Archive | June, 2010

Rust Belt Chic

30 Jun

I’ve stumbled across some really great sites written in, or about, Detroit.  The Urbanophile blog is one of them.  Written by an urban analyst passionate about cities (especially Midwestern ones), the Urbanophile is “on a mission to help America’s cities thrive and find sustainable success in the 21st century,” (from his author bio).  Last weekend he posted this poignant story about the importance of cities like Detroit, Buffalo, Cleveland, and other struggling “Rust Belt” cities.  Renn focuses on Buffalo, but the idea applies to all cities like it, including Detroit.  The idea is that, in order to have a “prosperous and sustainable America”, we can’t have “disposable” cities, a term he uses to describe America’s attitude toward cities like Detroit.

Renn sees a lot of hope for these Rust Belt metropolises, and I do, too.  “A new generation of urbanists sees these cities with fresh eyes,” he says.  “They see the decay, yes, but also the opportunity—and the possibilities for the present and future.  To them this is Rust Belt Chic.”  See that?  He summed up all the fire I’ve got about Detroit in three sentences.  I don’t agree with everything he says (particularly his assertion that these cities aren’t “sexy” or “hip”, but I’ll make that argument another day), but his article gets me all fired up—and you should feel the same way.  Take a look for yourself here

Speaking of great links, you might’ve noticed a section on the right-hand side of this page called, “The Good Stuff.”  Those are links I’ve been collecting, sites or blogs about Detroit and the Midwest that I find interesting.  I’m always looking for new sites, so if you know of any, leave a comment and tell me about it—I’ll be sure to add it to the list.


The Senator Comes to Town

21 Jun

A view through the press (photo courtesy of Rob Kennedy)


This past Friday, Alpha welcomed Michigan state senator, Glenn Anderson, to its Livonia manufacturing facility.  

Getting ready to hit the campaign trail, the senator called us up Friday afternoon to see if he could swing through the plant and say hello.  Alpha’s own Darwin Kennedy, a die-setter, was kind enough to stay after hours to meet the senator and talk with him and Chuck Dardas out on the floor. 

 Senator Anderson’s photographer snapped official photos while Rob and I caught some on the sidelines (thanks, Rob!). 

Senator Anderson's group and a few of our own


Alpha's Darwin Kennedy in the limelight



Left to right: Senator Anderson, COO Chuck Dardas and Darwin Kennedy talk shop


The Next Generation of Alpha

17 Jun

Breaking news!  A shiny preview of Alpha’s upcoming website is up and running.  Take a look here at

The team’s been working daily on getting the new company website ready for launch.  In the meantime, we’ve taken down the old “red dot” (did you see that thing?) and replaced it with a teaser of what’s to come.  Keep an eye out for the full monty, coming later this summer.


10 Jun

Today I attended my fourth morning meeting.  During these gatherings, the managers of all departments meet in a conference room and get each other up to speed on what’s happening in the company.  If you’ve ever sat in on an English-speaking conversation and felt mystified, you know how I feel.  Acronyms rule the conversation: DTIs (Direct-Tension Indicators), ASFI (Army Single Face Industry), part numbers like BA-1224 rattled off at warp speed.  What is this?  Industry jargon.  And like all jargon, if you’re not in the industry, it’s difficult to decipher.  I’m keeping a list, though, and learning as I go.

Like OED.  In my English-major world, OED stands for Oxford English Dictionary, that huge 20-volume dictionary containing over 30,000 English words (i.e. the love of my life). But OED has over 15 definitions, depending on which industry you’re in.  Here at Alpha, in the manufacturing world, it has zero definitions–the acronym I thought I heard was actually OEM, or Original Equipment Manufacturer.

Obviously I need to beef up my language-learning.  But the point of all this is that language–communication–is integral to the inner-workings of a company.  When Alpha implemented these morning meetings, the goal was to facilitate inter-departmental communication.  From that standpoint, it’s a great sign that I don’t understand a word they’re saying.  It means everybody there speaks the same language, communicates using the same vocabulary.

When they’re not speaking in code, I’m listening in as the group discusses contracts, beginning with the part designs and running through all the subsequent departments, ending with the shipping schedule and customer feedback.  It’s interesting to see how interconnected everyone is, and the importance of constant communication is obvious.  Getting a part off the page and into the customer’s hands requires, it seems, that you mind your own, and others’, business.

