Ann Vidro and Menda Wright, co-founders of Creative Studio Promotions in Grand Rapids, Michigan, share more than a business--they share values, interests, and a love of the outdoors.
What does nature have to do with running a fast-growing business? More than one might think. Michigan’s high quality of life and low cost of living make it a great place to raise a family. Midwestern values contribute to a collaborative business ecosystem in which entrepreneurs work hard but always make sure to find balance.
For Vidro and Wright, “balance” means making time to enjoy Michigan’s natural beauty. Sometimes, they get their families, and their dogs, together for a hike.
“There are so many trails here,” Wright says. “Ann lives really close to Crahen Park which has this great trail system that actually goes through her backyard, and I live really close to the White Pine Trail.”
Trails are just one way to enjoy the outdoors. Wright notes Michigan is known for its abundance of lakes and streams, and for its four seasons.
Grand Rapids, the second largest city in Michigan, is frequently included in roundups of the best places to live in America. It has plenty to offer, including art museums, music venues, and breweries, and the cost of living is 12 percent below the national average. Detroit is less than three hours away and a gateway for international business. In fact, it is the number one metropolitan area for foreign direct investment, according to Site Selection magazine.
“There is a saying that people who leave Michigan always come back. I think part of that is the culture and the family values,” says Vidro. “Family is still incredibly important here. It’s very refreshing.”
Chris McCuiston, founder & CEO of Goldfish Swim School Franchising, grew up in Michigan. He and his wife opened their first swim school location in Birmingham, Mich., in 2006. Today, there are more than 114 locations across North America, and they plan to open another 150 over the next five to eight years. McCuiston says Michigan is the perfect place to operate a franchise business because of its people.
“Michigan has a lot of entrepreneurs. They are hardworking, and they are family-focused,” he says.
McCuiston says most people respect work/life balance. “Being well-rounded makes me a better father, a better husband, and a better leader,” he explains.
Keeping business in Michigan
Creative Studio Promotions is more than a promotional products distributor. It builds e-stores from the ground up for customers and handles warehousing, fulfillment, and promotion. It has worked with customers all over the world, but 95 percent of its clients are in Michigan. Vidro and Wright say the state works to “keep business in Michigan” and encourages entrepreneurs to support one another.
“If you’ve got to buy something, there’s probably a good company in Michigan that provides it,” Vidro says. “You just have to find them and connect.”
Creative Studio Promotions uses local partners as often as possible. It intentionally keeps its team lean, outsourcing production and warehousing to stay nimble and drive profitability. In April, when tasked with creating more than 500,000 promotional buttons, they partnered with a Michigan factory to fulfill the order, creating new jobs.
McCuiston also describes the state as collaborative, adding that business owners are willing to “step in and support each other.”
It also helps that the cost of living in Michigan is 10 percent lower than the national average, making Michigan the fourth most affordable state in the country. Furthermore, the state offers unique resources for small businesses. The Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) has contributed to Vidro and Wright’s growth by hosting events where they have met new clients, running programs that provide resources to second-stage, growth-oriented companies, and even providing a tailored list of prospective customers. The co-owners realize this level of support is rare. When they connect with distributors and suppliers from other states through a national buying group they belong to, the The Premier Group Network, people are shocked by the resources Michigan provides.
“Other states do not have this,” Wright insists.
For more information about what makes Michigan a great place to live and start a business, visit “Pure Opportunity,” from the MEDC.