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Pillar Technology expands to 70 employees, looks to add 10 more

It's lonely at the top, especially if your company is named Pillar Technology. The Metro Detroit-based tech firm has expanded to 70 employees and has another 10 positions it is trying to fill. It's come a long way since the days when it started in a basement in Brighton 11 years ago.

"I feel like the only person in Michigan hiring these days," says Gary Gentry, founder and CEO of Pillar Technology.

That might be a bit of an overstatement, but his firm is growing in a region fighting to reinvent itself. Pillar is just what local leaders would like to see more of. The IT provider designs custom-made software with a unique four-step system.

Instead of just writing the programs and handing them to the company as a finished product, Pillar works with its clients to fine tune the software to fit the company's needs before it's done.

In the first step Pilar writes just enough code so it can be tested. The second step is to test the code throughout the process to solve problems early on. This leads to the third step of testing each interface layer constantly to make sure everything works properly. The final step to make sure the programmers travel light by not inventing new requirements as they develop the software. This way the system is kept simple and easy to use.

Pillar does all of this within three months and has found a lot of customers for its systems. It has grown 85 percent in the last three years and had revenues if $12.5 million. It also employs about 40 contractors on top of its 70 employees and is planning to expand throughout the Midwest in the coming years.

Source: Gary Gentry, founder and CEO of Pillar Technology
Writer: Jon Zemke


NuSoft spinoff Kinetic IG growing, to hire 6

Ever wonder why Web sites' change formats every time they become familiar? Kinetic Innovations Group knows. Its firms like them are usually behind the changes.

Kinetic IG, a new division of Troy-based NuSoft Solutions, is a group of 25 people that work to revamp and even reinvent Web sites. The idea is to make them more user-friendly and eye-catching, while taking advantage of current marketing techniques.

So far the new divisions has led to the creation of eight new jobs (mostly web designers) and there are plans in the works to hire another six people later this year.

"Nu Soft has been doing this business for a lot of years," says Brian Anderson, director of Kinetic IG. "What's different is that we have reorganized our company to turn this into our specialty."

The new division is off to a fast start, doing work for companies as varied as National City Bank, Spectrum Health and Spout.com, among others. The team is working to maximize the potential of the business' Web sites by making sure they are simple to use, easy to understand and utilizing user-friendly web applications.

Kinetic IG pulls this off by teaming up experience web designers with people who know how to incorporate marketing fundamentals and fresh software development into Web sites. Kinetic IG will focus on this while Nu Soft will continue on as a full-service technology company working on everything from setting up IT infrastructure to consulting on system servers.

For information, send an e-mail to hello@kineticig.com.

Source: Brian Anderson, director of Kinetic IG
Writer: Jon Zemke


General Dynamics invests $10 million in Macomb, creates 500 new jobs

Jobs, jobs and more jobs. That's what's promised with a $10 million investment by General Dynamics Land Systems, which makes armored vehicles for the U.S. military.

The Sterling Heights-based company plans to expand its operations in both Sterling Heights and Shelby Township, creating 500 jobs and 649 spin-off jobs over the next 12 years.

Michigan beat out competing states like Virginia and Florida and even the Canadian province of Ontario for the project. The Michigan Economic Development Corporation and local municipalities approved $44 million in tax breaks and incentives to make the deal happen.

"This project will result in the immediate creation of new jobs and laboratory facilities and the possibility exists for continued growth," says David K. Heebner, president of General Dynamics Land Systems. "After comparing Michigan's state tax credits both nationally and internationally, it made the most business sense for General Dynamics to continue our commitment in Michigan."

General Dynamics Land Systems formed in 1982 when Falls Church, Va.-based parent General Dynamics Corp. acquired Chrysler Corp.'s defense operations. General Dynamics Land Systems has 8,000 employees in 12 states. General Dynamics employs 83,500 worldwide and reported 2007 revenues of $27.2 billion. It is a leader in production of land and amphibious combat systems, mission-critical information systems and technologies, shipbuilding and marine systems and business aviation.

Source: Michigan Economic Development Corporation
Writer: Jon Zemke


Become a citizen of Design Democracy

If the concept of mass customization seems like an oxymoron, meet Bryce and Kerry Moore, owners of Context Furniture.

"We started in the furniture business based on this process, that by showing the products and how they were made, people would understand they could interact with them and change them," Kerry Moore says. "And that's not really hjow the industry's set up, so trying to explain that people can interact with the process was difficult."

