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Developers hope to begin construction this summer on housing and commercial space at a former church on the west side of Grand Rapids.

Universal Forest Products Inc. is acquiring the assets of a Grand Rapids-based wood panel components manufacturer.

A drug developer rooted in Southwest Michigan and backed by investors across the region may pursue an initial public stock offering that could net up to $86.2 million to support further development and commercialization.

The association health plan two business groups formed last fall for small Michigan-based employers has recorded strong enrollment in its early months. TrascendAHP — created in October by the Lansing-based Small Business Association of Michigan and Warren-based Michigan Business and Professional Association — enrolled about 300 small businesses through January. Those companies account for more than 1,400 contracts between TranscendAHP and their employees for health coverage.

GRAND RAPIDS — Legislation expected to be reintroduced this session could address the question of whether downtown residential property owners should help pay for the services currently funded only by assessments on commercial businesses. Although former Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed similar legislation, lawmakers could revive bills this year that would allow local taxing authorities to decide whether residential owners in business improvement districts should also pay the assessments that commercial property owners pay. 

Here is the MiBiz Growth Report for Feb. 17, 2019.

GRAND RAPIDS — The company that owns and operates the HopCat craft beer bar chain has secured another $6 million in capital it will use to open three to four more locations in 2019 and 2020, MiBiz has learned. In confirming BarFly Ventures LLC’s latest round of fundraising, founder and owner Mark Sellers told MiBiz approximately $5 million of the funding came from one new investor while $1 million came from Sellers himself. The company is still in the process of raising another $1 million from existing investors to reach its $7 million goal.

GRAND RAPIDS — A proposed contract between Start Garden Inc. and the Grand Rapids SmartZone would put in place new goals for fostering local tech startups. Rather than focusing on certain activities, the proposed contract establishes outcomes such as adding 10 new tech startups annually to the SmartZone service area, with six of those companies over two years owned by minorities or women, and providing service to 15 startups a year through its business incubator on Pearl Street in downtown.

As the Trump administration prepares to roll back emissions regulations that push cars to be cleaner and more fuel efficient, it may also set the stage for a political battle that could create a rift in the U.S. auto industry. After several months of comment and a possible setback from the 35-day government shutdown last month, the newly finalized fuel economy rules are due from the administration by March 31. However, following the publication of the proposed changes, California and eighteen other states announced that if less-stringent fuel economy rules are enacted, they will sue the government — which may lead to a period of prolonged regulatory uncertainty.

MUSKEGON — A lakeshore fabrication shop hopes to capitalize on explosive growth in the U.S. craft distilling industry by offering custom Michigan-made stills and other equipment. NexGen Mechanical Solutions LLC founder Scott Whitaker, a pipefitter by trade, over the last 13 years developed a niche in serving the region’s distilleries, including New Holland Artisan Spirits in Holland and Muskegon-based 18th Amendment Spirits Co.

MUSKEGON HEIGHTS — The partners behind Wonderland Distilling Co. want to position their spirits as a connection to the outdoors culture in West Michigan and a link to the water that surrounds it. The startup distillery has already signed a lease and has started construction on production space in Muskegon Heights and expects to submit its federal licensing paperwork in the coming weeks, said Allen Serio, Wonderland’s chief marketing and sales officer.

GRAND RAPIDS — Steady growth led Mercantile Bank Corp. to proceed with an addition at its corporate headquarters. Rising on the south side of the headquarters building at Leonard Street and U.S. 131 in Grand Rapids, the three-story, 25,000-square-foot addition will enable Mercantile Bank to bring together commercial banking teams and support staff — lenders, treasury and credit analysts — at one location.

Hotel development in West Michigan remains on a torrid pace for 2019. Developers have plans to add more than 800 new rooms this year, with developments popping up in downtown Grand Rapids and in suburban areas surrounding the city. At the same time, although annual hotel occupancy dipped slightly for 2018, hotel revenue actually increased, a reflection of record room bookings.

