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Sunday, 02 August 2015 22:00

BCU, city leaders refocus efforts in marketing, growing Cereal City

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Marie Briganti, CEO of Battle Creek Unlimited. Marie Briganti, CEO of Battle Creek Unlimited. COURTESY PHOTO

BATTLE CREEK — Marie Briganti stepped into the role of CEO at Battle Creek Unlimited in May as the economic development organization goes through somewhat of a transitional period.

Her appointment comes as BCU plans to turn over its role in downtown development to the City of Battle Creek. After a strategic planning session, BCU determined that it needed to be “focusing on our strengths and what we’re good at.” Briganti believes the organization should be concentrate on marketing the Fort Custer Industrial Park as well as the other manufacturing assets in the region.

She also steps into the leadership position after 18-year executive Karl Dehn, who served as CEO since 2009, resigned to take a job at the Michigan Economic Development Corp. last year. The previous long-term CEO, Jim Hettinger, filled the position in an interim capacity before Briganti joined BCU in the spring.

MiBiz sat down with Briganti, BCU marketing director Doug Voshell and Battle Creek’s Assistant City Manager Ted Dearing for a far-reaching conversation on the state of economic development in Battle Creek. Here are some highlights from the discussion.

What’s your assessment of BCU after just a few weeks into the job?

Briganti: I’ve been trying to learn as much as I can, as fast as I can. What we’ve been doing now is transitioning our downtown development work to the city and making sure that transition is as smooth as possible. We’re also meeting as many of our key local partners as possible and refining our strategic plan based on community feedback.

Why is BCU transitioning the downtown development work to the city?

Dearing: (Many years ago), a key individual left Cereal City Development Corporation and it was decided at that time that rather than go out and find somebody, we had a very good economic development organization in the industrial park. Let’s ask them to step in and manage some of the downtown issues. BCU stepped up and took over that process even though downtown development isn’t necessarily their expertise. They were willing to step up and take over those responsibilities. Now in the present day, it makes sense for BCU to focus on certain areas and now the city accepts the responsibility to focus on some certain areas.

How important is the auto supply chain as a growth driver in Battle Creek?

Briganti: There’s also plastic injection-molding for other industries as well. Recently, Tech-Plas invested $750,000 and is creating 15 jobs. There is a trend that is changing. The investments are diversifying quite a bit. (But) yes, automotive is still extremely important.

Voshell: Another new industry in that injection (molding) area is medical device. (As a diversification strategy), it appears to be good because they are looking to grow.

How are you able to assist companies in their diversification efforts?

Briganti: There’s a state program that we just started to use called economic gardening which allows companies to explore different markets for their products at no cost. There are state programs through the MEDC. We’ve developed incredibly close relationships with these companies in bringing them here and then taking care of them while they are here. We’re finding the right companies to speak to and developing those relationships and solving workforce development concerns. Programs like economic gardening just make sense.

What impact does Kellogg moving jobs to the Grand Rapids area have on Battle Creek?

Briganti: We still have a Fortune 100 company’s headquarters here in Battle Creek. It’s globally recognized, and they’ve been very transparent that by the end of 2017, they’ll have between 2,300 and 2,500 employees here.

What’s surprised you about the corporate makeup of the Battle Creek area?

Briganti: What’s been interesting for me is to see these companies that no one knows about that are doing very high-tech, advanced manufacturing and shipping their products all over the world right from here. One of the initiatives that we have to try and better position ourselves and our websites and our marketing strategy — and give our marketing strategy more concrete milestones to achieve — is to understand what’s here and how that supports an industry.

What’s an example of an industry that flies under the radar?

Briganti: The defense industry here is very important, and with that comes a large investment and population in the I.T. world that people may or may not not know about. There’s a great talent infrastructure and institutions that are supporting that I.T. talent here. That is not the first thing you think about. But it’s all here, and we need to get the word out about that better.

What kind of commercial real estate activity are you seeing beyond industrial projects and more demand for downtown residential units?

Dearing: Battle Creek is a big city, geographically, and like many cities, we certainly have some excess commercial capacity out there. But we have a lot of commercial space to fill, like many markets do right now. There are definitely projects out there. We’d love to have more, obviously. But there is more going on than what we’ve seen in the last five years.

 

Read 2867 times Last modified on Sunday, 09 August 2015 09:38
Nick Manes

Staff writer

nmanes@mibiz.com

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