Businesses tackle challenges, embrace growth
For the Burn ‘Em Brewing crew, the decision to bring its brand and brews to downtown La Porte was driven by demand and a witty outlook.
“We have been growing at our own pace for the last few years, and only being in part of Indiana, there is still plenty of room for our brand to grow and prosper,” says Rob Austin, owner/brewer of the Michigan City-based brewery, which has a team of seven at the helm. “Basically, the demand is there and we’re still having fun doing it, so why not push the envelope a little more?”
The business’s growth is just one of the many developing narratives that continue to fold together both challenges and opportunities to yield a tale of prosperity for region entrepreneurs.
While details were still being finalized, Austin says the small restaurant on Lincolnway in La Porte will focus on Burn ‘Em’s “creatively styled recipes, both traditionally and non-traditionally designed” beers along with possible guest taps, wine, and cider offerings.
“This establishment will not be called Burn ‘Em but will have our brand vibe. The menu will be quicker items,” he says. “We will have lunch and dinner and source as many items locally as possible.”
Austin foresees some of the project’s growing pains, including hiring staff and boosting beer output.
“A key factor is staffing properly. We need our staff to be educated and passionate about what they’re bringing to the customer, and sometimes that is a challenge, getting the right people,” he says.
He attributes the brewery’s growth to its “style of beers, personability of ownership towards customers, high-intensity marketing and general ‘disturbed’ brand.”
“LaPorte County as a whole is growing. We feel we are bringing something unique into an ever-growing unique industry, along with giving the people of La Porte somewhere to eat and drink. We are also very committed to the surrounding community and have no problem saying ‘yes’ to helping where we can,” he says. “I think our track record of helping numerous organizations is outstanding and really gives the area a sense of our meaning-well approach to occupying business space in town.”
Loyalty sparks longevity
President Bob Migliorini has been bringing a passion and loyalty to American Precision Services since launching the Gary-based machine shop in 2003 at the age of 50.
“When we started the business, there were suppliers that I knew from my past work experience and some of them gave me credit right from the beginning, since they knew me. That’s trusting and loyal,” he says. “Loyalty is huge to me. If you’re very loyal to customers, they will be loyal to you.”
The business, which manufactures and repairs parts with CNC (computerized) and conventional machines for large manufacturers including in the steel industry, has grown from a handful of employees to approximately 60 today. While the team has remained at the same site in Gary, they have expanded with additional buildings for more work space and have clients across the country. The venture also sprouted a second business, Metalizing Specialists, which is housed in the original building.
“We outgrew our 7,000-square-foot building within a year-and-a-half. We bought another building to add 27,000 square feet and we’re considering adding another building on our property this year,” he says. “As our business grew, we needed more equipment and floor space for a safe environment. We have been answering the needs of customers; it’s been an amazing situation.”
Beyond focusing on loyalty, Migliorini credits his team, quality of service, and business partner Jeffery Keith, VP and CFO, with keeping the momentum going.
“We have an extremely talented work force here from the back door all the way through the front office. I am extremely proud of what everyone does here. We provide excellent customer service,” he says. “Jeff has been key as I am more of a shop person on one side of the business and I don’t have to worry about the finance side as he knows what the bank is looking for; in order to grow, you have to ask for capital.”
Migliorini says it’s “hard to say what challenges” there have been with the company’s growth as he truly enjoys working every day.
“When people say ‘retire,’ I am like: Don’t say that word. I love what I do and love being with my people and love the customers and suppliers.”
Wheels on the ground
Wingtip Aviation, an aviation management company, remains grounded in Porter County with a relocation of its Valparaiso headquarters to 14 acres on West Street. The plan is to begin construction in June 2018.
“We need more space. We’re going from 2,400 to 10,000 square feet,” says Jeromy Montesano, who owns Wingtip along with his wife, Crissy. “Part of it will be office space and the other will be for airplane parts and ground support equipment.”
“We’re building our headquarters right here, planting roots and staying here,” adds Crissy.
Launched in 2009 with four employees, the company manages clients’ day-to-day flying needs by taking care of everything from helping purchase a plane and maintenance to staffing and flying.
“We now have 33 employees and locations from Houston to Milwaukee,” Jeromy says. “Our real key to success has been, basically, being honest and doing what you say you’re going to do.
“Also, we have great employees. You take care of them and they will take care of you.”