After three collections, the Moores realized that education needed to be a part of the process.

"We threw our hands up in the air and said, maybe we need to be selling the process," Kerry Moore says. "And that's really how Design Democracy 08 evolved."

In an effort to meld design and consumerism, the Moores have started the Design Democracy collective, an attempt to help educate consumers and designers about how technology can be used to produce one-off, cost-effective custom designs.

"These are stepping stones," Kerry Moore says. "We hope to see 'mass customization' as a term become more well known, especially in educational circles, and for designers to uderstand term."

Moore envisions a future when design specs are available on via a network, and can be downloaded and produced globally - with royalties paid to the designer, of course.

But the first step in the process is a contest in which interested designers can upload designs to the Design Democracy Web site. The Moores will produce the winning design and take it to the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York.

"Our idea is to show up and say, this is something we made in eight weeks," she says. "It might be a big learning experience."

Interested designers should visit Design Democracy. Entry deadline is March 21.

Kraemer Design preparing to grow from 19 to 30

Despite a sluggish economy, Kraemer Design Group is growing. The downtown Detroit-based architecture and interior design firm currently has 19 employees in its eleventh year, but is moving to a new 10,000-square foot office that will house up to 30 -- enough space for room to grow into the future.

Recent KDG design work includes the Watermark and Griswold -- both of which are unfortunately off to a slow to start in light of the local condo market -- as well as Google's offices in Ann Arbor and Birmingham.

The company does not stick to one particular design style, instead working to meet their client's needs and wishes. "The Griswold is a traditional design, the Watermark is contemporary," says principal Bob Kraemer. "Google's offices are another extreme altogether."

Kraemer has traditionally employed graduates from University of Detroit Mercy and Lawrence Technological University. That net has widened of late, with recent hires coming from University of Michigan and University of Ohio. "We're starting to see more national candidates," says Kraemer. "We're tending to hire through monster.com as opposed to the traditional paper method."

Kraemer attributes his firm's success to the ability to retain clients as repeat customers and its flexibility. "We followed the dot-com boom, the contemporary office boom," he says. "We're not sure what's around the corner, but entertainment and housing seem to be the main focus of downtown."

Whatever the trend, Kraemer will be ready to adapt -- but one thing will remain the same: "We pride ourselves on high quality work, both in design and the quality of our construction drawings," he says.

KDG will take occupancy of its new offices, located on Broadway in the Opera House Retail Center, on April 1.

Source: Bob Kraemer, KDG
Writer: Kelli B. Kavanaugh


Universal Parametrics moves into new facility, hiring 6

It’s a standard question in the metromode interview – are you hiring? Do you plan to hire anytime soon? (It’s not called the Innovation and Jobs News column for nothing.)  For Steve Frey of Universal Parametrics, Inc., the answer was simple: “We’re looking to fill six positions, immediately,” he says. “We are desperately seeking people.”

Ann Arbor-based Universal Parametrics, founded in 1999 to provide design and finite analysis services, has been on an upswing, growing exponentially over the years and recently moving into a new, 5,000-square-foot facility that Frey says gives the company room to work.

The new building, located on Highland Drive, includes a training center separate from the company offices, room for visiting companies to work and a shop where UP engineers can examine equipment.

Finding people to fill the space has been something of a challenge.

“Our biggest growth has been in sales staff,” he says. “When we started out in 1999, we did project work, where a company would hire us to work on a new design. Over the course of the last nine years, we expanded that, and we’re selling two different brands of software now."

Highly-qualified technical experts aren’t easy to come by, he says.

“Our customers look for very specific qualifications,” Frey says. The company is currently looking to fill six positions, five newly-created.

Source: Steve Frey, Universal Parametrics
Writer: Nancy Kaffer


Creative Tech grew by 45 in '07

As company growth goes, Creative Technology Services is on a stellar trajectory. Purchased from parent company MSX International just two years ago by the Creative Tech management team, the company is following a carefully-mapped growth plan obtaining new clients, launching a new company and adding 45 new positions in 2007 alone.

Canton-based Creative Tech is a contract assembler focused on the medical device marketplace primarily dealing with major players like the Johnson & Johnson companies, explains Vice-President of Sales and Customer Service Jim Smyth. For years, Creative Tech has done major assembly of the iBot, a smart wheelchair invented by Segway guru Dean Kamen that can climb stairs and master curbs.

