Getting to know the ‘FACES’ behind our local businesses

The VIEW from here



At the Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce, we work with all types of businesses representing all types of industries. We talk about job creation, investments and other factors that drive our economy forward. But equally interesting is getting to know the people who run these businesses and brands—what drives them, what keeps them up night and why they continue to bet on Genesee County as the place to grow their business.

It’s for this reason that I love reading “FACES of Flint & Genesee Business,” a monthly Q&A series featured at Each installment provides a look behind the services and the storefronts and focuses instead on the owners and leadership behind the operations.

Every story is different. There’s Judy Walling, who loved to dance as a teenager and would give lessons to children she babysat. “One day, my mother said, ‘Why don’t you make up some flyers?’” recounts Walling. “So, I did and distributed them around the neighborhood. I started with about seven students in my parents’ basement.”

Today, Walling owns Judy’s School of Dance, which has been a Flushing staple for decades.

Alicia Gibbons, the third-generation owner of Donna’s Donuts, also got her introduction to business at a very early age. As a newborn, “Donna’s was the first place I went before they took me home from the hospital. My parents and grandparents had to show me off.” Across the board, these business owners share a deep commitment to the region. When asked to describe

Flint to an outsider, Deborah Johnson of Citizens Statewide Security highlights the sense of connection. “Everyone is willing to extend a helping hand. When I first came here, I would ask people for a referral and they would call someone for me and have me talk to them right there.”

Not surprisingly, these owners often feel compelled to give back.

At Applegate Chevrolet, Susan Applegate sponsors sports teams and supports the United Way of Genesee County. Likewise, Heath Hoffman has long offered a sandwich of the month benefiting local nonprofits at Hoffman’s Deco Deli.

These people are doing great things that sometimes capture national attention. For Jason Trice of Bedrock Apparel, his claim to fame came when a friend, actress Gabrielle Union-Wade, gave his sweatshirts a shout-out in an interview with InStyle Magazine. “We had athletes and other entertainers wearing our things, but when an international actress showed off our apparel, that really gave us the validity that we needed.”

I share these stories for two reasons. For one, it’s fun to brag on the people who make our community what it is. But also, I do so in hopes that it inspires you to go out and learn more about not just who it is you’re doing business with—but also could be doing business with— in Flint and Genesee County.

Kristina Johnston is the COO of the Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce.