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Detroit Development News

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Photographer-turned-mechanic opens up shop in Rivertown

There's a new automotive repair shop on Detroit's east riverfront. Chris Lee opened the Straits Garage, located at 217 Joseph Campau St. The garage, in a historic warehouse built in 1880, offers a range of services, from simple oil changes to drivetrain and transmission work.

Though Lee didn't originally plan on locating his garage in Rivertown, he's glad he did. The shop has been busy since opening in late January, revealing an obvious need for the surrounding area. The building's proximity to downtown and a provided shuttle allows commuters to drop off their cars before work and pick them up on the way home.

A photography instructor at Oakland University, Lee has been working on cars since he was a teenager. The idea for a garage hit him about a year or two ago, he says. The Detroit native started to notice that the new residents of downtown and Midtown didn't know where to take their cars in for repairs. Realizing that there just weren't that many options in those immediate neighborhoods, Lee became certified as a mechanic and began the search for his own garage. He was stymied, however, by the landlords in downtown and Midtown.

"I spent the last year trying to find a good space in those neighborhoods," says Lee. "A lot of landlords in Midtown don't want an un-hip mechanic shop. They're looking for bars, cafes."

Lee stumbled on a building in Rivertown that had been a repair shop for decades previous, making for an easy move-in. He was excited, too, by the building's history and character--not to mention it being just blocks from the riverfront. The building offers Lee the ability to expand operations, should he need it.

Source: Chris Lee, owner of the Straits Garage
Writer: MJ Galbraith

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(revolver) co-founder to open new restaurant in Southwest

Goldfinch American, the new restaurant concept from Tunde Wey, will have its first pop-up dinner Monday March 24 at a yet-to-be disclosed location. Wey, who has contributed to Model D in the past, is also the co-owner of the Hamtramck restaurant (revolver).

As he searches for Goldfinch American's permanent home in southwest Detroit, Wey will hold a series of Monday night dinners. Wey says that he has been talking to a number of restaurants in Southwest about hosting his weekly dinner. Goldfinch American will transition from pop-up to permanent once an ideal space for the bar and restaurant is found.

Like (revolver), much of the emphasis of Goldfinch American is placed on the chef. Unlike (revolver), Goldfinch American will feature the work of just one person, James Hayes. Wey says that the new restaurant will be completely chef-driven, giving Hayes the leeway to do whatever he wants with the menu. The two met after Hayes requested to create a course for (revolver).

"I had this faith in his ability and it was validated when I tried his food. It was good," says Wey. "It wasn't just good. It was amazing. He made some bacon dust. He makes bacon and puts it in a coffee grinder, grinds it, and sprinkles it on wedges of apples. Beet gnocchi. Tiny little pieces of--I don't even know how he did it. It melted in my mouth. It was amazing."

While a permanent location has yet to be identified, Wey is certain he wants Goldfinch American to be located in Southwest. He's excited by the juxtaposition of placing a fine dining restaurant in a somewhat rugged neighborhood that is culturally vibrant and diverse.

In the meantime, it will be pop-up city for Wey and Hayes, something that has worked for many a small business owner lately.

Source: Tunde Wey, owner of Goldfinch American
Writer: MJ Galbraith

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More affordable housing for Midtown announced

Woodbridge Estates, a neighborhood notable for its Motown-themed street names, will see the construction of 46 apartments spread across 12 buildings this spring. The Slavik Company, a partner in the development team, expects that the apartments will be ready for move-in by July 2014. This marks the sixth phase of construction for Woodbridge Estates, a development that broke ground in 2003 and began accepting its first residents in 2005.

The Woodbridge Estates construction will create more affordable housing in Midtown's southwest corner. The apartments will be reserved for residents who earn up to 60% of the area median income. Developers plan to offer the apartments with a lease-to-own option, says Eric Gold, vice president of the Slavik Company. After 15 years of leasing their apartments, residents will be offered the opportunity to purchase, per U.S. Housing and Urban Development approval.

"I think the income restrictions are perfect for companies hiring in Midtown and downtown Detroit, allowing those employees to live close to work," says Gold.

