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Lansing Region Small Businesses Among Michigan 50 Companies to Watch

Tuesday, May 7, 2019  
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Six of the Lansing region’s outstanding small businesses are among 50 companies from around the state being recognized with the prestigious Michigan 50 Companies to Watch award from the Michigan Celebrates Small Business organization. Members of the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce making the list of 50 to Watch in 2019 include Apple Tree, C2AE, DBI, Public Sector Consultants, Therapy Today and Van Dyke Horn. Liberty Reach, Inc of East Lansing was also named to the 50 Companies list. Massman Trucking, Inc. of Okemos was named one of the Michigan SBDC Best Small Business Honorees.

Companies who are selected as a “Michigan 50 Companies to Watch” are a remarkable group of second-stage companies. Defined as having six to 99 full-time-equivalent employees and generating $750,000 to $50 million in annual revenue or working capital from investors or grants, these companies form the backbone of Michigan’s economy. Representing all regions of the state and a diverse range of industries, companies like these are known for their exceptional entrepreneurial leadership, creation of innovation or use of innovation in creative ways, and their sustainable competitive advantage. “We at the Michigan Celebrates Small Business organization are proud to recognize these exceptional companies. They are a tremendous part of Michigan’s success and we are excited to see what the future holds for them,” said J.D. Collins, State Director of the Michigan Small Business Development Center and a member of the Michigan Celebrates Small Business Board of Directors. Winners were selected by Michigan-based judges from the banking, economic development, entrepreneurship development, and venture capital communities. The selected companies also go through a rigorous due diligence process.

The Michigan 50 Companies to Watch will be honored at an awards program on May 8 at the Breslin Center in East Lansing. 


AppleTree and Gilden Woods has been providing child care and early childhood education for over 20 years. It’s no surprise, that this company was awarded the 50 Companies To Watch, by Michigan Celebrates Small Business.

“It’s a huge deal,” said Bridgett Vanderhoff, owner of AppleTree and Gilden Woods. “I was excited and honored to have the company chosen. But I didn’t get here alone. I immediately was grateful to my team, my advisors, and my family.”

With locations spread across Michigan, AppleTree and Gilden Woods sets the standard of educational child care while providing an above average learning environment that fosters every child’s needs.

Their mission is to “provide the highest quality educational programming in a safe and nurturing, child-centered environment that earns the trust of the children and families we serve.” It’s through their supportive culture and unique educational programs that they can do just that. 

“Our programs are based on best practices for early childhood education,” said Vanderhoff. “They focus on the whole child. The environment and curriculum are implemented to nurture children’s individual needs. This allows them to create close bonds with friends, gain confidence and create a rewarding experience that will take them further on their educational journey.” 

All partners and employees that are involved in each location live in Michigan and their families have attended local AppleTree schools. It’s through this unique company culture that each educational site can foster a supportive culture for working families. 

“We are an integral part of the communities we are located in and stay committed to the families we serve. It is a culture of family with families, serving families,” said Vanderhoff.

The road that lays ahead for AppleTree and Gilden Woods is full of wonderful surprises. Vanderhoff plans their first out of state school to open in Apex, North Carolina in January 2020. 

“Our growth will be organic and strategic,” said Vanderhoff. “We value quality over quantity of schools and will only grow if we can maintain the highest standards for ourselves that we have set.” 

It’d be no surprise, if we hear more about AppleTree and Gilden Woods in the near future. 


When asked to reflect on what has made him proudest about C2AE, President Bill Kimble quickly pointed to the company’s landmark 50th anniversary a couple of years ago.

“A company that can say they have been around for 50 years is rare,” said Kimble. “That is a tribute to the people that work here and have worked here over the past half century.”

C2AE is an architecture, engineering, and infrastructure design firm with over 50 years of experience specializing in the markets of education, healthcare, government and manufacturing. The firm has 95 full-time employees in seven offices in Michigan and New York. C2AE has been involved in numerous landmark developments throughout Greater Lansing including currently working on the McLaren Replacement Hospital project.

