A Cinnamon Bomb That Exploded For A Chicago Bakery

Small businesses are gems in our region, and the Fraiche bakery near Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., is a jewel in the eyes of its customers.

But, according to the Chicago Tribune, a dispute with a departing chef has turned into a lawsuit, all over the recipe for a cinnamon bomb. (You can see it here.)

In court papers, Fraiche owner Susan Davis Friedman alleged that the chef, who was not named, quit the restaurant, then returned a few days later and took a pair of ringed binders that contained a series of recipes.

They included the cinnamon bomb, a donut like muffin that ranked as No. 87 on Time Out Chicago’s List of the top 100 things its reporters ate in 2011.

The lawsuit alleges that the chef, Maryann Huppert, who helped develop the recipes with the restaurant, told a manager that Friedman would have to sue to get the recipes back. “If she wanted the recipes, why didn’t she make copies?” The lawsuit claims the chef told the manager.  Continue reading “A Cinnamon Bomb That Exploded For A Chicago Bakery”

The Michigan Economic Development Deal That Will Help An Ohio Company

Ohio-based Export Now will help sell MIchigan-made products on China's TMall.com. Credit: screenshot from TMall.com

China, as you’ve often heard, is the world’s fastest growing economy, and not just for its low-cost manufacturing. It’s also home to a rapidly growing consumer market. Big American companies like GM, Harley Davidson and Amway have made big bucks selling to Chinese consumers.

But for smaller American companies, breaking into the Chinese market can be difficult, confusing and expensive.

This week, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation announced a new program to help small businesses make that leap. It’s the first program of its kind in the country.

“The program will offer Michigan companies the opportunity to test their products in the China consumer market with limited risk,” MEDC President and CEO Michael A. Finney said in a release.

As part of the program, the MEDC is partnering with Export Now, a private company that specializes in helping businesses export their products to China. A hundred small Michigan companies will get a chance to take part. For them, the program could be a transformative opportunity.

But it’s also a sweet deal for Export Now, which is based in Ohio. And the owner of a Michigan-based export services company hopes he won’t be left behind.

Continue reading “The Michigan Economic Development Deal That Will Help An Ohio Company”

Midwest Memo: Chicago Mayor Unveils Microlending Plan, Auto Dealerships Renovate, Indiana Finds Extra $320 Million

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Chicago unveils microlending program. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel unveiled a plan Tuesday to create a new organization that helps the city’s small businesses. The Chicago Microlending Institute would train potential lenders on advising and giving loans to people starting small businesses, and would be funded by a $1 million loan pool funded by the city. Our partner station WBEZ says the proposed institute would be run by ACCION Chicago, an area small business lender. Emanuel said small businesses sometimes struggle to get loans from traditional institutions. “That’s the hardest first step,” Emanuel tells WBEZ. “That’s the hardest loan. You don’t have a proven model. You don’t have a proven record.”

2. Auto dealerships undergo facelifts. Three auto dealerships in the Milwaukee area are joining a growing national trend of expanding or renovating their facilities. Jim Tolkan, president of the Automobile Dealers Association of Mega Milwaukee, tells the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that auto manufacturers are requiring dealerships to remodel in order to meet “a look that is easily recognizable regardless of where you are in the country.” Others are unconvinced that dealers will recoup expensive outlays. “That is the unknown question,” Tolkan tells the newspaper. The National Automobile Dealers Association is expected to issue a report on the subject later this year.

3. Whoops! Indiana finds leftover $320 million. Indiana officials discovered Tuesday the state had $320 million more than anticipated in its main account. Gov. Mitch Daniels said the windfall came as a result of a multi-year programming error that was only recently caught by a stunned employee. Democrats aren’t necessarily buying the explanation after watching Republicans cut public education funding by $300 million at the end of 2009, according to the Indianapolis Star. “This wasn’t just an accounting error,” Senate Minority Leader Vi Simpson told the newspaper. “Children got hurt by this, families have suffered.”

Your Story: Can Grassroots Small Business Support Work?

Michelle Koles makes lunches at the Can Do Kitchen, one of the smaller organizations getting into business "incubating."

Business incubators are a trumpeted, but yet unproven way to give entrepreneurs and their projects a higher chance of success.  Foundations and governments are lining up dollars to support incubators in their communities.

Some of the larger incubators around the region were profiled by Niala Boodhoo earlier this week. But there are also more grassroots efforts springing up, incubators that seem themselves to be small enough to be supported.

Marcy Kates lives and works in Holt, Michigan. Two months ago she left her job as a program officer for the state’s AmeriCorps program and opened IncuBake, an incubator kitchen and commercial kitchen space. Kates used her savings and her credit cards to open the kitchen, inspired by being unable to find low-cost commercial space for her own catering.

“I started this project to be a job creator, “ said Kates. Even so, she intentionally stayed away from a nonprofit model, wanting more flexibility and not really wanting to fundraise. That meant using her savings and her credit card to start the business, which is now about 15 percent full but, Kates says, growing steadily. Continue reading “Your Story: Can Grassroots Small Business Support Work?”

Magic Bullets: Can Small Businesses Rebuild Our Economy?

All week, our Magic Bullets series has focused on big ideas that political leaders say can boost the economy. One you hear mentioned often is small business. But can small businesses really grow enough to help the overall economy? That’s what I set out to find out.

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The way politicians tell it, small business IS the backbone of the economy. President Obama has said this many, many times – especially the idea that small business is “the key for us to be able to put a lot of folks back to work”.