Smyth says the company has recently obtained new contracts, such as life sciences corp MacuChek to assemble the MacuScope. The MacuScope is the first commercial instrument capable of accurately measuring and tracking macular protective pigment density (MPPD) in the center of the eye, according to the company’s Web site.

In the past, Smyth says, Creative Tech has only assembled such devices, but is expanding into another market sector.

“We’re also in the process of launching a new company, Next Mobility, which is basically a distribution company for mobility devices for the disabled,” Smyth says.

The company’s 45 new jobs, he says, have been added across the board – quality technicians, engineering staff, program managers, assembly techs, marketing support for Next Mobility, product developers, designers, and has added members to the customer service team and complaint-handling department, required for the company’s top-level Food and Drug Administration certification.

"We expect that we will continue to grow," Smyth says. "2008 is really a year for the execution of all the plans we’ve put in place - we’ve launched two new products in the last quarter, as well as a new company."

Source: Jim Smyth, Creative Technology Services
Writer: Nancy Kaffer


SmithGroup taps local universities to keep talent pool deep

SmithGroup has learned that in today's economy sometimes it pays to think local.

A national architecture and engineering firm with 800 employees, 150 of them housed at their Detroit office, the company has bolstered its profile with work on a number of prominent local projects, including the MGM complex, the DIA expansion, the renovation of the Cranbrook Art Museum and the Boll Family YMCA in downtown Detroit.

In the green scene, the company designed the new Science and Media Building at Madonna University (pictured) and the Visteon Village corporate head-quarters. Both projects are seeking Silver LEED certification.

SmithGroup actively recruits talent from University of Detroit Mercy, Lawrence Technological University and the University of Michigan to meet its staffing needs. SmithGroup also sustains an active internship program that not only gives students real world experience, but exposes students to the social network of downtown Detroit. A full 50% of interns become full-time hires.

Even younger future architects and engineers are developed through Exploring Post, sponsored by the Boy Scouts of America. In this program, co-ed students are exposed to these careers through hands-on training activities.

Building Design+Construction named SmithGroup as one of the "Best AEC Firms to Work For." While the internship and mentoring programs surely contributed to the nod, the company mandates 8.5 hour workdays and 42.5 hour work weeks -- which adds up to 15 Fridays off a year.

Source: Camille Thompson, SmithGroup
Writer: Kelli B. Kavanaugh

LovioGeorge's civic engagement spurs growth, 17 housed in Midtown digs

When Christina Lovio-George founded her public relations firm in Midtown Detroit more than 20 years ago, people were skeptical to say the least.

Today, the company has an expanded purview and some of the most high-profile clients in Southeast Michigan -- all housed in the same 1904 Victorian she started the company in.

Lovio-George has quite a sense of humor about her beginnings. "Most people thought my brain had fallen out of my head," she says. But she felt that the pros --including proximity to Wayne State University, neighborhood bars and restaurants, as well as being "part of a community,"-- far out-weighed the cons.

Her decision proved prescient. Until 2000, Lovio-George estimates that 80% of the firm's business was outside of Detroit proper, including a good percentage of out-of-state work. As the area around LovioGeorge grew, that changed -- she now estimates that 90% of her work is generated from within the city of Detroit.

The firm's turning point was being engaged with Detroit 300. Within months, LovioGeorge had contracts for Superbowl XL's host committee, the Ryder Cup and the Detroit RiverFront. "I was like, 'Holy smokes!' " says Lovio-George. "It was totally an about-face. I still shake my head about that point."

The firm was able to holistically embrace such challenging jobs because back in 1994 it had added a creative group which specialized in branding, advertising design and placement, website design and more. "We found that clients were reluctant to give creative business to someone who was out-sourcing," says Lovio-George. This end of the business has netted the firm two Emmies.

Over the years, the firm has grown from 1-1/2 employees to 17. Lovio-George characterizes the growth as "steady." She anticipates more hires, but thinks that the firm will have to either cap hiring or move to a bigger space when they hit 21.

Current projects that have Lovio-George excited are the Thanksgiving Parade, continued work with the Detroit RiverFront and the opening of the Motor City Casino Hotel. Of the latter, she says, "It will give a real sense of the city to people staying in it."

