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Merged firms become FireBolt Group, move to Wixom

Estrakon plus Tecart equals FireBolt Group and more jobs in Wixom.

Estrakon is an LED sign manufacturer. The Ann Arbor-based company made a name for itself making signs for businesses using more energy-efficient LED lights. It has been recognized as a FastTrack growth firm by Ann Arbor SPARK for three years running, and for clocking 20-percent revenue growth or more each year.

Estrakon acquired TecArt last March with the idea of expanding its product line to a number of new items, such as floor mats, counter stools, and neon clocks. The newly merged companies moved to a larger facility in Wixom last September and now have a new name.

"The companies are being merged into one as FireBolt Group," says Philip Ochtman, president & CEO of FireBolt Group.

The newly created FireBolt Group has hired five people over the last year, expanding its staff to 34 employees. It is also looking to hire two sales people and an engineer right now.

"We expect that number (staff) to go up by more than 10 people this year, primarily by focusing on the production side of things," Ochtman says.

He adds the newly formed company expects to add more and bigger customers in 2015 thanks to its recent acquisition. He also wouldn’t be surprised if FireBolt Group makes another acquisition before the end of the year.

"We are aiming for it," Ochtman says. "We feel we have a good story to tell and we have proven we can do it."

Source: Philip Ochtman, president & CEO of FireBolt Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

Rochester's Trent Design rebrands to Trent Creative, grows

Trent Design is in the final stages of rebranding itself as Trent Creative, a move the boutique branding firm will execute later this month.

"We do more than design," says Marilyn Trent, principal of Trent Creative. "Our current clients know that but when we talk to new prospects it can be limiting."

The Rochester-based company, it also has an office in Midtown Detroit, has hired two people in design and client services over the last year. It currently employs six people and the occasional intern. It is also looking to hire two more people in software development and marketing.

Trent launched what will soon become Trent Creative 23 years ago. It has focused on design work for most of its life but recently moved into offering more comprehensive branding services.

The firm's work for Art X Detroit was also recently chosen as one of the 350 best designs in the U.S. in the 2014 Regional Design Annual representing the best in the Midwest. While awards like that may not directly translate into more business it is another feather the company can put in its cap when pitching new clients.

"It gives us credibility and respect," Trent says.

Trent Creative also plans to become more engaged in work in the greater downtown Detroit area. It is currently working with Midtown Detroit Inc and M-1 Rail to help encourage people to continue to do business in the neighborhood while construction of the trolley line is going over the next 18 months.

"We want to continue to help people keep shopping and doing business on Woodward as we keep building this wonderful rail," Trent says.

Source: Marilyn Trent, principal of Trent Creative
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

Labor lawyer named Deputy County Executive

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson has appointed a top labor and employment attorney as deputy county executive. Malcolm D. Brown, who has represented Oakland County in labor and employment matters for more than 25 years, will begin with the Patterson administration on Monday, Dec. 29. He replaces outgoing Deputy County Executive Ken Rogers who retires from the county at the end of the calendar year.

“We didn’t have to go far to find someone who knows the county, understands our vision, and meets the qualifications to be a leader on our team,” Patterson said. “Malcolm is a talented lawyer who has served the county since before I was county executive. I’m pleased to announce that he’s my next deputy.”

“I am excited about working at Oakland County with Brooks Patterson and implementing his plans for the future of the County,” said Brown, a shareholder at the Butzel Long law firm. “I have enjoyed practicing law at Butzel Long over the years, but this is a great opportunity to work with Brooks and be part of his team.”

Brown has practiced labor and employment law, representing employers only, for more than 25 years. He has substantial experience in handling labor and employment issues. His expertise includes collective bargaining in the public and private sector, Act 312 arbitrations, fact finding, and civil rights and employment issues, among others.

Brown was named to The Best Lawyers in America® and listed in Leading Lawyers both in 2015. He has a law degree from the University of Minnesota Law School and a B.A. in economics from Michigan State University. He is a member of the State Bar of Michigan and the Labor Law Section of the American Bar Association. He lives in Bloomfield Township with his wife attorney Ann VanderLaan. Brown has two children – Courtney Lippincott who lives in Boston and Matthew Brown who is a sophomore at Indiana University.

Rogers, who has been with Patterson since Jan. 1, 1993, will retire at the end of the year to assume his duties as executive director at Automation Alley fulltime. Patterson announced in his 2014 State of the County address that Automation Alley would become completely independent from the county in 2015.

