DBusiness Daily Update: Detroit’s First East African Restaurant Baobab Fare Opens in New Center, BuyDetroit Program Launches Virtual Procurement Portal, and More

Our roundup of the latest news from metro Detroit and Michigan businesses as well as announcements from government agencies, including updates about the COVID-19 pandemic. To share a business or nonprofit story, please send us a message.
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map of Michigan coronavirus cases by county
Courtesy of Bridge, as of April 1

Our roundup of the latest news from metro Detroit and Michigan businesses as well as announcements from government agencies, including updates about the COVID-19 pandemic. To share a business or nonprofit story, please send us a message.

Detroit’s First East African Restaurant Baobab Fare Opens in New Center
Baobab Fare, Detroit’s first East African restaurant, celebrated its grand opening Thursday with a ribbon cutting ceremony at 6568 Woodward Ave. in Detroit’s New Center attended by Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and other dignitaries.

Baobab Fare is a restaurant, market, and juice bar, offering an array of prepared menu items, groceries, and other retail products from East Africa.

The new establishment is owned and operated by Nadia Nijimbere and Hamissi Mamba, a wife and husband team, that fled Burundi for Michigan in 2014. While living in Detroit’s Freedom House, a temporary home for indigent survivors of persecution from around the world seeking asylum, Nijimbere and Mamba came up with the idea to open a restaurant, juice bar, and East African market that would also serve as a safe space for other immigrants and Detroiters alike. Baobab Fare has been active in the community leading up to the opening by providing meals to frontline workers during the pandemic.

“We are proud to open our doors and bring East African cuisine and culture to our community,” says Mamba. “Baobab Fare is more than a restaurant; it is a gathering place where all are welcomed and embraced. Detroit is our new home.”

Baobab Fare was redeveloped by Midtown Detroit Inc., which provided grants and technical support to the business.

“I am thrilled to welcome Detroit’s first East African restaurant, Baobab Fare, to New Center,” says Duggan. “Mamba and Nadia’s journey from Burundi to Detroit is truly inspiring and highlights the great opportunity and support available to Detroit entrepreneurs of all backgrounds through the Motor City Match program.”

Baobab Fare is one of 116 open Motor City Match businesses that have received support from the program. Of those businesses, 81 percent are minority-owned, 71 percent are women-owned, and 64 percent are owned by Detroit residents.

The opening of Baobab Fare is another milestone for MDI who has renovated and brought new tenants to eight other storefront spaces in the immediate vicinity.  In addition, MDI has provided over $700,000 in grant support and rent relief to create opportunities for small, homegrown businesses to get established in New Center.

Open 7 days a week, Baobab Fare’s menu offers a variety of East African dishes, Burundi coffee, fruit juice, and hot sauce. For more information, visit here.

BuyDetroit Program Launches Virtual Procurement Portal
The Detroit Economic Growth Corp. and Detroit Means Business have launched the BuyDetroit procurement portal connecting Detroit suppliers with new business opportunities.

Buyers now can log on to the portal, create a profile, and post specific business opportunities in a variety of product and service categories. In turn, small and medium-sized Detroit suppliers can use the online repository to find and respond to requests for proposals and requests for quotes. This new initiative is designed to benefit local businesses by streamlining Detroit’s many current procurement activities and becoming a resource hub for new opportunities in Detroit.

“The procurement portal will achieve two major goals,” says Pierre Batton, executive vice president of DEGC and executive director of Detroit Means Business small business services. “First, it will make real opportunities accessible to all Detroit businesses in a single site. The portal will also help grow the Detroit small- and mid-sized business community by exposing large companies to quality suppliers right in their own backyard.”

This includes providing portal access to Detroit headquartered minority-, women-, and veteran-owned suppliers – types of business that historically have not fully participated in the local procurement process.

In the new portal, companies will have the ability to:

  • Make connections between buyers, suppliers, and peers.
  • Post and respond to RFPs and RFQs.
  • Participate in pre-rehabilitation opportunity sessions.
  • Procure goods and services.

The portal is one element of BuyDetroit, a citywide procurement program that connects buyers with quality local suppliers, creating a community of businesses that support one another’s economic successes along with the growth of small business in Detroit.

