Category: Business

Spotlight on: Muskegon Lumberjacks

Muskegon Lumberjacks hockey game

‘One big party,’ how $1.7M in arena renovations changed this hockey experience

When the capacity crowd at Mercy Health Arena (formerly L.C. Walker Arena) celebrates a Muskegon Lumberjacks goal by yelling “You got Jacked,” it’s a fun taunt at the opposing goalie.

But it’s equally appropriate as a measure of excitement felt by the thousands of fans providing a home-ice advantage for Michigan’s only United States Hockey League team.

With a $1.7 million renovation and elite hockey talent – the Lumberjacks have had 18 NHL draft picks and 51 players earn college scholarships in just the last 5 years – the hockey and the social experience has changed from preconceived perceptions, said Mike McCall, the Lumberjacks president.

“Our number one goal is to make sure we created something for everyone,” McCall said. “When you come into this building, there’s a wow factor, there’s a vibe and there’s a sense of fun. We’re grateful to have the opportunity to present that night in and night out.

“(The renovation) is helping to revive the downtown. The Muskegon area is growing. The vibe in the whole community is improving. There’s a new sense of pride and we want to be one of those helping lead that.”

The project was unveiled in late 2018, and this will be the first full season for fans to experience the team’s 30 home dates that stretch into April. The upgrades include a new and improved concourse area, suite boxes, club and lodge seating, and the creation of a party platform that includes a beer garden, bar and an open-air and supervised kids’ zone.

The new concourse design keeps fans in the arena rather than leaving the seating area and into a closed off hallway. The work brings concessions to the inside and is transformative.

“The great thing about this openness that we created in the arena is that it’s really created a social environment. People can walk around, and they can see the game, they can see their friends, they can see their kids. It’s really one big party.

“You can grab a beer or a hot dog and still watch the game. You are right on top of the action. There’s no better place to watch a hockey game.”

Attendance was up 20 percent last year despite a reduction in the number of seats, McCall said, and that shows people are responding to the changes.

The USHL took notice too, honoring the Lumberjacks with the 2019 Organization of the Year award.

“Our goal is to win it again this year and the next year,” McCall said. “We want to continue to be the best team in this league.”

The Lumberjacks, who feature players ages 16 to 20 on the development track to major college or professional hockey, are a community experience and attribute, McCall said. With the majority of the team’s games on Friday or Saturday nights, the setting is ideal for families, business or group outings or getting friends together.

“Coming to a Lumberjacks game is a release,” he said. “You’re going to yell, you’re going to scream, and you’re going cheer. You’re going to see people you know, have some drinks and have a great time.”

That is exactly the atmosphere that Andrea Sponaas has witnessed.

“If there’s one thing that’s been consistent, it’s been the jaw-drop (from people) as soon as they walk in,” said Sponaas, the vice president of corporate partnerships for the team. “You can tell the people who have not been here since the renovations. It’s awestruck. It’s ‘Oh, my gosh, this is fantastic.’”

Lumberjacks games are safe, clean, affordable and convenient, Sponaas said, and the team’s leaders want to keep the momentum going.

“We’re making sure we’re bringing in new fans and exposing them to how great this league is and exposing them to the atmosphere that we’ve built,” said Sponaas, who was with the team 10 years ago when it launched in Muskegon.

“The Muskegon Lumberjacks of today are an entirely different experience. If folks haven’t been to the game, seen the arena changes, I think they’re really missing out.”

On the hockey side, Lumberjacks Head Coach Mike Hamilton said fans can expect 100 percent effort and an exciting, active style of play. The USHL is the highest level of junior hockey in the country, he said. Prospects come from around the world to play in the league. The players have moved away from their homes – in some cases their countries – to pursue their dreams.

“Everyone who plays youth hockey, this is their goal,” he said. “Every night they’re being evaluated, not just by us, but if you look around there are NHL scouts, there are colleges scouting.