Woodbridge Estates currently consists of 281 rental units and 51 occupied single-family homes and townhouses. There is a broad mix of incomes within the neighborhood. In addition to the planned apartment construction, 16 single-family house lots remain available at Woodbridge Estates, with prices ranging from $215,000 for a three bedroom, 1,500 square foot home to $285,000 for a four bedroom, 2,200 square foot model. $75,000 in forgivable loans are available as a down payment for qualified buyers.

Woodbridge Estates is bounded by Canfield to the north, M-10 to the east, Martin Luther King, Jr. to the south, and Gibson to the west.

Woodbridge Farm, another Slavik development, runs directly adjacent to the west of Woodbridge Estates. Eight single-family house lots remain in that development. Gold says that these homes are being designed with the surrounding historic architecture in mind.

Source: Eric Gold, vice president of the Slavik Company
Writer: MJ Galbraith

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Five homes to be rehabilitated, sold, and rented in West Village

The Villages Community Development Corporation has purchased five homes to rehabilitate and put back on the market. The five buildings are located on Seyburn and Van Dyke streets in the West Village neighborhood. The CDC expects the homes to be available within six months.

This is the first time the Villages organization has purchased homes to rehabilitate, an idea they've seen work for other CDCs like the Grandmont Rosedale Development Corporation, says Villages executive director Brian Hurttienne. In emulating the success of the GRDC, the group hopes to spur economic development.

Three single-family homes and two duplexes make up the five structures purchased. Once rehabilitated, the single-family homes will be sold. The CDC will retain ownership of the duplexes and rent the units out.

Construction will soon begin and jobs will first be available to qualified area residents. The buildings, vacant for anywhere between one to eight years, remain in good shape. Hurttienne credits the quality of home construction in the Villages as a key component of the area's stability.

"I'm going to reach out to the neighbors of these properties so they know what's going on with each individual property," says Hurttienne. "We want to make sure the Villages is a stable community."

Though slowed down by the city's bankruptcy uncertainties, a process that began in 2012 was completed in December 2013, ensured by cooperation among community stakeholders and federal and city departments. The Villages identified a number of homes for potential rehabilitation, the Detroit Land Bank Authority purchased and cleared the titles of the homes, and then the Villages bought the buildings from the land bank.

Neighboring residents experienced in the construction trades should contact the Detroit Employment Solutions Corporation for potential employment.

Source: Brian Hurttienne, executive director of the Villages CDC
Writer: MJ Galbraith

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Small business contest begins in West Village

Budding entrepreneurs in search of a storefront are invited to submit their business proposals for a contest that began Monday, March 3. Called Activate: 1417 Van Dyke, the contest is a collaboration between Practice Space, Revolve Detroit, the Villages Community Development Corporation, and the building's owner, Alex Howbert, a contractor and co-owner of the Detroit Institute of Bagels. Submissions are being accepted through March 21.

The building itself is in the West Village neighborhood, a Victorian-style house built in 1895. With a storefront on the first floor and two apartment units above, the commercial space boasts approximately 900 square feet with an additional 220 square feet of deck space in the back yard. Though currently vacant, the storefront served as a market for the majority of its history.

Howbert, who purchased the property last year, joined the Practice Space Incubator program with hopes of finding a suitable tenant for the storefront. Rather than pursue any traditional means of finding tenants, a contest was devised to raise awareness of the property and broaden the pool of applicants. Except for those requiring a commercial kitchen, all other types of businesses are encouraged to apply.

"I'm open to anything," says Howbert. "We all have ideas of what would be cool but I know someone else does too. I don't want the space to be pigeonholed and then miss out on an idea."

Howbert is searching for a permanent business for the commercial space and is reserving the apartments for the winner of the contest, should they want a live/work situation. Rent is negotiable and will depend on how much work will be required to outfit the space for the winning business. Two open houses are planned to view the space, March 9 and 10.

Finalists for 1417 Van Dyke will be announced April 11.

