Alba is a graduate of H.H. Dow High School and Michigan State University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in finance with a specialization in entrepreneurship. She and her husband, Dan, have been married for four years. They have a 1-year-old son. Dan’s a product engineer at Nexteer in Saginaw.
SMI Snowmakers, also known as Snow Machines, Inc., manufactures and sells snowmaking equipment for ski resorts worldwide. They also produce dust control and evaporation equipment for several industries, including construction, mining, and food. SMI employs 50-100 people, depending on the season.
My grandfather, Jim VanderKelen, started it back in 1974. He was originally a patent attorney for Dow. He and my grandmother, Betty, were avid skiers and thought snow-making equipment was a great idea. He was a pioneer. He did the sales and engineering, and she did the accounting.
1. How long has your family owned your business?
2. What inspired your family to own this business?
It’s been a family-owned and -managed business. My dad, Joe, took it over 30 years ago and has been involved ever since. I do sales and marketing. My background was in finance. I worked for a Fortune 100 company for a few years. I had an internship here for several summers. I’m now involved in quoting, proposals, and master planning for ski resorts. I work with our sales forces worldwide.
There wasn’t much snow-making equipment out on the market. They developed an airless snow gun. They first had to show up at a ski resort to explain how their snow machine worked. In years like this, the resorts need to make snow. It helps them staff their ski areas and creates a better experience for their customers.
3. What makes Midland and Michigan a great place to own a business?
Michigan has the second most ski resorts by state in the country. We’re centrally located between the resorts out east and out west in the U.S. Our employees are great. We have great resources locally. We really enjoy having our company located here. 4. What are some ways your business is active in the local community?
We work with some of the local non-profits, do sponsorships. I also do some things personally. 5. What are some of your interests and hobbies?
Definitely skiing. Spending time with my family. We have two dogs. I enjoy traveling, get to travel to some pretty cool places around the world. 6. What are some local businesses you work with that help make your business a success?
Our employees are what make our business so successful, both Midland-based and those around the world.
7. Final thoughts to share with the community? Medler Electric is a big one. Gladwin Machinery is another. We also use a lot of vendors within the state. Kepco, they help with the dipping of our stainless-steel components. Design Direction, they do our website, graphic design, and help with marketing.