Our Own Local Global Economy

June 5, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — When a business survives for a century, it's something to write home about.

And when it celebrates its 105th birthday by expanding — and during a time of intense competition and economic slowdown— then perhaps it's time for champagne corks to start popping.

Except that Globe of Michigan, a small local manufacturer, is focused on what it's been doing since the late nineteenth century: producing customized materials handling equipment, plus some older products that have been around for decades.

According to its relatively new owner and president, Dennis Velie, the company recently moved to larger quarters across town — northwest to northeast — while extending its product line.

But, he added, "we're pretty much doing what we've always done," he said.  "We produce by bending metal and by welding."

Currently, the company has a staff of 17.

"Because of the slowdown in the furniture industry, we've had to have some layoffs," Velie said, "and we're hoping to get more business to get those folks back."

Velie, a native of Virginia, was in sales in South America for Detroit-based Jervis Webb for a decade.  After that, he moved to Grand Rapids (his wife Carroll is a native of the community) to work for what now is Frost Inc., a bearing manufacturer.

In 1993, he acquired Globe from George Porter.

The firm came into being as Vanmanen & Buys in 1896, shortly afterward undergoing a name change to become Globe Vise & Truck Co. 

The company was a source of wheels and casters for industrial uses.  In fact, Globe sold such casters for a local firm known as Rapids Standard Co. of Grand Rapids, which went on to become Rapistan.

Velie told the Business Journal that about 30 years ago, Globe's name was shortened, too.  Porter, then the new owner, Charles Porter, acquired Globe Vise & Truck and dropped the "Vise & Truck."

And it so happens that Globe's new location, at 1731 Michigan NE, is a mere stone's throw from Rapistan's operation.

Globe continues to serve as a master distributor for the RMW line of casters made by Rapistan. In its own right, it also continues to manufacture the Wheel-Ezy line of hand trucks which Rapistan fabricated for more than a half century.

Velie said the Globe's new facility has 40 percent more space that its predecessor, which allows expanded manufacturing as well as more handling space. 

One of the firm's largest customers is Steelcase. Velie explained that Globe produces customized racks to hold or dispense furniture components for Steelcase's assembly operations. He said other regional furniture manufacturers are also among its clientele.

One of the devices, he explained, is a hydraulic platform which raises parts to within workers' easy reach, obviating loss of time and ergonomic problems in bending and stretching to retrieve the parts from cartons.

"It's not what you'd call high-tech," he said, "but it helps them solve a problem.  And we don't just do production.  We get into the design phases as well."

But he said some of Globe's work also entails assembling wheels and casters from races and ball bearings into casters.

Velie received his bachelor's degree from the University of Virginia and did a hitch with the Army — including a tour in Vietnam — before earning his MBA in international business at Thunderbird.

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