“Ken deserves recognition for a job well done. When we launched Automation Alley, Ken understood my vision for growing it into an independent regional entity that promotes high-tech companies and investment. The future of Automation Alley remains in good hands,” Patterson said.
 

January 2015 business workshops

Business owners and entrepreneurs who need assistance are encouraged to attend seminars offered by the Oakland County One Stop Shop Business Center. Unless otherwise noted, all programs are held at the Oakland County Executive Office Building Conference Center, 2100 Pontiac Lake Road, west of Telegraph, in Waterford. For pre-registration and a location map, visit www.AdvantageOakland.com/businessworkshops or call (248) 858-0783.

Business Research: Feasibility to Expansion
Jan. 14, 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
Thinking of starting a business and want to research your business idea? Do you want to identify market trends and opportunities to grow your sales? Are you looking for new customers or to diversify your market base? Business Research shows you ways to find your ideal customers, your competitors, perform competitive analysis and more. Presented by The One Stop Shop Business Center
 
Fee: This workshop is free but pre-registration is required.
 
CEED Small Business Loan Orientation 
Jan. 14, 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.
Many small business owners face obstacles when trying to obtain a business loan. If your business is in Oakland County and you need alternative financing, consider the Center for Empowerment and Economic Development (CEED) Small Business Loan Program. Discover the requirements and process necessary to apply and obtain a CEED small business loan.
 
Fee: This workshop is free but pre-registration is required.
 
Starting a Business
Jan. 15, 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.
This workshop is designed for individuals who are at the beginning stages of starting a business. It will help aspiring entrepreneurs assess their abilities to lead and manage a company, as well as evaluate market and sales potential for their products/services. Start-up costs, financing options, and business planning are introduced, along with necessary steps to getting started.

Fee: This workshop is free but pre-registration is required. 
 

DeVry University partners with Kelly Services, Inc.

DeVry University announced a new partnership with Kelly Services Inc., (NASDAQ: KELYA, KELYB) a leading provider of outsourced and consulting workforce solutions. Together, DeVry and Kelly Services will do their part to help close the skills gap and infuse employment opportunities particularly within the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) career fields. 
 
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment in occupations related to STEM is projected to grow to more than 9 million between 2012 and 2022 - an increase of approximately 1 million jobs over 2012 employment levels.
 
As part of the agreement, DeVry University will provide higher education opportunities to Kelly Services employees.  With more than 85 locations nationwide and a robust online learning environment, DeVry University will offer career-oriented associate, bachelor’s and master’s degree programs from its five colleges of study.  In return, Kelly Services will work with the university’s Career Services Department to promote STEM-related positions to DeVry University and its Keller Graduate School of Management students and alumni.   
 
“Education is of vital importance in our country today,” said Robert Paul, president of DeVry University. “For more than 80 years, we have prided ourselves on the care and attention we give to our students, to ensure that they have the knowledge and real-world experiences to prepare them for career success. Our rigorous curriculum is constantly evolving, just like the world we live in. Whether it’s within STEM or another career field, we look forward to helping Kelly Services educate their workforce for the high demand fields of today and tomorrow.”
 
For more information about the partnership, visit: http://partner.devry.edu/kellyservices.
 
About DeVry University 
DeVry University’s mission is to foster student learning through high-quality, career-oriented education integrating technology, business, science and the arts. Founded in 1931, the university offers undergraduate and graduate degree programs onsite and online covering 34 different career fields within its five distinguished colleges of study: Business & Management, Engineering & Information Sciences, Health Sciences, Liberal Arts & Sciences, and Media Arts & Technology. The university is institutionally accredited by The Higher Learning Commission and is a member.

Stuart Mechanical aims to hit $5.5M in revenue in 2015

Stuart Mechanical has made some big strides in revenue generation since its launch in 2011.

The Madison Heights-based HVAC firm has gone from zero revenue to in excess of $4 million in a few short years. It is now taking aim at crossing another big milestone.

"I'm going to be nipping at the heels of $5 million in 2014," says Ray Barnowske, vice president and manager of operations for Stuart Mechanical. "The growth has been tremendous."

He would like to see the company’s revenue hit between $5.5 million and $6 million in 2015. That seems possible since the firm has added a construction department and is taking on big projects like The Albert luxury apartment renovation in downtown Detroit.

Stuart Mechanical has also grown its staff significantly since its launch. The company started with 10 employees. Today it has 30 employees and the occasional intern. It has hired four people, such as service technicians, this year, and is looking to add a few more in early 2015.

"We're always looking," Barnowski says.