Linamar and Roush Partner with Canadian Firm to Develop Hybrid Delivery Vans
Linamar Corp. and Roush CleanTech, both in Livonia, are partnering with Ballard Power Systems in Canada to develop the first hybrid fuel cell/electric vehicle (FCEV) delivery vans for the California Air Resources Board (CARB).

Linamar, which was awarded the contract from CARB’s Center for Transportation and the Environment (CTE), has entered the evaluation phase for the vehicle, which is part of CTE’s Next Generation Fuel Cell Delivery Van Deployment Project.

FCEVs are electric vehicles that use a fuel cell to power its onboard electric motor, generating electricity from the air and compressed hydrogen. The project includes developing, validating, and deploying four FCEV delivery vans. The four FCEV delivery vans will be delivered this month.

“Linamar is excited by the market opportunities in supplying electrified vehicles and has significantly increased its portfolio of products specific for an electric mobility future including full eAxle systems to power next generation vehicle propulsion systems,” says Linda Hasenfratz, CEO of Linamar.

This second generation eAxle for Class 4-6 commercial vehicles is a key result of this investment, building upon the success of their earlier DOE program for a Class 6 HEV delivery vehicle. The new Gen 2.0 eAxle utilizes a robust beam axle design with low NVH helical gears, levering Linamar’s gear manufacturing expertise, and an integrated electric park lock. Its single-speed, single-motor design delivers 200kW and 11,400Nm to the rear axle for startability and gradeability under real-world delivery conditions.

Roush CleanTech is supplying the overall vehicle and system design, integration, build, and commissioning for the FCEVs. fuel cell electric vehicles.

“Roush’s expertise in clean mobility solutions is supported by decades of engineering, vehicle controls, and integration experience with many of the major OEMs,” says Todd Mouw, president of Roush CleanTech. “Combine that with the fact that we have deployed more than 37,000 Ford medium-duty trucks and Blue Bird school buses featuring advanced technologies, such as propane autogas, and it provides fleets a comfort level in transitioning away from traditional fuels like diesel.”

Ballard Power Systems supplies the fuel cell power technology designed to integrate with the eAxle and battery systems in the Ford F-59 chassis to create the hydrogen-powered FCEV with 150-mile range based on targeted driving cycles.

Texas Companies Invest in Clarkston’s Oscar W. Larson Co.
Oscar W. Larson Co., a fuel infrastructure provider, has received an undisclosed investment from Texas companies SideKick Operators and Trive Capital as the Clarkston-based company expands nationally and broadens its offerings.

“We are excited about our partnership with Trive and Sidekick, says Charles Burns, president of Oscar W. Larson Co. “Our teams share a passion for unrivaled service. We believe that this is the right combination to accelerate our growth and expansion.”

Oscar Larson is a growing end-to-end provider of installation, testing, inspection, planned maintenance, and repair services for fuel infrastructure across North America.

“We are thrilled to become partners with the Oscar Larson and Trive team,” says Phil Miner, chairman of SideKick. “They put people first and lead with a service first mentality.”

SideKick is a strategic firm investing in mission critical trades providing repair, maintenance, inspection, and testing services. Trive Capital is a private equity firm that focuses on investing equity and debt in what it sees as viable middle-market companies with the potential for transformational upside through operational improvement.

February Michigan Jobless Rates Decline in All Regions
Not seasonally adjusted unemployment rates fell in all 17 of Michigan’s regional labor market areas during February, according to data released by the Michigan Department of Technology, Management, and Budget.

“Labor force levels declined for the second consecutive month in most Michigan regions,” says Wayne Rourke, associate director of the Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives. “Payroll jobs rose in all Michigan metro areas in February, as significant recalls of workers occurred in the leisure and hospitality sector.”

Michigan regional jobless rates in February ranged from 4.2 to 8.6 percent. Rate decreases were from 0.6 to 1.6 percentage points with a median decline of one full percentage point. The Northeast Lower Michigan region demonstrated the most pronounced over-the-month rate cut.

