West Michigan-based contract furniture makers Steelcase Inc. and Herman Miller Inc. expect to maintain sales momentum going into 2019.

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Now that all adults in Michigan can legally use marijuana, employers are weighing how the new law — and misunderstandings about it — could affect their workforces.

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Hines Corp., a family-owned industrial holding company, has divested its Ohio-based Hines Specialty Vehicle Group.

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Whether the West Michigan manufacturing industry continues on an ongoing growth trend in 2019 or veers into a contraction remains uncertain. Economist Paul Isely, associate dean for undergraduate programs in the Seidman College of Business at Grand Valley State University, uses automotive, furniture, agriculture, and “amazingly nowadays” aerospace manufacturing to find the pulse of where the region’s economy is headed in the coming months and years. 

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West Michigan-based manufacturing executives think 2019 marks a good time to take a pause from the recent breakneck pace of capital investments and acquisitions to focus on operations. That’s the general consensus from local manufacturing leaders across a range of industries who participated in a forward-looking roundtable discussion with MiBiz earlier this month. 

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West Michigan manufacturers are dealing with a host of issues, ranging from trade and tariffs to talent and technology. As they wade through those challenges, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center-West is there to help, according to Regional Director Justine Burdette. As MMTC seeks to “maintain that closeness and relationships with our manufacturers,” the organization is finding new ways to adapt and address their needs, she said. 

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Cascade Die Casting Group Inc. is a manufacturer heavily concentrated in the automotive industry. Although the company recently lost business related to the closure of several General Motors plants, the industry shift from low price-point cars to higher-margin trucks and SUVs has President Patrick Greene cautiously optimistic about continued growth in 2019.

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This year, unemployment rates have dropped to an 18-year low and local manufacturers are scrambling to find new and innovative ways to grow without gaps. As founder of the advisory firm 100X LLC and chair of Vistage Executive Peer Group, an executive coaching organization, former manufacturing exec Steve Johandes helps dozens of local organizations and companies position themselves for “what’s next” in the market. 

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Women are critical to addressing the serious shortage of qualified applicants for skilled production positions, according to Kelly Springer, CEO of Metal Flow Corp., a Holland-based automotive supplier. Yet, relatively few women choose manufacturing careers. As chair of Inforum’s ManufacturingNext steering committee, Springer is helping to strengthen the talent pipeline of women who thrive in manufacturing professions. 

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After acquiring Nuvar Inc. in May from its long-time owner, Amy Sparks is executing on growth plans for the Holland-based manufacturer and developer of finished goods primarily for the contract furniture industry. While she’s mindful of some softening in the broader market, Sparks remains “cautiously optimistic” for the economy in 2019. 

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