Benton Township trustees test out new software, tablets

Trustee Carolyn Fowler, left, thumbs through her new tablet with the help of Jessica Fette on Friday during a Benton Township workshop. (Tony Wittkowski | HP staff)

Trustee Carolyn Fowler, left, thumbs through her new tablet with the help of Jessica Fette on Friday during a Benton Township workshop. (Tony Wittkowski | HP staff)

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BENTON TOWNSHIP — Trustee Carolyn Fowler looked down at her tablet in deep concentration.

Fowler and the rest of the Benton Township Board spent Friday afternoon at a workshop learning how to use new software that came with the iPads for future meetings.

After a 15-minute training webinar, trustees were let loose on the iPads that would allow them get board packets and township information during regular meetings.

“It’ll take some getting used to, but I like it,” Fowler said during the workshop.

Trustees went over how to access the program and its capabilities, which included swiping through documents and making annotations.

In a September board meeting, trustees agreed to buy four software applications worth a combined $42,000 that would be geared toward streamlining township operations.

Among the software purchases was a program called Board Effect, which will be used to create agenda and board packet information electronically.

On Friday, Superintendent Kelli Nelson helped the board learn the ins and outs of Board Effect in an effort to have them using it by the end of October. The application known as Board Effect is specifically geared toward trustees. It essentially replaces the paper board packets trustees receive prior to meetings.

“Clerk Phillips will send you all the packet when it’s ready,” Nelson said. “You should receive and email telling you it’s ready. A lot of the documents we have are in an electronic format, which makes this easier.”

The Board Effect software would cost $3,000 a year, which is about $125 per board meeting.

Nelson told trustees the iPads would be used only for township meetings, whether that be before or during. Without access to WiFi, Nelson said the tablets would use cellular data.

Other tasks

Various department heads gave trustees a brief overview for ongoing operations.

Police Chief Vince Fetke gave trustees an idea of this year’s number of arrests and calls.

Building Inspector Chris Fuchs told trustees that construction in the township is at an all-time high with Whirlpool Corp., Lake Michigan College and hotel projects ongoing through 2016.

Fuchs also addressed the recent news that The Orchards Mall was partially behind on its fire alarm and suppression system. However, Fuchs said the Benton Township has since been deemed safe.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Oct. 8, 2016)

Car dealer gets extension on M-139 property

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BENTON TOWNSHIP — Property along M-139 that Benton Township is trying to sell to a Kalamazoo car dealership is still a work in progress.

DeNooyer Automotive Group LLC was recently granted a 45-day extension on the due diligence period. The dealership intends on conducting environmental assessments on the land because a portion of the nearly 10 acres had a gas station on it.

Superintendent Kelli Nelson said after the due diligence period expires Oct. 25, DeNooyer Automotive has another 15 days to close on the property.

The original deadline for the period was in early September.

“They said they were going to complete additional environmental assessments, which is standard procedure for a site that was home to a gas station,” Nelson said. “Only the half-acre portion had the gas station on it.”

Nelson said DeNooyer Automotive had also inquired about what assistance might be available through Brownfield Redevelopment to recapture some of the environmental assessment costs.

“Typically when a Brownfield is set up, we would know what the planned improvement is for the site,” Nelson said. “At this point we don’t know as they are in the beginning stages with Berrien County.”

Todd DeNooyer, general manager of DeNooyer Chevrolet in Kalamazoo, has previously said there are no immediate plans for the two parcels of land.

Trustees first approved the sale agreement with DeNooyer Automotive for the property during a July board meeting.

The agreed upon price is still for $390,000. The original asking price was $400,000.

Nelson said the total amount of money the township has put into the property was $62,505. With those costs, coupled with an 8 percent commission fee to the broker, the township stands to make more than $296,000 from the sale.

The property was listed for a year and half before the township got an offer close to the asking price.

The township bought the land in 2013 and eventually demolished the Lake Breeze Hotel that was on the property in June 2014. Prior to that was a Holiday Inn, which township officials said was problematic with various break-ins.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Oct. 6, 2016)

Debbie Stabenow visits Southwest Michigan

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, right, chats with owner Debbie Pallas during a visit to Vineyard 2121 on Tuesday as part of her small business success tour. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, right, chats with owner Debbie Pallas during a visit to Vineyard 2121 on Tuesday as part of her small business success tour. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BENTON TOWNSHIP — Vineyard 2121 got a special visitor Tuesday.

