Economic Development

The news footage in recent weeks about wildfires raging across Southern California showed an unlikely West Michigan connection: Wyoming-based HME Inc. made many of the fire trucks used to fight the blazes. President Jim Monterusso said the company, which recently finished the first of six custom fire trucks for the city of Detroit, has strong demand for its products, although many municipalities struggle to find the funding they need to upgrade their safety equipment.

Warner Norcross & Judd attorney Tom Manganello understands that the automotive industry is making a push to incorporate more technology. Manganello, who represents automotive sector clients, thinks if companies are not participating in this industry-wide shift, they could be in for trouble.

Steve Starnes expects the bulls to continue their run on Wall Street in 2018, after a steady increase in 2017 that came with much volatility. The 2018 midterm congressional elections could contribute to generating renewed normal volatility in the stock market after investors enjoyed a “pretty calm market” in 2017, said Starnes, a certified financial planner and principal at Grand Rapids-based Grand Wealth Management.

The potential effects of recently-passed federal tax reforms loom large on the minds of Michigan’s philanthropic leaders for 2018.

John Dillworth spent much of his career at Kellogg Co. in various positions, including sales, strategic planning, I.T., budget management, customer service, and others. Since 2000, he’s served as president and CEO of Goodwill Industries of Southwest Michigan. He talked about the state of the nonprofit sector looking ahead to 2018.

As Mayor Rosalynn Bliss looks ahead to her third year in office, she’s tasked with leading a maturing city and grappling with the associated growing pains. The city also faces issues ranging from a constrained housing market to external factors such as potential changes to the federal tax code, which could have consequences for municipalities. Moreover, City Hall just started the process of searching for a new city manager with the hope of having a candidate selected in the first quarter of 2018.

At least nine campaigns are in various stages of development to put questions before Michigan voters in 2018.

Contract manufacturer Medbio Inc. in Grand Rapids provides injection molding, assembly and packaging for medical device and biotech customers, and owns Concept Molds, a tool and die shop in Schoolcraft. The company, which employs about 190 people, is bracing for what’s expected to be a big year of growth in 2018.

Restaurateur Jeff Lobdell’s expanding enterprise includes Bagel Beanery, Beltline Bar, Sundance Grill, Grand Coney, The Omelette Shoppe, Rockwell Republic and more across West Michigan and the Traverse City area. While Lobdell remains optimistic for the future of his growing company, which this year acquired Pete’s Grill & Tavern and the 84th Street Market in Byron Center, he said the restaurant industry needs to adapt to new challenges from technology and a shortage of service workers.

Expect the U.S. economy to maintain steady growth through 2018 with continued low unemployment, an even tighter labor market that drives up wages, higher business investment and additional increases in interest rates.

year ago, Gov. Rick Snyder signed a pair of comprehensive, bipartisan energy bills that expanded the state’s clean energy standards and charted a new course for how various utility programs are overseen by state regulators.

Grand Rapids private equity firm Auxo Investment Partners completed three acquisitions in the latter months of 2017, the most recent of which came in early December in a deal for M/G Transport Services, a New Orleans-based barge company. The firm previously acquired Atlas Die LLC of Elkhart, Ind. and Bernal LLC of Rochester Hills, Mich. in September. Formed in 2016 by partners Jeff Helminski, Fred Tedori and Jack Kolodny, Auxo Investment Partners looks toward 2018 with what Helminski calls “a tremendous amount of momentum.”

The automotive industry faces many uncertainties heading into 2018. AutoHarvest Foundation Chairman David Cole said the industry is heading toward more unknowns than knowns, especially because Michigan manufacturers struggle to find proper talent as the visibility among consumers wavers. It all adds up to an unpredictable future for automakers, he said.

Michigan’s business climate has made great strides in recent years, but there’s still lots of work to do. That was the message delivered in late November by Doug Rothwell, the president and CEO of Detroit-based Business Leaders for Michigan, the state’s business roundtable. Released at the organization’s annual CEO Summit, the latest Economic Competitiveness Benchmarking Report shows the state continues to make improvements in terms of jobs, income and productivity, but it still lacks in college and career readiness and educational attainment, for example. And while incomes have improved, Michigan continues to lag other peer states, according to the data. 

As president of Grand Rapids Label and chair of the Family Business Alliance, Bill Muir understands what family-owned companies are going through right now. According to Muir, manufacturers remain optimistic heading into the new year, and they’re making more investments to support their customers.

As a development boom swept through the Grand Rapids area, municipalities have increasingly sought to engage in urban planning initiatives that help guide the investments. That’s translated into steady business for Lynee Wells through 2017 and into the next year. A principal and urban planner with Williams & Works Inc. in Grand Rapids, Wells works closely with municipalities like Caledonia Township and on large-scale redevelopments such as Plaza Roosevelt, a public-private project that will bring a host of new housing and services to the Roosevelt Park neighborhood of Grand Rapids. Wells thinks city and state policies could help fuel more and better development.

