Economic Development

Allegiant Travel Co. is expanding its footprint at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport with the opening of a $42.8 million base.

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Approximately 6 million television viewers in more than 20 markets, including West Michigan, have lost access to local news, sports and entertainment programming because of a contract dispute between two mega media groups.

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Business and environmental groups were equally surprised at one of Rick Snyder’s final acts as Michigan governor: Signing a bill making it more difficult for state agencies to adopt rules stricter than federal regulations. But while environmental groups say the move jeopardizes natural resources and public health, business advocates downplay the concerns.

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After 22 years with The Right Place Inc., Rick Chapla has stepped down and moves into the next phase of his career. Chapla focused on behind-the-scenes efforts to help public and private sector projects become reality, often serving as a conduit for connecting people. Chapla, who got his start in planning and economic development in Muskegon more than three and a half decades ago, spoke with MiBiz about how West Michigan has changed throughout the years and what he has planned next. 

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Readers of MiBiz.com voted with their clicks in paying the most attention to news scoops related commercial real estate projects across West Michigan.

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A complete list of articles, insights, economic sentiment and forward-looking strategies from West Michigan’s business leaders.

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To borrow a line from the late David Bowie, it’s time for the West Michigan business community “to turn and face the strange” that’s ahead in 2019. Where to begin? 

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For this Crystal Ball edition of MiBiz, our team of journalists spoke with dozens of executives across West Michigan about their outlook for 2019. From those conversations, we’ve subjectively boiled down their concerns into this list. The first three issues certainly rank as their major concerns, while the rest of the list were their main worries that rose to the forefront. 

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Michigan’s economy will see slower economic and employment growth in 2019 amid the ongoing tight labor market and less U.S. economic growth, economists say.

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Michigan business groups say a transition of executive power from a Republican to a Democrat brings policy uncertainty, but they expect a continued focus from Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer on at least two topics: road funding and talent.

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Robert Dye views 2019 as a “transitional year” for the U.S. economy as a trio of forces align to moderate growth during the year.

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Change is inevitable in government and in business. Just ask The Right Place President and CEO Birgit Klohs, who next year will have worked in economic development during the terms of five different Michigan governors. Still, with all the uncertainty surrounding international trade and politics, now is not the time to wreak havoc on the state’s economic development policies, she said. 

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Multiple initiatives and projects in Ottawa County next year will focus on retention and attraction of people to the area, according to County Administrator Al Vanderberg. With the lowest unemployment rate in Michigan (2.5 percent in December), the talent shortage is affecting companies on the lakeshore. Most projects Vanderberg is watching have some tie to the future prosperity of the county.

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Years of mobilization around the movement to legalize marijuana in Michigan bore fruit in 2018. Now, Tami VandenBerg, a board member of the organization that helped bring the legalization initiative to voters, predicts the ways the ‘green rush’ will start to reshape the region’s economy. 

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Justin Winslow leads the newly formed Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association created through the merger of the Michigan Restaurant Association and Check In Michigan, formerly known as the Michigan Lodging & Tourism Association. Winslow previously led the MRA. The merger created one of the largest trade groups in Lansing that represents businesses statewide that collectively employ more than 595,000 people and generate $40 billion in annual sales. That’s 12.5 percent of the state’s total workforce and nearly 10 percent of Michigan’s GDP, respectively.

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Infrastructure and education remain at the top of the policy agenda for 2019 for Business Leaders for Michigan, a statewide roundtable of top business and higher education executives. Led by President and CEO Doug Rothwell, the group this year created a broad coalition of business, labor, philanthropy and civic leaders across the state that in 2019 will look at ways to improve K-12 education. The organization will continue to advocate as well for state investments in infrastructure.

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As the top city official in Michigan’s second-largest city, Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss is hopeful to continue the momentum heading into 2019. Bliss, who is entering the last year of her first term in office, says encouraging collaboration to tackle complex community issues remains one of her top concerns. 

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The Michigan Chamber of Commerce, with more than 6,000 members that collectively employ 1 million people, stands as one of the more influential advocacy organizations in Lansing. As Democratic Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer prepares to take office in January with a legislature remaining in control of the Republicans, Michigan Chamber CEO Rich Studley says it’s unfair to pre-judge her as a friend or foe of business. Although the new governor and her party historically have been on the other side of business issues from the Michigan Chamber, Studley believes “she has the potential to keep our state moving forward with a different view than the current administration.” 

