More Zeeland jobs in the bag

April 20, 2009
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The word on the street in Zeeland is that Integrated Fabric Resource is working on a deal with a Texas company that may eventually increase employment significantly at IFR.

IFR got its start in 1915 as Holland Awning Co. Being on the Lake Michigan shore, it had a lot of orders for canvas covers for boats in the off-season. In the 1990s, it became a part of the extended automotive industry by producing industrial-size synthetic fabric totes and containers for storing and moving parts in production.

The new business involves bulk shipments of liquids and dry commodities, materials that can be poured and/or stored in huge bags, such as wine, fruit juice, chemicals, soybeans, stuffed animals from China, etc. Metal tanks and bulk containers often have to be thoroughly cleaned before re-use, which costs money and can entail environmental regulations. The big bags now popular in industry, some of which can hold up to 24,000 gallons of liquid, can be used once and recycled, and once emptied and rolled up, they're a cinch to handle.

One angle of the story is that the Chinese had been making the jumbo bags for U.S. industry, but the required quality wasn't there.

An executive at IFR didn't want to talk about what might be in the works, but Bridget Beckman, a spokesperson for the Michigan Economic Development Corp., confirmed the company had been in touch with them. She could not add any other information, but as is well known, the MEDC works to grease the skids for plant expansions that mean more jobs.

Commission beefed up

County commissioners are very likely to make a pair of new appointments this week to the Kent County Road Commission. Mark Rambo and Bill Stellin are the choices a subcommittee made from a field of 38 applicants. A dozen were interviewed for the two new spots; the county is expanding the board that directs transportation funding from three to five commissioners.

“I find both to be qualified applicants and both will do an excellent job,” said Ted Vonk, a county commissioner who chaired the appointment subcommittee.

Rambo lives in Rockford, has a master’s degree in public administration, and manages the village of Howard City in Montcalm County. Stellin calls Grand Rapids home and is a retired banking official. His last post was a vice president in the trust office at Comerica Bank. Both have a long history of community involvement.

“I do think they are going to bring a different voice to the commission,” said Sandra Parrish, county commission vice chairwoman.

If appointed, Rambo and Stellin would join Dave Groenleer, Patrick Malone and John Weiss on the road commission. Both would serve a six-year term.

Real numbers do the talking

Eric Soucey of the city’s Economic Development Department pointed out last week that tax abatements granted by the Grand Rapids City Commission from 2002-2007 resulted in almost $114 million in planned investments by local companies. So far, a total of $76 million has been invested over those six years resulting in 246 new jobs.

Second Ward City Commissioner David LaGrand, though, cautioned the city about throwing a ticker-tape parade over those numbers. “We know not all of these projects are going ahead as planned. You can’t oversell the results because you can’t collect all the costs,” he said. To compensate, LaGrand suggested that Soucey back off the numbers by 20 percent for a more accurate result.

“I don’t want an over-rosy picture because it can come back to haunt you,” he added.

Over those years, the city abated $867,625 in property taxes but received $1.47 million from those abatements in property and income taxes. Soucey said he would file a more complete report on abatements and Renaissance Zone extensions next month.

Beam us up, boys

What’s in a name? Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell asked that question of George Larimore last week. Larimore and Kent Hildbrand, both CPAs with Grubb & Ellis|Paramount Commerce, formed a private investment firm that wants to build a hotel near the arena on Ionia Avenue. The name of their LLC is TIA2K.

City Economic Development Director Kara Wood told the Business Journal that she tried to crack the code behind TIA2K, but couldn’t. So the mayor asked Larimore to explain what it meant. Larimore politely declined, but he did admit that the name had kind of a Star Trekky ring to it.

“There’s nothing cryptic about it; no secret messages to it,” he said.  Some in the room, though, noticed that the lights flickered a bit when Larimore said that.

Closing in on some help

When Attorney General Mike Cox dissed West Michigan last month by suggesting a pet project (in some circles) for the $500,000 from the Countrywide Financial settlement, locals familiar with the mortgage crisis cried foul. Cox relented and decided to send the money to the Heart of West Michigan United Way instead. Now the United Way has appointed a committee to figure out how to use the funds to address foreclosure needs.

Chaired by United Way President & CEO Bob Haight and Lee Nelson Weber of the Dyer Ives Foundation, the committee includes: Jeanne Arnold, Grand Valley State University; Mary Angelo, Roosevelt Park Neighborhood Association; Connie Bohatch, city of Grand Rapids; Wayman Britt, Kent County Administrator’s Office; Janay Brower, Coalition to End Homelessness; David Bulkowski, Disability Advocates; Dotti Clune, East Hills Council of Neighbors; Laurie Craft, Grand Rapids Community Foundation; Sean Egan, IBEW Local 275; Jorge Gonzalez, Macatawa Bank; Nancy Haynes, Fair Housing Commission; Jeff Hudson, Department of Human Services; Dan Oglesby, Spectrum Health; Darel Ross, Lighthouse Communities; David Schroeder, Essential Needs Task Force; Kym Spring, Foreclosure Response; Holly Sturgis, Grand Rapids Housing Commission; and Andy Zylstra, Department of Human Resources.

So, that’s $25,000 per committee member.

Keeping it in the family

The Michigan Women’s Foundation will honor a Grand Rapids area resident and business leader, Suzanne Geha, WOOD TV 8 news anchor, and Nancy Skinner, executive coach and community leader, at its 20th Annual Women of Achievement & Courage Dinner on Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park. Also, famed White House reporter Helen Thomas will receive a Special Lifetime Achievement Award. The 89-year-old Thomas is Suzanne Geha’s aunt, which organizers believe will provide added emotion and significance to the awards.

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