Source: Alex Howbert, 1417 Van Dyke owner
Writer: MJ Galbraith

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Group uses public art to improve life in Lindale Gardens

Bleeding Heart Design, a community and arts organization, has put out a call for entries from Detroit-area artists. The group is soliciting submissions for a mural contest in the Lindale Gardens neighborhood in northeast Detroit. Entries will be accepted through March 16.

Bleeding Heart Design is based in Lindale Gardens, a neighborhood bounded by State Fair Rd. to the north, John R Rd. to the west, 7 Mile Rd. to the south, and I-75 to the east. Founded by Rebecca Bucky Willis, the group was formed while she completed her Master of Architecture degree from University of Detroit Mercy. The mural project, just one of many public art projects for the group, is designed with the neighborhood in mind.

"Any time you bring more art and culture into a neighborhood, it's a great asset to enhance the quality of life," says Willis. "It's a call to action to increase the value of the neighborhood. Even if it's not the best house or the nicest neighborhood, it still deserves value. We're trying to create value and a sense of belonging. We want residents to have ownership of the neighborhood."

Willis identifies a number of themes that the winning entry must incorporate into their mural. The mural must inspire unity, inspire altruism, be a call to action, and convey love and forgiveness. Entrants are encouraged to review the goals and values of the Fetzer Institute, the organization providing the grant money. The winner will be provided a $1,000 dollar supplies budget and an additional $1,000 as an honorarium.

The mural will be painted on the north wall of 325 E. State Fair Rd. The wall overlooks a community space already engaged by Bleeding Heart Design. The lot contains a stage and is regularly maintained by the group.

The winning artist will be announced March 28.

Source: Rebecca Bucky Willis, founder of Bleeding Heart Design
Writer: MJ Galbraith

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Architecture firm Hamilton Anderson celebrates 20 years with new developments, hires

Detroit-based architecture firm Hamilton Anderson is ramping up for a busy year with seven new hires and a search for several more. The firm, which is celebrating its 20th year, has an immediate need for two architects, a designer, and one or two project managers. The firm is involved in a number of projects that will alter the landscape of downtown, the riverfront, and Midtown. A recent conversation with principal, president, co-founder, and CEO Rainy Hamilton reveals updates on some of their more high profile projects.

The firm is working on Orleans Landing, the five block development along the east riverfront. Hamilton Anderson is applying more industrial design influences to the previously released illustrations. Townhomes are planned for the blocks facing the Dequindre Cut. The rest of the development will consist of mid-rise lofts featuring mixed-use and residential units.

Hamilton and co-founder Kent Anderson spent the early part of their careers in an office in Rivertown, making their involvement in the Orleans Landing development extra special to them. "For us to be involved in the first new development in the east riverfront, it's really quite an honor and a thrill," says Hamilton.

Hamilton Anderson has been selected by New York-based SHoP Architects as the local architects to collaborate with on the Hudson's site building. Hamilton says a concept has been presented to Bedrock Real Estate Services and was well-received.

The firm is the design architect and architect of record for the adaptive re-use of the old Strathmore Hotel in Midtown. Hamilton says that an original light well is going to be preserved and that developers are hoping that a new parking structure will be built nearby.

It's looking like Radio One, a national broadcasting company, will move into the Queen Lillian Woodward Office Building at Stimson and Woodward Ave. once completed, says Hamilton.

Source: Rainy Hamilton, president, co-founder, and CEO of Hamilton Anderson
Writer: MJ Galbraith

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State money clears the way for Detroit apartment developments

Two Detroit developments have been named recipients of nearly $5 million in state-awarded money. The Ashley and Strathmore apartment buildings have received approval from the Michigan Strategic Fund for Michigan Community Revitalization Program Incentives. According to the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, the residential developments are expected to create tens of millions of dollars in total capital investment and nearly 30 full-time jobs.

Ashley Owner, LLC is transforming the old Milner Hotel into an apartment building. The flatiron-shaped building is located at 1526 Centre St. in downtown Detroit. Built in 1913 as the Henry Clay Hotel, the currently vacant hotel rooms will be turned into apartments for the first time.