Source: Ray Barnowske, vice president & manager of operations for Stuart Mechanical
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

Carbon Media Group adds 15 jobs, signs bull riding partnership

Carbon Media Group has inked a new partnership with the Professional Bull Riders, a deal that the online media startup hopes will bring its viewership together.

The Bingham Farms-based company helps coordinate advertising and content creation for more than 600 websites for fans of the outdoors, agriculture and action sports/events/activities. It has an extensive network of outdoor-related YouTube channels and its own CarbonTV outlet for online videos about the outdoors. The startup’s two primary audiences consist of fans of outdoors and rural activities along with fans of action sports like hunting, fishing, and skying.

"The Professional Bull Riders is a very elegant bridge between the two types of content we have," says Hyaat Chaudhry, CEO of Carbon Media Group.

YouTube made the introduction between the two organizations because Carbon Media Group is the second largest global sports network on YouTube. The Professional Bull Riders, which has roughly 20 million fans, was in the process of figuring out how best to develop its digital audience.

Carbon Media Group is on track to grow 35 percent in 2014, and Chaudhry expects to do that again next year. "That's roughly on track with our annual growth rate," he says.

The 7-year-old company has hired 15 people over the last year, including professionals in design, sales, account management, and executive leadership. It now has a staff of 62 employees and plans to bring on two interns this summer. It is looking to hire five people now, including staff accountants and marketers.

"We're always looking for good digital media sales people," Chaudhry says.

Source: Hyaat Chaudhry, CEO of Carbon Media Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

Roughly 1,300 new jobs as 13 Oakland County companies share nearly $700,000 in job training funds

Thirteen Oakland County companies received almost $700,000 from the state’s Skilled Trades Training Fund, enabling them to hire nearly 1,300 new employees while upgrading the skills of more than 700 current employees.

The funds will be used to train current employees in occupations such as software programming support, electrical vehicle development, computer-aided design, welding and robot operations.

“This is one state economic development program that works and creates some huge return on our investment,” Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson said. “Congratulations to our 13 companies and also a nod to the state for creating the Skilled Trades Training Fund.”

The companies in turn agreed to contribute nearly $3 million in matching job training funds to help prepare their workforces. Coupled with funds received in 2013 from the state fund, Oakland County employers – through Oakland County Michigan Works! – received more than $1.1 million to retrain its existing workforce and hire new employees.

“The program provides a fantastic opportunity to help our employees advance and add to our growth,” said Juli Elkins of GableTEK, a Troy-based engineering and robotics firm that received about $23,000 in training funds.

Magna International, a Canada-based tier one auto supplier whose American headquarters is in Troy, was the largest benefactor of the training funds, receiving more than $293,000. German tier one supplier Brose, located in Auburn Hills, was next in line at more than $112,000 in training funds.

Employers must apply for the state funds through their local Michigan Works! office. The grants are monitored and the companies must report on how the funds were used and that employees designated for job training actually receive it, said John Almstadt, manager of Workforce Development for the Oakland County Department of Economic Development & Community Affairs.

Other companies receiving training funds are: ALTe Technologies, Beaumont Health System, Becker Orthopedic, Creative Breakthroughs, Eaton Steel, FANUC America Corp., Henniges Automotive, Paramount Precision Products, Progressive Metal Manufacturing and Total Door.
 

FANUC America donates robotics equipment to OU Engineering programs

FANUC America Corporation of Rochester Hills, Mich., recently made a substantial gift-in-kind donation of cutting-edge equipment to Oakland University that company leaders said will help boost OU’s impact on the regional economy.

The robotics supplier’s donation of robots, software and 2D iRVision will support development of an Industrial Robotics and Automation program within OU’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering

Engineering students will be trained for high-demand jobs, many of which are in metro Detroit, home to world-class robotics and automation companies.

FANUC America General Manager Mick Estes says the company is excited to expand its longstanding support for similar programs.
 
“Working together and sharing industry-leading innovative technology is what will make the difference in narrowing the skills gap in manufacturing,” Estes says. “The staff at the OU School of Engineering and Computer Science (SECS) brings the highest degree of professionalism and tremendous personal passion to the task.
 
“They provide students the opportunity to learn and apply their knowledge and skills using the latest innovations in engineering and manufacturing technology, and we are pleased to be a part of this effort.”
 
Some of that industry technology includes the FANUC M-1 robot. Equipped with vision technology, the machines can “see” the pieces they are working with, making them useful in a wide spectrum of industries like pharmaceutical, agricultural, small-part assembly and automotive. They will be used by engineering students in the brand new Industrial Robotics Lab, preparing them with not only hands-on training, but the skills to design applications and understand modern technology. 
 