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow made a few stops throughout Southwest Michigan as part of her small business success tour. After making her way through Plainwell and Paw Paw on Tuesday, Stabenow made stops in Benton Harbor.

Debbie and Jeff Pallas, owners of Vineyard 2121, were the first to host the senator. Stabenow would later visit Lark’s Bar-B-Que and Murfee’s Boutique.

“I’m interested in being in small communities that have benefited from rural development efforts,” Stabenow said. “This is a fantastic examples of some folks doing it right. I love to see people take their ideas and their passion into their business.”

Debbie Pallas said she learned Friday that Stabenow would be stopping by at the 38.5-acre farm and winery at 2121 Kerlikowske Road. Stabenow serves on the Senate Agriculture Committee, which oversees the United States Department of Agriculture. The department manages funds for state and federal programs Pallas has used in the past.

Upon Stabenow’s arrival, Pallas told the senator how they’ve grown from a farm to a winery. This included an introduction from their first raspberry crop to the array of wine grapes the Pallases use to produce their wine.

“I love Merlot, and now I get to see where it happens,” Stabenow quipped Tuesday near a row of wine grapes.

When the Pallases purchased the farm, they reached out to the Natural Resource Conservation Service’s office in Berrien Springs.

There, they learned how to benefit from various programs and what grants to apply for. Through these efforts, the Pallases were made aware of the programs that would help themselves but the area.

Mike Stickle, a conservation technician with the NRCS, said they first visited with the Pallases and created a conservation plan. The plan allowed Stickle to look into what the Pallases’ concerns were and what they wanted to either protect or accomplish.

“When Debbie first came to us, she was looking for help from conservation practices that would help verify her farm in other programs,” Stickle said. “It’s incredible to see how quick this has happened and to see this whole winery go up.”

They would seek help through Rural Development, another USDA agency, and the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program.

“We applied, and they would pay up to a certain portion of the total project,” Debbie Pallas said. “For example, if it cost a business $60,000 to put roads in, the NRCS would reimburse them for a certain percentage of that. Every little bit helped us financially.”

Since being introduced to the agency, the Pallases created their own roads to avoid erosion and added a fueling facility to prevent gas leaks.

Among these best practices was the installation of a seasonal high tunnel – a sort of greenhouse that prolongs the growing season and protects crops against insects.

A visit from Stabenow to hear about their progress was only the topping of the Pallases’ efforts. As a result of enacting the majority of these conservation practices, the farm and winery received the 2014 Conservation Farm of the Year Award.

“You have to turn in all your records and keep everything in writing,” Pallases said. “It’s a lot of work on our part and a lot of work on their part to help us learn and get through the process. Having her (Stabenow) here is all the more encouraging.”

In addittion to Vineyard 2121, Stabenow stopped by Murfee’s Boutique and Lark’s Barb-B-Que in Benton Harbor.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Oct. 5, 2016)

SJ school district gets an ‘A’ on its audit report

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

ST. JOSEPH — The St. Joseph school district is in a good place financially.

Superintendent Ann Cardon had a lot to celebrate after St. Joseph school board members were given a synopsis of the 2015-16 fiscal year audit report during Monday’s study session.

The audit revealed that last year was the first time in five years that the school district added money to its fund balance.

“This is a step in the right direction,” Cardon said. “(The auditors) were here for a shorter amount of time than usual, which goes toward the preparedness for the audit.”

David Schaffer, a partner at Kruggel Lawton, said while the district had originally budgeted for a $22,000 deficit last year, the district actually finished with a $120,000 surplus.

The surplus was mainly attributed to lower maintenance costs that came during a mild winter.

“We have given you an unmodified report, which is the highest level of assurance we can give. That’s kind of like getting an ‘A’ on your report card,” Schaffer said. “This was the best audit we’ve done for St. Joseph schools, and we’ve been auditing you guys for a long time.”

The firm was required to do audits of the district’s bond and sinking funds, which also turned out well.

Kathy Hamilton, chief financial officer for the district, said the district received great rates for their fuel for transportation, as well as the heating, mowing and plowing costs.

“The generosity of the (SJPS) Foundation and our heating and fuel costs were a big factor in the budget’s surplus,” Hamilton said after the session.

Schaffer told board members the district has remained relatively even over the past three years, which was a reprieve for the amount of deficits that were addressed in years prior.

“You guys have made the proper adjustments in the past,” Schaffer said. “Over the last three years you’ve been breakeven, which in the school financing world is something to be proud of.”

Treasurer Chris Cook emphasized the increasing to the district’s fund equity, while board President Amy Porritt-Peirce said the board should not be surprised by the district’s financial well-being.

