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Post-production firm Pluto moves to full-content creation

Pluto has seen itself as a post-production studio for many of its 16 years, but the downtown Birmingham-based content studio has been working to make the transition to "full content creation" in recent years.

"We are trying to broaden our client base," says Dave Corbett, creative director of Pluto. "Also, with services we don’t have, we want to bring in top talent from across the country."

Pluto has traditionally worked with firms, like Leo Burnett, Commonwealth, Lowe Campbell Ewald and Team Detroit, that handle advertising and marketing for automotive companies. It provides post-production services, along with visual-effect and interactive services. It is also teaming up with other firms, including coastal-based Spotwelders, on Chevrolet and Ford campaigns. Pluto has also attracted a some out-of-town firms to bring work to Metro Detroit. Nice Shoes, a New York City-based firm, is opening a remote-color-correction suite inside Pluto's studios in Birmingham and Detroit.

"Our goal is to provide enough services so the creative community doesn't need to go out of town," says Natasha Marin, director of business development for Pluto. "We want to offer services that are as good if not better than what you can find out of town."

Expanding Pluto’s service offerings has allowed growth in its staff. It has hired two interns for visual effects positions over the last year, expanding to 30 full-time workers, 5-10 independent contractors and one intern.

Source: Dave Corbett, creative director of Pluto and Natasha Marin, director of business development for Pluto
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Trent Design grows staff thanks to manufacturing website work

There is no denying that Trent Design is a new economy company. The marketing firm specializes in design, specifically website design. So it’s a little amusing that the biggest driver of its recent growth is an old economy sector, manufacturing.

Trent Design has handled the website designs/redesigns of a number of big-name manufacturers over the last year, including Brasco International. Trent Design is currently working on new websites for Pennsylvania Steel and Jac Products. The trend started when Eaton Steel first reached out to Trent Design to redesign its website a couple of years ago. That led to a number of Eaton Steel's sister firms and manufacturers it works with following suit.

"We have done several manufacturing sites, which has helped us get even more manufacturing website work," says Marilyn Trent, principal of Trent Design. "I feel manufacturing can use our help."

That has allowed the Rochester-based company to hire a new brand strategist over the last year. It now employs five full-time employees, three part-timers and the occasional intern. Many of these employees have stayed with the firm for many years after they hired in. "When I hire them, they stay with me," Trent says.

Trent Design also opened an office in Detroit's Midtown neighborhood a couple of years ago. Trent thinks she could add another person or two to her staff in the next year but still wants to keep her company small.

"I want to keep a boutique-size agency that does great work and provides great customer service," Trent says.

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

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

Detroit Wallpaper Co puts avant-garde spin on wallpaper

First came Great Wall Custom Coverings. Next came the Detroit Wallpaper Co, which has accelerated the growth of the Ferndale-based company.

Josh Young and Andi Kubacki started Great Wall Custom Coverings nearly a decade ago, providing custom wall paper projects that were as eclectic as their imaginations and those of their customers. They began scaling that sort of creativity last fall with the Detroit Wallpaper Co, which sells the pair's popular avant-garde wallpaper designs utilizing non-toxic and environmentally friendly supplies.

Some of those designs include patterns they are labeling as "Botanicals" (think flowers and plant patterns), "Wallgazer" (self-described as a "marriage between high concept and functional design") and "Wander Walls" (images that bring far-away locales to mind). All 63 different designs are colorful, contemporary and probably like nothing you have seen on a wall before.

"It's really a commentary on our society," Young says. "What we're really interested in is technology, music. We have a lot of pop-culture references in our designs."

The two companies employ eight people between them after hiring one person over the last year. The rising demand for Detroit Wallpaper Co's products are driving the growth in the company right now.

"It's quickly growing," Young says. "It's beginning to eclipse Great Wall already."

Source: Josh Young, co-owner of Detroit Wallpaper Co
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Illuminating Concepts leverages global work for 10 new hires

When the amount of work in the U.S. began to contract a few years ago with the onset of the recession, Illuminating Concepts reached overseas to fill the gap.