"There is a spectrum of applications for these type(s) of robots, from picking up a car to sorting pills," adds Estes. And the controller, called the teach pendant, is universal across all FANUC robots. So once students learn on the M-1, the smallest FANUC robot, they can apply those skills to any application. 
 
According to Khalid Mirza, Ph.D., visiting assistant professor of engineering, learning the tools is the easy part. Middle school students touring SECS labs will pick up the teach pendant and start maneuvering the robot like it is any old video game, he says. “It’s how you design the engineering solution.”
 
Employers don’t simply want the engineer, however, shares Paul Aiello, director of certified education training at FANUC America Corporation, "…they want somebody who can look at a problem and can think of a way to manufacture that part.”
 
Noting the trend to "re-shore" manufacturing jobs back to the United States and large percentage of skilled engineers nearing retirement, Aiello asks "who's going to fill these jobs?" 
 
But he answers his own question: "That's what got FANUC to partner with Oakland University." 
 
SECS Dean Louay Chamra, Ph.D., said the school looks forward to showcasing state-of-the-art equipment in its robotics labs.
 
“The donated equipment will educate the next generation of engineers in order to provide the talent needed in industrial robotics and advanced manufacturing,” Dean Chamra says.
 
Oakland’s partnership with FANUC America — the world’s largest manufacturer of industrial robotics — is a “win-win” for industry and academia, adds Mirza.
 
“Our School of Engineering and Computer Science is committed to building a strong and relevant program in Industrial Robotics and Automation,” he says. “We have formed an advisory board so that industries can directly provide us expertise and support for curriculum development, program development and strategic planning.
 
“We are proud to have FANUC America join the board and look forward to a successful and mutually beneficial relationship. The FANUC America headquarters in Rochester Hills is located right next to OU and gives us a unique opportunity to work closely with them.”

FANUC America is the leading supplier of robotic automation in the Americas.
 

New agreement paves the way for Oakland Community College students to earn WSU business degrees

The Wayne State University School of Business and Oakland Community College have announced a new agreement that makes it easier for students to earn an associate degree at OCC while earning credit toward a business degree at WSU.

The agreement allows students from OCC who’ve earned an associate degree in business administration, with or without a concentration in accounting, to transfer those credits to Wayne State to complete a bachelor’s degree within the School of Business.

OCC students will be allowed to transfer up to 82 credit hours to Wayne State after completing one of the associate degree programs mentioned above. According to Linda Zaddach, assistant dean of undergraduate student services in the WSU School of Business, students who take full advantage of the new agreement will have only 40 more credits to complete a bachelor’s degree in business at WSU.

“It’s really a grand slam for everyone that’s involved,” Zaddach said. “OCC, Wayne State and, most importantly, the students.”

Wayne State University has made a concerted effort in recent years to make it easier for students to transfer from area community colleges. Besides Oakland Community College, the WSU School of Business has similar agreements with Schoolcraft College and Macomb Community College. Zaddach says she is currently working on articulation agreements with Henry Ford College and eventually hopes to establish one with Washtenaw Community College.

For more information on undergraduate business programs at Wayne State University, please visit business.wayne.edu.
 

IT training at OCC translates to jobs

Waterford resident Jay Braman, a software developer for 30 years, lost his job when the company where he worked closed its doors in 2013.
 
Following a job interview, Braman realized he needed to update his skills. Lucky for him, he heard about Code ReConnect (.net), a programming and web development training at Oakland Community College that landed him a job following eight weeks of training.
 
The program—a collaboration of Automation Alley, Kelly IT Resources and Michigan Works! Agencies of Oakland County — offers a variety of programming and web development courses: HTML5, CSS3 and JavaScript, MVC 4 in ASP.NET and Entity Framework.  
 
With the help of program partner Kelly Services IT, he was offered a position at Stahls’ ID Direct after completing training.
 
“It was a great introduction to the latest technologies and tools,” he said of Code ReConnect. “I got an excellent start on all things web.”
 
Funded through a $5 million U.S. Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration grant, its goal is to place local residents in high-demand programming and web development jobs.
 
OCC is now recruiting participants for the program’s second cohort, which has been expanded to 13 weeks of training.
 
“Many Southeast Michigan employers are experiencing a skills gap in technical areas, including Information Technology,” said Jennifer Llewellyn, CDF, BSP, Director, Oakland County Michigan Works! Troy. “Code Reconnect addresses the skills gap IT employers are facing.”
 