“They make a huge commitment just to be here and develop into the best hockey players they can be, but they recognize that they’re here to be part of the community. Muskegon is invested in them and their actions on and off the ice reflect on Muskegon. We win together.”

Visit the Lumberjacks website to find the team’s schedule and learn more about Muskegon’s team.

Son succeeds father as CEO of nation’s largest state retail association

Bill Hallan, James P. Hallan, Gov. James Blanchard, Janet Blanchard

Already two decades ago, Bill Hallan was helping merchants all across Michigan. He spent a summer in college going from store to store, installing or reprogramming standalone credit card terminals that would dial out over a telephone line.

The job often would take about a half hour, and Hallan would pass the time talking to shop owners about the values of the Michigan Retailers Association (MRA) and thanking them for being members.

“It really gave me the opportunity to see the business from the ground up,” he said. “It was great to see the members in their shops and provide a valuable service to them.”

Turns out that was good preparation because Hallan, now 37, is helping Michigan retailers with credit card processing and much more now that he has taken over as the MRA’s new president and CEO.

But his training for the role actually began even earlier, as a child. After all, the longtime MRA executive that he’s succeeding is James P. Hallan, his father.

James Hallan had been CEO of the MRA since 2008, and his recent retirement concluded his tenure that dates back to 1985 when Bill was just a toddler. As a result, Bill Hallan literally grew up around retailers. He met MRA board members and staff during his childhood and, as he got older, started picking his dad’s brain about things happening at work.

After going to school at Denison University in Ohio and graduating magna cum laude from the University of Toledo College of Law, Bill Hallan worked as a litigator. Then, he joined the MRA in 2011 as vice president and general counsel and has worked alongside his dad since then.

“I’ve basically grown up with Michigan Retailers in my life, for my entire life, so I hold it close to my heart,” Bill Hallan said. “My dad’s been a role model to me, and to watch him handle his role here as CEO with such integrity, and to grow the association to new heights through his vision, has been a great learning experience for me.

“It’s an incredible honor to follow his lead.”

RELATED: Jim Hallan: MRA’s President and CEO reflects on his 34-year career

MRA Mascot

Keep an eye out for the Buy Nearby Guy when you’re out shopping at local Michigan retailers. ‘The local retailers are the ones who support the community pancake breakfast, the spaghetti dinner, the local sports team. They give jobs to our neighbors,’ Bill Hallan said. ‘It’s good for all of us to buy nearby because we all want that vibrant downtown, that sense of community.”

The MRA was organized in 1940, long before either Bill or James Hallan became leaders. It was created to be an advocate and trusted resource for the retail industry in Michigan, and that mission continues today as the MRA has grown into the largest state retail association in the entire country with more than 5,000 members representing over 15,000 stores and Web sites.

Of course, the ways the MRA supports Michigan retailers has changed through the years. For example, the MRA in 1969 became the first non-bank Independent Sales Organization (ISO) to offer credit card services. Today, the MRA processes about $1.4 billion in credit card transactions each year in all 50 states.

The MRA also provides members with insurance options including health, dental and workers’ compensation. Its staff runs educational seminars and workshops, and does legislative advocacy on issues such as Main Street Fairness.

Plus, the MRA promotes shopping local through its Buy Nearby campaign that includes an annual statewide celebration of Michigan retailing. This year’s Buy Nearby Weekend is Oct. 4-6.

Basically, the MRA is a “one-stop shop” for Michigan retailers to find support that keeps the industry – and the communities in our state – strong.

“As a small retailer you’re out there by yourself, so being part of a larger group gives you a huge voice to speak from,” said Rick Melahn, a longtime MRA member who owned a store in downtown Saugatuck and now is retail manager at Impression 5 Science Center in Lansing, which features a large toy store.

“When you’re out there as a consumer you do have a lot of options today. But I think the bottom line is that the MRA helps to support that idea of keeping your dollars in the Keep your money in the mitten info boxcommunity, and that’s what Buy Nearby is all about. You’re helping support the shop owners to stay in that community and be a vital part of that community.”

