Macomb County Business Awards honor innovation, creativity and diversification

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published February 12, 2016

MACOMB COUNTY — The current and next wave of businesses to lead Macomb County in an economic upswing were honored at the Macomb County Business Awards breakfast Feb. 9 at Fern Hill Golf Club in Clinton Township.

Approximately 400 people attended the fourth annual event, which celebrates different aspects of innovation and the businesses that put their own wits to the test.

Fox 2 News anchor Huel Perkins served as the event’s emcee, while Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel and Macomb County Department of Planning and Economic Development Director John Paul Rea passed out the hardware.

Fifty-one businesses were nominated in total. Each category was narrowed down to three competitors, with short videos playing to the crowd to provide background on each business.

Four judges chose the winners: Rea; former Macomb County Department of Planning and Economic Development Director Stephen Cassin; Julie Gustafson, executive director of the Macomb-OU INCubator; and Gene Lovell, president and CEO of First State Bank.

Six business awards were issued. The winners were:

Champion of Workforce Development: Tweddle Group, Clinton Township. Tweddle Group has been located in Macomb County since its 1954 inception, and executives liken themselves to being the “Google of the East.” They focus on information needs of the automotive industry.

Corporate Citizen: Henry Ford Macomb Hospital, Clinton Township. The 451-licensed-bed health care organization has partnered with Macomb County schools to encourage health and wellness, and has donated funds and professional resources to Operation Rx to eliminate prescription drug abuse and overdoses, among other things.

Diversification Leader: Blake Farms, Armada. Blake Farms, which started in 1946, has undergone its own transformation after losing its apple crop in 2012. Forward thinking encouraged the business to delve further, which it has with three locations, a winery, and its own brand of hard cider that is sold in numerous states in the Midwest.

Efficiency Expert: Pioneer Metal Finishing, Warren. Pioneer offers numerous metal finishing services and invested significant capital to upgrade its older regenerative thermal oxidizer unit, which has cut 98 percent of emissions, reduced natural gas usage, and allowed for internally conducted cleanings and control monitoring. 

Model of One Macomb: St. John Macomb-Oakland Hospital, Warren. Part of the nation’s largest Catholic and nonprofit health system, St. John Macomb-Oakland Hospital has created specific programs to better serve a quickly growing Middle Eastern population in the county. 

Startup Business to Watch: Bakes & Kropp, Mount Clemens. As a cabinetry company that designs and manufactures luxury kitchens, baths and closets for large real estate, this company aims to deliver upon demand on the East Coast and beyond.

In addition to the aforementioned awards, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation was recognized as the Economic Development Partner of the Year for its continuous support of county economic initiatives.

Also, a special Beacon of Economic Development award was issued to Cassin, who recently retired after about four decades of working within the county.

Rea honored his predecessor by listing a few of his accomplishments during his tenure, including jump-starting a ballpark for a semi-professional baseball league in Utica.

After the program, Hackel discussed how it’s not only the billions of dollars of investments put into the Big Three car companies, but also federal investments at Selfridge Air National Guard Base and the success of, as he put it, local mom-and-pop stores.

The county’s awards presentation shines a light on the positive work, he said.

“We seem to be an economic engine for the state, and I’ll tell you: A lot of these businesses are making Macomb their home for a reason, and we’re excited about it,” Hackel said.

Rea, who has been director of his department for one month, said there’s great health and vitality — not just in terms of business diversity, but also when it comes to geography.

He mentioned how the county historically focuses on production and manufacturing, attracting large industrial clients. But over the years, expansion has been made in the commercial sector, in areas of technology, cybersecurity, defense and homeland security. This branching out is present in areas including along Gratiot Avenue, the M-59 corridor and the M-53 corridor.

“We’re talking about businesses in the northern portions of the county and southern areas of the county, across major corridors, startups that are starting in people’s basements,” Rea said. “The creativity and innovation and applicability of what we’re talking about in this room here is leading to an economic resurgence in Macomb County, and it’s fantastic.”

Hackel agreed that business is certainly trending in a different direction, but rather than run away from that challenge, he said it should be acknowledged and embraced.

For example, he mentioned Macomb County’s presence as the “defense capital of the Midwest” — with the epicenter being home to Selfridge, the U.S. Army TACOM facility and TARDEC — but nobody recognizes it.

“We’ve got all those that are a part of the industry to realize that not only do we have to protect what we’ve got, we’ve got to grow what we’ve got. … Macomb County is a great place for business and for people that are skilled and understand how to provide the labor workforce that’s necessary,” Hackel said. “Nowhere else do you see that happening in the entire country.”