It’s not just Obama. Warm feelings about small business come at all levels of governance, and on both sides of the aisle. Michigan’s Republican Gov. Rick Synder is the darling of the state small business community. Earlier this summer, at the Small Business Association of Michigan’s annual meeting, he urged members to “Talk about the jobs you’re creating, even if it’s one”, because, he  that would be the “backbone of the reinvention of Michigan”.

Continue reading “Magic Bullets: Can Small Businesses Rebuild Our Economy?”

Coming Next Week: Magic Bullets in the Midwest

Next week, Changing Gears reporters will tackle a subject that’s long been a part of the Midwest mind frame: magic bullets.

By magic bullets, we mean the big ideas and big projects that politicians and government officials say their cities and states must embrace, in order to boost the economy. But what is their track record? Should we really be shooting for the stars, or trying to create jobs one at a time?

Kate Davidson kicks things off Monday with a look at the history of magic bullets (remember AutoWorld in Flint? How about the Chicago Olympic bid?)

Later in the week, Niala Boodhoo tackles small business, and whether big programs actually help companies grow. Dan Bobkoff looks at a subject dear to Cleveland’s heart: health care.

Contributor Dustin Dwyer will examine the race to build battery plants and whether that fledgling industry is actually creating the jobs that mayors and governors hope.

Find our reports on Michigan Radio, WBEZ Chicago and ideastream Cleveland. And check back here for special features related to our Magic Bullets series.

Contribute to our coverage: What are past magic bullet ideas that fell flat?

Can Immigration Be An Economic Driver In The Midwest?

Last week, officials in Dayton, Ohio gave unanimous approval to a plan to adopt an “immigrant friendly” economic approach.

They hope the campaign brings a two-fold benefit to the city and its dwindling population, which at approximately 142,000 residents, is at its lowest number in nearly a century. One, the officials hope immigrants can boost that sagging number. Two, they believe immigrants will bring economic benefits.

They’re not the only ones in the Midwest who believe immigrants can become economic drivers.

Continue reading “Can Immigration Be An Economic Driver In The Midwest?”

Gov. Rick Snyder Believes Immigration Could Spark Job Growth in Michigan

Over the past decade, the Great Recession has perhaps punched Michigan workers the hardest.

Michigan was the only state in the country to lose population in that time span. More than 300,000 residents fled the state. Its peak unemployment rate of 14.1 percent ranks as one of the highest in the U.S. More than 1 in 5 residents in Detroit, its largest city, remain in search of work.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder

So it’s inexplicable to many in Michigan that one of the lynchpins in Gov. Rick Snyder’s plan to put people back to work is encouraging an influx of immigrants. Snyder touted those plans in an exclusive Dan Rather Reports segment that aired earlier this week.

“I think it’s important for our future,” Snyder told Rather. “We’ve been in a recession for a decade. How do we really reinvent ourselves? One of the keys to how we build ourselves is immigration.”

It’s been a relevant issue in the state’s past. One century ago, immigrants comprised 33 percent of Detroit’s population during its nascent boom years. For a more contemporary example, Snyder gazes beyond Michigan’s borders toward Silicon Valley, and notes 47 percent of its residents are foreign born.

“I am focused on finding more and better jobs for Michiganders,” he tells Rather. “Encouraging legal immigration for advanced-degree people is consistent with that. They’re job creators.”

A study from the Small Business Administration shows immigrants in Michigan are three times as likely as native-born residents to start businesses, and six times as likely to start high-tech businesses. Snyder, a Republican, would like to tap that entrepreneurial spirit.

Continue reading “Gov. Rick Snyder Believes Immigration Could Spark Job Growth in Michigan”

Midwest Memo: Michigan Banks Receive Funds for Small Businesses, In its Battered Economy, Cleveland Finds a Place for Porsche

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Porsche’s place in Cleveland economy. Is there something illogical about opening a Porsche dealership in the midst of northeast Ohio’s economic turbulence? Not really, says Mark Naymik of The Plain Dealer. Porsche buyers are faring just fine, according to U.S. Census data. Naymik attended the grand opening of a Porsche dealership in suburban Beachwood, and examines the trickle-down role of such luxury purchases and the complexities of the regional economy — while also providing details on the regal evening.

2. Standard & Poor’s upgrades GM. After reviewing the four-year contract agreement between the UAW and General Motors, Standard & Poor’s announced today that it has upgraded the automaker’s debt rating from BB- to BB+. “We believe the contract will allow for continued profitability and cash generation in North America,” S&P’s Robert Schulz said in a written statement.

3. Michigan banks receive small-business boost. The U.S. Treasury announced today that five Michigan community banks would receive a total of $28.8 million in funding as part of the Small Business Jobs Act that President Obama signed into law. The money, distributed through the Small Business Lending Fund, encourages community banks to help small businesses expand operations and create new jobs. The Treasury said in a release that small businesses account for approximately 60 percent of job creation, but that such businesses are facing “disproportionate challenges in the aftermath” of the credit crisis.

Small Business Owners: What Kind of Help Do YOU Need?

All kinds of ideas are being floated to jump start the economy — jobs programs, tax credits, incentives for big companies to invest. But small businesses also play a big part in the Midwest economy.

Leduc Blueberries in Paw Paw, MI.

What kind of support would help small businesses be successful? Are more incubators the answer? Have you been helped by one?

We’d love to hear your stories and thoughts about surviving as a small business. Take our survey, and share your advice for other companies in getting through the recession.