While their challenges have included growing too fast, having the right tools to run the business, including a credit card for fuel bills, the couple embrace the impact their business has on the region.
“We have relocated nine families to this area. It’s nice to bring people here and have an effect on the economy,” Crissy says. “That’s been eye-opening to have control over that.”
“We have higher-paid employees; it’s good for the families and the region,” Jeromy adds.
Leaving a legacy
Entrepreneur Dane Slabaugh found his focus after struggling to find the right care for his mother and grandmother who both faced Alzheimer’s disease.
“I have a medical background and have been an entrepreneur all of my life,” he says. “I wanted to do something that would make a difference and leave a legacy when I am gone that will continue to help people out.”
As managing partner, designer and leader at North Woods Village memory care communities, Slabaugh has created a neighborhood concept that provides a safe place for residents as well as education and support for their families.
“What makes us unique is our building design. We have a circular pattern where rooms are all around the courtyard and it’s all secure,” he says. “These better suits the needs of residents with memory challenges.
“We have smaller neighborhoods to help with levels of care. With the ratios, the nurses get to know residents and all of our staff is trained in memory care.”
Centered only on memory care for all ages, the first location at Mishawaka was launched in 2014, with a site added later in Fort Wayne and now a Kalamazoo, Michigan, community will be opening later this year.
“We tailor our activities to an individual’s needs and guide them to have successful days, keep them from getting frustrated and encourage independence,” he says. “We guide families to help them deal with their side of it.”
Slabaugh sees demand furthering the need for more care as Baby Boomers age and face Alzheimer’s and dementia challenges. He is working with area students as young as middle school age to encourage them to consider a career in assisted living and caring for others.
“Our goal and vision are to provide exceptional memory care and become regional leaders,” he says. “We’ve had an impact on the area by giving them a place to take their loved ones and help minimize any guilt they may be feeling. It’s really just a new direction.”
A banking relationship
An honest relationship with a banker is an essential chapter of any business’s growth story.
“It’s about really taking the time to get to know the banker, as well as giving the banker the opportunity to get to know the owner and the business. It starts with being open about both the opportunities and successes the company has had, as well as some of the challenges,” says Jerry Tomasic, vice president – group sales manager, small business banking at Centier Bank.
“The earlier one contacts the bank, the better. Be flexible and open-minded. I think using good professionals and using and listening to experienced advisers always says a lot about a business owner,” adds Robert Gardiner, VP, senior commercial loan officer at Horizon Bank.
Banks are an avenue to such financial assistance as conventional loans, lines of credit, commercial real estate financing, Small Business Administration lending programs as well as working with the Regional Development Company in the SBA 504 program.
“Horizon recently launched our InstaCap Business Loan platform, which enables small businesses to apply for a loan up to $100,000 in less than five minutes and receive the funds for the next business day,” Gardiner says of the program that is only open to Horizon Bank customers at this time, but the team hopes to make it available to non-customers later this year.
Kevin Crose, assistant vice president and business banker at Peoples Bank, says in addition to standard offerings, his bank has a health care loan program for those younger doctors and dentists starting out.
At Centier, Tomasic adds the bank has a “comprehensive suite of business banking products and services to provide solutions that help grow businesses, as well as the communities they serve.”
“We custom-tailor business services to fit our clients’ business models,” he says.
A banker can also serve as a connection to other key components of an entrepreneur’s team.
“We are a one-stop shop for a small business looking to grow,” Crose says. “We’ll guide you to the proper people and can help you develop relationships with them as well.”
A fervor for small business can be found on both sides of the relationship; entrepreneur and banker.
“When I first started in banking 27 years ago as a branch manager, I was instantly drawn to the small business owners that would frequent the branch. I admired the entrepreneurial passion they all had, and I truly enjoyed learning about how they started the business,” Tomasic says. “Building long-lasting relationships with my clients by getting to know them, and their businesses, is top priority. It’s what I love to do!”
“We reinvest in our communities. It’s nice to be able to drive down the street and see all of the local businesses that I’ve helped, or the bank has helped with an expansion or growth,” Crose says.
“Small business owners are the backbone of any community and they generally are hard-working and goal-oriented,” Gardiner adds. “Helping these clients achieve their dreams is one of the main reasons I became a banker. I see it as a way of helping not just a single client, but the whole community.”