A critical component of Code ReConnect is its partnership with a local Workforce Agency, a training provider such as a Community College and an employer, said Kristi Arnone, EdEn Inc., who serves as the program’s grant administrator. 
 
The training provides job candidates the preparation to enter the IT industry. Michigan Works! and Kelly Services provides interview and resume preparation, coaching and employment opportunities. OCC provides a solid, industry-driven program and Automation Alley and Kelly Services offers a network of career opportunities.   
 
The program’s second session runs January 5 to April 2, 2015 with students testing for certification the week of March 9. A $75 enrollment fee is required prior to the first class. The entire enrollment fee is refundable upon successful completion of the curriculum and receipt of Microsoft certification.
 
To register for an information session, visit automationalley.com.
 
About OCC:
With five campuses throughout Oakland County, OCC is celebrating its 50th year. OCC is the largest community college in Michigan and the 25thlargest in the nation. It offers degrees and certificates in more than 160 career fields and university transfer degrees in business, science and the liberal arts. More than a million students have enrolled in the college since it opened in 1965. To learn more about OCC, visit www.oaklandcc.edu.
 

Ease Living brings style to home medical equipment

Getting old isn't really fashionable in the 21st century. A new company in Beverly Hills is trying to change that.

Ease Living sells lifestyle aids for seniors and people with disabilities. The offerings are curated to help bring more fashionable items to the people who need them, such as compression socks with patterns.

"Most of the common home medical equipment doesn't work very well and it's ugly," says Alison Emerick, president of Ease Living.

Emerick is an occupational therapist who launched the company from her home a year ago. She sees making these sorts of fashionable offerings as bringing mobility and dignity to the people who need them.

"No one want their house to look like a hospital room," Emerick says.

Ease Living sells its wares from its website. Emerick is looking at adding a print catalogue to appeal to older customers. She is also looking at the idea of opening a brick-and-mortar shop in the next year.

Source: Alison Emerick, president of Ease Living
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

Billhighway adds 10 jobs, focuses on staff development, culture

Every time Billhighway makes a new hire, a press release gets its wings and flies off into the world. More specifically, the Troy-based tech firm likes to announce each new hire with a press release. The company’s public relations team has been busy in 2014 sending out in excess of half a dozen new announcements about new hires.

The 14-year-old firm has hired 10 people over the last year and is looking to hire another three in project management and software development. The firm currently employs 50 people and seven interns. One of its former interns from earlier this year was also hired into a full-time position.

"Our turnover is really low, like 1-2 percent (quarterly)," says Brenda Gallick, director of team member success for Billhighway.

A big reason for that is Billhighway works to grow its employees. About 30 percent of its open positions are filled by candidates from within looking to take the next step up in their careers.

"We spend a lot of time on career development," Gallick says.

Billhighway launched as a software platform that helps people divvy up expenses, such as dues or dinner costs, in 1999. It has grown and evolved to the point that it specializes in helping non-profits and other organizations deal with their finances. It has experienced significantly higher demand for its software as it makes a bid to reach second-stage status, prompting the hiring spree. The company's leadership doesn’t expect that trend to lessen anytime soon.

"We have quite a bit of growth planned going forward," Gallick says.

Source: Brenda Gallick, director of team member success for Billhighway
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

Mom Biz Coach founder debuts DIY biz coaching book

About a decade ago, Lara Galloway was a stay-at-home mom aiming to become a work-at-home mom by starting her own business. The trained life coach found that she needed the help of a business coach and then came to the realization that starting a businesses is not something someone does on the side.

"There was no way I was going to work 60 hours a week to get it off the ground," Galloway says. "That's why I left corporate America."

Instead the Bloomfield Hills resident launched Mom Biz Coach, a consulting firm that helps other women blend work and family. She says she often helps women who are building businesses that have grown quickly.

"They are growing beyond themselves and they need teams," Galloway says.

And mentors. Galloway is a firm believer in the idea that mentorship makes everyone better. It's also why she is launching her own book this month, Moms Mean Business: A Guide to Creating a Successful Company and Happy Life as a Mom Entrepreneur. Galloway describes the tome as a DIY coaching tool.

"We know that everybody in businesses can benefit from a mentor or a coach," Galloway says. "But not everybody can afford to hire one."

Source: Lara Galloway, founder of Mom Biz Coach
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

Oakland County wellness program helps reduce annual medical cost increases

Excerpt:

Oakland County’s wellness program has saved the county $14 million over seven years and reduced the number of employees found to have serious medical problems as a result of voluntary health risk assessments, said Nancy Scarlet, the county’s human resource director. 

Read more.

 
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