Economic Development

Hope Network CEO Phil Weaver expects a “great year” for the Michigan and U.S. economies in 2017, although he worries about uncertainty created by the likely repeal of the Affordable Care Act or significant changes that may occur to the program. The Grand Rapids-based Hope Network provides neuro-rehabilitation for people with brain injuries, behavioral health care, and services and housing for people with a developmental disability. Hope Network employs about 2,800 people statewide and has an annual operating budget of about $140 million.

Kelly Potes took over in June as CEO at ChoiceOne Financial Services Inc., the parent company of ChoiceOne Bank, adding to his duties as president. During 2016, ChoiceOne Bank opened a lending office in downtown Grand Rapids and may follow up in the future with a full-service branch. The Sparta-based ChoiceOne has 12 offices in rural Kent, Ottawa, Muskegon and Newaygo counties with total assets of $598.6 million as of Sept. 30. 

United Bank of Michigan President and CEO Michael Manica believes the economy was already on track for a good year in 2017. But the election of Donald Trump as president and his pro-business policies should boost the U.S. and the West Michigan economies higher, Manica said. A slow-growth economy that continues “without any signs to become considerably more vibrant” would surprise Manica in 2017. The Grand Rapids-based United Bank has 12 offices in West Michigan — six in Kent County, four in Allegan County and one each in Ionia County and Ottawa County, where a Jenison branch opened earlier this year. The bank had total assets of $596.2 million as of Sept. 30, up 15.8 percent from a year earlier, and deposits totaling $444.4 million, a 10-percent increase.

Huntington National Bank’s West Michigan president, John Irwin, sees more certainty and confidence in the marketplace following the November presidential election. He expects West Michigan’s economy to continue rolling along in 2017. According to Irwin, among business leaders he speaks with, “everyone’s hopeful about the future and what’s going to happen here with this administration” of President-elect Donald Trump and the potential for lower business taxes. They’re also bullish on the prospects to roll back federal regulations on business. Irwin also doubts that higher interest rates will alter the course of the economy.

In 2016, The Right Place Inc. attracted $240.6 million in new capital investment through 19 projects across West Michigan. Although the Grand Rapids-based economic development organization fell short of its three-year goals for jobs and payroll growth, President and CEO Birgit Klohs remains optimistic about Michigan’s economy. Klohs expects to attract more high-tech jobs and industries to the state while continuing to work with companies to find available talent in the region. Klohs discussed with MiBiz some of the issues that West Michigan employers and economic development professionals will face in the coming year. 

Talent will continue to reign as the top issue Southwest Michigan First needs to tackle in 2017, according to CEO Ron Kitchens. He believes that the future of communities will depend on their ability to attract and retain Generation X and Millennial workers. To do that, his organization plans to integrate some of its employees into universities around the region, advocate for affordable downtown housing and promote an “open culture,” he said. Kitchens spoke with MiBiz about how economic developers’ jobs are shifting to focus on talent. 

While Michigan economic developers have long focused on attracting businesses to the state, Dean Whittaker believes those organizations will increasingly need to focus instead on talent attraction. The president of Holland-based Whittaker Associates Inc. spoke to MiBiz about how a lack of available talent could affect companies and what’s being done to attract more workers to Michigan. 

When it comes to the economy in 2017, Grand Valley State University’s Paul Isely largely expects business as usual. However, the associate dean and professor of economics at the Seidman College of Business notes that rising wage pressures on businesses may start pulling the economy into a recession in 2018. While he expects the economy to remain robust, Isely told MiBiz he worries what the incoming presidential administration’s trade and immigration policies could do to businesses in West Michigan in 2017 and beyond. 

Steve Arwood hopes to double down on Michigan’s talent attraction and retention efforts in 2017. The CEO of Lansing-based Michigan Economic Development Corp. sees the demand for skilled workers all over the state and hopes that his organization can help to create an effective talent pipeline. Moreover, the MEDC sees itself playing a large-scale role in the state’s development of high-technology transportation. 

Like many economic development leaders, Jennifer Owens of Lakeshore Advantage says talent concerns remain a key issue for businesses in 2017. Aside from attracting outside businesses, the organization primarily will focus on training, recruiting and retaining talent next year, she said. To do that, Lakeshore Advantage is pushing a campaign that promotes the region’s leisure opportunities as a way to attract workers. Owens told MiBiz to expect accelerated growth from manufacturers of automation equipment in the coming year and said she’s also “very bullish” on the food processing sector. 

Byron Center-based Pilot Malt House LLC, a supplier of malted grains to the beer and distillery industry, has experienced only growth since its founding in 2012. In that time, the company has expanded from 10 acres to 3,000 acres of barley and could break the 4,000-acre mark in 2017. Earlier this year, Pilot Malt signed a deal with ingredient supplier Country Malt Group to have its products distributed nationwide, which could open new possibilities for continued growth, according to founder and President Erik May. He told MiBiz he’s bullish on the craft beer and distilling industries, even as some signs of weakness emerge. 

