Got milk Thanks were flowing in Coopersville

December 27, 2010
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The mood was thankful and upbeat in Coopersville earlier this month when federal, state and local government officials received a tour of the construction-in-progress at Continental Dairy’s dried milk plant.

The event was hosted by the Ottawa County Economic Development Office, which helped Continental Dairy obtain $31.1 million in federal ARRA-backed bonds to encourage investment in the plant. The total project will be about a $100 million private investment and is expected to employ 70 or more people when it begins production in 2012.

Coopersville Mayor Ken Bush was there; he said it was a luncheon and tour of the plant “to kind of welcome the company to Coopersville.”

Ken Rizzio, executive director of the OCEDO, said the event was “to thank the company” and all the government entities that helped get the dried milk plant started. That included the MEDC, which helped engineer a Michigan Economic Growth Authority state tax credit worth $1.5 million to Continental over 10 years to persuade the company to settle in Michigan.

MDOT was there, too, because it granted $321,600 to Coopersville for necessary improvements to the road leading to the plant, with the city itself kicking in another $80,400.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture was there because it gave an economic development grant to Coopersville to expand and specialize its sewage treatment plant, in order to accommodate the dried milk plant.

“If everything goes right, this whole thing should be done in early 2012,” said Rizzio.

Timothy den Dulk of Ravenna, one of the principals behind Continental Dairy and owner of one of the largest dairy farm operations in the U.S., also was there and was “appreciative,” according to Rizzio.

Den Dulk, who has declined interviews with the news media, is a frequent contributor to political candidates and was named a year ago to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Dairy Industry Advisory Committee.

Rizzio noted that the large plant Continental Dairy (or its holding company) now owns had been an auto parts plant owned by Delphi, which went into bankruptcy several years ago. Rizzio said he has been told that there were seven shuttered Delphi plants in Michigan; four have since been demolished and two others on the east side of the state are still empty and unsold.

“The one in Coopersville is the only one that was renovated and is going back to productive use, so we’re pretty lucky there,” said Rizzio.

Troubling body count

Michigan was the only state in the union to lose population in the 2010 census and will give up one of its 15 congressional seats, the U.S. Census Bureau reported last week.

The Michigan population dropped by 0.6 percent, to 9,883,640. Not even Hurricane Katrina-battered Louisiana reported a population loss, although it also lost one congressional seat.

The bureau reported to the president a U.S. population of 308,745,538, an increase of 9.7 percent from Census 2000, the second slowest growth rate in the past 100 years. Since 1910, only the Great Depression produced a lower percentage increase.

In addition to Michigan and Louisiana, losing seats in the U.S. House of Representatives were Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. Gaining seats were Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and Washington.

Census director Robert Groves — a University of Michigan faculty member — noted during the press conference that between 1920 and 1930, as the auto industry expanded, Michigan led the states with a 32 percent population increase.

Times have changed, in part reflecting a general and decades-long trend that is shifting population to southern and western states, Groves said at last week’s press conference. He said that with the 435 seats in Congress — a number that only Congress can change — the average population per congressional district will be 710,767, up from 646,912 in Census 2000.

Now Michigan politicians must set themselves to the grim task of re-drawing borders to create the state’s soon-to-be 14 congressional districts. In February, the bureau will begin releasing, state by state, census counts down to the block level, which will allow re-districting to begin in earnest.

Catching up

Business Journal Editor Carole Valade presented ICCF CEO Jonathan Bradford with his well-deserved Award for Real Estate Excellence, given by the judges at the U-M Urban Real Estate Forum at last week’s Committee of the Whole meeting in City Hall. Bradford and ICCF were originally nominated for their renovation of the D.H. Blodgett building on Cherry Street, which became the federation’s new home. But once the judges reviewed Bradford’s work, they decided to honor him with their version of a lifetime achievement award for all the amazing things he has done here the last 35 years.

In his typical fashion, Bradford would not take any credit for his achievements. “Community development is an extremely important development in the United States,” he said before city commissioners and a roomful of department managers and members of the public. “Its success in Grand Rapids is a tribute to the community.”

Dwelling on positives

Just a few minutes later, Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell brought Dwelling Place of Grand Rapids CEO Denny Sturtevant before the same crowd and congratulated him on his organization having reached its 30th anniversary and for so capably providing affordable housing to so many in the city. For his part, Sturtevant was grateful. “Thank you very much,” he said. “We’re here to stay. And it’s Christmastime, so feel free to make a donation.”

Shoppers brighten outlook

Improved November sales kept Michigan retailers’ forecasts upbeat for the rest of what might turn out to be the best holiday shopping season in several years.

The Michigan Retail Index for November showed the best monthly year-over-year sales gains since 1999 and the highest level of retailer optimism since April. The Index is a joint project of Michigan Retailers Association and the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.

“Michigan retailers went into the season with enthusiasm and high expectations. November’s sales added more encouragement,” said James P. Hallan, MRA president and chief executive officer. “The Michigan economy is showing signs of life. Consumers appear to be feeling more confident about the future and making purchases they had put off in recent years.”

Prior to the start of the season, 58 percent of the state’s retailers said they expected better sales this holiday season. On average, they projected a 6 percent gain in sales over last year — the best forecast since 2004.

The Michigan Retail Index survey for November found that 54 percent of retailers increased sales over the same month last year, while 26 percent recorded declines and 20 percent saw no change. The results create a seasonally adjusted performance index of 68.1, up significantly from 51.0 in October and 56.7 in September.

Index values above 50 generally indicate an increase in overall retail activity. A year ago November, the sales performance index was 39.7.

Looking forward, 40 percent of retailers expect sales during December–February to increase over the same period last year, while 17 percent project a decrease and 43 percent no change.

Increased sales were the norm in all regions of the state and across most trade lines.

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