Street Talk: Meet me in the middle


How does Middle America respond to a new snack food product? Or, more precisely, how would the middle of America respond?

Grand Rapids-based Cole’s Quality Foods Inc. recently rolled out a new line of cheese-filled bread bites called, ironically, Middles.

When contemplating how to launch the new product, the team at Cole’s decided to stage the official product introduction in the geographical “middle” of the United States — specifically, Lebanon, Kansas.

The partnership began with an initial visit to Lebanon to learn more about the opportunities available for a launch, but it quickly turned into something totally different.

“Lebanon is a wonderful place with incredibly friendly people who really value the simple things in life,” said Bruce Kratt, president of Cole’s. “We quickly discovered that the town is agriculturally based but is finding growth a challenge because younger people do not necessarily want to continue the tradition of maintaining their family farms. That’s where we saw a real opportunity to help make a difference."

Following the initial visit, the Cole's team realized it wanted to do more than simply launch the product in the geographical middle of the U.S. After learning the population of Lebanon has been declining for decades and has one of the highest percentages of nonagenarians (people in their 90s) in the country, the team decided to put more effort into bringing a younger crowd to Lebanon to experience all the community has to offer. So, Cole’s came up with an idea related to the city's annual Lebanon Bash festival.

“For the local community, the entire goal behind Lebanon Bash was to create an atmosphere that encouraged people to visit and discover why Lebanon is a great place to live,” Kratt said. “To support these efforts, we took a busload of employee volunteers to work at the event with the local folks from Lebanon and sponsored an outstanding concert by Logan Mize, an up-and-coming country singer originally from Kansas.”

Attendees also enjoyed a fishing tournament, 5K fun run, archery, trap shooting and a community parade. The event concluded with the concert and a $5,000 donation from Cole's to the US Center Foundation — an annual donation that will continue in perpetuity.

“What resulted was an exciting event that brought nearly 1,000 people to the community, almost quintupling their population,” Kratt said. “We are already looking forward to Lebanon Bash next year. If you have not been to Lebanon, Kansas, it should be on your bucket list.”

Energy boost

Consumers Energy has contributed $1,000 to one of 15 seasonal “pop-up chalets” in downtown Muskegon for its superior customer service efforts.

As a result of several “secret shopper” visits to the Western Market, Donna Jeanne’s Sweet Dreams was chosen to receive a $1,000 prize from Consumers Energy. The Muskegon City Commission also recognized the business, an artisan sweet shop featuring nostalgic treats, last week.

This spring, the city of Muskegon coordinated placing the 12 Western Market chalets, containing 15 small, temporary businesses open from May 1 through Oct. 31, on a vacant downtown lot. The compact businesses, up to 150 square feet in size, have been a popular addition to downtown Muskegon. At least one of the businesses decided to open a permanent store downtown.

In late summer, the chalet owners were made aware of the secret shopping contest and the top prize from Consumers Energy. Recently, four secret shoppers visited the chalets and evaluated them on four factors: appealing presentation of products; friendly customer service; product pricing; and knowledge of community and associated events.

Receiving the $1,000 check were husband and wife chalet owners Brad Major and Amy Burton-Major.

“Opening the downtown chalet has been both rewarding and a learning experience,” Amy Burton-Major said. “We appreciate Consumers Energy’s recognition of our efforts and thank the city of Muskegon, our fellow chalet owners and all our customers for their continued support.”

The utility said it appreciates how difficult it is for a small business to succeed these days.

“Consumers Energy started more than 130 years ago as a small business in Jackson, so we know the importance of supporting start-up ventures,” said Lisa Gustafson, executive director of business customer care. “I understand the ‘secret shopper’ results were very close, a great indication of the Western Market’s success and the positive impact it’s had on downtown Muskegon.”

Star power

When Business Leaders for Michigan releases its 2017 Michigan Economic Competitive Benchmarking Report on Nov. 9 in Detroit, plenty of the state’s leading business minds will attend the sold-out event.

The information, which indicates Michigan’s competitive position relative to other states, is more of a yearly progress report on the state of business.

Opening this year’s summit is Brian Walker, president and CEO of Herman Miller Inc., who will present the keynote address “Designing for Disruption: How the Future of Your Office is the Future of Your Business.” More than 400 business leaders are expected to attend the half-day event.

Walker will be joined on the speaking roster by Jim Hackett, president & CEO of Ford Motor Co. and former president and CEO of Steelcase Inc.; E.T. Mike Miller, director of technical services for Google; Florine Mark, president and CEO of The Weight Watchers Group Inc.; and Lou Anna K. Simon, president of Michigan State University, among others.

Walk this way

The crosswalk in front of Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital is safer for pedestrians now, thanks to flashing beacons that alert drivers to stop.

The city of Grand Rapids installed a Rectangular Rapid Flash Beacon (RRFB) system at the midblock crosswalk on Wealthy Street near Cass Avenue earlier this month. The system has LED light panels that flash when a pedestrian activates the push button to cross the roadway. It is the fourth RRFB system installed in the city.

Mary Free Bed CEO Kent Riddle and Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss took a “ceremonious walk” across Wealthy Street to demonstrate the RRFB system, according to Betsy Musolf, communications and media relations coordinator at Mary Free Bed.

The rehab hospital is north of the crosswalk, and the Grand Rapids Child Discovery Center is to the south. The crosswalk is about halfway between the roundabouts at Lafayette and Jefferson avenues.

About 16,000 vehicles pass Mary Free Bed on Wealthy Street between the roundabouts each weekday. The speed limit is 25 mph.

Almost 1,000 Mary Free Bed employee crossings occur each weekday between the hospital on the north side of Wealthy Street and the 281-space employee/valet parking lot on the south side.

The Mary Free Bed Wellness Committee and its security services team worked with the city to address crosswalk safety for its employees and other pedestrians.

Mary Ann Coroneos, a longtime Mary Free Bed Guild member, also was instrumental in drawing attention to safety concerns at the crosswalk. Coroneos came to Mary Free Bed for rehabilitation in 2011 after injuring her spinal cord after a fall. Her room overlooked the crosswalk.

Mary Free Bed, Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. and the city paid for the installation. Materials and installation cost about $8,500.

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