(Check out my photos from the road at http://detroit.cbslocal.com/category/GLITR-tech-tour/.)
After driving Up North Sunday through the rain and fog, it was great to see some blue skies in Traverse City.
And after a day along both Grand Traverse Bays, it’s hard not to think that blue skies are returning for Michigan’s economic fortunes.
I saw some old friends in Traverse City Monday — Victor Von Schlegell of Appia Communications, Lisa Wehr of the amazing Oneupweb, and fellow Albion College ’78er Deborah Wyatt Fellows of Traverse magazine and UpNorth.com.
It was great to see them and all, but I have to admit being more excited about starting my day with a trio of young folks. Recent college graduates. The kind of people Michigan moans about losing to Chicago and the coasts. Talented twentysomethings who could find success anywhere, but who have chosen to remain here.
All three share a common background — they formerly worked for Oneupweb. And all three are leading growing businesses in Traverse City.
Let’s start with Erin Monigold, owner of Social Vision Marketing. A Traverse City native, she graduated from Michigan State University’s Broad School of Business in 2006 with a degree in marketing. She said she realized there were very few marketing jobs in Traverse City — so she had to make her own, by starting the company, which she did last year.
“It’s been over a year now and I’m really busy,” she said. “I really haven’t had to do much advertising at all except on Facebook and LinkedIn. I’m doing social media setup and management, where I am my customer’s voice, updating accounts every day, keeping content fresh.”
Social Vision also offers training on the proper use of social media. And Monigold has teamed up with another Traverse City company, Pro Web Marketing, to offer QR code-based mobile marketing.
“Lots of people think that if you build a social profile they will come but there is so much more to it,” Monigold said, saying the keys are to listen to and respond to your customers, and to post engaging content.
Monigold is also helping manage the first Traverse City Tweetup on June 30, which is the globe’s Social Media Day.
I also visited with Sarah McKenzie and Nicholas Perez, who are now the Traverse City office of San Francisco-based Fine Design. They met working at Oneupweb around five years ago. Both left and started careers as independent consultants, but Mackenzie said they “kept running into each other, so we decided to join forces and created an agency” offering search engine optimization and pay-per-click marketing that they called Big Daylight.
Big Daylight began working for Fine Design, started by Steve and Kenn Fine, Traverse City natives and the older brother of a friend of Perez. “We worked so well together that they bought us,” Perez said with a laugh. “Steve and Kenn always dreamed of having a Traverse City office, and now they have one.”
Neither Monigold, Mackenzie nor Perez plans on growing to huge proportions, saying they believe the personal touch is one of the things they enjoy most about working to improve clients’ Web efforts.
But Perez noted that Fine Design’s Traverse City office has just hired Nick Nerbonne, former digital marketing manager of Crystal Mountain, “to join our growing business as demand increased. We’ll likely hire someone else real soon as well. We’re creating local jobs and hiring good talent!”
From the South Woodmere office and warehouse district I headed around a chilly but sun-sparkling West Grand Traverse Bay to the spectacular waterfront home of Oneupweb, one of the world’s best search engine optimization and Web services companies.
CEO Lisa Wehr was her usual affable, no-nonsense self — and as usual told me a story of growth.
Oneupweb was founded in Wehr’s home, then moved to a glorified pole barn in Lake Leelanau before taking its present spot, a 23,000-square-foot office building with glorious bay views. The company just expanded into several thousand more square feet of the building, meaning it’s now occupying 17,000 square feet. And it’s close to hitting 50 employees. “I know that because there’s been discussion of the Family and Medical Leave Act,” which kicks in at the 50 employee mark, Wehr said.
The company now has “seven or eight” positions open, Wehr said, in everything from Web development and graphic design to search engine optimization and paid search.
New business, Wehr said, is “coming from everywhere. We are having a killer year so far, which is good, given the last two years. We’re picking back up where we were when the economy took a dump.”
Wehr said her company continues to add services as the Internet evolves. “You cannot stop innovating, ever,” she said. “I’m lucky enough to get better and better people in here. We get a lot of recognition for innovative and creative work, and that brings in the right kind of people.”
More at www.oneupweb.com.
From Wehr’s bayfront office it was back to the warehouse area of southeastern Traverse City for a visit with von Schlegell, a Chicago-area native, Stanford business school graduate and former priest who got into the Internet and later phone service Up North because he wanted to make the vacation-style surroundings permanent.
Appia Communications was founded in 2001 and has since grown to more than 50 people. The big news for Appia over the past year was two acquisitions — St. Louis, Mo.-based Voxitas that provides SIP trunking and MPLS networking (more about that in a moment) and Indianapolis-based Comment Telecom, a provider of voice and Internet service for multi-tenant office buildings.
Von Schlegell said SIP trunking is simply the Internet version of old-school telephone trunk lines, allowing offices to dial each other without ever hitting the phone network, while MPLS allows a more consistent quality of service on Internet calling and videoconferencing.
Von Schlegell said business is looking up for his company too, and in the overall Traverse City area.
More at http://www.appiaservices.com/.
My final visit of the day was with Deborah Wyatt Fellows, a consistently and delightfully optimistic cheerleader for all things Up North, who started Traverse magazine 30 years ago during another miserable recession, and who has since expanded the franchise into a multi-media empire.
Monday, Wyatt was excited about Tuesday night’s release of the Red Hot Best of Traverse 2011. The magazine had dropped its “best of” issue in recent years, but brought it back this year based on its growing Web presence. In this year’s competition, more than 8,000 people voted for 7,000 nominees in 100 categories.
Wyatt jumped her print publication into the Web big time in 2007. She said she called a 7:30 a.m. meeting one day in 2007 and announced, “As of today we are no longer a print publishing company. We will still print magazines until I die because I’m such a huge believer in them, and I know what Traverse has meant to this region and this state and this economy and the preservation of this lifestyle… but we also need to master this new method of telling the story.”
The result was MyNorth.com, which launched in May 2008. Last year, the site logged more than 562,000 total visits from 402,000 unique visitors and 1.8 million page views.
Wyatt’s company now has 25 employees, including three who work in Web design and development. Wyatt said she got into that business because “after people saw our Web site, they’d ask, ‘can you do that for us?'” With that kind of business opportunity, she saw the need to be able to answer “yes.” The company also offers a wide variety of online directories, offers QR code content and has created a local hotel widget updated daily with events, photos and more.
Traverse has also been named to the list of top 40 media companies by Folio, the trade magazine for magazines. Wyatt now gives speeches all over the country, “helping other magazines figure out how to do what we do.” Well, as someone who loves the magazine medium too, more power to you, Deb.
And so my way-too-short visit to Traverse City ended, and I hit the road mid-afternoon for Tuesday’s tour stop in Midland and Bay City.
What do I think of Traverse City? I think its tech sector is strong, capable and growing. And it’s time for a more organized networking effort for those who work the Web along the shores of Grand Traverse Bay! I’ve heard from several such groups in the past, but none lately.
Oh, and a bit more on my Tech Tour Chevrolet Volt from LaFontaine Automotive Group — it continued its flawless, 40 mpg road trip mode Monday afternoon taking me from TC to Midland. Still in love.
More from my Spring 2011 Tech Tour: http://detroit.cbslocal.com/category/GLITR-tech-tour/