Area's focus is shifting to intellectual, creative efforts

May 3, 2010
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Amway Corp. this week made a comparatively minor adjustment in its employee work force and locations. Such adjustments have been quietly emanating from the Ada headquarters for several years. Reductions a few years ago at Amway, along with those from Steelcase Inc. (and its fellow office products producer Herman Miller Inc.), were more plentiful, though perhaps no more painful.

The adjustments did not likely surprise area business leaders, and, in fact, discussions regarding how some manufacturing leaders could afford to stay locally headquartered were more public as Steelcase divided and sold its properties, including its famous pyramid.

The issues related to moving goods in a flat world had public discussion last year as auto manufacturers sought greater cost controls and savings in the cost of transporting goods, especially as oil prices spiked. The acknowledgement provided some in Michigan with hope that it would keep Michigan residents employed in supplier shops for their proximity to Detroit, and industrial property warehouses occupied. It has not necessarily proven to be true.

While local industrial giants determine the unaffordability of manufacturing far from customer bases, keeping some local influence has become a gentleman’s agreement, especially among the private and public sector leaders.

Continuing local operations with service and administrative operations is better than nothing, and one only has to look at the residential furniture giants now doing business in High Point instead of Grand Rapids to understand that. Headquarter monikers also provide continued promise of community beneficence.

So it is with even greater interest and emphasis that the Business Journal notes the work of four companies to establish GRid70, at 70 Ionia Ave. downtown, very near the Ferris State University Kendall College of Art & Design campus. Wolverine World Wide, Amway Corp., Meijer Inc. and Steelcase Inc. established a presence at the address to create a “hub” for creative endeavors from each of the businesses.

The leaders of the four companies recently spoke about the project in an Economic Club of Grand Rapids speech, indicating they hoped to create a center to draw new talent, noting that such talent now thrives in urban settings and that it “needs to be clustered.”

The GRid70 group also was able to create a partnership with Illinois Institute of Technology for instruction at the site toward a Master of Design Methods degree. Considering this community’s legacy in design, it is certainly fitting. Rockford Construction and RDV Corp. also are participating.

It is this region’s most prominent physical symbol of change from manufacturing behemoths to the importance of intellectual and creative property. Those monikers otherwise become grave markers in this region.

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