in.  They offer specialized staffing solutions to meet the needs of manufacturers. These teams of contracted individuals will then provide on site design and engineering services, hardware selection, implementation of control systems, support for starting machinery and commissioning and advice in control systems – services that are certainly resonating with Michigan businesses.

Behind the business
The leaders behind this successful venture are husband and wife team Marco Santana and Elena Morales. They started SMT in 2017, several years after moving from Mexico for Elena’s job. Marco, a controls and automation engineer, heard over and over from Michigan manufacturers about their workforce shortages. Given his advanced degrees, experience and connections, he felt he could find a solution to the problem and after many discussions with Elena, they established their business.

Getting started was not always easy and it required round-the-clock commitment to the job. But the couple, who have been together for 15 years, persevered and manufacturers came calling. SMT now counts several industry leaders as clients. They love the services SMT provides, which are somewhat similar to those offered by a traditional staffing agency. But it’s also completely different. Marco and Elena run an international firm that identifies engineering and automation talent around the world. They then recruit, train and manage the process for getting these individuals to the United States. Once here in Michigan, SMT employs the foreign workers and contracts out their services. But rather than just place a temporary worker, SMT places an entire team on site at the client’s facility. This team is trained in localized processes and procedures to ensure expert handling of projects in a timely manner. At the end of a job, the SMT workers are transferred to whichever client is next on the list for services.

pexels-photo-544965So how might this work in a real world situation? Say that you are a local manufacturer that is installing a new machine in one of your facilities. You have limited capacity to get that piece of equipment up and running, so you contract with SMT to bring in a knowledgeable and trained team to handle the job. This team then works on site for a determined period of time to get the assigned project done. They manage all troubleshooting, programming, design and engineering – allowing you to continue to focus on your day-to-day activities. When the job is complete, the SMT team moves on. However, if their support is needed long-term, they can stay on board.

Why do all this? Well, as previously stated, there is a trained worker shortage in Michigan and manufacturers cannot wait for the local talent pipeline to recover. So they have to turn to different labor pools and looking internationally has become an important option. This makes contracting with SMT appealing as it reduces the risk for companies that want to employ foreign workers but are wary or unsure of the process. And all told, clients of SMT are thrilled with the results of their partnerships. Some clients even want to poach SMT talent.

Recruiting a talented workforce
With SMT talent in demand, it is imperative that Marco and Elena continue their efforts to find educated and trained individuals for their workforce. Currently, they are looking to double their employee count, which will require a change in their international business model. The couple now plan to shift from hiring foreign talent to hiring right here in Metro Detroit. They want to find people with the right degrees and the right experience. But they also want employees with a positive attitude. And for Marco and Elena, this might be the most important skill of them all. They need people who will go in and get the job done. People who are up for a challenge. People who will deliver on promises made to clients. This is what sets SMT apart and makes them a vital resource for manufacturers.

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On top of finding these skilled and good-natured workers, SMT also plans to grow its footprint in Macomb County. Current operations for the business are housed in Clinton Township, but Elena and Marco are looking to expand into a larger office in the near future. With this new space, the couple can work towards their ultimate goal – giving back to their community by giving young people more employment opportunities. They wholeheartedly believe in helping the next generation of manufacturing talent get that first foot in the door, because when that demographic finds meaningful work, they contribute to the well-being of our economy. This idea is certainly part of the solution to fixing the overall workforce shortage in manufacturing. Young people need to be given the chance at these skilled careers and they should be supported in their efforts in the industry.

SMT is not alone in this mission. Macomb County leaders are making big strides in this area as well by collaborating with partners to develop and support initiatives that expose the next generation to science and technology-related education and careers. This work includes:

  • The Macomb County Department of Planning & Economic Development partners with the Macomb Intermediate School District, along with an active planning committee and generous sponsors, to coordinate one of the nation’s largest celebrations of Manufacturing Day (MFG Day). Since 2014, more than 7,000 students have visited a nearby plant to see industry in action and learn about career possibilities.
  • Macomb Community College hosts AUTO Steam Days, a two-day hands-on opportunity for students to explore careers in automotive design, robotics, manufacturing and technology.
  • The Michigan Automotive & Defense Cyber Awareness Team (MADCAT) partners with academia and area U.S. Department of Defense assets to develop a career pathway for high school and college students in cybersecurity.

