Local businesses honored for work in county

By: Kristyne E. Demske | C&G Newspapers | Published February 17, 2014


WARREN — Taking time to showcase how business in Macomb County is excelling, a half-dozen companies were honored at the 2014 Home in Macomb Business Awards at the Andiamo Celebrity Showroom Feb. 11.

Stephen Cassin, director of the Macomb County Department of Planning and Economic Development, said this is the second year of the awards, which they give out as part of their Home in Macomb Program to retain and attract businesses to the county.

“We’re doing it because we want to give back to the businesses and recognize our successful businesses,” he said. “We’re absolutely proud that we have these businesses.”

Out of 35 nominated businesses, seven were honored at the event: Proper Group International in Warren was recognized as a “champion of workforce development”; First State Bank in St. Clair Shores was honored for its work as a “corporate citizen”; Omega Plastics in Clinton Township was named a “diversification leader”; New Haven Community Schools was honored for being an “energy efficiency expert”; and St. Clair Shores-based Ethel’s Edibles was named “start-up business of the year.”

The company’s owner and founder, Jill Bommarito, said they were not expecting to be recognized, “so it was a really fun day.”

Ethel’s Edibles is a gluten-free baking company that began two years ago as a wholesaler delivering to specialty grocers like Plum Market, Hiller’s Markets and Westborn Market.

“We’ve grown since that time,” Bommarito said. “A year ago, we moved into this space in St. Clair Shores (and now) have a small retail space.”

Eighty-five percent of the business is still wholesale, with distribution throughout Detroit, Ann Arbor, Chicago and across the country, but she said the company on Harper Avenue with 16 employees has been “really under the radar.”

“For us to be in the room and to be recognized by that panel is tremendous,” she said. “We’re on the right path, and we’re operating in a community where we can get support.”

Along with Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, Gov. Rick Snyder attended the ceremony, where he congratulated all of the nominated businesses on their work.

“Their efforts to gain a competitive advantage … definitely contributes to our growing reputation as the comeback state,” he said, according to a release from the county.

Some of the companies awarded are long-term employers in the county.

Proper Group International on 11 Mile Road in Warren designs, manufactures and engineers plastic injection molds and makes injection-molded parts.

The company, founded in 1971, has had an apprentice program for more than 30 years. It also works with Warren Consolidated Schools, Macomb Community College and Henry Ford Community College to train the next generation of employees.

“There aren’t enough people in the profession, and so you have to grow your own,” said CFO Mark Rusch. “We have jobs that just go unfilled because there just aren’t people out there. We have jobs that we can’t fill — these are high-paying jobs — so we have to really work with the schools and the community to really get the word out and develop that talent.”

Rusch said it’s the associates — the employees — at the company that really deserve the award.

“You can have all the machines in the world that you want, but you need great people to run them,” he said.

Clinton Township-based Omega Plastics has also been in the county for decades, getting its start in the area in 1985. But to keep the business competitive over the years, it has had to diversify its product line, winning it recognition from the county.

“We were very excited to win,” said Omega Plastics president Jeff Kaczperski. “Diversification brings about long-term stability and growth.”

Formerly specializing in the automotive industry, that is now it’s third-largest market, he said. The largest is medical and the second-largest consumer packaging.

“Automotive tends to have cycles,” he said. “We needed more consistent markets, so it’s worked out very well.”

The county also presented the Economic Development Partner of the Year award to Automation Alley.

“It showcases that our businesses excel; they’re in an environment that is thriving,” Cassin said. “Show to the entire region that Macomb County is a good place to do business.”

He said there were dozens of businesses nominated for the awards, and the winners were the ones that stood out from the rest.

“It’s a tremendous honor to be recognized,” said Gene Lovell, president and CEO of First State Bank, which has locations in St. Clair Shores, Eastpointe, Clinton and Washington townships, Sterling Heights, Richmond, and Chesterfield Township.

“As a community bank, we recognize that our success really depends on the success of the communities we work in,” he said. “It is in our interest, as well as the community’s interest, to work together to help make our entire county stronger.”

Chartered in 1917, Lovell said being a community bank gives it more reasons to be a good corporate citizen. It sponsors many community events, including the St. Clair Shores Fireworks Extravaganza, the Richmond Good Old Days and the Gratiot Cruise in Eastpointe.

“With First State Bank, our shareholders, our Board of Directors, our employees all live and work right in this area. This is our home,” he said. “It is important to us to see it continue to grow and to stay strong and healthy, and we want to work to ensure that happens.”