Princeton Domino Investments, LLC and Lamont Street Partners make up Ashley Owner, LLC. The new owners plan 61 apartment units, 5,200 square feet of office space, and two storefronts. The renovation is receiving a Michigan Community Revitalization Program performance-based grant of $1 million and a state school tax capture valued at $482,075 from the City of Detroit Brownfield Redevelopment Authority.

The Ashley renovation is expected to create 25 full-time jobs and $8.2 million in total capital investment.

Another historic hotel, the Strathmore in Midtown, is also experiencing a transformation into apartments. The building at 70 W. Alexandrine is being developed by St. Louis-based McCormack Baron Salazar and designed by Detroit architects Hamilton Anderson. The developers expect construction to begin this spring.

The long-vacant, long-blighted building will be historically renovated to feature 129 apartments and 2,000 square feet of first-floor retail. Strathmore Apartments Limited Dividend Housing Association, LLC is receiving $3.5 million in a performance-based equity contribution from the Michigan Community Revitalization Program.

The Strathmore renovation is expected to created three jobs and $28.4 million in total capital investment.

Source: Michigan Economic Development Corporation press release
Writer: MJ Galbraith

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East riverfront development reserves 20 percent of units for affordable housing

Development company McCormack Baron Salazar is planning on reserving 20 percent of its east riverfront development for affordable work-force housing. The units will be available for those whose income does not exceed 80 percent of the area median income.

The company plans to close on the east riverfront property this summer. It's expected to take 18 months of construction to complete the project. McCormack Baron Salazar chairman and CEO Richard Baron, a Detroit native, has ties to the east riverfront, where he worked at his grandfather's wool company as a young man.

The St. Louis-based developement firm is also involved in a high-profile project in Detroit's Midtown. The company plans to close on the neighborhood's old Strathmore Hotel in the first quarter of 2014. Baron expects that the 129-unit apartment building will also take 18 months before it's ready for residents.

While the Strathmore development is required to provide affordable housing as a result of tax credits used to fund the deal, Baron says that he wanted the riverfront development to provide work-force housing too, even if it didn't demand the same housing requirements. The majority of units in each development will be market-rate rentals.

"It's always been part of what we wanted to do. To have people working for the city and public agencies, to have teachers (be able to) live in the community," says Baron. "It's important for people who are working at public agencies and nonprofits to have opportunities."

The riverfront development will be bordered by Atwater Street to the south, Woodbridge Street to the north, Riopelle Street to the west, and the Dequindre Cut to the east. 291 apartment units are planned for the development.

The Globe Building, which neighbors the future development, is currently being transformed into the Outdoor Adventure & Discovery Center by Michigan's Department of Natural Resources.

Source: Richard Baron, CEO and chairman of McCormack Baron Salazar
Writer: MJ Galbraith

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Organization to offer loans to businesses in underserved neighborhoods

The national nonprofit Local Initiatives Support Corporation has partnered with the federal Small Business Association's Community Advantage program. The local division of LISC will be providing loans up to $250,000 to Detroit businesses looking to open in low-income communities. The loans are also available to pre-existing businesses looking to make improvements.

The loan program focuses on businesses outside of the greater downtown area. It aims to assist the city's underserved neighborhoods. Detroit LISC executive director Tahirih Ziegler says the loan program will provide an incentive for businesses to come further out and into the neighborhoods. LISC is currently targeting place-based programs in the Grandmont Rosedale, Springwells Village, and Grand-Woodward neighborhoods.

Loans are available for a variety of purposes, including business expansion, working capital, real estate development, equipment, tenant improvement, and facade improvement. Ziegler believes that the loans can attract new tenants to the empty storefronts that litter the city.

"This will free up capital for job creation and enable business owners to get footholds in the neighborhoods," says Ziegler. "One way we can help the neighborhoods is by bringing amenities to the neighborhoods."

In noting the importance of freeing up capital for small businesses to hire employees, Ziegler cites statistics that there were seven jobs for every small business in the 1990s and only four jobs per small business today.

LISC has been in Detroit for over 20 years and has awarded over $175 million in that time. The group awarded $6 million in lending in 2013, helping to open two grocery stores, 7 Mile Foods and Parkway Foods, and a hardware store, Village Ace.

The group is also working toward creating and maintaining affordable housing in the city of Detroit.