The retail industry changed significantly on James Hallan’s watch, with the emergence of big-box stores and the rise of online retailing. Then there was the Great Recession through the end of the last decade that hit Michigan particularly hard.

As James Hallan would often say, “the only constant is change.” In response, the MRA has been nimble through the years and proactively met the needs of members by helping retailers all over Michigan adapt to changing trends, new technology, digital marketing and more.

Now, as Bill Hallan takes charge, “his challenge will be the challenge that I faced: the changing retail and regulatory environment,” says his dad. Yet, the mission remains the same – to help Michigan’s retailers thrive, so that the communities in our state can prosper.

“If we’re always thinking local first, then we’re always benefitting Michigan before we’re benefitting out-of-state retailers that aren’t invested here,” Bill Hallan said.

“I love when my kids are playing on a sports team and I see on the back of their jersey all the sponsors from local shops. My family frequents those shops on a regular basis because I know they’re invested in our town, they’re invested in Michigan and they will be invested in our future.”

How to look fresh for Michigan’s fall

Libins shirts sweaters

The turn of seasons marks a perfect time for men to turn over their closets from shorts and golf shirts to clothing that is more appropriate for the fall and winter months.

It’s also time to evaluate if what you’re wearing aligns with current styles, including fit trends which this year tend to skew toward more slim-fitting items.

Thankfully, Mother Nature has granted guys a couple extra weeks as warmer temperatures are expected to linger through September. Recent extended forecasts show high temperatures between 70 and 74 degrees for the southern half of Lower Michigan, and a few days in the 80s are still possible.

Here’s a quick refresher on clothing items that every man should have in his closet for a complete wardrobe, courtesy of Libins, the leading fine men’s clothing shop in the Kalamazoo area.

This fall, the experts at the store with a 60-year history of dressing Southwest Michigan men, say there are ways to beat the color tour chill with casual layers that are both comfortable and versatile for whatever the day may bring – from activities like football games and orchard outings to heading out to dinner with friends.

The clothing carried at Libins includes a wide array of fabrics that can help men gradually progress as the temperatures drop. Materials can vary from lighter weight fabrics in cotton, acrylic, wool and merino wool for the cooler days of fall. There are also multiple styling options for sweaters, such as quarter-zip, v- neck, crew neck and some full-zip options.

Here are some ideas that Libins shoppers have found appealing this year:

  • Long-sleeve sport shirts with stretch soft textures and great prints.
  • Quarter-zip sweaters to match back to the sport shirts.
  • Lightweight V-neck sweaters that are slim fit and match or complement the sport shirts.
  • Crew neck sweaters in ombre stripes.
  • Quarter-zip Sherpa pullovers.

If the occasion calls for an upscale appearance, Libins advisors recommend a sport coat or suit. Libins has styles and fits for all men.  These three have been popular:

  • Calvin Klein Extreme Fit: Tight fit in the coat in the shoulder sleeves and body of the coat. The pant fits below the waist and has a tighter fitting silhouette to the bottom of the leg.
  • Ralph Lauren Modern Fit: The shoulder is looser than the slim fit and a fuller cut sleeve still has a tapered look to the body of the coat. Pant fits slightly below waist and has a straight fit that is more open at the bottom.
  • Eisenberg Traditional Fit: This is the fullest cut suit that we stock. The coat has very little tapering to the body and sleeve. The shoulder is very roomy, and the pants are a classic fit, sitting at the waist and carrying a wide finish to the bottom of the leg.

Libins experts remind men not to overlook pant styling categories that will change the way clothes look. An incorrect fit will affect men’s overall appearance and turn an outfit from fab to drab. Here are the three primary fits:

  • Classic fit: Sits at the waist and has a full leg and wide at the bottom
  • Straight fit: Falls slightly below the waist and has a more tapered leg and is narrow at the bottom. Many brands for fall are making the straight fit and inch narrower at the bottom to give the pant a more slim look.
  • Slim fit: The most tapered of the options, this pant sits below waist and has a very tapered leg to the bottom of the leg.

