Street Talk: This one turned out to be a Pillar of strength


Judge Sara Smolenski was upstaged at this year’s Pillar Awards, and that’s hard to do.

Some may remember last year’s event, when Her Honor held impromptu court for several minutes when a technical malfunction threatened to mar the proceedings.

So this year, naturally, Smolenski was invited to give the welcome and opening remarks at the 25thannual ceremony of the Women’s Resource Center.

But when Rhonda Garmon, a WRC program participant, went to the podium to give a testimonial, she blindsided Smolenski, who has seen thousands of people trek through her courtroom, often leaving with a severe tongue-lashing in addition to their sentences.

“Judge Smolenski, it’s so good to see you on this side.”

The judge conceded that she did not remember Garmon’s case, but was pleased that she took her advice to heart and made a new life for herself.

“I feel so blessed to work with WRC because without their help and support and my kids’ smiles and laughter, I probably would not be on the road to success,” Garmon said.

That, and a little bit of a verbal push from the bench.

National holiday?

With three teams from the Wolverine State tipping off on Thursday, Dan Behm, CEO of Open Systems Technologies, raised the (green and) white flag.

The growing tech firm headquartered on the city’s west side shuttered at noon, and everyone — including a few invited guests — settled in to watch the NCAA Basketball Tournament.

Behm, a Spartan fan through and through, reportedly invited some guests who did not party Sparty, but those sporting maize and blue and brown and yellow apparel knew who to root for when the Blue Hens encountered mighty MSU.


Starbuck Machining Inc. in Holland is one of 12 companies from around the state that has been selected to receive the Michigan Small Business Development Center’s Best Small Business Award.

These companies were chosen from more than 5,500 small businesses that the MI-SBDC provided with confidential counseling and training in 2013. The Best Small Business award recipients were identified based on their success in creating jobs, increasing sales, improving their business strategy and their involvement with the MI-SBDC. Recipients will be honored at the Michigan Celebrates Small Business awards May 6.

“The Michigan SBDC works with thousands of small businesses each year,” said Carol Lopucki, state director. “The Best Small Business award provides an opportunity to acknowledge 12 of the most exceptional small businesses that have made great strides in accomplishing their goals and growing Michigan’s economy. We’re excited to celebrate their successes.”

When Rich Starbuck contacted the West Michigan Region SBDC for help with a business plan in 2000, he didn’t know he’d be entering a working relationship that would last through all stages of his business’s growth. Starbuck and his SBDC consultant, Dave Sayers, worked on a business plan that would allow him to receive the financing needed to purchase an existing machine shop’s assets and start his own. On the day Starbuck Machining opened in April 2002, Rich Starbuck recalls running machines as fast as they could get them started.

“We literally moved our first machine into the shop, hooked it up and had somebody run it while we went and got the next one,” he said, laughing. From that day on, both the staff and the machine equipment at Starbuck Machining have never stopped moving, and never stopped growing.

Since the business opened its doors, Rich Starbuck and his son Aaron have grown Starbuck Machining from six employees to 27, and currently have $3 million in sales. Starbuck Machining manufactures products for the agriculture, aquatic, automotive, electronic, security and oil industries, and also is a sub-contractor for military armor. Most of its sales come from within Michigan, but the firm is beginning to do business in other states as well.

The Starbucks credit their business’s success to their consistent work with the MI-SBDC, as well as to their team of employees.

“We have an awesome crew of employees who we treat like family. We always tell them that we’re in this together, and we celebrate our successes together,” said the elder Starbuck.

Frosty’s revenge

In what must be considered the perfect capper to this winter, a 40-year tradition was put off by the weather.

Lake Superior State University burns a 10-foot tall “snowman” made of wood and a wire frame that is stuffed with paper on the first day of spring to signal winter’s end, but this year Mother Nature decided to fight back.

The Upper Peninsula school had to postpone its ceremony by a day when a freak snowstorm and high winds whipped through the area on Thursday, making conditions unsafe for the torching.

This year’s ceremony marked another transition on the Sault Ste. Marie campus. President Tony McLain was scheduled to hand off the torch to light the snowman to his successor, Thomas Pleger. The presidential change takes place in July.

Gimme shelter

Gentex Corp., probably better known for its automatic-dimming mirrors and fire protection products, is entering the transportation business — sort of.

The Zeeland manufacturer has purchased a bus shelter for use by the Macatawa Area Express Transportation Authority.

The new shelter is being erected along Route 8-Zeeland at the bus stop located on Riley Street, just east of 96thAvenue near Gentex’s facilities, and should be operational this week. The project includes the installation of a cement pad with sidewalk extensions and a bus shelter. The Zeeland shelter will serve the Family Fare shopping plaza and nearby commercial and industrial businesses, as well.

“On behalf of the MAX Board of Directors and our passengers, I would like to extend our gratitude to Gentex for its generosity and initiative to take it upon itself to make improvements for the betterment of the community, and to the city of Zeeland for providing guidance and support throughout each phase of this project,” said Linda LeFebre, MAX executive director.

The MAX Transportation Authority was originally approached by Gentex early last summer, inquiring about the possibility of providing a passenger shelter in this area as part of a grounds improvement project. Gentex officials said they observed many passengers waiting for buses and wished to provide shelter for them.

“This particular MAX bus stop is right in front of our Riley Street facilities and so it's heavily used by our employees and the community in general,” said Bruce Los, Gentex senior vice president. “We thought it would be nice to donate the construction of an actual bus shelter to protect users during inclement weather.”

Gentex also plans to help maintain the shelter by keeping it clean and clearing the snow in the winter, Los added.

Bus shelters are typically purchased and placed by the transit system at bus stops with heavier use, according to LeFebre. However, the cost of the cement pad and shelter can be as high as $8,500 or more, making it cost prohibitive for the transit system to install shelters at all areas where they may be needed. She said only two of MAX’s current 15 shelters were privately funded.

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