Speak English, already

9 Jun

Sesquipedalian: ses-kwi-pi-dey-lee-uhn (adj) given to using long words; (of a word) containing many syllables.  (n) a sesquipedalian word.

This word, and the words it describes, are like Slinkies to me: expandable, retractable, generally functionless but altogether fun-to-play-with toys.  Today, however, I was (gently) reminded that my fascination resides somewhere out on the margins of general interest.  So my new goal is to avoid these literary critters, and stick to good ol’ fashion English.  Or rather, new English.

To facilitate this, I’ll be implementing a “Sesquipedalian Violations” counter, so that sentences like this one will earn me two, maybe even three (?) demerits.  As for what that means, I’m inviting suggestions from you.  Nickel in a jar?  No ice cream?  Facebook privileges revoked?  I’m looking forward to your comments.  But please, be gentle.

Passport to Safety

8 Jun

 Just before I officially started at Alpha, I was invited to join a handful of employees in volunteering at Passport to Safety, an outdoor family event hosted by the City of Livonia and the Livonia Police Department.  I didn’t know what to expect except a lot of kids and maybe some rain, but the day turned out to be a really rich experience.

The event itself provides safety demonstrations and information for kids, with booths sponsored by local businesses.  Stefan coordinates Alpha’s booth, and with his help Alpha has sponsored the 9-1-1 booth for six years running.  At the booth, four actual police officers from the dispatch office sit down across from four kids, and using real phone lines (set up by Stefan), the officers and the kids enact a 9-1-1 call.  

A dispatch officer practices 9-1-1 emergency calls with an attendee at this year's Passport to Safety event.

When I first heard about the concept, it sounded great, but after watching it in person, I was blown away.  Listening to these kids describe their “emergencies” (the officers held up pictures of emergency situations, like a house fire or burglary) and talk to the officers, it struck me how helpful this could be if/when the kids ever have a real emergency.  Maybe they’ll be able to imagine they’re talking to the same officer, for instance, or they’ll at least know that they’ve done it before, so it’s not so scary.

 As for me, it was another great opportunity to meet Alpha employees.  Lori, Pinke, Mike and his wife, and Fred and his daughter all volunteered for shifts at the booth, helping Janice corral the kids.  Later in the day, Stefan and I were talking about what a unique thing it is for a company like Alpha to sponsor this event.  Unlike a lot of the other sponsors, Alpha has no real “interest” in community involvement—most people aren’t going to walk into Alpha and order a part.  But we do have an interest, and always have, and that’s to give back to the community.

From Fiction to Fabrication

7 Jun

“Dagny, most of the time we already know what we’re meant to do, we just need someone verbalize it.”

Sunset in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

So spoke my classmate down in Mexico this past April.  I was there finishing up my last university requirements, keeping an eye out for post-graduate opportunities.  He was an entrepreneur between jobs, brushing up on his Spanish. Both of us were searching for a next step in life.  We met in San Miguel de Allende at a language school and bonded over a passion for international affairs and a similar reading list.  To top it off, we shared a home state back in Colorado, our houses just an hour apart.

His questionable nickname for me was a tribute to what he thought I could be.  Like the character from a book we’d both just finished, he saw in me a feisty, shrewd, rational woman working for the family business (or at least that’s what I’d like to think he saw.)  Within a day of meeting, my friend had dubbed me Dagny; within a week he suggested I move back to Michigan.  Certain of my potential (and Detroit’s, for that matter), he egged me on throughout the month.

I was intimidated.  I’d been cobbling together English and Geography degrees for eight years intermittent, dissecting Faulkner and Foucault, riparian systems and mountain morphology between part time jobs.  But of all the things I’d studied, business, manufacturing and engineering weren’t among them.  I wasn’t sure I could make the leap from all I’d learned to all I hadn’t yet.  Sitting down on the balcony one morning, I took a deep breath and crafted a careful email to Alpha.

Two months later I’m here on my first day at the company, Alpha’s new coordinator of communications and social media.  My purpose here is three-fold: to explore the company founded over fifty years ago by my granddad; to share this exploration with all of you; and to give back to the company that’s given me, my family, its employees, customers, suppliers and community so much for half a century.  I’m excited to dig in to Alpha and to learn all about its ins and outs, the people that make it great.

It’s my first day.  I still don’t know anything about business or manufacturing.  And my name is Jean, not Dagny.  But like her, I’m dedicated to learning everything I can about my family’s business.  It’s time for a crash course in all those classes I never took.

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