C2AE prides itself in bringing enterprise-driven design thinking to each client and opportunity. Kimble says they value long-term relationships with clients that have many needs as opposed to just one project. Focusing on four major sectors makes for a nice variety of work for the C2AE team.

“We have 400-500 projects that move through here each year,” said Kimble. “We have the ability to touch a lot of different markets.”

Kimble sees exciting growth prospects for the company in the coming years. He envisions additional work coming from neighboring Great Lakes states. He also forecasts a large demand in the government market for new projects due to a blend of new, exciting technologies and overdue reconstruction of aging infrastructures. 

“Smart buildings, autonomous vehicles and other technological advances are rapidly altering the structure of our world,” said Kimble. “At the same time, failing infrastructure in the United States has been well documented for the past two decades, from lead water pipes to the crumbling roads that mask them. Pent up infrastructure improvement projects and the call to modernize our region’s infrastructure will meet with advancing technologies in the built environment over the coming decade.”

As a longtime partner to municipal, state and federal government clients, C2AE is positioned to bridge the gap between private company innovation and governmental operations. Kimble says the company has the resources to adapt to the changing world.


Since 1984, DBI has provided products and services that support the way companies conduct business from pencils and paper to space planning and modular walls. DBI has grown into one of the largest independent office products dealers in Michigan helping business work better. The company has 91 employees and is headquartered at 912 E. Michigan Ave. in Lansing. The 50 Companies to Watch designation was welcome news at DBI.

“We are very excited and proud to be recognized as one of outstanding small businesses in Michigan,” said Steve Klaver, owner and vice president of DBI. “We are a partnership of people with shared goals and a core value – excellence in reputation. Every DBI member feels they are part of something special in bringing the best products and services to our customers.”

Owner and DBI President George Snyder attributes the company’s longevity and success to the long-term employees, referred to as members at DBI. Snyder believes that longevity in the workforce leads to long-term relationships with customers. “We listen to our customers and act as a trusted business advisor,” said Snyder. 

DBI brings value to the sales conversation by digging deeper, asking relevant questions to understand their customers’ needs and culture. 

“Before we offer any product solutions, we engage in an open and honest discussion, reviewing client criteria and their immediate and future goals,” said Snyder. “We believe if we approach every day and every situation with a goal of demonstrating excellence in reputation, that we will serve our customers well. 

Snyder is also proud of the fact that as DBI has acquired several smaller companies through the years, most of the owners of the acquired business chose to stay on and work at DBI.

DBI has always been a strong advocate of buying local and supporting midMichigan charities and non-profits. 

“We take that very seriously,” said Snyder. “When people in the region buy local, it makes it possible for us to invest in the community.” 

The company buys as many products as possible locally and partners with other area businesses in a variety of events each year.


As Public Sector Consultants neared its 40th anniversary, CEO Jeff Williams was curious what percentage of businesses manage to realize that milestone.

“We found out that we are in the 95th percentile of companies when it comes to longevity,” said Williams. “I’ve been here for 29 of the 40 years and it has been rewarding to see this company succeed.”

PSC is a non-partisan consulting firm that helps non-profits, government and business understand the impact of public policy. For virtually every important public policy issue—but especially in education, energy and the environment, health, and community and economic development, PSC has developed an established track record of delivering quality research and implementation strategy for an impressive roster of blue-chip clients throughout Michigan.

“A lot of times companies use our research to interact with government to change something in a local community,” said Williams.

PSC’s mission is to improve the quality of life for Michigan residents and beyond through good public policy research. The company prides itself on providing impartial research on tough issues is often called upon to implement and manage new programs. Sometimes clients seek their facilitation skills on hot-button issues. PSC is also called upon to evaluate clients’ programs and help make improvements. 

Williams says a key to the company’s success through the years has been that it has been able to attract very creative people who have a passion for that mission.

