A National Resource to Support Excellence in Community Action
Last Revised: Oct 08, 2008 - Initial Posting: Nov 20, 2007

The Human Development Commission established Cass River Enterprises to generate revenue for the agency while addressing needs of the general public, as well as enhancing the local economy and improving the lives of area residents.


The Human Development Commission (HDC) created Cass River Enterprises, Inc. as a wholly-owned subsidiary to meet various market niches that could generate revenue for HDC, along with increased employment opportunities for low-income community residents.  CRE was an outgrowth of Thumbody Enterprises that was previously launched as a separate economic development arm of HDC.

HDC began to be involved with economic development on a very small scale in 1981 for the purpose of supplying its Weatherization Program with storm windows since the nearest manufacturer was over 100 miles away and older homes needed special order windows.  This operation began to expand as a neighboring CAA experiencing similar supply problems became interested in the venture and orders were also being received from private individuals and lumber companies.  Storm doors began to be produced to meet additional needs.

Thumbody Enterprises (TE) was established in conjunction with an $80,000 discretionary grant received by HDC in 1984 from the Office of Community Services.  This grant was used to purchase a former farm equipment building as the site for the agency’s economic development ventures.  A needs assessment survey was sent to local businesses and random residents in HDC’s four-county service area in an effort to discover other areas of need.  Based on this tool, and various requests from private residents, a Home Improvement Unit was developed and a Builder’s License was obtained to enable work involving:

  • New construction
  • General home remodeling and repairs
  • Mobile home repairs
  • Energy efficiency techniques
  • Installation of TE products

TE received a $50,000 Energy-Related Business Grant from the Department of Energy in 1985 to hire a General Manager and to explore the possibilities of creating a holding company, syndication strategies, sale of stocks, and additional product lines and services.  Subsequently, TE diversified by developing a product line encompassing custom-made storm windows and doors, sunscreen, tinted glass, block vents, and a window/screen repair service.  TE began distributing and installing vinyl replacement windows and replacing thermal glass units.  Services were also expanded into the area of mobile home/RV parts (window cranks, doors, steps, etc.); in addition to becoming a distributor/installer of rubber roofs, which is a definite future trend to assist mobile homes in becoming more energy efficient.

Cass River Enterprises (CRE) was established in 1991, assuming all services previously provided by TE.  HDC also subcontracted with CRE to provide several thousand households with energy conservation services under a contract with Detroit Edison’s Energy Efficiency Programs.  In addition, CRE has subcontracted with Consumers Power Company and Detroit Edison in the operation of their Energy Efficient New Home Construction Program and Residential Low-Income Energy Fitness Program.  Subsequently, CRE obtained certification as a Five Star Home Builder and purchased equipment and materials to install seamless gutters, and also started to provide Energy Audits.

Cass River Construction BrochureOver the years, the following other ventures were started under the auspices of CRE:

  • THUMB BUSINESS MANAGEMENT SERVICES to provide for the professional completion of income tax returns and other types of business services required by individuals and companies alike
  • SUNRIZE CREATIVE SERVICES to provide printing and marketing services
  • ADVENT COMPUTER SECURITY specializing in IT services for small and mid-sized businesses including (a) security of networks, (b) web design, hosting and management, (c) custom built computers, (d) computer repairs and upgrades, (e) virus, malware and spyware removal, and (f) customer support.
  • CASS RIVER DUCT CLEANING specializing in improving indoor air quality by sanitizing ducts and vents.
  • CASS RIVER HEATING & AIR CONDITIONING to provide service, maintenance and repair work.

HDC has provided gainful employment to approximately 270 individuals through the efforts of CRE/TE.  A majority of these employees were low-income and had little or no work experience.  This serves as an on-the-job training opportunity stressing the importance of quality products and services.  It helps build employability skills that enable people to advance within the company or go onto even more successful careers.  Employees are continually urged to improve their skills, as evidenced by the many that have attained their high school diplomas, attended specialized trainings and seminars, and become Licensed Builders.


Mary Ann Vandemark, Executive Director