Choosing Lansing: Jeff and Allie Siarto
Allie pursued her dream of working for a big public relations firm in Chicago shortly after graduating from Michigan State University
, where she and Jeff met while studying telecommunication. Jeff completed his masters at MSU and followed her to Chicago a year later. As the young couple embraced all the perks of living in a big Midwestern city, Michigan was always in the back of their mind. “We always kind of knew we would come back here, but we wanted the big city life for a while,” explains Jeff. As Allie quickly established herself as a professional in the public relations field, she and Jeff realized that starting their own consulting company was the next logical move. In 2009, Allie, Jeff, and their friend Ryan founded a company called Loudpixel
, a digital agency focusing on online research and data analysis for consumer product brands. “We had a big, one-year contract with a client. So that’s how long we had; a year to either sink or figure out how to swim,” Jeff remembers. “We like to think of ourselves as a startup, but we weren’t about to jump ship for a prayer. Our client was committed for a year and we were, too.”
With the launch of their new small business, Allie and Jeff spent a year consulting with both Chicago-based and nationwide clients. The day-to-day aspects of living in a big city – like grocery shopping without a car – were starting to wear on them, though. Meanwhile, Allie’s sister, a realtor in the Lansing area, consistently sent the couple house and apartment listings as well as good news from the mid-Michigan region in hopes of convincing them to move back. “It was like a constant barrage of Lansing PR,” Allie jokes. But her sister’s pressure began to work, and they started to seriously consider the transition. “We felt comfortable [doing so] because we had built up our client relationships to the point where it didn’t really matter where we lived,” says Jeff.
In November of 2010, Jeff and Allie exchanged marriage vows during their destination wedding in Mexico. A few weeks later, they were back in Michigan for the Thanksgiving holiday when Allie’s sister introduced the two to Jeff Smith, Project Manager for New Economic Initiatives for the City of East Lansing. He gave them a tour of the Technology Innovation Center (TIC), a business accelerator for technology startups and professionals. It was the same day they received word that Jeff got accepted to teach a telecommunication course at Michigan State University. The stars seemed to align for the Siartos, and they decided it was time to move back.
Home Sweet Home
The middle of January winter welcomed Jeff and Allie as they settled in at their new East Lansing residence near Frandor. “Our apartment has sort of an urban layout and feel; we love it,” says Jeff. They take advantage of their close proximity to downtown East Lansing and often bike to work. “We like taking walks most evenings, because when we were in Chicago we walked everywhere and it was just part of our daily lives,” Allie explains. They agree it’s a great way to explore the many neighborhoods and pockets of businesses in the greater Lansing area, especially those accessible by the beautiful River Trail. Some of their favorite spots to dine include Woody’s Oasis and El Azteco in downtown East Lansing and many of the Old Town establishments.
The Right Move
The Siartos inevitably miss some aspects of Chicago such as Intelligentsia coffee, a local entrepreneurial network, and a community photography group that Allie used to volunteer with. They have no doubt in their minds, though, that they made the right decision. “The first time we went back to Chicago after we moved, it was a bit overwhelming,” Jeff recalls. “In Chicago, it kind of feels like you have a person standing on your chest at all times. It’s so busy – which is great at times – but it wasn’t for us anymore.” They also agree that they have more of an appreciation for Michigan because they went away for some time.
The couple sees no shortage of things to get involved in when they’re not busy with their growing business. Both enjoy going to Grand River Connection networking events. Allie has also been growing her photography side business and joined a small book club with her sister. She hopes to begin volunteering for a local women’s group, too. Jeff got involved with The Hatch student incubator, and has helped Jeff Smith and the East Lansing Economic Development Corporation with some tech hiring gaps. He notes that the close proximity to MSU is great in terms of mutually beneficial resource sharing in this respect. For weekend getaways, the couple loves visiting Northport at the tip of the Leelanau peninsula and taking advantage of Michigan’s natural treasures in general.
Jeff and Allie recall an encouraging experience from a few months ago. They were having coffee with Jeff Smith at the Starbucks next to the TIC when a colleague and friend of Smith’s walked by on the sidewalk. He pulled this person in to join them, and at that moment they happened to be talking about tech things. Another patron nearby overheard their conversation and ended up chatting with them as well. “It was neat how this small group of like-minded people just came together in the corner of a coffee shop,” explains Jeff. “Most [people here] seem to be friendly and outgoing, and it’s nice that this city is small enough that you can walk down the street and recognize someone.
Payal Ravani is a freelance writer for Capital Gains.
is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.
Jeff and Allie Siarto in their East Lansing apartment
Photos © Dave Trumpie