Jobless rates remained higher since February 2020 in all 17 Michigan labor markets with a median gain of 2.2 percentage points. The largest over-the-year rate advance was observed in the Muskegon area, with a jobless rate increase of 3.8 percentage points.

Employment levels in February edged up in nine Michigan regions. Increases ranged from 0.1 to 1.6 percent with a median hike of 0.6 percent. Northwest lower Michigan led the way with the largest percent gain in monthly employment. Total employment fell in five regions in February, with the largest reduction seen in the Detroit area.

All major Michigan regions registered employment cuts over the year with a median decrease of 6.4 percent. The largest percent over-the-year employment reduction was in the Lansing metro region.

Workforce levels fell in most Michigan labor market areas for the second straight month. Labor force reductions ranged from 0.2 to 2.5 percent with a median decrease of 1.1 percent. The Detroit MSA exhibited the largest percent workforce decline over the month. The labor force in Ann Arbor edged up by 0.2 percent in February, and the Lansing MSA and Northwest Lower Michigan regional workforce levels were little changed.

Workforce levels dropped over the year in all 17 Michigan regions. Labor force declines ranged from 1.4 to 7.6 percent with a notable median cut of 3.6 percent.

The monthly survey of employers indicated that not seasonally adjusted Michigan nonfarm jobs advanced in February by 85,000, or 2.1 percent. This was the highest job gain since June 2020. These job additions largely reflected recalls of previously laid off workers in the state’s leisure and hospitality sector (+56,000).

Payroll employment moved up in all 14 Michigan metro regions over the month. Job increases ranged from 0.3 to 2.7 percent with a median addition of 1.6 percent. The largest over-the-month percent nonfarm job advance occurred in the Lansing metro area.

Since February 2020, statewide jobs plunged by 336,000, or 7.6 percent, reflecting the continued impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the labor market. The largest numerical over-the-year industry job cuts occurred in the leisure and hospitality (-99,000) and education and health services (-47,000) sectors. All 14 Michigan metro areas exhibited payroll job reductions over the year, led by the Lansing MSA (-9.5 percent).

All 83 Michigan counties exhibited jobless rate reductions in February, led by Alger County (-2.6 percentage points). Since February 2020, 76 Michigan counties recorded jobless rate increases, led by Muskegon County (+3.8 percentage points).

Rocket Pro TPO to Sponsor First All-female Indy 500 Team
Rocket Pro TPO, the division of Detroit-based Rocket Mortgage that works exclusively with independent mortgage brokers, will serve as the primary sponsor of the No. 16 Chevrolet in the 105th running of the Indianapolis 500, May 30.

Piloted by Simona De Silvestro, the car represents the first-ever entrant in the Indianapolis 500 from a team that is female-owned (by Beth Paretta), female-driven, and largely female crewed.  As the primary sponsor, Rocket Pro TPO will be front-and-center with dominant branding on the car and driver and crew fire suits.

Together, Rocket Pro TPO, Paretta, and De Silvestro will partner on the Rocket Accelerator multimedia campaign. The group will spotlight women in the mortgage lending and racing spaces by showcasing female leaders who are thriving in these industries.

“It is an honor to be able to use the Indianapolis 500 to highlight and amplify the important role that women play in our industry, in our company and in independent mortgage brokers’ offices all across the country,” says Austin Niemiec, executive vice president of Rocket Pro TPO. “Rocket Accelerator will be a central focus of our business as we look to expand opportunities and access for female brokers, while also creating educational programs for the next generation to give them the keys to unlocking their full potential with a robust career.”

Paretta, CEO and principal of Paretta Autosport, says, “Having Rocket Pro TPO come onboard as our primary sponsor for this year’s Indy 500 is a perfect partnership. We are both huge proponents of highlighting the power of women, while also using technology and speed to be the best at what we do. I cannot wait for what we will be able to accomplish as a team – both on and off the track.”

According to the organizations, this campaign will be just the start of an ongoing commitment to improve access to employment in mortgage and racing, increase the availability of mentorship opportunities, and build a strong sense of community within the lender’s broker partner network.

Paretta Autosport is an extension of the IndyCar series’ “Race for Equality and Change” program announced last July to broaden equality in the sport. Paretta Autosport has a technical alliance with Team Penske.