The expansion in the hard cider market cooled last year, with the industry growing just 10.8 percent — a far cry from the 71 percent reported in the prior period, according to market research firm Nielsen. But Andy Sietsema takes those national market trends with a grain of salt, largely because they don’t count craft cideries like Sietsema Cider LLC in their research. “Sales out of our place were up 23.5 percent through this fall,” he said, noting that he also hopes to add two new distribution markets in 2017. According to Sietsema, “constant education” remains a key factor in the industry’s continued growth, even if it’s at a more sustainable rate.

With the first year under his belt, Cedar Springs Brewing Co. founder and Director of Happiness David Ringler says he’s pleased the company has surpassed its initial projections. The brewery should end the year having produced about 800 barrels of mostly traditional German-style beer, including Küsterer Original Weißbier, which won a bronze medal in the Great American Beer Fest earlier this year. Ringler hopes to add some new equipment to boost production and distribution in the coming year, “but we have no ambitions of growth at all cost.” 

GRAND RAPIDS — The growth of foundations and an unprecedented transfer of wealth are among trends the nonprofit sector will need to watch in the coming year. 

With the year ahead being so difficult to predict, Diana Sieger’s advice to nonprofits is to stay focused and keep doing their work well. She believes organizations like KConnect, whose goal is to bring together groups to collectively solve problems, will be essential in both identifying and addressing issues in 2017.

With the Affordable Care Act on the chopping block for President-elect Trump’s administration, Kyle Caldwell fears the “tremendous amount of investment by nonprofits and foundations into our health care system” could be all for naught in 2017 unless lawmakers find a suitable replacement. Similarly, “there will be challenges to both foundations and nonprofits as the administration looks to … find efficiencies in government spending, and cuts to services to make way for tax cuts,” he said. On both the state and federal level, lawmakers’ decisions in 2017 have the opportunity to greatly impact nonprofits through bills like SB 960, which clarifies property tax policies.

For 2017, Rob Collier at the Grand Haven-based Council of Michigan Foundations is keeping one eye on Washington and one on Lansing. Collier cited potentially detrimental proposals coming out of the federal level, with beneficial legislation under review at the state level. 

Mindy Ysasi says she is hopeful as she watches employers begin to recognize what it actually takes to solve their talent struggles. Employers have to decide what will make them stand out, whether that means they’re helping people achieve certifications and degrees, focusing on sustainability, hiring people who have a criminal background, or something else, she said. “Because of the market, employers are now saying, ‘What is the root cause?’ Some employers are recognizing that in some of our communities, we have 38 percent unemployment for men of color. I’m really very hopeful, because employers have immense power.” At the same time, Ysasi is concerned with the lack of support going to systems like child care and housing that help people enter the workforce.

As the economy has recovered from the recession, philanthropic giving nationwide has slowly climbed to an all-time high, in 2015 reaching $373.25 billion, according to a report from the Giving USA Foundation. However, nonprofits rely on funding from other sources as well, and leaders like Carrie Pickett-Erway at Kalamazoo Community Foundation don’t know if those sources will remain secure in the coming year. “We know many of our partners are concerned about major changes they anticipate in state and federal funding,” she said. “Our endowed funds provide a stable source of funding, but would not be able to fill that gap.”

In speaking with hundreds of business executives over the last couple of months, we heard plenty of different phrases to describe their overall bullishness: All-time record year. Double-digit growth. Expansion. New markets. New products.

Economists expect Michigan to maintain economic growth in the coming year, albeit at a slower pace that will further tighten labor markets.

President-elect Donald Trump will enter office in January with an economy that experts say is stable and growing, but one that could probably do better.

The Legislature’s 2016 lame-duck session was marked by both bipartisan agreement on tough policy issues as well as contentious attempts to solve ongoing state problems that nonetheless split along party lines.

As they worry about talent and uncertainty, executives from a cross-section of industries voiced optimism in the pro-business policies pushed by President-elect Donald Trump. 

If you approach Republican U.S. Rep. Justin Amash with requests for favors for projects in Michigan’s Third Congressional District, he wants you to know that you’re likely wasting your time. As a staunch supporter of limited government and defender of civil liberties begins his fourth term in the U.S. House of Representatives, Amash is more than happy with the economic growth happening in the district he represents. But that doesn’t mean he’s about to start earmarking federal dollars or doing one-off favors for the area’s business community. In an exclusive interview with MiBiz, Amash said his job is to defend the Constitution and fight for liberty for all citizens, a position he acknowledges could put him at odds with fellow Republicans and President-elect Donald Trump. 

As coal-fired power plants in West Michigan harbor towns along Lake Michigan get decommissioned, cities like Holland and Muskegon have worried they’ll lose out on federal dredging support, the allocation of which is based on meeting a tonnage threshold for commercial freight at each harbor. That’s why Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga from Michigan’s Second Congressional District was happy to get funds to continue dredging as part of the most recent federal funding initiative.

2016 wasn’t an easy year for Gov. Rick Snyder. But even with Democrats’ near-daily calls for his resignation because of the ongoing Flint water crisis, the businessman-turned-politician still maintains his trademark “relentlessly positive” attitude. With about two years left in his second term, Snyder told MiBiz he remains focused on skilled trades training and tackling issues related to the state’s beleaguered infrastructure. 