Source: Christina Lovio-George, LovioGeorge Inc.
Writer: Kelli B. Kavanaugh


Hamilton Anderson Architects leverages work on MGM Grand into national exposure

MGM Grand took a gamble on a small local firm when it opened its temporary Detroit casino back in 1999. Ever since, its relationship with Hamilton Anderson Associates has escalated to the point where the architecture firm has grown to 130 employees and has opened an office in Las Vegas. Now, the little firm that could is hard at work on CityCenter, a 76-acre mixed-use Vegas development billed as the largest privately financed development in the country.

HAA was founded in 1994 by architect Rainy Hamilton and landscape architect Kent Anderson. They moved from Hamilton's house into a Harmonie Park office that same year, where the firm has remained ever since. Their first move in 13 years is set for next spring, when they will relocate to the First National Building. The new office will be 10,000 square feet larger than their current 25,000-square feet digs and occupy the second and third floors of the office tower.

HAA had a growth spurt in the mid-1990's to about 50 employees, big enough to get noticed by MGM. It was hired as a "sub- sub-contractor" on the casino's build-out of its temporary Detroit location, remembers Hamilton. That work pumped the firm's numbers up to about 90.

By the time MGM was ready to begin work on the permanent casino, they felt comfortable enough with HAA to award them the lead role in a joint design partnership -- with SmithGroup -- for the $800 million complex. That, along with the CityCenter and other various MGM jobs in Sin City, has boosted the ranks to the 130 figure that exists today. "Our work has really blossomed," says Hamilton. "MGM has been a great client for us."

But don't think for a moment that MGM is HAA's only client. They've won awards from the National Association of Minority Architects for the last three years in a row, for the Detroit School of Fine and Performing Arts, Youthville and the Southwest Public Safety Center.

Although it's too soon to tell how the MGM Grand campus will impact the amount of work that HAA lands locally, the firm is optimistic. "I would say that, because it has been such a departure for what exists in Detroit, that it's raised the bar and raised expectations for entertainment and hospitality projects," says vice president Tom Sherry. "We were in a leadership role in that project, which certainly caught people's attention. People look at us a little bit differently."

Sources: Rainy Hamilton, Tom Sherry and Heather Thomas, Hamilton Anderson Associates
Writer: Kelli B. Kavanaugh


Dearborn-based Laptop Design lands new clients, expands HQ

Laptop Design USA is moving from a 5,000 to a 23,000-square feet Dearborn location. The company is considering utilizing a portion of the building as an incubator.

Excerpt:

The company applies high-quality automotive coating and paint processes to the task of painting and decorating laptop computers and other electronic gear.

Among the company's highest-profile current projects: painting a special series of computers for Lenovo, the Chinese manufacturer of the IBM ThinkPad, with the theme of the 2008 Olympic Games in China.

Read the entire article here.

Mexican officials looking to open 15 offices with 250 positions in the region

Mexican officials were in town last week to explore opening more than a dozen local offices for mostly auto-related businesses.

Excerpt:

The Technology Business Accelerator, or TechBA, which was created by the Mexico Ministry of Economy and the United States-Mexico Foundation for Science, helps smaller high-tech Mexican companies establish operations in the global market.

At a cost of $1 million to $2 million, the proposed TechBA offices would service about 15 Mexican businesses with a maximum of 250 employees, according to Mexican officials.

Representatives from several Mexican ministries and the foundation met with Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, TechTown Executive Director Randal Charlton and Kenneth Nisbit, executive director of Tech Transfer at the University of Michigan.

Read the entire article here.



Q LTD operates thriving branding firm out of Kerrytown offices

When it comes to branding work, Ann Arbor's Q LTD has found a recipe for success that has netted high-profile international work. With a staff of just 12, the team works closely, collaboratively and creatively to ensure maximum productivity and impact.

So what exactly does a branding firm do? Director of planning Scott Hauman describes the company as a "strategic design consultancy. We are design problem solvers."

Q LTD often works with companies in transition, helping it with graphic design, name development, brand positioning and brand identification. The company considers itself media-neutral and will research where a company should market, whether that is television, the internet, direct mail or print brochures.

The firm was recently awarded the contract for brand work for the 2008 SIGGRAPH conference -- which will be the 16th year of this relationship. SIGGRAPH is the international association dedicated to computer graphics and interactive technologies. Other recent client adds include The Kresge Foundation, Clark Hill Attorneys, Forte Belanger and Simon Fraser University: School of Interactive Arts + Technology. The firm has often worked for the University of Michigan and the city of Ann Arbor and has a long-standing pro bono relationship with The Ark.