The Farmington Hills-based company that specializes in architectural lighting has buffeted its bottom line with work in the hospitality and gaming industries abroad in recent years.

"The casino industry in particular has expanded into southern Europe and Asia," says Ron Harwood, CEO of Illuminating Concepts. "That has added volume and a lot of creative work."

It has also allowed Illuminating Concepts to continue to grow its staff. The 30-year-old company now employs 60 people and a handful of interns after it hired 10 people over the last year. Those hire were in people in multi-media, software and electronic specialties.

Illuminating Concepts also sees significant promise in its Intellistreets product. Intellistreets gives municipalities wireless control of its streetlights and signage, which should allow it control digital signage, the level of street lighting and help direct traffic through streetlights in emergencies. Harwood points out it would have been useful during Hurricane Sandy but could be utilized in the next U.S. disaster.

"It (Intellistreets) will be deployed in at least five of the 10 major cities in the U.S.," Harwood says.

Source: Ron Harwood, CEO of Illuminating Concepts
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Alpha USA adds 10 new engineers, techs in Livonia

Alpha USA got its start in 1957 as a manufacturer of washers. Not the kind of washers that clean things but the kind that help tighten bolts. The Livonia-based company made billions of washers for decades and did well.

About a decade ago, Alpha USA saw the shift of its bread-and-butter market to places outside of the U.S. and decided to change with the times. The company has evolved into an engineering firm that handles everything from design to product development to light manufacturing for a wide variety of customers. It holds a dozen patents, which it showcases to potential customers to drum up new businesses creating innovative products.

"It's a great business model," says Charles Dardas, president & COO of Alpha USA.

That has allowed Alpha USA, a veteran-owned company, to hire 10 people over the last year. Those new jobs are for engineering and technician positions. The company has taken advantage of the deep hiring pool in Metro Detroit, hiring a number of experienced workers that have helped fatten the company's bottom line.

"There were a lot of people who had quite a few years of something good to offer," Dardas says. "We saw that as  great opportunity."

Source: Charles Dardas, president & COO of Alpha USA
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Commerce couple grows family biz, California Closets

Sheilah and Ray Markham have been married for 30 years and been in business together for 25 years, raising three kids in Metro Detroit in the process.

In that time, the Markham's have built up their business, California Closets to the point where, as Sheilah puts it, "business is really our family."

"Our business is our baby," Sheilah says. "We don't separate. We talk about it 24/7."

That baby has grown. The company now has showrooms in Birmingham and Commerce Township, where it also has it manufacturing facility. The firm employs 25 people after hiring five this year and up from just 10 at the height of the last recession.

California Closets creates closet systems and shelving, utilizing contemporary design and an ergonomic use of space. The Markhams are looking at upping the business' revenue to $3 million over the next year and penetrating the Ann Arbor area.

Source: Sheilah Markham, co-owner of California Closets in Michigan
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

GraphiColor expands staff as it focuses on existing clients

Anita Mitzel has a simple philosophy in business and life. Keep doing what you're doing. Don't give up and you will be successful. It's a mindset that has translated well to her firm, GraphiColor.

"We had our best sales ever last year," says Mitzel, president of GraphiColor. "We did quite well."

The Livonia-based company specializes in creating trade show displays and organizing corporate events. It has leveraged referrals from existing customers and improve SEO for its website to boost its bottom line and grow its staff. The company hired one person and one intern over the last year, expanding to six employees, one independent contractor and one intern.

The focus on client experience has paid off with a 10 percent jump in revenue in the previous 12 months. Mitzel expects that continued focus will bring about more word-of-mouth business for her 28-year-old firm.

"It's what keeps us in business," Mitzel says. "We want (our customers) to be successful."

Source: Anita Mitzel, president of GraphiColor
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Illuminating Concepts hires 12 as it launches new outdoor multimedia

Illuminating Concepts has kept hiring up via the release of new lighting display and media products.

The 30-year-old firm has hired a dozen people over the last year, expanding its staff to 50 employees, a handful of independent contractors, and an intern or three.

