Economic Development

As Gov. Rick Snyder enters his final year in office, he remains optimistic about the state’s overall economic trajectory. The champion of “relentless positive action” continues to place heavy emphasis on better connecting the state’s resources for workforce development with employers in need of skilled talent. He’s also focusing on efforts needed to support the burgeoning autonomous vehicle sector. In a year-end interview with MiBiz, Snyder spoke about what he hopes to see in the state’s next governor.

The Burma Center is in the business of empowering people through advocacy, community engagement and education. One of its lines of service is Burmese-English language interpretation to serve the 2,500 Burmese residents who have immigrated to the area over the past 15 years. Burma Center advocates for equitable access to resources and services, but Executive Director Martha Thawnghmung says she thinks the pervasiveness of institutional racism and how immigrant groups are often pitted against one another are complicating efforts to unite various groups.

In 2018, Michigan voters will elect a new governor to succeed Rick Snyder — who’s term-limited and cannot run again — as well as a new Legislature. John Truscott, president of the public relations firm Truscott Rossman Group LLC and a veteran of the Lansing political scene, says Republicans who have been in charge for years in Lansing need to guard against complacency if they want to maintain control.

When Brad Davis looks ahead to 2018, he gets very excited about the future of his company, Zeeland-based Industrial Woodworking Corp.

Since merging into the University of Michigan Health System nearly a year ago, Metro Health has steadily bulked up its clinical services, growing the number of physicians that it employs from 150 to about 270. The opening of a gastroenterology subspecialty clinic that includes five faculty physicians from Michigan Medicine in Ann Arbor who are in Wyoming once a week, the addition of five ICU intensivists, and the formation of a pulmonary division are a few examples of the clinical upgrades Metro Health made in 2017 under the affiliation. Metro Health also launched bariatric surgery at midyear in partnership with physicians at Grand Health Partners in Grand Rapids, and most recently expanded its stroke program with the addition of three specialty physicians. Much more will come in 2018 and in the years ahead, said Dr. Peter Hahn, Metro Health’s chief medical officer.

Rather than focusing on massive corporate attraction projects, local economic developers should instead put their efforts behind homegrown entrepreneurial talent. That’s according to Greg LeRoy, executive director of Good Jobs First, a Washington, D.C. policy organization that tracks economic development deals around the country.

GRAND RAPIDS — After a decade of growth in manufacturing, the sector still finds itself having to defend its worth to parents and high school counsellors.

Tower cranes constructing offices, hotels and apartments dot the skyline in and around downtown Grand Rapids.

The Great Recession might be years in the past, but commercial real estate executives haven’t forgotten the lessons learned from that time. Rick DeKam, principal with Midwest Realty Group, a Portage-based full-service real estate firm, has spent the last several years building up the company’s cash reserves to prepare for an eventual downturn. But beyond external factors such as “national and global issues related to the country’s presidency and the fact that our county continues to become more and more divided,” he believes the overall business climate continues to look positive.

2017 was a busy year for Grand Rapids-based Lake Michigan Credit Union with the opening of new branches and mortgage offices, insurance agency acquisitions, and the pending deal for Encore Bank in Naples, Fla. Michigan’s largest credit union, LMCU has 42 branch locations, three of them in Florida, and total assets of $5.1 billion as of Sept. 30, up more than 9 percent from a year earlier. President and CEO Sandra Jelinski expects more growth in 2018 as the economy remains in good shape.

With a backlog of construction projects extending out two years at Triangle Associates, Jim Conner feels “cautiously optimistic” heading into 2018. Conner says the company’s diversified clients ranging from education to health care to industrial work should keep it busy even in the event of a downturn.

Matt Jones anticipates another banner year for the buying and selling of apartment properties in Michigan and around the Midwest. Jones, the founder and president of Beacon Realty Group LLC, a boutique commercial real estate brokerage practice focused on the multifamily sector, largely foresees a period of continued slow growth with some potential pressure coming from rising interest rates.

Grand Valley State University will continue to grow its presence in and around downtown Grand Rapids in 2018. As well, the university also hopes to tap into the ever-changing world of technology and data as a means of improving the learning experience for students. President Tom Haas discussed these topics and more at the recent Business Leaders For Michigan CEO Summit in Detroit.

A partner at accounting and consulting firm Plante Moran, Joel Mitchell has a front-line look into how manufacturers are faring. Mitchell, who heads the manufacturing and distribution industry service team in Grand Rapids, said companies are bracing for disruptions and closely watching how passage of the federal tax reform bill could affect their businesses.