Source: Tahirih Ziegler, executive director of Detroit LISC
Writer: MJ Galbraith

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February development news round-up

February was another busy month for development news in the city. Let's catch up on five stories from the past four weeks.

  • As development projects continue to multiply throughout greater downtown Detroit, people are starting to use the word gentrification more and more. 1217 Griswold, the Capitol Park residence and events loft space, sparked the latest conversation as its residents have been given notice to move out by the end of February. Dan Gilbert's Bedrock Real Estate Services plans to rehab the building, which is badly in need of repairs.
  • Another decades-long Detroit institution of weird, the Cass Corridor's Showcase Collectible, is also getting the boot as a new owner plans to make capital improvements to the building. A tattoo parlor will be one of the new businesses to eventually occupy the old Chinatown building.
  • Beer isn't nearly as controversial as gentrification--or progress, depending on who you're talking to--and Midtown's about to get a whole lot more of it. The Grand Rapids-based HopCat is opening its third craft beer bar in the old Agave location this August.
  • In other apartment news, downtown's Park Apartments building was sold this month for a reported $3.25 million to Joe Barbat, CEO and chairman of Southfield-based Wireless Toyz. Barbat plans over $6 million in renovations to the building, which will include 116 Class A apartment units and ground floor dining. In a nod to the building's nearly 80 years of history, it will be renamed Briggs House Residence.
  • The Detroit Free Press and Detroit News have announced a coming change of address as the two newspapers are moving operations into the Bedrock Real Estate Services-owned Federal Reserve Building in the city's central business district. The move was made in part to keep up with the demands of modern technology.

Writer: MJ Galbraith

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Pop-up turns permanent on Avenue of Fashion

In another Detroit retail success story, the artisan boutique Love Travels Imports has made the transition from pop-up to permanent. Owner and founder Yvette Jenkins has taken her business from the once- to twice-a-week appearance at Eastern Market's Artisan Village to an established online presence to participating in the Revolve Detroit pop-up program along the Avenue of Fashion. Love Travels Imports is now a permanent fixture there.

Love Travels Imports draws its name from Yvette's passions, love, traveling, and artisanal crafts. Her products range from homewares to jewelry and come from artisans as far as South Africa and as near as Mount Clemens. She focuses on Fair Trade products and sees her shop as an extension of that philosophy, saying that it's about helping artisan entrepreneurs get their wares out and into the marketplace in a fair and sustainable manner. She sees Love Travels Imports as her opportunity to directly and positively impact other communities, both locally and abroad.

The Revolve Detroit program placed Love Travels Imports in a Livernois storefront last September. Yvette has since paired up with fellow Revolve Detroit participant and former pop-up neighbor Art in Motion, sharing a space at 19452 Livernois Ave. It's a fitting partnership, one that pairs complementary businesses. When the two were neighbors, Yvette would send her customers over to check out the ceramics next door and vice versa. It's this sort of camaraderie that nurtures the Detroit retail scene.

"There's such a deep history at the Avenue of Fashion," says Yvette. "It used to be the premier shopping district in Detroit. There's a buzz about Livernois again and I encourage people to come over and experience it. It's an exciting time for the city."

Source: Yvette Jenkins, owner of Love Travels Imports
Writer: MJ Galbraith

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Transit awards nominations now open to public

The greater Detroit transit advocacy group Transportation Riders United is taking nominations for its third annual Regional Transit Awards. Nominations are open through Feb. 28. An awards committee has been formed to pick four nominees for each of the six categories. An awards dinner is planned for May 8. Tickets are $75 and open to the public. The event doubles as a fundraiser for TRU in support of its advocacy efforts throughout the year.

Award categories include:
  • Transit Employee of the Year
  • Corporate Transit Champion Award
  • Exemplary Innovation Award
  • Under 30 Breakthrough Transit Champion
  • Unsung Hero Award
  • Forward Motion Award for Most Effective Public Service
TRU hopes that opening nominations up to the public will involve more of the region and draw attention to the people working to improve public transportation in metropolitan Detroit. The ceremony itself is an opportunity for bus drivers and politicians to spend an evening together and celebrate the work being accomplished in the region.