In wrapping up her first “whirlwind” year as mayor of Grand Rapids, Rosalynn Bliss aims to build off of the work she started as she looks ahead to 2017. In the new year, Bliss hopes to move the needle on initiatives related to affordable housing and addressing long-standing racial disparities in the city. Additionally, the mayor believes that 2017 will be the year where visible work commences on restoring the rapids to the Grand River. 

Moving into 2017, Democratic U.S. Sen. Gary Peters plans to focus his efforts on cultivating Michigan as a hub for autonomous vehicle technology. For Peters, the state’s future hinges on growing Michigan’s ability to attract investment in autonomous technology. On the other hand, Peters worries that the president-elect’s hands-on economic development policies could leave behind small businesses in the state and elsewhere in the country. Peters spoke with MiBiz about his views on the year ahead and the challenges 2017 may bring.  

As Michigan’s senior U.S. Senator, Debbie Stabenow plans to continue focusing on issues pertaining to small businesses, manufacturing and agriculture. Going into 2017, Stabenow expects to work on legislation that would improve tax credits for small manufacturers, as well as prepare to draft the upcoming Farm Bill. Stabenow spoke with MiBiz about her priorities and outlook for the upcoming year. 

Even with the underlying uncertainty caused by the presidential election, West Michigan manufacturers remain generally optimistic about the year ahead. 

While some industry professionals have raised concerns over subprime lending, rising inventories, incentives and other trends pointing to a downturn in the automotive cycle, the industry should remain healthy in the coming years. That’s according to Mike Wall, director of automotive analysis at IHS Automotive in Grand Rapids, who forecasts North American light vehicle production to close at 17.8 million units this year. While 2017 production is projected to slide to 17.6 million units, he expects it will inch up to 18 million units in 2018 and peak at 18.7 million units in 2020 as new facilities in Mexico come online. Wall spoke with MiBiz about what automotive suppliers in West Michigan should expect in the new year. 

Gavin Brown, the executive director of the Michigan Aerospace Manufacturers Association (MAMA), expects strong production of both commercial and military aircraft continuing into 2017. As demand for long-range aircraft like the Boeing 777 increases, large OEMs will be eying ways to cut costs through production. For West Michigan manufacturers, that presents an opportunity for companies that can adapt to the latest technology and work cost-cutting measures into production, Brown said. However, uncertainty over the trade policies for the incoming presidential administration could cause pain for companies such as Boeing, which plans to sell more aircraft to countries including Iran and Russia. Brown spoke with MiBiz regarding the opportunities and challenges for aerospace suppliers going into 2017. 

The Michigan Legislature on Thursday passed a pair of sweeping, bipartisan energy bills that just days before had divided business groups over whether the policy changes would negatively impact ratepayers.

LOWELL — The early excitement built up over a renewable energy facility in Lowell had begun to fade roughly a year ago, and formally ended on Dec. 1 when local officials moved to permanently cut ties with its operator.

State House lawmakers killed a Senate bill earlier this month that would have provided sportsman’s clubs an exemption from state and local property taxes.

LANSING — Sweeping energy policy reform that has taken nearly two years to move through the state Legislature could face a contentious debate during the remaining days of the post-election lame duck session.

For the past two and half years, Hilary Dulany has been traveling between Oregon and Michigan to grow her small businesses amid the transformational change happening with the legal marijuana industry.

As Michigan legislators prepare to enter their final session of the year, policy watchers across the state are closely monitoring legislation that could get a vote in the lame duck session. 

When Brink Farms Inc. began construction on a rail yard off Turner Avenue in northwest Grand Rapids in 2014, the Hamilton-based bulk transportation firm hoped to alleviate capacity constraints and better serve customers shipping cargo south through the city. 

KALAMAZOO — Researchers at the Michigan Geological Survey hope a state grant will better position government, businesses and other stakeholders to understand the natural resources that lie under the ground. 

While considering buying an all-wheel-drive Tesla Model S electric vehicle in 2014, Jim MacInnes had to drive roughly four hours to Windsor, Ontario to give it a test drive.

Eight years after voters approved the use of medical marijuana, Michigan lawmakers have agreed to a regulatory framework for the commercial growing and selling of marijuana to qualified patients.

As Jackson-based Consumers Energy looks to build a statewide electric vehicle charging network, other companies in the sector have raised concerns about maintaining competition in the marketplace, both for vendors and drivers.

Twelve Michigan food processing and agriculture companies will travel to Shanghai and Shenzhen, China next month on a trade mission with the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development

At least two Republican-controlled state House seats in West Michigan are expected to be competitive in the Nov. 8 election as Democrats set lofty goals to retake a majority in the lower chamber.

It’s an oft-heard line that you can be fired in Michigan just for being gay.

When Deschutes Brewery founder Gary Fish launched a two-year search to locate the Oregon company’s first satellite production facility, one of his top criteria was determining whether the state and local community wanted his business.