And if men want to break out of the bland black dress socks that have been in their drawers for years, Libins now carries Happy Socks, a line of colorful and whimsical coverings that will shake up their wardrobe. There are also new prints from the Beatles, Andy Warhol and Rolling Stones to consider.

For more advice and ideas for fall and beyond, visit Libins website or take a moment to talk to one of the store’s fitting professional to create your best look.

Creating this thriving West Michigan restaurant while battling cancer ‘was part of his recovery’

Rosario of Maya Mexican Cafe

From the sombreros hanging on the wall to the “equipales” around the tables to the “muñecas” on display, so much of the décor inside Maya Mexican Grill & Bar is authentic, imported from the land of our neighbors to the south.

Then there’s the live mariachi music on Saturday nights and the delicious sugar- and salt-rimmed margaritas at the bar. And, of course, the extensive menu of genuine Mexican dishes such as Huachinango, Tampiquena and heaping Parrilladas is very tasty, or, shall we say, muy sabroso.

If you’ve never been to Mexico, step inside Andy Rosario’s restaurant in Rogers Plaza Town Center for the next best thing. Maya Mexican Grill is anything but watered down.


“In every sip of your drink you feel the tequila,” said Michael Martinez, bartender in the flourishing restaurant along 28th Street SW in Wyoming. “We always try to do our best to make it with a little bit extra. We always try to take care of our tables the greatest.”

Authentic Equipales at Maya Mexican Grill

In addition to booth seating, Maya Mexican Grill & Bar inside the Rogers Plaza Town Center features authentic ‘equipales,’ or chairs.

Just five years old, Maya Mexican Grill recently made the Top 10 of Michigan’s Best Mexican Restaurant Search. That’s especially interesting since Rosario, the owner, is a native of the Dominican Republic – and a cancer survivor.

When Rosario came to the United States as a boy, he lived with an uncle who owned a grocery store and as he got older Andy ran the store after school. That background led him to start one of the area’s first food trucks about a decade ago, when the trend was just making its way into West Michigan.

It was while running “El Loco Hungry” that Rosario honed his business mentality and whet his appetite for serving the public and interacting with customers. Soon, he was poised to open a full-service restaurant with a liquor license.

Pina Maya dinner at Maya Mexican Grill

Andy Rosario says he ‘found the passion of serving’ while operating one of the early food trucks in Grand Rapids. Now, he’s serving up delicious dishes such as the Pina Maya dinner at Maya Mexican Grill & Bar.

Rosario opted for a menu and ambiance rooted in his wife’s Mexican heritage, yet several unique dishes such as the Pina Maya – a hollowed-out half pineapple filled with steak, chicken, chorizo or shrimp – are infused with Dominican influences.

Maya Mexican Grill opened in 2014. Then, just a few months later, at age 36, Rosario was diagnosed with cancer. Nasal carcinoma, Stage 4. There was a tumor touching his carotid artery.

Against long odds, eight weeks of treatment in Ann Arbor proved successful and shrunk the mass. Rosario survived. Maya Mexican Grill began to thrive.

“Instead of sitting at home focused on his health, he was focused on Maya,” said Elizabeth Rosario, Andy’s wife and a local attorney. “I think that kind of helped him. That was part of his recovery.

“He’s always had this positivity to him. He’s my hero. I’m just super proud of him.”

Now 40, the soft-spoken Rosario looks back on his cancer as if it were a fever: “Take some Tylenol and move on,” he says. He poured himself into his restaurant, ensuring his kitchen has the freshest, choicest ingredients for dishes that Michigan’s Best raved about including fried red snapper (Huachinango), steak (Tampiquena) and an overflowing “molcajete,” or stone bowl, of grilled meats and vegetables featuring jalapeño peppers the size of bananas (Parrilladas) – not to mention a variety of classic fajitas and tacos.

décor at Maya Mexican Grill

The décor at Maya Mexican Grill & Bar features authentic art, figurines and other items from south of the border.