These efforts, combined with businesses like SMT, can perhaps put us on a pathway to solving the talent crisis in manufacturing. And furthermore, a mindset like Marco and Elena’s that prioritizes giving young people their first career opportunity, will hopefully ensure a positive economic future for the entire state.

For more information on SMT, visit their website here.

**SMT Automation is a client of the Macomb County Department of Planning and Economic Development. Working with MCPED, they have access to services like assistance with marketing, financial analysis and planning, strategic planning, management and operations. To learn how our services can help your business grow, visit http://www.MacombBusiness.com or call 586-469-5285.

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

Macomb County woman becomes publishing powerhouse

Rebecca J. Ensign Photo 1How does a book get to the number one spot on Amazon’s best sellers list? Some might say its luck, but local publisher, Rebecca Ensign, knows better. In 1999, she helped James Talmadge Stevens clinch that top position with “Making the Best of Basics.” Through careful planning and strategic promotions, they achieved something not many individuals do. Now she’s willing to share the secret to that success through her new venture, a Warren-based content strategy and marketing services provider called Ensignia. The company, which Ensign started in 2014, focuses on the creation, development, preparation, formatting, packaging and dissemination of various types of content for all mediums and purposes. For instance, Ensign will write copy for new websites or craft scripts for corporate videos. Essentially, she’ll give businesses the boost they need by applying her expert communications skills. A craft she’s honed through her many years in the field.

A natural talent

When Ensign graduated college with a degree in political science and philosophy, her father questioned what she would do to make money. But Ensign knew her passion was writing and she pursued that as a freelancer. At 21, she got her first paid job writing for Michael Moore at The Flint Voice, an underground, alternative newspaper. She drafted press releases and announcements, cutting her teeth in the profession with an individual who would one day become a major voice in national media.

Eventually, Ensign needed a change of scenery and she tapped into Ann Arbor. It was here that she met a publishing headhunter who identified her “natural talent” for his industry. He changed her professional trajectory and got her job offers from some of the east coast’s most prominent publishing houses. Ensign was most intrigued by a Boston-based startup that specialized in college textbooks and after accepting a position there, she found herself immersed in the world of manuscripts and writers. A few weeks in, she discovered an innate ability to see what books would work and what wouldn’t. She was also adept at forming strong relationships with her authors, a key component for ensuring a positive publishing experience. These characteristics helped Ensign rise through the ranks at her company and she became its east coast manager at age 27. But after several years with this title, she started thinking about pursuing something on her own.

A leap of faith

Ensign made that life-changing decision after reading two proposed textbooks by two university professors. She had a gut-feeling that the books would do well outside of traditional collegiate circulation, so she convinced the authors to publish their work with GLP logo for Home page July 2018a new, independent firm that she was going to start. With just $200 dollars in her pocket, she left her impressive job and steady paycheck to open Gold Leaf Press back home in a downtown Mount Clemens basement office. It was a leap of faith with some uncertainty involved, but Ensign had been entrusted with getting her clients’ books off the ground so she had to get right to work finding a printing partner and developing a strategic cadence for production. Her plan – only print as many books as you need. Then, after you sell those, print more. It was a simple strategy, but it paid off. Both authors’ books found success with Ensign’s new company, with one even making its way to Pope John Paul II and the storied Vatican library.  Eventually word began to spread about “the girl in the basement” and in matter of months she had a sizable client list that included corporations and Detroit News columnist Pete Waldmeir. But no matter how many books were on her plate, she took the time to work closely with each individual writer, getting to know them on a personal level. Because for Ensign, chemistry with an author is an essential part of the publishing process.

Hitting the big time
Ensign got her big break five years later when one of her client’s books clinched the number one spot on the Amazon best sellers list. But as previously mentioned, there was a bit more to the story than just luck. According to Ensign, it’s all about market timing and she knew that if she found the right opportunity at the right moment, she could hit it big. In 1997, that came in the form of a congressional hearing broadcast on CSPAN. The Y2K phenomenon was approaching and government leaders were planning for a massive disaster brought on by the potential malfunction of computers around the world. These types of discussions certainly irked the public and many began stockpiling supplies for what was called the end of the world. Ensign saw through the panic and sensed an opportunity. She found an expert in family preparedness and secured the rights to collaboratively publish his book “Making the Best of Basics.” In January 1999, at the height of millennium madness, the book hit number one on Amazon. So as you can see, this was no coincidence. It was all by Ensign’s design.

