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Municipalities and state and local units of government feel anxious for myriad reasons heading into the new year, according to Mark Nettleton, an attorney focused on municipal law, land use, zoning and real estate at Grand Rapids-based Mika Meyers PLC. With a new presidential administration, clients are unclear just what may be in store for 2017, according to Nettleton. The attorney thinks all manner of issues, from trade and tax policy to business incentives, could impact West Michigan’s municipalities. 

Orion Real Estate Solutions, the development arm of Grand Rapids-based general contractor Orion Construction Co. Inc., remains one of the most active developers in the market. The firm plans to open about 550 market-rate apartments in early 2017. Orion Real Estate President John Wheeler and Orion Construction President Roger Rehkopf spoke with MiBiz about their outlooks for the industry in 2017. 

2017 Outlook: Don Shoemaker, Franklin Partners

Written by | Sunday, 25 December 2016 16:35 |

In recent years, Franklin Partners LLC has been one of West Michigan’s most active developers when it comes to revitalizing under-utilized office and industrial space. Principal Don Shoemaker maintains a bullish outlook for 2017 as his company plans to seek heavy industrial tenants for the former General Motors stamping plant in Wyoming now known as the Site 36 Industrial Park. Franklin Partners also expects to finalize its decision in the first quarter about a redevelopment of the Display Pack site on North Monroe. Future uses there could include offices or residential — or a combination of both.

Anirban Basu thinks West Michigan’s real estate and construction industry has a pretty solid outlook for 2017. The chief economist for the Washington, D.C.-based Associated Builders & Contractors (ABC) views the region as having a strong job market and plentiful access to capital. Basu — who is also president and CEO of Baltimore-based economic consulting firm Sage Policy Group Inc. — spoke with MiBiz following his annual presentation in early December to the Western Michigan chapter of ABC. 

fairly new addition to the West Michigan commercial real estate scene, Grand Rapids-based Vision Real Estate Investment Inc. had a “banner year” in 2016. said President Tim Engen. With a mix of multi-tenant office buildings, industrial facilities and mixed-use residential properties within its portfolio, the firm made headlines in mid 2016 when it paid more than $31 million to acquire 99 Monroe, the fully-leased and renovated downtown Grand Rapids Class A office building. 

GRAND RAPIDS — If 2016 was the year of planning for myriad multi-family residential projects around West Michigan, 2017 seems to be the year for execution.

To say Aaron Zeigler is optimistic may be an understatement. Zeigler Auto Group recently topped $1 billion in annual revenue and expects to add another $50 million in revenue before the close of this year. By March, the organization hopes to finish construction on a motorsports dealership and “action park” — complete with a full restaurant, bar and several miles of test tracks — that will serve as a destination for enthusiasts, said Zeigler, the president of the dealership group. He projects growth by acquisition to continue to heat up in 2017. “We could add another three to four dealers next year pretty easily,” he said. Overall, Zeigler bets the economy will likely continue to grow, particularly if the incoming administration fulfills its promises to cut taxes. 

Given that JSJ Corp.’s diversified manufacturing operations span North America, Mexico and China, Nelson Jacobson and the company’s board of directors are bracing for a period of acute political uncertainty. However, the chairman, president and CEO of the Grand Haven-based company fully expects to see “very significant growth — 20 percent plus” in 2017. That growth is coming off a record year this year in which JSJ’s sales were “well over” $500 million across its portfolio that includes GHSP Inc., Izzy+ and Dake Corp. Jacobson spoke with MiBiz about his outlook for the new year and how the political volatility influences the company’s plans. 

2017 Outlook: Daryl Adams, Spartan Motors Inc.

Written by | Sunday, 25 December 2016 16:21 |

Earlier this month, Spartan Motors Inc. struck a $36 million deal with fire truck manufacturer Smeal Fire Apparatus Co. The deal marks a turnaround for the company’s emergency response business, which has struggled financially in the past, according to President and CEO Daryl Adams. For the first time since 2008, Charlotte-based Spartan Motors is on track to be profitable for all four quarters in 2016 and Adams believes the Smeal acquisition will better position the company in the coming year. Moreover, Adams noted that Spartan Motors’ fleet/delivery and specialty chassis divisions remain open to acquisitions if the right opportunities emerge. 

As any company involved in the automotive industry knows, the sector clearly follows a cyclical pattern over time. Patrick Greene, the president of Cascade Die Casting Group Inc. in Grand Rapids, believes that after six years of growth in U.S. auto sales, the next downward cycle could occur “in the next couple years.” But Cascade Die Casting and other suppliers, for whom the pain of the 2008-2009 recession remains a very fresh memory, have already started taking action. “We are preparing by making sure our balance sheet is strong and our operations are highly productive and efficient going into the downturn,” Greene said. 

Ask manufacturing executives about their biggest challenges and they’ll most likely sum it up in one word: talent. As Michigan’s unemployment rate continues to shrink, manufacturers have struggled to attract and retain people, especially the in-demand skilled workers they need to run their highly automated plants. The Lansing-based Michigan Manufacturers Association has heeded its members’ call by partnering with the SME Education Foundation and the Manufacturing Institute on a new talent solution, said MMA President and CEO Chuck Hadden. SME’s Partnership Response In Manufacturing Education (PRIME) initiative offers customizable curricula, while the Institute’s “Dream It Do It” program provides a framework for manufacturers to communicate more effectively with educators. 

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. 

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. 

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

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. 

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