"We're building new spaces for nine more [employees]," says Ron Harwood, Illuminating Concepts' CEO. "For a small company, that's large growth."

The Farmington Hills-based company's work is internationally known. It has recently finished a project in London's financial district, and is working on another construction project in Turin, Italy, and a few casinos in China.

Illuminating Concepts also recently debuted a new outdoor ambiance project in Farmington Hills, called Intellistreets. The outdoor media showcase includes audio technology on light poles in historic areas. It can be used to communicate with pedestrians. The new system also lets city officials know if a light pole is in need of repair, and it can reduce electric usage by dimming when no one is around.

"We expect it to be worth several hundreds of millions of dollars in new business in the next few years," Harwood says.

Source: Ron Harwood, CEO of Illuminating Concepts
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Basso Design Group adds 9 jobs, branches into mobile apps

Basso Design Group is known for making Internet marketing efforts interactive with consumers. Now it's making a name for itself in the latest portion of that market -- mobile apps.

"We have moved very heavily into mobile app development," says Greg Basso, managing partner of Basso Design Group. "We have seen a lot of movement toward that in the marketplace."

Among its innovations in this space is a software program that allows small businesses to create their own apps. For example, a retail business could design a customer-loyalty app at a much smaller price-point than the standard five-figure starting price for custom apps.

Basso Design Group launched the program in June and has signed up 30-plus customers since then. The firm hopes to scale that number significantly over the next year. It has also expanded its customer base, going from an average of 20-30 larger accounts to 50-60, including both large and small businesses.

"We have brought in our fair share of new clients this year, and the year isn't even over for us," Basso says.

That has allowed the nine-year-old Troy-based firm to significantly expand its workforce to 16 employees and two interns. It has hired nine people over the last year and expects to add seven more, such as web designers and developers, over the next year.

Source: Greg Basso, managing partner of Basso Design Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

RTT USA adds 16 jobs in downtown Royal Oak

RTT USA is responding to the rising demand for computer graphics by creating more jobs in Metro Detroit.

The 5-year-old firm (its U.S. office is in downtown Royal Oak) has grown about 20 percent over the last year. That has allowed it to add 16 positions in areas like data management, CAD management and digital artists. It now employs 82 people in downtown Royal Oak, along with five independent contractors and five interns. The company opened the office four years ago with a staff of eight.

"We have had very, very strong growth over the last few years," says Peter Stevenson, CEO of RTT USA.

RTT USA specializes in high-end visualization technology. Three-dimensional visualization software and services are utilized in the automotive, aviation, and consumer goods industries. For instance, it allows a designer to make a virtual prototype of a vehicle, which takes much less money and time than making a physical prototype. The company is also doing this with marketing materials.

"They can virtualize their designs and save a lot of money," Stevenson says. He expects the demand for this work to continue to rise, which should allow the firm to continue its current rate of expansion over the next year.

Source: Peter Stevenson, CEO of RTT USA
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Altair's Troy HQ welcomes new hires as part of 1,000-person expansion

Altair Engineering is gearing up to add 1,000 new jobs around the world, and its Troy headquarters is in line to get more than its fair share.

"A large majority of those will be in the Metro Detroit area," says Mike Kidder, vice president of corporate marketing for Altair Engineering.

Altair Engineering specializes in simulation technology and engineering services, employing 1,500 people around the world. About one-third of those work in Metro Detroit. The new hires will be made this year and have been preceded by growth at the staffing division of Altair Product Design, which has doubled its active engineering specialists onsite at manufacturers and suppliers throughout the U.S. over the last year.

Altair ProductDesign's staffing business places highly skilled workers with the company's customers. The division is looking for designers, engineers and IT developers, among other specialties. About one-third of these hires go onto full-time employment at Altair or at one of its customers.

"I think it creates a synergy with our customers," Kidder says.

