Challenge Manufacturing expanding in Walker

March 20, 2011
| By Pete Daly |
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Challenge Manufacturing, a Walker manufacturer of metal stampings and assemblies for the auto industry since 1981, has been granted tax abatements by the city on a new investment of more than $16.5 million.

Challenge already has Lamar Construction at work on a $4,257,549 addition to the existing plant at 3200 Fruit Ridge Ave. NW. The addition will total 94,530 square feet, bringing square footage to about 160,000 square feet.

Challenge currently has more than 400 employees in Walker, according to company treasurer Andrew T. Washburn. He told the Walker City Council last week that the additional production, which should begin by mid-2012, will create 90 new jobs in assembly line work, quality control, material handling and welding technicians.

Challenge also plans to spend about $10.3 million on machinery.

In return for the company’s investment and commitment to hire an additional 90 employees, the city of Walker has granted Challenge a Public Act 198 abatement on part of the resulting increased real and personal property taxes over the next 12 years, with a total long-term savings to the company of about $1.4 million if the new jobs materialize.

Like many manufacturing companies in Michigan, Challenge had to cut its work force as a result of the recession. Washburn told the council that the company’s employee roster is “getting closer to where we were” but still is “not like it was 18 months ago, unfortunately.”

Challenge, which is privately held and is headed by Bruce L. Vor Broker, has an Employee Stock Ownership Plan for its employees.  The company has a second plant in Walker at 3079 Three Mile Road and a plant in Holland.

Walker City Manager Cathy Vander Meulen said the Challenge request for a PA 198 tax abatement was probably the second largest one approved by Walker. The largest was The Grand Rapids Press printing plant.

According to its PA 198 application, Challenge is “a major player in the metal stamping and assembly industry,” supplying the auto industry with “a wide range of products that include brackets, frame reinforcements, roof structures, floor pan assemblies, heat shields and body mounts.”

Walker city staff said they understood Challenge had won a significant contract in the automotive industry, which resulted in the decision to expand. Challenge executives declined to comment.

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