“We know everybody has been putting the pencil to the paper, if you will,” she said. “This was a team effort, from the Foundation to the staff, we couldn’t ask for better results.”

The board has a week to look over the audit before a scheduled vote at next week’s meeting, set for 6 p.m. next Monday in the North Lincoln Administration Building.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Oct. 4, 2016)

Arcadia Gardens grows its business

Todd and Anna Brooks stand in front of the new location of Arcadia Gardens. The landscaping design company moved to its Lake Township location in March. (Tony Wittkowski | HP Staff)

Todd and Anna Brooks stand in front of the new location of Arcadia Gardens. The landscaping design company moved to its Lake Township location in March. (Tony Wittkowski | HP Staff)

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BRIDGMAN — Arcadia Gardens made a change of scenery this year.

Since taking the helm, Anna and Todd Brooks have grown Arcadia Gardens and moved into its new headquarters along Hinchman Road in Lake Township.

“We had outgrown our space. We had a home office and had rented a storage space,” Anna said. “We spent about two years looking for a larger piece to fit our needs.”

What they found was the former Keeler Creek Nursery, which had been defunct for more than 10 years.

The land found new life as Arcadia’s design office and landscape storage yard. After clearing dozens of trees and abandoned tires, Anna Brooks said things have been going well for the business since moving to 2721 W. Hinchman Road in March.

“We bought it about a year ago and moved in March,” Anna said. “It’s been wonderful. It’s nice having everything consolidated in one location. It’s allowed us to grow.”

The location is just a few miles south of their former storage yard at Red Arrow Place. They spent the winter rehabilitating the buildings and grounds.

Arcadia Gardens has been in operation for 26 years, but the Brooks weren’t owners until they bought out Todd’s mother in 2008.

The landscaping design company does its designs in-house. While they don’t do the normal lawn maintenance or plowing, Arcadia Gardens does custom design work on patios, retaining walls and other outdoor living spaces.

“The majority of our clients are private home owners,” Anna said. “We try to take care of all the churches in the area. We’ve been doing more and more municipalities. (Cook Nuclear Plant) is one of our biggest clients.”

Arcadia Gardens is open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. While appointments are encouraged, clients can stop in.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Oct. 2, 2016)

The craft beer of mattresses: The Rested Pillow Mattress Co. opens in SJ

Nick Gillespie joins his wife Allison at his newly opened store, The Rested Pillow, located at 1330 Hilltop Rd., in St. Joseph. Open during regular hours, the store is also available for private appointments for customer who wish to pick out a bed in piece. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

Nick Gillespie joins his wife Allison at his newly opened store, The Rested Pillow, located at 1330 Hilltop Rd., in St. Joseph. Open during regular hours, the store is also available for private appointments for customer who wish to pick out a bed in piece. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

ST. JOSEPH — All Nick Gillespie wants is for people to get a good night’s sleep.

For this reason, Gillespie said, he opened The Rested Pillow Mattress Co. in St. Joseph Township.

Gillespie and his wife, Allison, had a soft opening for The Rested Pillow on Tuesday at 1330 Hilltop Road, next door to The Liquor Cabinet. Gillespie became interested in mattresses when he sold them during his time in college. After spending time at Whirlpool Corp., Gillespie felt it was time to open his store.

“When I got out of college, the owner of the place I worked at was selling his business,” Gillespie said. “I almost bought that business, but I wanted to explore a little bit.”

With no mattress specialty store in the area, Gillespie went to work. After coming up with a business plan, Gillespie completed the lease in June.

Through the summer, Gillespie and a friend were able to create a line-up of what he refers to as “snugs” – semi-private spaces that allow buyers to try out the beds. Above each bed is a large chalkboard that shows the variations of firmness and bulleted items that go into the specifics of each mattress. With an education center in the front of the store and a video being projected on the back wall showing how a mattress is made, Gillespie said their intent is to make it easier on the customer.

“Ever since I’ve known him, for the last eight or nine years, he’s talked about mattresses,” Allison said. “We would go to hotels and he would lift the sheets up, look at the lining and draw my attention to the craftsmanship. If anyone wants to nerd out on beds, they should come see Nick.”

Different shapes, sizes

Gillespie refers to his mattress store as “the craft beer of mattresses.” This is not only because of the look and feel of the store itself, but because the mattresses can be made to order.

In order to do this, Gillespie joined with Capitol Bedding Co. of Lansing to create a full line of beds. He began working with the wholesaler during his job in college.