"There's a lot going on in transit," says TRU executive director Megan Owens. "There aren't many big and dramatic things happening yet but there have been a lot of the essential steps to develop the type of transit system that we want."

Though some projects aren't happening as quickly as some may like, Owens notes that a number of transit-oriented developments are occurring. These include the formation of the Regional Transit Authority citizens committee, the M-1 Rail utility work, and a new Detroit mayor and Detroit Department of Transportation director. A SMART bus millage will be on the ballot later this summer.

Previous winners of Regional Transit Awards include DDOT bus driver Michael Childs (Transit Employee of the Year), Quicken Loans & M-1 Rail (Corporate Transit Champion Award), and Freshwater Transit co-creator Neil Greenberg (Transit Activist of the Year).

Source: Megan Owens, executive director of Transportation Riders United
Writer: MJ Galbraith

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I-375 Alternatives Study hosts first public meeting

Business owners, residents, and commuters affected by a potential transformation of I-375 were joined by the otherwise curious Thursday evening, Feb. 13, as the Downtown Development Authority hosted the first of three public meetings. A crowd gathered at Stroh River Place in an open house setting as the DDA and their partners in the study, the Michigan Department of Transportation and the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, guided visitors through a series of informative stations.

Each station provided data regarding project study areas, ranging from cost estimations to current vehicular usage. One station had a map of the area and visitors were asked to place stickers at the points where they felt unsafe as pedestrians. Another map asked visitors to place stickers at places they thought to be aesthetically unpleasing. Visitors were asked, too, of their overall opinion of I-375 and whether think it should remain an expressway or be transformed for a different use.

The I-375 Alternatives Study is a result of the impending reconstruction of I-375. Current estimates place reconstruction costs at $80 million. MDOT has enlisted the help of area stakeholders to determine whether the land in question could be utilized in a more effective way, such as demolishing the below-grade expressway and transforming it into a street-level boulevard.

Taking into account the information gathered from Thursday's public forum, the group behind the study will craft a number of alternative developments for the project areas. Five alternatives will be crafted for the primary study area, the nearly one-mile stretch of I-375. Two alternatives will be crafted for each of the secondary study areas, the I-75/I-375/Gratiot interchange and the I-375/Jefferson interchange. These alternatives will be presented to the public at a later date this spring.

I-375 was built in 1964.

Source: I-375 Alternatives Study public meeting, Feb. 13, 2014
Writer: MJ Galbraith

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New hires and promotions at Kraemer Design Group, Strategic Staffing Solutions

Two Detroit-based companies have made personnel changes that each hopes will carry their 2013 fortunes into 2014.

Kraemer Design Group, the architecture, interior design, and creative firm involved in such high profile Detroit projects as the Broderick Tower and David Whitney Building, have hired four new employees. The company has added two project architects, a senior interior designer, and an architectural designer to their roster.

Laurie Frey Borer and Nicole Eisenmann have been hired as project architects. Frey Borer is a member of the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB), the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Eisenmann possesses a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) accreditation. Both attended the University of Michigan.

Amanda Knight is the new architectural designer for the group, having received a Master of Architecture from Lawrence Technological University. Kimberly Sansone has been hired as senior interior designer. She has over ten years of experience in the field.

The IT and business services company Strategic Staffing Solutions has announced a number of leadership changes. Each promotion has been made from within company ranks.

Among the promotions are Allen Coleman and April Donaldson both being named executive vice presidents. Carl Bentley will also move into a full-time executive vice president role. Shalini Lawson succeeds Bentley as Detroit branch manager and Bob Zhang is now director of Customer Care and Contact Services.

Strategic Staffing Solutions grew from $208 to $238 million in sales in 2013. President and CEO Cynthia J. Pasky expects that the leadership changes will keep the company competitive and growing in 2014, saying, "We can't assume that what was offered (in 2013) will stay the same. We have to act to keep up our services."

Sources: Kraemer Design Group press release and Cynthia J. Pasky, president and CEO of Strategic Staffing Solutions
Writer: MJ Galbraith

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here.
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