WALKER — Falk North America Inc. is the latest company to plan a move into WalkerView Industrial Park.
The manufacturing company anticipates building a multi-phase project in the industrial park, which opened in 2016 and is owned by an affiliate of Grand Rapids-based Rockford Construction Co. Inc.
Falk, a Netherlands-based manufacturer of roof panels, is the latest of several companies to scoop up property for new plants in WalkerView, located at the I-96 and Walker Avenue interchange. Next spring, there will be seven projects under construction at the industrial park, according to executives.
When Falk’s new plant comes online, it will be the company’s first in the U.S. Falk targeted the region for its favorable business climate, economic developers told MiBiz.
“Truthfully, the business culture climate in West Michigan is very similar to the culture in the Netherlands,” said Jen Wangler, business development manager for Grand Rapids-based The Right Place Inc., which helped Falk with site selection. “For that reason, they chose West Michigan, as opposed to Canada, which was the competing site. The ease of making connections here locally and working with the local partners made the decision easy for them.”
With industrial property in short supply, Falk had to dedicate more time to finding the right location, Wangler said.
That trend plays into the findings of a report from Colliers International, which noted continued limited supply and increasing demand for industrial property, with a total vacancy rate at 5.16 percent in West Michigan this year. The demand for industrial space remains particularly high in the northwest and northeast portions of Grand Rapids, according to the report.
The tight inventory has translated into steady growth at WalkerView since it opened.
“There seems to be a lot of momentum right now,” said Dan Power, planning director for the city of Walker. “I don’t know market-wise why that is, but over the last six months, four of these sites have been reviewed and approved.”
After starting the development with 230 acres of vacant land to sell, Rockford Construction sold or has under contract about 150 acres total, said Ben Sietsema, investment and brokerage executive of real estate development at the Grand Rapids-based construction management firm.
Sietsema said Rockford is selling land “at both the velocity and price” the company expected.
“We believe the close proximity to downtown, accessibility to the highway and ability to go east/west and north/south quickly, along with a reliable, skilled workforce have all contributed to the development’s success,” he said.
Falk North America’s project includes a 78,750-square-foot industrial building where it will manufacture its plastic products. Future phases could include a 132,000-square-foot addition and a second 16,875-square-foot area devoted to outdoor storage. Wangler said the company expects to create more than 40 new jobs.
Stuart Kingma, associate broker at NAI Wisinski of West Michigan, said during the economic downturn, developers built very few industrial buildings across the region as existing sites sat on the market with no tenants or buyers. Now, with a healthier economy, the tide has turned and the supply side is lacking.
“All the space that was available during the downturn has been absorbed,” he said. “Because there was no new product constructed, we’re now finding ourselves being short. The costs are higher than what they historically have been.”
To the east of Falk’s site, the Walker Planning Commission in July approved an industrial building that will house Comstock Park-based Design Manufacturing LLC, which makes point-of-purchase displays and signage, according to Power. Another development is a building mostly used by one tenant, Automatic Equipment LLC, which installs and maintains access control systems, electrical gate operators and parking systems.
Still another facility — a speculative industrial development planned by Grand Rapids-based First Companies — will offer 48,600 square feet of space. The developer has yet to announce tenants for the multi-user facility.
Previously, the state of Michigan announced plans in 2017 to build a new $57 million Michigan State Police post on a parcel of land it already owns on Four Mile Road, west of the 340,000-square-foot FedEx Ground Distribution Inc. facility, the first tenant at WalkerView.
The Kent County Road Commission also owns property in the area, but has not proposed any plans for it yet, Power said.
“I would guess once these four sites plus the State Police property gets built out, there’s still maybe about half of the designated commercial lots and half of the industrial lots,” Power said. “There’s still a fair amount of property left.”
According to Sietsema, a handful of sites remain available for development. He said Rockford’s focus will shift to the commercially-zoned property along Walker Avenue. For example, a hotel developer also currently is building at WalkerView.
“We have made great progress on the industrial land by working with companies focused on jobs,” Sietsema said. “Individuals working for these companies now need a place to eat, fuel up their car and order a cup of coffee. Retail will be the primary focus moving forward.”