Business and local government advocates aren’t always aligned on policy issues, but both groups say 2018 will require concerted efforts to attract and retain talent in Michigan.

In late 2017, Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine opened the $88.1 million Grand Rapids Research Center in the city’s downtown. As the medical school now looks to build a larger research base in Grand Rapids in 2018 and beyond, Dean Norman Beauchamp said the center opens opportunities for further partnerships with local care providers and companies not only in medical research but also with businesses that address the economic issues that affect health care.

GRAND RAPIDS — Employers continue to struggle to find people to fill open positions and drive growth in their business.

Continental Dairy, a dairy processor in Coopersville, Mich., processes more than 300,000 pounds of nonfat dry milk per day and exports product to roughly 17 countries around the world. COO Steve Cooper reflects on why his sector of the agribusiness industry is facing some challenges currently.

The Affordable Care Act withstood repeal efforts in Congress in 2017 and remains law, which has industry watchers doubting we’ll see another full-scale push to repeal and replace the Obama-era health care policy.

Many of the forces that affected banks in 2017 — from rising interest rates and a good economy, to balancing digital technology investments with cybersecurity — remain the top issues bankers must manage in the year ahead.

Craig Lubben and Robert Wolford become co-managing members on Jan. 1 at the Grand Rapids-based law firm Miller, Johnson, Snell & Cummiskey PLC, succeeding retiring managing member Craig Mutch. Wolford and Lubben will oversee management and strategy at the firm, serve on the five-member management committee and continue with their respective law practices. Wolford, based out of the firm’s Grand Rapids office, will lead client service strategies and marketplace development. From the Kalamazoo office, Lubben manages business functions that include chairing the management committee and overseeing long-term professional and operational interests.

Federal tax reform could act as a catalyst to fuel corporate growth in 2018 and beyond, according to John Kennedy, the president of Autocam Medical, a global contract manufacturer of orthopedic implants, spinal implants, orthopedic cutting tools and other medical device components. “This tax reform will free cash flow from the lower taxes and unlock capital held outside the U.S.,” said Kennedy, who thinks the domestic economy will grow rapidly next year at a pace it hasn’t seen in a decade. 

The growth in West Michigan’s small business and entrepreneurial community needs to be more equitable.

As baby boomers get older, the demand grows for senior housing and services. In response, Holland Home recently opened a second 15-bed assisted living center at its Breton Woods Campus in Grand Rapids and has plans for an $18 million project at the Raybrook Campus. Holland Home also formed a venture in 2017 with Clark Retirement Community in Grand Rapids and Resthaven in Holland called Atrio Home Care. The Grand Rapids-based organization serves about 4,000 people annually and employs about 1,600 people. Talent is an issue for Holland Home as a good economy tightens the labor market.

Manufacturers heading into 2018 have made workplace culture a priority.

Charles Owens’ nearly 25 years as director of the Michigan office for the National Federation of Independent Businesses has coincided with four governors in Lansing: Jim Blanchard, John Engler, Jennifer Granholm and Rick Snyder. Since Gov. Snyder is term-limited, Michigan voters will elect a new governor in 2018, a year in which the NFIB will get involved to oppose two possible ballot proposals: One to require employers to provide paid sick leave to employees, and the other to raise the state’s minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2022. That’s on top of a minimum wage increase of 35 cents to $9.25 per hour on Jan. 1. The NFIB also plans to back a proposal to repeal Michigan’s prevailing wage law.

As president of the Michigan Agri-Business Association, Jim Byrum worries about trade, weather and talent — concerns shared by the farmers and food processors he talks to on a daily basis. Still, he remains optimistic for the sector’s growth next year.

A good economy boosts business for Amy Ritsema’s clients, which in turn helps OnSite Wellness LLC. The Grand Rapids provider of workplace wellness services to employers launched a service crafted for small businesses with 100 or fewer employees this year. Co-owner Ritsema bases her optimism for 2018 on what she hears and sees these days from clients. Even if the economy were to slow and dip, Ritsema believes OnSite Wellness will remain on firm ground as employers invest in wellness to contain medical costs.

Private equity firm Concurrence Capital Holdings LLC made its first investment in September with the acquisition of Mission Design & Automation LLC, a 13-year-old producer of automation systems for the automotive, office furniture, medical and consumer goods industries. Formed earlier in the year by partners Jason Byrd and Michael Brom, Concurrence Capital looks to invest in more companies as the U.S. economy appears poised to remain in good shape throughout 2018.

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.