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As a new governor and state Legislature prepare to take office in January, Roger Martin, a partner at the advocacy firm Martin Waymire Inc., is among the people who remain hopeful for a new spirit of bipartisanship in Lansing to address some of the major issues facing Michigan. That includes deteriorating infrastructure across the state that goes beyond the roads. How well Democratic Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer and the Republican-controlled legislature work together remains the big unknown, although Martin sees her experience as a legislative leader as a big plus coming into office that predecessors Rick Snyder and Jennifer Granholm lacked.

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On Jan. 1, Democrat Gretchen Whitmer will take the oath of office to become the 49th governor of Michigan, succeeding Republican Rick Snyder, who was term-limited after eight years in office. Whitmer spoke with MiBiz Editor Joe Boomgaard earlier this week as the contentious lame-duck legislative session came to a close. 

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MUSKEGON — A bill to transfer a lakeshore prison property to the state’s land bank is heading to the governor.

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The Kent County Board of Commissioners is considering dissolving its agreement with the Kent County Land Bank Authority.

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Amid the legislative chaos of this year’s lame-duck session in Lansing, local officials in Grand Rapids and elsewhere are concerned over revenue cuts that could impact local programming while benefiting large telecommunications and cable companies.

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The city of Grand Rapids is interested in collaborating with a Lansing scientist who has developed a process that he says can destroy PFAS pollution in drinking water and wastewater, a hot-button issue locally and statewide.

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GRAND HAVEN — Citing a need to look at options for future economic development and growing manufacturers, a local chamber of commerce is questioning whether its city’s municipal airport offers the best use of the land.

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GRAND RAPIDS — Growth in the number of companies outsourcing their information technology management led US Signal Co. LLC to plan the development of a new data center outside of Detroit.

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GRAND RAPIDS — The proposed mega-merger between Chicago-based Tribune Media Co. and Texas-based Nexstar Media Group Inc. could mean changes ahead for West Michigan TV stations. 

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After nearly two years on the job, the top executive at the Gerald R. Ford Airport has stepped down.

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Information technology provider US Signal Co. LLC plans to develop a new data center near Detroit.

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Bills to scale back new state laws mandating paid sick leave and increasing the minimum wage are top of mind for local and statewide business groups in this year’s legislative lame duck session.

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A couple of recent benchmarking reports reiterate that despite Michigan’s decade of significant economic progress, the state needs to continue to change to maintain momentum and further improve.

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A couple of recent benchmarking reports reiterate that despite Michigan’s decade of significant economic progress, the state needs to continue to change to maintain momentum and further improve. 

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GRAND RAPIDS — The Gerald R. Ford International Airport said today it was adding its 27th direct flight with a new route to Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport from Allegiant Air.

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Proponents of statewide and local ballot initiatives went four-for-four on election night, establishing a new process for drawing legislative districts, increasing access to voting and dedicating funding for early childhood development in Kent County.

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Smaller public universities in Michigan will have to come up with less matching funding to secure state grants that support startup companies coming out of research labs.

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DETROIT — Meijer Inc. largely functions as a brick-and-mortar operation, but the supercenter retailer increasingly is taking cues from tech companies as it implements new ways of serving customers.

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After spending the last two years running Charlotte’s Rising Tide community economic development program, Dillon Rush hopes to bring his expertise to the Lansing and Mid-Michigan region.

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Michigan has made “dramatic” progress in better competing with other states since coming out of the Great Recession, steadily improving from near the bottom of a competitiveness index to the middle.

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DETROIT — With just days to go before a “divisive” election, the state’s business roundtable sought to stay out of politics and instead focus on Michigan’s future growth opportunities during its annual conference.

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Tim Horner was ready for a celebration. The Grand Rapids attorney at Warner Norcross + Judd LLP has spent more than a decade as the U.S. counsel for Canada and the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority (WDBA) as it has gone through the procurement process to build the Gordie Howe International Bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor. 

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The city of Muskegon and Muskegon County along with Parkland Properties LLC have unveiled plans for a new downtown convention center campus.

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As Grand Rapids adjusts to a new medical marijuana ordinance and as voters consider legalizing recreational marijuana later this year, employers continue to express uncertainty about the future.

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