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Economy & competitive position/Success

In Northern Michigan, a life made in glass

Jay Bavers and Glenna Haney labor in a small studio in the Northern Michigan community of East Jordan.

But their blown-glass creations have garnered fans from Lansing to Siberia.

Jordan Valley Glassworks, which Bavers and Haney co-own, is a business built on the desire to present the new or unique, but also to satisfy the individual buyer.

Through those personal connections, Jordan Valley has created success.

Bridge gallery: A day at the Jordan Valley Glassworks

“We have a lot of people who have been here who are famous, and a lot of people who are very wealthy. I’ve got to tell you, it’s making friends and networking,” Bavers said. “And, word of mouth. People come in here and they come back.”

Glassblower Bavers practices the trade of his grandfather, who came to the United States from Russia a century ago and set up shop in Brooklyn, N.Y. Living above the shop and helping out when his parents went off to work, Bavers first developed his love of glass.

He studied at a school at Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, N.Y., attended the College for Creative Studies in Detroit and apprenticed with other glassblowers. To help shoulder the expense of getting started, he sold insurance and encyclopedias.

It also helped that some of Jordan Valley’s equipment is Bavers’ grandfather’s, while other pieces were built by his uncle, an engineer.

Bavers initially did wholesale work out of his home in East Jordan, but about 14 years ago he bought the building that now houses the glassworks and opened the operation to the public.

And that doesn’t just refer to sales.

“We have what’s called a working studio, where people come in, they can see the process from start to finish. And they have the opportunity to ask,” Haney said.

Some 100 groups a year — from churches to schools to Red Hat Society members — visit the glassworks, Bavers said.

Cheri Leach, CEO of the Raven Hill Discovery Center, a regional center in East Jordan that connects science, history and art, said, “Part of their charm, part of their success, is that they want to educate people. They are very interested in people knowing how things are done, why things are done.”

Leach often takes art teachers in her classes to the glassworks, where Bavers and Haney will involve them in making an ornament.

“Jay and Glenna work with them to the point where they can make something that’s keep-able,” Leach said. “They see the hard parts and the easy parts and the whys and the wherefores, and the process.”

Said Bavers: “We like people, and we like sharing what we do.”

Offerings include ornaments, vases, garden art, table lamps, wall sconces and other lighting, as well as custom pieces that can take three to four glassblowers to complete. Prices range from $18 ornaments to chandeliers that can cost as much as $17,000 to $25,000.

Haney designs “most everything in here,” Bavers said. “She decides the beat and the pulse here of what we do.”

In late November, Jordan Valley delivered a 1,000-ornament order for Gov. Rick Snyder’s Office. The deep blue ornaments incorporated native elements — Michigan sand and copper from the Upper Peninsula — and were given at holiday parties, Bavers said.

The glassworks similarly used Michigan copper and sand in pots it designed for then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm to give as Michigan gifts to the nation’s governors at the 2007 National Governors Association conference in Washington, D.C.

Jordan Valley has supplied items to other politicians and government officials, businesspeople and celebrities, including actor Henry Winkler and members of the Harlem Globetrotters.

Bavers said annual sales range between $300,000 and $500,000 and business the last few years has been challenging, with many of their customers associated with Michigan’s auto industry and affected by downturn.

“We just want to continue what we’re doing. We don’t want to get bigger,” Bavers said. “So many people envy us because we enjoy what we do so much. That was always my goal, to enjoy what I do.”

Amy Lane is a former reporter for Crain’s Detroit Business, where she covered utilities, state government and state business for many years.

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