“The hallway conversations we have reflect the variety involved in the work we do,” said Williams. “I can shout out practically any public policy topic and someone will have some insight based on a project they have been involved with. It really is a lot of fun.”

A challenge the company has been able to successfully navigate has been the rapidly changing nature of public policy and the tools needed to stay on top of those changes, trends certain to continue in the coming years.

As PSC enters it fifth decade, the company is transitioning into its fourth generation of shareholders. Williams will be stepping down later this year, and the company will become a woman owned firm, as Julie Bennett and Rachel Kuntzsch, both current shareholders, will take the reins of leadership.


When it comes to mental health, it’s important for all people to have access to help when needed. That is exactly what Leslie Auld provides – help. Leslie is the founder of Therapy Today Counseling and Consulting LLC. Therapy Today provides “talk therapy, with a wide range of approaches and specialties treating adults, children, couples and families”. 

Located in East Lansing, Therapy Today offers same day counseling in addition to ongoing weekly therapy. The mission of Auld’s company is “to provide high quality therapy TODAY to everyday people with everyday problems.” 

“The goal is to create a mentally healthy community, a community in which no one has to be alone with painful and difficult emotional problems for long because an appointment with a therapist is available,” said Auld.  

A company that provides genuine help to people deserves countless awards. That is why it’s no surprise that Therapy Today is being recognized by Michigan Celebrates Small Business and receiving the 50 Companies to Watch award. 

“Winning the award has been a huge deal for me and for our company as a whole,” said Auld. “When I received notification that Therapy Today had been chosen to win this award, I was stunned and overcome with tears of joy. It is such an honor that any time I share the news with someone, my eyes well up with tears. It is very moving to be honored this way with so many great companies in Michigan to choose from. This provides strong encouragement to continue with the mission of expansion to contribute to the health and wellbeing of other communities.” 

This award could not have come at a better time for Auld. Along with winning the MCSB award, she was also selected as the Athena Powerlink recipient of 2019. Auld has big plans for the future of Therapy Today. 

“What I see for the future of my company is the opening of as many locations as possible in different communities to make available access to therapy that is as easy as going to the corner store for a gallon of milk,” said Auld. 

With that dedication and passion that Auld pours into her company, these future plans will soon become a reality. 


A marathon runner, dog walker and board member supporting arts, animals and academics, 16-year Detroit resident Peter Van Dyke does it all. It’s with his ‘get the job done’ work ethic that he’s able to run a successful public relations business, while being deeply involved in the community and still be able to finding time to visit his cottage on the weekends. 

“This award is highly competitive,” said Van Dyke. “We’ve been very focused on our growth for the past three years, we’ve double revenue and doubled staff. It’s one thing to be so focused on growth, but to then be recognized by a prestigious organization is a wonderful validation.” 

Van Dyke Horn is owned by Van Dyke and his partner Marilyn Horn, who both worked for the company, which was formerly named Berg Muirhead and Associates, before acquiring it in 2016. The agency has been based in Detroit for 21 years and, just last year, expanded to the Lansing community with the opening of a new branch. Van Dyke Horn provides strategic communications and public relations services to a range of clients, from global automotive companies to local nonprofit organizations. 

Van Dyke Horn has a total of 14 team members that work from either the Detroit site or the Lansing site. A key trait about this Van Dyke Horn is that the company is deeply rooted in diversity. Van Dyke Horn is Michigan’s largest owned public relations agency. Van Dyke mentioned that the cultivating a team diversity in age, gender and race is part of their heritage, company culture and has always been very intentional. 

“There’s no class in college that teaches you how to run a PR company,” said Van Dyke. “This award provides an incomparable opportunity to network with our second stage companies to share best practices.” 

Van Dyke mentioned that this award came around the perfect time for his company. With the company growing so rapidly, it’s one of Van Dyke’s goals to make sure that all systems that make up Van Dyke Horn stay in place to provide a strong foundation for future growth. Major success is in the future for Van Dyke and even maybe a marathon or two. 

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