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Assets International sharpens focus to expand company

Assets International isn’t just about doing more work. The Southfield-based firm is about taking on the most profitable work it can do.

"We're just a little bit more picky about the work we’re doing," says Michael Zwick, president of Assets International. "Let's be a leaner, stronger company."

The 14-year-old company got its start helping regular people find and claim property that rightly belongs to them, such as inheritances. It has recently expanded into the oil-and-gas industry, helping property owners capture idle royalties from oil drilling and exploration. Assets International has only been doing that for a few years but today that line of work now makes up 25 percent of its bottom line, and that percentage is growing.

"There is a lot of money that is sitting there waiting for people to claim it," Zwick says.

Assets International currently employs 17 people. It has hired two people (a paralegal and office administrator) over the last year. That staff is also working to help create more revenue streams, such as helping corporations find money owed to them and create efficiencies in their workplace.

Source: Michael Zwick, president of Assets International
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

BorgWarner sees growth in industry change


A walk across the auto show floor means one thing to BorgWarner Inc. CEO James Verrier: opportunity.

The Auburn Hills-based maker of engine, transmission and driveline systems boasts components in roughly 70 percent of the 750 cars and trucks on display at this week's North American International Auto Show.

Read more.


Continued growth drives expansion and hiring at Chase Plastics

Chase Plasticsa leading stocking distributor of more than 6,400 specialty, engineering and commodity thermoplastics, grew its total revenue to $217 million in 2014, a nine percent year-over-year increase, and is on pace to exceed $260 million by 2016. This growth is fueled in part by the company’s continued expansion in Canada, where Chase Plastics increased year-over-year revenue by 21 percent and its total customer base by more than 18 percent.
“As we continue to expand our capabilities and sales presence across North and Central America, we’re committed to continuing to elevate the ‘outrageous’ levels of customer and technical service that have gotten us to where we are today,” said Alan Arduini, vice president, sales, Chase Plastics. “We take a lot of pride in the fact that we’re growing with our customers in emerging markets — particularly in the automotive segment — and we look forward to continued shared success in 2015 and beyond.”
Since January 2013, Chase has hired four technically skilled sales professionals to serve processors across the United States and Mexico and has bolstered its administrative support team with the addition of six new hires.
“From the day a processor chooses us as its distribution partner, it receives the support of dedicated account teams — comprising sales, customer service, credit, engineering and supply chain management professionals — with the skills and expertise to meet its needs and help its business become more efficient,” said Kevin Chase, president, Chase Plastics. “We put tremendous effort into attracting and retaining high-quality professionals to help our customers reach their business goals, and our company’s growth is validation that customers, especially those in emerging markets such as Canada and Mexico, are responding positively to the brand of ‘outrageous’ service we provide.”
Chase Plastics currently employs 100 plastics professionals, serves more than 2,700 customers and is trending to exceed its goal of doubling total revenue between 2013 and 2020.
Strong increases in business in Ontario (12 percent) and Quebec (67 percent) contributed to Chase Plastics’ nine percent revenue growth between 2013 and 2014. The company recently hired a bilingual customer service representative to provide additional support for French-speaking customers served by the company’s bilingual sales team in Ontario and Quebec. Sales revenue in Ontario is expected to rise by 25 percent in 2015, while Quebec sales revenue is expected to rise by an additional 65 percent. 
Chase Plastics recently signed a distribution agreement with DSM Engineering Plastics, which enables the company to distribute additional high-quality, cost-effective materials to Mexican processors serving the automotive and electronics industries, as well as general industries. Additionally, Chase recently added bilingual sales support and assigned one of its technical service and application development engineers to the sales team serving the region, further elevating the level of service it provides customers in this fast-growing market.
Chase Plastics is a stocking distributor of more than 6,400 varieties of specialty, engineering and commodity thermoplastics from the industry’s leading manufacturers and global suppliers. In addition, Chase delivers engineering expertise, technical service, application development support, blending, repacking, inventory management and logistics services via a network of distribution centers, warehouses and sales locations throughout North and Central America.
Chase Plastics is Redefining Resin Distribution® with an approach to business that puts customer needs first. Formed in 1992, Chase Plastics has built its business on its ability to respond with the flexibility and urgency that plastic processors require. Based in Clarkston, Michigan, Chase Plastics was founded by Kevin and Carole Chase, who serve as the company’s president and vice president, respectively. Find more information at ChasePlastics.com.