“Since that time I kept in touch with the owner. He kind of always knew I was interested in this,” Gillespie said. “Capitol Bedding gives you way more bed for your buck. People were really enjoying them.”

Owner Nick Gillespie says he likes to think of his newly opened store, The Rested Pillow, as "the craft beer of mattresses,” in that they can be made to order. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

Owner Nick Gillespie says he likes to think of his newly opened store, The Rested Pillow, as “the craft beer of mattresses,” in that they can be made to order. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

The mattresses also have The Rested Pillow embroidered on the ends of them, another added touch by Capitol Bedding.

Capitol Bedding has become well-known as a major vendor of beds for the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island and the University of Notre Dame dormitories.

“They are literally made to order. If you came in on Thursday, it would be made Monday or Tuesday and I would have it by Wednesday,” Gillespie said. “And that’s if it’s not in stock. Those guys build their beds. It feels very custom. It’s not been sitting in a warehouse or been on a boat from China.”

Make it easy

Gillespie said buying a mattress should not be as hard as buying a car.

The shop will carry about 20 different beds on display at a time. Gillespie said they will also feature “Bed in a Box” options, a full range of pillows and other bedding accessories.

“Some of the highest dissatisfaction is in the mattress industry,” Gillespie said. “There’s a lot of folks like us who are trying to make it easier. You spend a third of your life in a bed. It shouldn’t be this hard experience where you hope you don’t get swarmed.”

The Rested Pillow showroom will be open noon to 2 p.m. and 4-8 p.m., Tuesday through Friday and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. However, Gillespie said they are still experimenting with their hours to make sure there is enough time for him to also do deliveries.

While the store is closed on Sunday and Monday, Gillespie said they also offer private appointments that allow customers to try out the beds in peace. To make an appointment, call the store’s phone at 982-1188.

The store’s website is in the process of launching and can be visited soon at www.restedpillow.com.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Oct. 2, 2016)

Hanson Mold turns 50: Workers, retirees celebrate mold maker milestone

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By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

ST. JOSEPH — Merlin Hanson looked out at the more than 100 Hanson Mold employees that had gathered for cake and smiled.

The former president and CEO of Hanson Group was at the St. Joseph Township plant on Thursday to commemorate Hanson Mold’s 50 years in business. In the process of doing so, Hanson was met with both familiar and new faces.

“People who I had a chance to talk to in the mold division, I tell them this company is one of the top five mold builders in the nation,” Hanson said behind a podium that was stationed at the front of the shop floor. “Not many can hold a candle to you all.”

Thursday gave employees a chance to look back on the history of the tool and die maker.

Hanson Mold specializes in the production and prototype tooling for a variety of parts and industries.

However, Hanson Mold officially began in 1966 as a mold-making division of another company. Its base of operation was in the old Featherbone building in Three Oaks.

Merlin Hanson had joined Weldon in 1960, a small shop in Three Oaks at the time, and later became a partner there a few years later.

“A lot of the retirees here today started in that Featherbone factory,” said Dan Mitchell, president of Hanson Mold.

A cake is cut celebrating the 50th anniversary of Hanson Mold on Thursday at the company's plant along Hollywood Road. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

A cake is cut celebrating the 50th anniversary of Hanson Mold on Thursday at the company’s plant along Hollywood Road. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

The company grew quickly and in the early 1970s moved to a new building in Bridgman. In the 1980s, Hanson would go on to sell Weldun. However, he retained its mold-making operation by moving it to St. Joseph Township, and he renamed it Hanson Mold.

Hanson chairs the Hanson Group, which is the umbrella corporation for Hanson Logistics, Hanson Mold and Eagle Technologies. Hanson Mold is the oldest of the three companies.

After a light lunch with employees, Hanson was presented a plaque. Mitchell said they began planning a celebration for the milestone in July.

“It means a lot seeing everyone out here today,” Mitchell said. “We have 95 people working here today, and its nice to have Merlin here because he’s what made this happen.”

One of the familiar faces on the dais was former Hanson Mold President Gene Stemm.

Cutting into the green, yellow and white cake with a large “50” plastered upon it, Stemm recalled moving into the main plant along Hollywood Road in St. Joseph Township. It was a reunion of sorts for Stemm, who noted how different the technology has become in mold making.

“It’s surprising to see all the high-tech changes from when we started. It’s funny to think about all the ways these young people will never have to mold,” Stemm said. “This is a good group here, but what I miss the most is Merlin.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Sept. 30, 2016)