Rosario has adorned the walls with sombreros from Guadalajara and imported traditional Mexican chairs called “equipales.” On one trip to the Mayan archaeological site at Chichén Itzá, he found a heavy statue that was a pain to get through customs but makes a perfect mascot for the restaurant.

And, ironically, Maya Mexican Grill features artwork depicting an ancient calendar with a Mayan god bearing the burden of time on his back, kneeling under the weight of it. For Rosario, now cancer free, time is a gift, one he’s happy to share with guests.

“We’re still standing after all the struggle,” he said. “It’s a blessing.”

And it’s worth celebrating.

“I want people to come and enjoy with family and friends and have a good time. That’s really what it’s all about.”

How a Michigan credit union is a ‘game-changer’ for communities, non-profits

Lake Trust CU

Lisa Crawford, the director of the Detroit non-profit Humble Design, knows exactly how much impact community-minded businesses have on tightly run charities like hers.

“We literally could not do it without partnerships like we have with Lake Trust Credit Union,” she said. “They are a game-changer for us when they send full teams of people to volunteer for the day. It speaks to their dedication to the community and helping strengthen neighborhoods one home at a time.”

Lake Trust Credit Union, which is headquartered in Brighton and serves 175,000 members with 22 branches across the southern lower peninsula, is stepping up its commitment to Humble Design and five other Michigan non-profits with innovative programs for home mortgage loans and home equity loans that benefit its members and the larger fabric of the state.

As the community-based credit union continues its expansion throughout Michigan, adding new locations in Detroit on Woodward Avenue and Plymouth within the last month alone, its team Lake Trust CU Branchremains committed to donating its time and resources to help create and sustain strong neighborhoods.

“As both Detroit and Plymouth continue to experience significant growth and development, we saw this as an opportunity to contribute to the positive energy taking place in these communities while better serving small businesses and our members living and working in these areas,” said Nicole Whitely, a member experience manager for Lake Trust Credit Union. “These branches not only offer modern conveniences that impact the way we communicate with and provide solutions for our members, but they also expand our platform for building and growing strong relationships with our communities in Michigan.”

Lake Trust, through September 30, will give members who close a new mortgage or refinance their mortgage $250, and the credit union will also donate $250 to charity. Members who close a home equity loan will receive $100, and the credit union will grant a non-profit $100.

“Our goal is to build a stronger Michigan by improving communities and helping our neighbors,” said Whitely. “We want to put people first and help make the lives of our members better.”

In addition to Humble Design, which helps people emerging from homelessness transform their new housing with a coordinated design of donated furniture and household goods, Lake Trust Credit Union has partnered with:

  • The City Rescue Mission of Lansing, a shelter that uplifts the homeless.
  • Love in Action, which pairs medical professionals with support agencies in rural communities.
  • Shelter Association of Washtenaw County, a temporary shelter.
  • LaCasa, a Howell-based group that aids domestic violence victims.
  • Isabella County Restoration House, a mid-Michigan housing assistance group.

 

Lake Trust began the program in July and planned to have it in place through August. The overwhelmingly positive response led to the credit union extending the donation period through September.

The timing of the member benefit and the charitable donation comes at a great time. According to the Mortgage Bankers Association, an industry trade group, average rates for a 30-year mortgage recently dropped below 4 percent for the first time in nearly three years. Rates on 15-year loans are even lower.

“We take pride in being involved in the community and focusing our efforts on giving back. It’s part of our culture,” Whitely said. “We don’t just say it, we show it with our commitment to helping neighborhoods thrive.

“We think this is a unique way of showing the dedication of our credit union.”

Crawford agrees, saying Humble Design is honored to have been chosen among the recipients of the financial boost.

“It’s been incredible to work with Lake Trust team members,” she said.

Visit Lake Trust Credit Union to learn more about how it benefits its members and Michigan.