Challenge of Excellence Awards - Winners

Employer of the Year: Kalitta Air, LLC

Nominated by: Michigan Works! Region 7B Consortium

Kalitta Air, LLC in Oscoda exemplifies what it means to be an Employer of the Year. They are continuously looking for innovative ways to improve the skills of their workforce and bring the best quality products to the customers they serve.

Recently, Kalitta announced the offering of a new Aircraft and Powerplant Mechanic USDOL Apprenticeship program at their maintenance base in Oscoda. The program will provide competency-based training in communications, industrial safety, manufacturing process and technical math. 

Michigan Works! Region 7B Consortium was recently awarded a GoingPro grant in the amount of $179,808. Money from the grant will be used to create a talent pipeline for students to train for the USDOL Apprenticeship program at Kalitta Air, LLC in conjunction with classes at Alpena Community College, giving them a jump start on completing the requirements of the Airframe and Powerplant Mechanic apprenticeship.

Apprentices selected for the Kalitta Air Aircraft and Powerplant Mechanic USDOL Registered Apprentice Program will observe and assist in a live maintenance environment, supervised by experienced mentoring mechanics.

Throughout the 30 week program, apprentices are exposed to all aspects of hangar/line maintenance and jet engine maintenance operations. It’s a fantastic opportunity. It does not cost participants anything. Not only are prospective employees provided with a career path, they are introduced to a career where they will never stop learning.

Employer of the Year: Springs Window Fashions LLC

Nominated by: Michigan Works! Northeast Consortium

Springs Window Fashions is a Wisconsin-based manufacturer and has sixteen facilities world-wide to manufacture and assemble window treatments and interior shutters. Their Grayling plant exclusively processes wood and is the largest North American purchaser and processor of basswood. They annually produce millions of feet of wood window blind and interior shutter components and are one of the City of Grayling’s largest for-profit employers.     

 Since coming to Grayling in 2003, Springs has increased its workforce to keep pace with their successful product lines. 

HR Manager John Metts and his staff created a company motto: Springs Window Fashions, the great place to work in Northern Michigan. They distribute a monthly employee survey that consistently results in 92-98% of their staff validating their motto. Through John’s efforts, Springs has improved their company culture and they have experienced a significant decrease in their employee turnover over the past two years. 

Since January 2016, Springs Window Fashions has participated in the On-the-Job Training Program (OJT) and the Incumbent Worker Training Program (IWT) through Michigan Works! and have brought on 16 employees. The majority of those staff members are still happily employed at the company. John has also shared his success with the OJT program with other manufacturers.   

 Springs Window Fashions have spoken to other manufacturers about Michigan Works! programs and have referred businesses and job seekers for assistance. They have earned a very high reputation in the community as a great place to work with caring leadership. As John is always the first one to say, “What can I do to help you?”

Shining Star Award: Alayne Hansen, Michigan Works! Northeast Consortium

Nominated by: Michigan Works! Northeast Consortium

Alayne exemplifies the Business Solutions philosophy in everything she does and has become a household name throughout workforce development in the region. Alayne represents Michigan Works! Northeast Consortium in an outstanding fashion as she provides crucial support and partnership to both community members and to the businesses which she serves. 

Time and time again Alayne has gone above and beyond her expected job duties, to provide an incredibly impactful experience for our businesses in Crawford and Oscoda Counties. Since joining Michigan Works in 2015 she has been an outstanding and irreplaceable asset to both our Business Services team and to Michigan Works! Northeast Consortium (MW!NEMC).   

Alayne was a driving force behind the successful collaboration between MW!NEMC and ARAUCO North America. Arauco, a new particle board manufacturer opening in 2018 in Grayling, brings with them over 200 career opportunities, making a massive economic impact on the surrounding communities. Arauco is one of a number of employers in our region that Alayne has worked closely with to achieve the training, talent and staffing needs required for successful business operations.   

Alayne continues to be a true champion and advocate of the Skilled Trades Training Fund. She has displayed an astonishing amount of initiative by establishing strong relationships with her local community colleges and trainers. Her relationship building ability and thorough understanding of the program allowed her to successfully assist in the development of 2018 STTF awards worth over $350,000 for her two assigned counties. In addition, by identifying common talent and training plan points, Alayne has taken the lead on organizing and processing collaborative STTF applications to support the challenges of multiple employers at once.   

Alayne actively pursues youth engagement and training opportunities. In the 2017-18 school year, she has coordinated 10 Talent Tours, introducing over 100 students to local career opportunities. She has also been involved in a variety of career presentations, resume reviews, mock interviews, and other job readiness presentations with community high schools. Alayne’s presence in the schools has strengthened the Michigan Works! brand in the eyes of the youth, as well as provided them with the knowledge and guidance to find success as they enter the workforce.   

In everything she does, Alayne represents Michigan Works! in the utmost professional way. Over the past 3 years Alayne has consistently identified the need for (and administered) work-based training services.  Our Incumbent Worker Program has given the businesses of Crawford and Oscoda County the competitive edge as they evolve to meet the needs of the future economy. Alayne has become a champion of the IWT program and now mentors her fellow BSPs.

