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Intern Turned Transplant Reflects on Kalamazoo's Character

Rob Smalldon

One semester as an intern at Kalamazoo's Landscape Forms turned into a permanent relocation for former east-sider Robb Smalldon. Now Manager of Studio 431 at the site and furniture design firm, Smalldon calls Kalamazoo home.

"I grew up in Port Huron and in 1996 came to Kalamazoo to attend Western Michigan University, which is a great school for Engineering," he said.

"While I was an intern at Landscape Forms, I often headed back to the east side of the state interviewing and received offers from the auto industry. My mentor at Landscape Forms was the one who planted the seed of staying in Kalamazoo."

Describing Landscape Forms as "an environment where the sky was the limit," Smalldon enjoys his position at Studio 431.

"At Landscape Forms there are different programs and catalog offerings of outdoor products that help our clients create a sense of place. In Studio 431 it's really about custom work, often working on the early stages of projects with architects, landscape architects, and design firms.

"Our work can take us around the world involving us on large venues and projects like the Central Park Conservancy or the Barclays Center, allowing us to participate in affecting the outcomes-it's very powerful," Smalldon said.

Living and working in Kalamazoo allows Smalldon to experience world-wide business opportunities while enjoying a more relaxed pace not easily found on the east side of the state where he grew up.

"What I really like about this side of the state is that it has this great healthy lifestyle, a bit more laid back, but there is a big city attitude complete with progressive businesses and culture. A real plus is that you're literally half-an-hour from the coast and the big water of Lake Michigan with wonderful beaches. Where I lived it was a bit more of a rat race," he said.

Although family and friends have attempted to lure Smalldon and his family back to Port Huron, he said one visit to Kalamazoo usually shows his would-be convincers why he continues to call Kalamazoo home.

"I enjoy going back home for a visit, but always with the understanding that my friends have an open invitation to visit my home in Kalamazoo. Once they visit their comments are typically amazement of how many things there are to do. They don't realize the amount of industry in the area and how young and vibrant of a community we have here," Smalldon said.

A golfer and an Oshtemo Friends of the Parks board member, Smalldon said he and his family spend a great deal of their weekends on the trails and hanging out playing hoops.

"We also attend many of the downtown festivals and enjoy the many great restaurants," Smalldon said.

"I really like how Kalamazoo is evolving and changing. If I had the power to change something about Kalamazoo, it would be the roads and routes around the downtown so it's not just a pass through. We also need to keep building outdoor spaces connecting the student campuses to downtown.

"I love the college town feel-it always feels active with different pockets to explore. Whether it's the nightlife or the great outdoors, we really have a great deal to offer," he said.

"The mentorship in this community is also great. The attitude of wanting to make Kalamazoo and the people who live here thrive should not be taken for granted."

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