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The American Institute of Architects (AIA) publishes the quarterly Architectural Billings Index (ABI), which is generally viewed as a leading indicator for the construction industry. While the data fluctuated throughout the year, architects’ billings have been largely positive, according to the Washington, D.C. trade association. Heading into 2018, AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker generally expects more of the same, albeit with some uncertainty surrounding national policy issues.

Sam Cummings will be the first to acknowledge that he’s got a lot of office and retail space to fill in downtown Grand Rapids next year, with redevelopment work underway at 50 Monroe Ave. NW and unspecified plans in the coming years for the downtown Fifth Third Bank campus, which has been dubbed Vandenberg Center. Cummings says CWD plans to work diligently over the next year to attract large corporate users, bring more activity to ground-floor spaces and focus on the fundamentals of real estate development.

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.

Large-scale development to continue in 2018

Written by | Sunday, 24 December 2017 16:43 |

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

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

2018 Outlook: Jim Monterusso, HME Inc.

Written by | Sunday, 24 December 2017 16:38 |

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.

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.

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.

Broadview Product Development Corp. had strong business in 2017 with its automotive industry customers and also grew sales to office furniture manufacturers by 25 percent. That growth has President Rick Arnold facing some key challenges at the prototyping and engineering firm. “We’re busier than we have been, and we are busier than our resources can support,” he said. Like most businesses these days, Broadview constantly wrestles with concerns over talent, which remains a key issue for the company heading into 2018.

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.

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.

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.

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. 

Brian Walker continues to believe the overall fundamentals of the economy remain strong, but the ongoing wave of nationalism and demonstrations of military might cause him some degree of concern. The president and CEO of Zeeland-based office furniture manufacturer Herman Miller Inc. (Nasdaq: MLHR) counts on free and open access for the trading of goods for his company’s continued success. Meanwhile, the continued “geopolitical noise” from external events like Brexit only creates uncertainty, he told MiBiz at the recent Business Leaders for Michigan CEO Summit in Detroit.

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.

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