Source: Mike Kidder, vice president of corporate marketing for Altair Engineering
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Skidmore Studio adds 4 jobs on strength of interactive and design work

Skidmore Studio sees the economy turning, and it's going in the right direction for once. The downtown Royal Oak-based marketing agency is riding this wave nicely, expanding its staff to 22 people, with four hires over the last year.

"The uptick in the economy has helped," says Tim Smith, president & CEO of Skidmore Studio. "There are a lot of things people wanted to do and we're starting to see some of that free up."

Skidmore Studio employs a growing number of creatives, ranging from graphic designers to illustrators to interactive designers to copywriters to motion artists. The agency has specialized in design and illustration in Metro Detroit since the 1950s. Smith has noticed the company's revenue climb by a small percentage over the recent months, but he is preparing for more in the near future.

"We're on a nice comfortable trend where we are seeing business grow," Smith says. "A 10-15 percent growth in revenue is a fair expectation of what we want to do."

He says the firm expects to hire two more people over the next year to help meet the demand for interactive and design work.

Source: Tim Smith, president & CEO of Skidmore Studio
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Magna Steyr to create 200 new engineering and design jobs

Magna Steyr plans to spend $765,000 on an expansion of its engineering office in Troy, an investment that's expected to create 200 jobs over the next three years.

"The bulk of them will be over this year," says Tracy Fuerst, director of corporate communications & media relations for Magna International, Magna Steyr's parent company. "We need to bring people on as soon as possible for this project."

The automotive supplier, based near Toronto, currently employs 72 people in Troy. This project will more than triple that employee base in the first year, with 158 new hires. These new jobs will focus on engineering and design of technologically advanced automotive systems, assemblies, modules and components for original equipment manufacturers of cars and light trucks.

Making this deal possible is a three-year tax abatement of $1.5 million from the Michigan Economic Development Corp. The city of Troy is also including a $14,000 tax abatement. Magna International had considered competing sites in Ontario, Ohio, and Indiana.

Sources:
Tracy Fuerst, director of corporate communications & media relations for Magna International; Michigan Economic Development Corp.
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

New contract enables Detroit Heavy Truck Engineering to double headcount

Detroit Heavy Truck Engineering is digging deep in its Novi office to accommodate a new contract to design and engineer heavy dump trucks for mining. That should create nearly 50 new jobs over the next five years.

The nearly 1-year-old company designs, engineers, sells and supports heavy trucks and mining equipment. It currently employs a dozen people and 22 subcontractors. This new deal should double its employee count within the next year and add a total of 49 jobs over the next five years.

"We're not going to be huge," says Donna Melonio, director of administrative services for Detroit Heavy Truck Engineering. "We will be extremely selective and very high-tech."

Detroit Heavy Truck Engineering will do the design and engineering work for the a 400 ton diesel-electric mining dump truck and for other 200-400 ton truck models and electric shovels with 30-70 cubic meter bucket capacity. The big dump trucks are destined for mining in Asia and were commissioned by a Chinese-controlled manufacturing company called Elite.

Making the deal possible is a $1.2 million tax credit over five years from the Michigan Economic Development Corp. The company also considered setting up operations in Wyoming.

Source: Donna Melonio, director of administrative services for Detroit Heavy Truck Engineering
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

RingSide Creative adds 6 positions, diversifies clientele

Diversification. It's the new gospel of doing business in Detroit, and one that RingSide Creative is vocalizing today to keep the fat lady quiet.

The Oak Park-based firm specializes in producing creative content for a broad range of media these days, specifically for ad agencies.
Where big accounts from large corporations once served as the firm's bread and butter, Ringside has broadened its client list with more small firms. It's also looking to take in more work from outside of southeast Michigan.

"We're really focusing on these areas to solidify our business," says Sara Gouin, marketing & branding director for RingSide Creative.

That has allowed RingSide Creative to expand its staff to 70 employees and a few interns and independent contractors. That's up from an employee base of 65 people in late 2009. Gouin expects the company to continue to add staff this year as it focuses on diversification.

Source: Sara Gouin, marketing & branding director for RingSide Creative
Writer: Jon Zemke

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