Next year, Michigan voters will elect the person who will become the fifth governor that The Right Place CEO Birgit Klohs has worked with in her career in economic development. While her organization is “agnostic” when it comes to who wins the election, Klohs hopes to continue to have a strong working relationship with the new chief executive and that the new governor continues to support the efforts of the Michigan Economic Development Corp.

Michigan will largely follow the U.S. economy in 2018, with continued job growth and low unemployment.

Blackford Capital closed on three acquisitions in 2017 through its two private equity finds and sold two companies in what founder and Managing Director Martin Stein said were “phenomenal exits.” Blackford Capital owns 11 companies, nine through the Michigan Prosperity Fund and two through its National Growth Practice. Stein expects the U.S. economy in 2018 to remain in “pretty good” shape, driving growth in Blackford’s portfolio companies. He doesn’t see any downturn ahead for at least another two years.

Daniel Jones is entering into his sixth month at the helm of Haven of Rest Ministries in Battle Creek. His tenure followed a restructuring, the closure of one ministry, and staff reductions that decreased employment costs by 20 percent. Jones said these changes resulted in greater efficiencies and service delivery at a lower overall cost to the orgranization.

North American light vehicle sales should dip this year to around 17.1 million units, breaking a streak of seven consecutive year-over-year gains, according to Mike Wall of IHS Markit. But while he expects the market to contract further to around 16.9 million units next year, Wall believes the automotive supply chain is positioned to thrive.

Executives at Integrated Architecture had thought 2017 would be a year of “stabilization” and maybe even some slowdown for the firm’s commercial architectural projects. But according to Executive Vice President Mike Corby, that’s not been the case. The Grand Rapids-based firm with a strong focus on mixed-use apartment and commercial buildings sees the momentum only continuing to gain steam.

Tim Streit and McKeel Hagerty started venture capital fund Grand Ventures I LP in Grand Rapids last March and went on to make three investments during the year in companies in Ohio, Indiana and Michigan. Each of the deals were co-investments for Grand Ventures, which invests early-stage capital in technology startups in agriculture, manufacturing, mobility and transportation, as well as other industries in Michigan and the Midwest. A regulatory filing last spring indicated the venture capital fund planned to raise up to $50 million from investors.

A group of independent power producers are vowing to appeal a recent Michigan Public Service Commission ruling affecting how their facilities are compensated by Consumers Energy for the electricity they produce.

Michigan rates far better today than nearly two decades ago for having a knowledge-based economy.

Priority Health and Blue Care Network each reported strong bottom lines through the third quarter of 2017, although financial officers at both plans caution their results could retreat by year’s end.

The federal research grants that Dr. Tom Rothstein and a colleague brought along when they came to Kalamazoo represent a milestone of sorts for the Western Michigan University Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine.

DETROIT –– Just a few years ago, Doug Rothwell could look at various bits of Michigan’s economic data and see few paths that led to the state becoming a “Top 10” state.

proposal to prohibit local units of government from banning short-term rental properties like those found through Airbnb has attracted lobbyists from both sides to the state capital in recent weeks.

GRAND RAPIDS —  The head of the Grand Rapids Public Library says she was “disappointed” and surprised by the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce’s opposition to the group’s millage request before city voters on Nov. 7.

GRAND RAPIDS — Officials from West Michigan acknowledge the region must overcome long odds in its bid to win the economic development sweepstakes for Amazon.com Inc.’s HQ2 project.

COVERT — Officials in Van Buren County felt a sense of relief last month when one of its largest employers and sources of tax revenue pledged to stay in the community for four more years.

With more than 200,000 medical marijuana patients in Michigan, a thriving industry of growers, processors, transporters and retailers to support them is poised to explode statewide — if communities allow it.

Economic outlooks project modest growth in the U.S. for the rest of this year and through 2018, along with further increases in interest rates.

PORTAGE — Staffing firm OnStaff USA is struggling to find applicants for the 400 open jobs it has available right now in Southwestern Michigan.

GRAND RAPIDS — A coalition of West Michigan employers and educators wants to bring more people into the tech sector through an outreach initiative intended to grow the talent pool.

FREMONT — A shuttered waste-to-energy power plant in Newaygo County has reopened under new owners and management after abruptly closing two years ago.

West Michigan educators and at least one business group say the Trump administration’s plan to rescind the Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals program already is leading to anxiety and uncertainty.

West Michigan economic developers plan to jump into an already crowded pool of contenders for Amazon.com Inc.’s proposed $5 billion second headquarters.

Jackson-based Consumers Energy is targeting hundreds of its business customers statewide in an effort to reduce energy demand during times when the electric grid is most stressed.

An ongoing case before the Michigan Public Service Commission over maintaining adequate electricity supplies into the future is prompting concerns over rising energy costs and unnecessarily spending $1 billion on new power plants.

GRAND RAPIDS — A growing manufacturer of high-tech food carts could serve as an example of the kind of business development that’s possible in West Michigan.

Page 5 of 9