Photo of (l-r) owners Stephen Hickel and Rich Frey
Almost all businesses rely on some kind of technology, but not all businesses have or can afford to employ staff with the necessary expertise to fix technology that goes wrong. That’s when Kore / Hi Com can help. “(We) basically act as an IT department for companies that don’t have an IT department,” said Rich Frey, vice president and CFO of Kore / Hi Com, located at 3909 Leland Ave. in downtown Comstock Park.
Kore / Hi Com is a computer networking company that works with businesses on everything from communications to technical support to security. Frey said “ninety-nine percent” of the company’s work is with other businesses although they do occasionally troubleshoot or fix personal computer problems for individuals.
Stephen Hickel president and chief technician of Kore / Hi Com worked for a computer company in southeast Grand Rapids in the 1980’s and then started his own consulting business. Frey joined Hickel in January 1994, and later that year the two bought Kore Computers located in Plainfield Plaza. “It (Plainfield Plaza) was a closer location to our customer base and had great freeway access which was important since almost all our work was done on site back then,” said Frey, adding that they do most of their work remotely now. “We changed the name to Kore / Hi Com to keep brand/name recognition intact.”
In 2004 Frey bought their current 5,000 square foot building and rents the part that faces Leland Ave. back to Kore / Hi Com and the other part to a tattoo shop that faces West River Drive. They moved the business to the Comstock Park location for a number of reasons including being cramped at the Plainfield location. Frey said there are “many intangibles” that make downtown Comstock Park a good location for the business such as being “close to everything but not congested like downtown (Grand Rapids).”
There are currently 4 full-time employees, although there have been as many as 14. Frey said because of employee turnover it made sense to subcontract as needed rather than hiring and training new people all the time. “Plus fewer people can handle more jobs now because we do an ever increasing amount of our work remotely,” he added.
The company places ads in the Grand Rapids Business Journal as part of a trade deal. Beyond that their advertising is word-of-mouth and other IT companies that bring them in on projects.
Frey’s first job after graduating from University of Michigan School of Business Administration as an accounting and economics major, was as a cost analyst for a large manufacturer. He said there were problems with the mainframe, and with a background in programming, he was able to transfer into data processing and improve things. From there “it was a natural progression from programmer to systems analyst to systems and programming manager to CIO to having my own company that does IT work,” he said.
Hickel’s route to computers was more circuitous. He studied French and psychology at Notre Dame and then existential-phenomenological psychology at Dusquesne University. He served in the Navy and then the Naval Reserves for three decades. Hickel graduated from a mail order school as a gemologist and worked for a Grand Rapids jeweler for a year, all before pursuing his interest in computers. Hickel and his wife Jean, who live in Caledonia, have three grown children and one granddaughter. He is currently a member of the local Civil Air Patrol and recently stepped down as chairman of the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce CEO Roundtable Steering Committee.
Frey who lives on the east side of Grand Rapids, has two grown children and four grandchildren. When he’s not working, he likes to exercise, play softball, work on his investment properties, and plays guitar in a local band.