Volunteer of the Year: Frank Lopez, SEMCA Workforce Development Board/Aztec Manufacturing Corporation

Nominated by: Southeast Michigan Community Alliance (SEMCA) Michigan Works!

Frank Lopez is the founder and Chairman of Aztec Manufacturing Corporation, a tier-one supplier to the automotive industry. Frank believes success in business “requires a visionary entrepreneurial spirit, and the sound practice of business planning principles coupled with qualified personnel who have the practical, technical, and academic skills to get the job done.” 

He has been a strong supporter of the Michigan Works! system for over 30 years. On September 14, 2004, Frank was presented with the Award of Excellence (now the Ralph Loeschner Award) by Michigan Works! for his outstanding commitment to the success of Michigan’s workforce development system. Fourteen years later Frank continues to volunteer his time serving on the Workforce Development Board as Chair Emeritus and in particular supporting SEMCA’s youth programs.

Frank serves as a volunteer on the planning committee for Manufacturing Day and his company was one of the first manufacturing companies to provide Talent Tours for SEMCA’s youth.  He continues to open his company to Talent Tours and Manufacturing Day, determined to change public opinion as to the working conditions in plants and show parents and students the opportunities for the high paying careers available in this industry.    

Frank Lopez is a true advocate and supporter of the SEMCA youth programs. He serves as a member of the Wayne County College Access Network Leadership Team and the Sustainability Action Team. He loves to participate in the main events organized by the Jobs for Michigan’s Graduates Program by attending the Initiation and Installation Ceremonies and cheering on the competitors at the Annual Career Development Conference.    

Frank is a great motivational speaker for our youth, communicating time and time again his conviction that anyone can be successful if they are given the chance to prove themselves and if they take that chance seriously.

At 91 years of age, Frank is someone who has discovered the fountain of youth and his presence fills every space with optimism and serenity. Having him around is rejuvenating and engaging. Students love him and listen to him. He is firm, kind and genuine. A quality mentor!    

Board of Excellence: Kinexus Baord of Directors

Nominated by: Kinexus

Michigan Works! Berrien-Cass-Van Buren (DBA Kinexus) serves as an exemplary ambassador for the Michigan Works! system through their innovative and transformational approach to community impact.

The Kinexus board’s demand-driven strategic vision and plan have continuously pushed the boundaries of creativity. Through their innovative service delivery, aggressive non-traditional funding development and persistent measurement of impact, the Kinexus board is not only recognized as an invaluable community partner and stakeholder but an indispensable community transformation agent. 

While maximizing it’s growing and diverse resources from both the public and private sectors, the organization had voyaged into unique areas of unmet demand such as running an alternative school for at-risk youth which introduces them to careers in high-demand, high-growth industries.   

Equally important, the Kinexus board is focused on building a statewide talent pipeline through the newly created wholly owned subsidiary organization, Youth Solutions. The organization focuses on equipping youth with the skills to overcome barriers and win in education, employment, and as citizens. The leading program, Jobs for Michigan’s Graduates, currently serves over 2,950 young people across 43 cities.   

The board's foresight has also lead to the development of a demand-driven model that serves local employers, known as the Link Business Resource Network. While we are still serving our job seekers, this model allows us to put the employer at the forefront of their talent-related issues and remove barriers.  

In 2017 and 2018, Kinexus was nationally recognized by the prestigious Non-Profit Times and was awarded Best Nonprofit to Work For along with 49 other nonprofits across the nation. As a result, it serves as exemplary ambassador for the Michigan Works! system and the workforce development system in general.

Advocate of the Year: Iosco Regional Educational Service Agency

Nominated by: Michigan Works! Region 7B Consortium

The Iosco Regional Educational Service Agency (IRESA) originally partnered with Michigan Works Region 7B in 2012 to start a charter alternative education school within the Iosco County Michigan Works office. The mutual vision to unite services through both alternative education and the offerings through Michigan Works! allowed a seamless transition into the county Michigan Works! office. Through this partnership, Michigan Works! has been able to reach individuals we may not have been able to before.  

Because of this successful partnership, the Alternative Education Academy in Ogemaw County opened at the Ogemaw County Michigan Works! office in 2014 and part-time in the Gladwin County Michigan Works! office.   

IRESA has been a true advocate of the services offered through Michigan Works!, and has helped with realizing the needs of mutual customers and allowing Michigan Works! Region 7B to assist.

Furthermore, IRESA has recently been awarded grant funding to bring HiSet equivalency exams to the Iosco County jail.  During the application process, IRESA partnered again with Michigan Works! Region 7B to devise a program to reach not only those in jail, but those who may start the exams, get released and still have exams to take. 

Those individuals would be able to write their remaining exams at the Iosco County Michigan Works! office to ensure their successful completion.  

The relationship between our IRSA and Michigan Works! Region 7B is strong, due to the mutual respect they have for one another. Michigan Works! appreciate IRESA’s enthusiasm to look into the future to see the partnership growing and continuing to provide mutial benefit.