Sterlingfest 2018 RE-AJIn the years following this success, Ensign kept busy publishing more than 150 books. Business was good, however, the industry was starting to become chaotic. A break was in order, so in 2014, she stepped back from Gold Leaf Press. During this period, she dove into studying new trends and technology in communications. And when she was ready, she hit the reset button and formed her current content strategy and marketing venture, Ensignia. The company houses Gold Leaf Press, so Ensign is still publishing. But now she’s offering clients additional services, with content creation at the core. Also key to her business – working closely with every individual that becomes a client. She wants them to have a great experience publishing a book, crafting a blog or editing a manuscript. Of course, this all makes sense. Building these types of relationships was the cornerstone of Ensign’s career in Boston and at Gold Leaf Press. By continuing these efforts, she will no doubt experience a similar level of success.

A special opportunity
Those moved by Ensign’s story and interested in her secret to success will be thrilled to learn of a special opportunity hosted by the communications expert. On Friday, October 5, Ensign will hold a free seminar called “The Secrets & Strategies of the Best-Sellers and Top Google Search Rankers.” Alongside co-host Russ Cuthrell of Spyder Byte Media, she will teach attendees how to get the most out of websites, social media, digital marketing, advertising and PR efforts. Notably, for aspiring and published authors, the seminar includes two very interesting bonus features:

  • Bonus Feature #1: The 5 Critical Elements every #1 Amazon Best-seller Must Have
  • Bonus Feature #2: From Idea to Manuscript and Manuscript to Published Book

Space for the seminar is limited, so Ensign is asking for advanced registration here. My recommendation – don’t wait to reserve a seat at the event. There aren’t many publishers and communications experts out there willing to share their secrets for free. So sign up now and perhaps one day, you can be an Amazon best seller too.

For more information on Rebecca Ensign, Ensignia and Gold Leaf Press, visit https://www.goldleafpress.com/.

**Ensignia is a client of the Macomb County Department of Planning and Economic Development. Working with MCPED, they have access to services like assistance with marketing, financial analysis and planning, strategic planning, management and operations. To learn how our services can help your business to grow, visit http://www.MacombBusiness.com or call 586-469-5285. You can also reach Jack Johns at jack.johns@macombgov.org.

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

What you should know before you start your small business

pexels-photo-908295Small business is booming in Michigan. According to a 2018 SBA state report, there are more than 870,000 of these establishments employing over 1.8 million individuals. However, getting a small business off the ground can be difficult, and every year there are closures alongside openings. That’s why investing in business education from the start is important. And Michigan’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC) is here to assist all entrepreneurs and innovators in this effort. For instance, on Thursday, August 16 from 9:30 a.m. to noon, they will host a free workshop for individuals who are at the beginning stages of opening a business. The class will be held at the office of Macomb County Planning and Economic Development (1 S. Main, 7th Floor, Mt. Clemens) and will provide attendees with important information on:

  • Assessing readiness for entrepreneurship
  • Steps for starting a business
  • Writing a business plan
  • Tools to determine startup costs and operating expenses
  • Local resources and recommendations

To register for the workshop, click here. If you’re unable to attend on August 16, there are several additional dates offered, including:

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The SBDC also offers online webinars on a variety of topics. The following are currently open for registration:

Writing a Business Plan
Wednesday, August 1; 11am-Noon
Register Here

Marketing Your Business
Wednesday, August 8; 11-Noon
Register Here

Small Business, Big Threat – An Introduction to Cyber Security
Tuesday, August 14; 11-Noon
Register Here

Business Legal Issues
Wednesday August 15; 11am-Noon
Register Here

Financial Management
Wednesday, August 22; 11am-Noon
Register Here

Starting a Business
Wednesday, August 29; 11am-Noon
Register Here

So as you can see, there are plenty of opportunities to start your business education. Just attend a few workshops and you’ll be well on your way to getting your organization off the ground.

For more information on Macomb County Planning and Economic Development click here. For details on the Michigan SBDC, click here or call Wendy Richardson at 313-672-1101.

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