Kirk Gibson Foundation for Parkinson’s Announces Awareness Month Events
The Kirk Gibson Foundation for Parkinson in Grosse Pointe Woods has announced a pair of events in recognition of April being Parkinson’s Awareness Month and World Parkinson’s Day, April 11.

Founded by former Detroit Tigers star Kirk Gibson after his Parkinson’s disease in 2015, the foundation will be hosting a 45-minute virtual spin class on April 11 at noon called SweatConnected. To register for the $23 class, visit here.

Registration also is open up for the Fifth Annual Kirk Gibson Golf Classic, which will be played Aug. 23, at the Wyndgate Country Club in Rochester Hills. In addition, the Virtual EVSP Kirk Gibson Golf Classic, will be played July 30-Aug. 9. In the virtual event, golfers will have the convenience of playing a golf course of their choice and the winner will earn a spot to play at the in-person event. To register for either option, visit here.

Over the last four years the Kirk Gibson Golf Classic has raised more than $700,000 to fund programs to benefit Parkinson’s patients and to provide research grants to find help a cure for Parkinson’s Disease.

The Kirk Gibson Foundation for Parkinson’s also is a charity partner for the 2021 Detroit Free Press Marathon. Runners can run the distance of their choice and fundraise on the GivenGain platform where all proceeds raised go to the fight against Parkinson’s Disease. Registration is also available at www.KirkGibsonFoundation.org.

Rochester University’s Virtual 50th Annual Partnership Dinner Features HGTV Stars
The 50th Annual Partnership Dinner of Rochester University in Rochester Hills has been rescheduled for April 17 and will feature HGTV’s “Home Town” stars Ben and Erin Napier.

The virtual program will feature student speakers, Alumni of the Year, and emcee Chuck Gaidica.

Six days after meeting in college, the Napiers decided they would marry and have been inseparable ever since, working side by side in every venture they pursued. Their passion for small-town revitalization and American craftsmanship is evident in their store, Laurel Mercantile Co., where they design and manufacture heirloom wares and durable goods made exclusively in the United States.

For tickets and sponsorship opportunities, visit here.

EMU Plans More Traditional In-person On-campus Experience this Fall
Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti is planning to return to a more traditional on-campus experience beginning with the fall semester.

In addition to a classroom experience that more closely resembles normal, Eastern is planning for safe on-campus experiences for student organizations, housing, athletics, and other aspects of university operations.

“We understand that for many students, particularly those in their first and second years, a more traditional in-person/on-campus experience provides the greatest opportunity for a successful start to achieving their degree,” says James Smith, president of EMU. “We are approaching our planning cautiously and carefully, with safety considerations a primary consideration.”

The university’s #EMUSafe initiatives, led by a Steering Committee that includes faculty and union representatives, have guided the institution to a low overall COVID-19 case count relative to other universities in Michigan. Eastern continues to engage faculty and staff experts to adjust protocols accordingly, with the safety of students, faculty, and staff paramount in all its decisions.

Eastern says it is working with academic leaders to prepare other operating scenarios that provide reduced levels of in-person activities. Those scenarios ensure that, should public health matters dictate not operating at the in-person capacity of its baseline plan, it is prepared to adjust operations.

When students return to campus they will see a $40 million renovation of Sill Hill to accommodate the expansion of engineering programs in the GameAbove College of Engineering and Technology. Eastern’s Rec/IM Center also has undergone a $16 million renovation.

“I thank our students, faculty, and staff for their adjustments and hard work to get us through the semester,” Smith says. “I remain deeply grateful for our faculty’s extraordinary efforts to adapt course delivery and our student’s compliance with the many practices necessary to keep one another safe and our case numbers low.”

Recognizing the ongoing interest in single rooms among students and their parents, Eastern is again offering single rooms at a significantly reduced cost for the Fall 2021 semester (2021-22 academic year) as part of its #EMUSafe efforts. The cost of a single room will be $1,000 more than students’ cost to live in a double room. In the past, single rooms cost $2,500 more than doubles. The move will lower Eastern’s single-room rates in residence halls by 16-18 percent, depending on the residence hall.

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