Q LTD also has a European partner in Q GmbH, located in Wiesbaden, Germany. Incredibly, both firms were named Q and doing basically the same type of work, which led to their fortuitous meeting. Now, they work collaboratively and give each other strategic access to work across the pond. In addition, Q LTD has a small outpost office in San Francisco, giving the company a West Coast presence.

The firm envisions topping out at 15 to 20 employees. "We never want to get too huge," says Tom Rieke, president."We prefer the smaller group idea, but we plan on growing designers, storytellers and web developers here."

One of the reasons Q LTD is so bullish on their Kerrytown address is the stream of talent from area colleges and universities. "We have a great source of interns coming from U-M, Eastern Michigan University, College for Creative Studies and Washtenaw Community College," says Christine Golus, the firm's vice president and creative director. "It's one of the reasons to stay around in Michigan."

Plus, she observes, "We have the fresh water!"

Sources: Christine Golus, Scott Hauman and Tom Rieke, Q LTD
Writer: Kelli B. Kavanaugh

Landscaping company in Romulus ranked high nationally amongst its peers

WH Canon Company is number 41 on this year's Landscape Management "LM 110" list, which ranks companies nationally by revenue.  The company's work can be seen all over Metro Detroit, including the LEED-certified Ford Rouge Plant in Dearborn. "That was a big project, a great project for us," says Karl Koto, project manager and landscape architect.

Other LEED projects that WH Canon has been involved with include the Kresge Foundation and Fairlane Green shopping center in Allen Park as well as construction on the Detroit RiverWalk. While most of their work is local, they have been commissioned for work in Texas, St. Louis, Chicago and Ohio.

WH Canon was founded in 1993 by president William Canon. While employment is seasonal, it averages 160 to 200 in the summer. "We expanded quite a bit several years ago and have somewhat leveled off," says Koto. "We have had consistent growth, billing-wise, every year, and we are at a good number for our size."

Koto has observed a shift in the type of work the company is doing because the new housing market has dried up. "There's been more investment in hospitals and universities, so our work has been more of that."

Source: Karl Koto, WH Canon
Writer: Kelli B. Kavanaugh



Leon Speakers moves to bigger A2 HQ, plans to add up to 35 employees

When Noah Kaplan and Jeff Gordon founded Leon Speakers in 1998, they had no idea that, not only would they make careers out of it, but said careers would be thriving.

Leon's niche is the design and manufacture of custom-built on-wall speakers for flat plasma screen televisions. What really sets them apart, however, is the invisibility of the speakers. Kaplan, who is the company's president, says, "We make each cabinet to exact size and color of any TV, in three to five days." That one-of-a-kind craftsmanship coupled with a quick turnaround gives their dealers around the country good reason to recommend Leon to their audiophile clients -- they are currently able to produce 3,000 to 5,000 custom boxes a year.

Leon speakers are so on the 'down low' that there is no logo identifying them. As for their sound, Kaplan describes it as "high fidelity, with clarity -- vocal clarity and directional clarity. It's like a speaker on steroids, it's night and day from what we're used to hearing coming out of television."

While the company typically built systems for high-end plasma TVs --they don't come with speakers-- they are also able to "do Leons" for those that do come with speakers built in.

Kaplan says the speakers are distributed through 500 dealers nationwide, with about 100 that he characterizes as "really super active." There are 18 Leon dealers in Michigan, including Paragon Sight and Sound in Ann Arbor and Audio Video Alternatives in Royal Oak.

Leon is in the process of moving from a 5,000-square foot building in Whitmore Lake to an 11,000-square foot one in Pittsfield Township. "We're more than doubling the joint," says Kaplan.

The expansion will also provide room for employee growth; the company plans to add 15 to 35 to its current roster of 15. Kaplan: "We're going to increase a lot craftsman and bring on interns in marketing and promotions, sound engineer guys and ramp up our manufacturing here in Ann Arbor."

The company chose to stay in Southeast Michigan for multiple reasons. Kaplan says, "Detroit is an amazing manufacturing city, with a ton of amazing machine shops and mills. The supply chain is amazing and the rents are far superior to any big major cities. We love the talent pool, with so many skilled people." He hopes for the move to be complete by the end of the month.

Source: Noah Kaplan, Leon Speakers

Writer: Kelli B. Kavanuagh


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