A nonprofit “green bank” that finances residential and commercial clean energy projects continues to grow, surpassing $175 million in private investment since 2009. Officials with Michigan Saves Inc., which provides low-interest loans for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects, have an ambitious goal of $1 billion of investment by 2023.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer appointed former state representative and clean energy advocate Dan Scripps to the Michigan Public Service Commission on Feb. 8, filling a key vacancy as the administration brings a heightened focus to renewable energy and climate change.

Amid national declines in the number of people applying to MBA programs in recent years, business schools in West Michigan are reporting mixed results. While applications to the MBA programs dropped at Michigan State University and Western Michigan University, both Grand Valley State University and Central Michigan University reported receiving higher numbers of applications in recent years. Likewise, MBA enrollment trends were all over the map, with MSU and GVSU reporting more students while both WMU and CMU saw the opposite.

GRAND RAPIDS — Grand Rapids Community College plans to use a $100,000 grant from the JPMorgan Chase Foundation to try to convince more middle school and high school students to consider a career in health care. The college plans to reach out to schools to encourage eighth-, ninth- and 10th-grade students to enroll in a trio of week-long “Health Care Scrubs Camps” scheduled for this summer that will introduce them to health care jobs in the region.

Buying a site in the Grand Haven area gives Muskegon Community College a permanent campus location in northwestern Ottawa County. MCC took possession this month of a former funeral home location on Lincoln Street in Grand Haven Township, just west of U.S. 31. The college paid $378,000 for the property, where it plans to invest another $432,000 in renovations and start hosting classes beginning this fall.

When Steve Huizenga seeks to recruit the next generation of tradespeople, he stresses to young candidates that the industry is “not your grandpa’s trade” anymore. Huizenga, president of Allied Mechanical Services Inc., a Grand Rapids-based mechanical contracting firm, said promoting the technology used in the construction trades has been key in recruiting men and women to join his company.

The organization that represents Michigan’s 15 public universities hopes the new governor and legislature will raise state financial support for higher education. In repeating its case for more support, the Michigan Association of State Universities (MASU) cites state data showing a greater need in today’s economy for a college education. Of the top 50 high-demand occupations in Michigan, 36 require at least a four-year degree.

Recent research has indicated the so-called skills gap of the past decade may have been associated more with expectations of employers than the qualifications of the workforce. Millions of jobs were lost in the U.S. during the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009, and for years after the economic decline officially yielded, high unemployment rates persisted. Even with large pools of job seekers, employers reported difficulty in finding candidates with acceptable skills, credentialing or postsecondary education. Many experts dubbed the phenomenon a “skills gap.”

GRAND RAPIDS — Steve Heacock admits to having a level of discomfort about being the focus of the Grand Rapids Whitewater project. Heacock left his job as a senior vice president with Spectrum Health to take the position of president and CEO with the nonprofit organization earlier this month. He said everything he has done in his career has prepared him for this new role.

Ken Sikkema and three former state legislative colleagues created the Michigan Consensus Policy Project to offer solutions to pressing problems in the state in an era of what he calls “intense” political polarization. The bipartisan group’s first proposal is a 47-cent increase in the state gas tax over nine years to generate the $2.7 billion annually that’s needed to fix Michigan’s roads.

Trillium Ventures MSV LLC, a Grand Rapids-based multifamily investment and property management firm, has acquired two Kalamazoo apartment complexes.

The Republican-led state Legislature has rejected an executive order from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer that would have abolished a pair of controversial environmental review boards.

Office furniture manufacturer Haworth Inc. reported an increase in sales for 2018.

Pending finalization of the building’s purchase agreement, Gaia Cafe and the Division Avenue Arts Collective LLC have a clearer path to opening in Grand Rapids’ Creston neighborhood.

Here is the MiBiz Growth Report for Feb. 4, 2019.

GRAND RAPIDS — Mike Hughes, founder of Doorganics LLC, heard loud and clear what his customers wanted, which has the organic grocery delivery service announcing a new partnership. Hughes and his team recently unveiled a partnership with Alan Hartline, a veteran of the grocery industry and owner of Kingma’s Market, located at 2225 Plainfield in Grand Rapids. The new alliance is designed to beef up the Doorganics product line.

Grocery chain operator and food distributor SpartanNash Co. plans to open a small-format Forest Hills Foods store in the Grand Rapids suburb of Ada.

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