South Lyon engineer puts new spin on ice cream scoop


The Midnight Scoop isn't your traditional kitchen utensil. It's the brainchild of Michael Chou, a South Lyon-based aerospace engineer who was looking for a more effective way to scoop ice cream for his kids.

Read more.


Michigan nine-year-old launches cavity prevention suckers

Nine-year-old entrepreneur and inventor, Alina Morse, has just introduced Zollipops®, "the clean teeth pops," to the marketplace. Zollipops are natural suckers, which contain erythritol, xylitol and stevia, healthy sugar alternatives. By helping raising the pH (a scale used to measure acidic or base qualities) in the mouth, Zollipops neutralize acid and help reduce cavity-causing bacteria. Zollipops are currently available at many fine retailers, including Whole Foods Market.
"I'm a dancer, an actress, a singer and an inventor," said Morse, who has brought Zollipops to market, with the help of her dad, Tom. "Zollipops is the first product that I've created that actually has commercial appeal. I started inventing things when I was three years old as part of my line, Alina's Products. I've invested $7,500 in creating Zollipops, and I'm super excited to finally get my suckers on shelves for consumers to love, and smile about!"
Zollipops are the perfect after-you-eat treat, to help reduce acidity and strengthen tooth enamel. Teeth decay in children is America's most chronic childhood disease - 5 times more common than Asthma and 7 times more common than hay fever. Reducing acidity and promoting an alkaline environment in children's bodies is a vital part of health and longevity.
"I created Zollipops, one day, after going to the bank with my dad," said Morse. "The bank teller gave me a sucker and my dad had always told me that I shouldn't eat candy because sugar is terrible for my teeth. I thought, 'well, why can't we make a sucker that's good for your teeth?' And, Zollipops were born. My little sister even came up with the name."
Morse, of Wolverine Lake, Mich., has also committed to giving 10% of all Zollipops profits to support oral health education in schools. But, Zollipops are not just for kids. They are for anyone that enjoys a healthy smile and has a sweet tooth.
Zollipops are made in the USA by LOL in Walled Lake, Mich. In addition to Whole Foods Market, Zollipops are available at natural food stores and Amazon.com. Even some banks are providing Zollipops, as a healthier option for their younger customers.
For more information on Zollipops, please visit http://www.Zollipops.com


Level One Bank aims for big 2015 after acquiring Lotus Bank

Level One Bank made headlines last fall after acquiring fellow Oakland County-based Lotus Bank. Look for the newly merged banks (the acquisition should be completed in March) to make more news as they integrate together this year.

"This will be our third transaction," says Patrick Fehring, president & CEO of Level One Bank, referring to his bank's acquisitions of Paramount Bank in 2010 and Michigan Heritage Bank in 2009. "We're focused on completing the acquisition of Lotus Bank and folding it into Level One Bank."

The Farmington Hills-based bank got its start seven years ago. It has since grown to $825 million in assets, including the $110 million it added with the Lotus Bank acquisition. The bank has grown organically, too, locking down 18 percent growth in 2014 and projecting another 15 percent gain this year.

Level One Bank has hired 15 people over the last year, expanding its staff to 150 people. It’s also looking to hire another five people now. While those new jobs are largely across the board many of them are in the bank's newly beefed-up commercial banking and residential lending departments.

"We're pretty bullish on the local economy," Fehring says. "It seems southeast Michigan is fairing pretty well right now."

Source: Patrick Fehring, president & CEO of Level One Bank
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

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.
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