Jeremiah Smith

Jeremiah Smith, owner of Allegiant Laundry Services and Coin Express laundromat in Hartford, will be honored next week as a 2023 Minority-owned Small Business awardee by Michigan Celebrates Small Business.

HARTFORD — While growing up in South Haven, Jeremiah Smith had no idea what the word, entrepreneur, meant. But he did know how to help his mom fold laundry at a local laundromat each week.

“She was raising six kids,” he said. “As a youngster I mainly played video games at the laundromat, but as I got older I helped her with the laundry. That was my time with my mom.”

Little did he know then that the time he spent at the laundromat would lead him to start his own laundromat business, Coin Express, in Hartford, and later, Allegiant Laundry Services, a business that now has a contract with Bronson Healthcare to launder all of its environmental service products and laboratory coats.

Smith’s efforts to establish his businesses over the past decade will be recognized, May 2, by Michigan Celebrates Small Business with its 2023 Minority-Owned Small Business Award, awarded through the U.S. Small Business Administration. Michigan Celebrates Small Business (MCSB) is a collaboration of statewide organizations, such as the Kinexus Group in Benton Harbor, who offer resources for small businesses.

“When I was a kid I didn’t know what entrepreneurship meant,” Smith said during an interview, Wednesday. “I wanted to go to college and get a good job.”

But after working a job that paid $17 an hour and realizing that his boss was making much more than him, he decided to pursue ways to make a better income for himself.

Smith talked to then South Havan Area Chamber of Commerce Director Rachel Vochaska who encouraged him to attend several business workshops along with the chamber’s annual business summit, where he met Dana Getman, retired CEO of Getman Corp. in Bangor.

“He was one of the speakers,” Smith recalled. “I was so impressed with what he said. I wanted to meet him afterwards.”

Getman agreed to do so, leading to several months of breakfast and lunch meetings where Getman encouraged Smith to develop a business plan to start his own business.

“We talked about restaurants, coffee shops and then the laundry service. That’s something I knew about,” Smith said.

Getman agreed to partner with Smith to get his business going and in June of 2011, Coin Express broke ground in Hartford, at 202 Main St. In the meantime, Smith said he obtained an associate’s degree in marketing and business from Lake Michigan College.

But, Smith, who was only 23 at the time, wasn’t done yet. In 2012 while visiting his immunocompromised mother in a hospital, Smith said he watched as nurses touched a medical divider curtain and then his mother.

“I asked staff if they knew the last time the curtain was cleaned, and wondered who else might be affected by the spread of bacteria and germs?” Smith recalled.

His question gave Smith an idea. After conducting research about ways to launder hospital products to better prevent the spread of bacteria and germs, Smith met with Bronson officials and later made an agreement to purchase a commercial laundry company that had been providing linen services for medical cubicle curtains, thus forming his new business, Allegiant Laundry Services.

The contract, reached in 2013 with Bronson, was limited. However, in 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, a shortage of isolation gowns provided another opportunity to Smith.

“Due to our innovations, we were able to answer the call to have efficiently cleaned and sanitized linens, and we were able to process over 19,000 isolation gowns, which were provided to many in the healthcare industry during a critical window of time,” he said.

Smith isn’t ready to rest on his laurels. Lately, he has been turning his attention to the possibility of developing a combination laundromat/apartment complex in the City of Kalamazoo. He is currently working with the City of Kalamazoo, Michigan Economic Development Corporation and Local Initiatives Support Corporation of Kalamazoo to make his dream a reality.

“It would be a 16-unit apartment complex, affordable, workforce housing,” he said. The proposal is still in the development stages as Smith meets with Kalamazoo city officials to approve a site plan and meet zoning requirements.

“My hope is in mid-2024 we can break ground,” he said.

He credits much of his success over the past decade to Getman and his wife, Theresa, along with his oldest brother, Lee Smith, whom he termed as a “father figure” in his life, along with staff from the Small Business Development Corporation, Michigan Economic Development Corporation, business leaders in South Haven, Rachel Roberts from Kalamazoo Regional Education Service Agency and the City of Hartford for providing advice and workshops and helping him on his journey to becoming an entrepreneur.

“It takes a community to build an entrepreneur,” he said.