Manufacturing and Real Estate

From silver screen to 37 acres

March 1, 2013
| By Pete Daly |
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From silver screen to 37 acres
Vice President Ryan Van Dyke said Harbor Foam doesn’t have immediate plans to expand beyond its 55,000-square-foot facility, but now it at least has the option to do so. Photo by Michael Buck

(As seen on WZZM TV 13) Perhaps Harbor Foam Inc. was inspired by the product it makes: EPS, or expanded polystyrene foam. The company has made a major investment to be prepared for expansion of its operations should current business trends continue.

Harbor Foam has already made a splash with its EPS: at least twice on the silver screen and once at ArtPrize. The shot-in-Michigan movie coming out this month, “Oz the Great and Powerful,” features scary-looking trees made from blocks of foam supplied by the Grandville company. In the remake of action flick “Red Dawn,” shot in southeast Michigan several years ago and released last fall, the valiant American heroes’ cave was made of lightweight foam produced by Harbor, which also produced the foam blocks carved into “Nessie,” the giant sea serpent sculpture that floated in the Grand River during the 2009 ArtPrize.

Harbor Foam has just purchased an interest in the 225,000-square-foot building it has been leasing at 2950 Prairie Ave. SW. In conjunction with partner Eric Wynsma at Terra Firma Development, Harbor Foam bought the building and the 37-acre property for $2.5 million to lock in space for future growth.

Harbor Foam now employs 28 full-time employees, according to Vice President Ryan Van Dyke, who said that if everything “keeps plugging along like it has,” the business may see a need to expand in the next year.

The property was formerly owned by Holland developer Scott Bosgraaf, who was known for transforming defunct industrial facilities into mixed-use properties. The property was sold by court-appointed receiver Amicus Management Inc. in Grand Rapids to the partnership called Harbor Land Holdings LLC, which is made up of Harbor Foam and Terra Firma Development.

Terra Firma is a Grand Rapids company that owns and manages industrial, warehousing and commercial properties. Amicus Management is one of the largest and oldest bankruptcy workout firms in West Michigan with experience in liquidating and turning around properties spun off in bankruptcies.

Van Dyke said Harbor Foam doesn’t have immediate plans to expand beyond its 55,000 square feet of manufacturing space, but “the future is bright” for the company that custom fabricates polystyrene for uses as varied as lightweight fill for roads, bridge abutments and retaining walls, roof insulation, parts packaging, surfboards, disposable headrests used by morticians, and of course, props for theatrical productions.

“We wanted to secure the building so we could have controlled growth,” said Van Dyke, who noted that the company has consistently increased sales since it was founded in 2007 by Van Dyke and his sister, Laura Kuperus, and their mother, Pat Van Dyke, whose father started Michigan Foam in Byron Center in the early 1960s.

The property Bosgraaf had bought in Grandville is a brownfield zone, according to Van Dyke, and a TIF financing program was set up by the city and Bosgraaf. Van Dyke praised city officials for transferring the TIF program to the new owners, “which they didn’t have to do. They seem to be very pro-business and played a role in this purchase.”

“Harbor Foam has a lot of niches: We don’t dedicate ourselves to one industry. We will sell one box of foam to a customer, or we will sell truckloads to a customer.”

It is, for example, adept at producing small runs of foam packaging for automotive parts being shipped from the manufacturer to the next stage of the complicated process involved in assembling an automobile.

EPS foam is often referred to generically and incorrectly as Styrofoam by many American and Canadian consumers. Styrofoam is a registered trademark, the brand name of a slightly different product made by Dow Chemical Co.: extruded — not expanded — polystyrene. It is primarily sheets of insulation used in construction.

Among its many packaging uses, expanded polystyrene foam is familiar to many Americans as disposable coffee cups, egg cartons, meat packaging trays and take-home containers used by restaurants. EPS packaging has been targeted by environmentalists, such as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who announced he wants to see it banned from use there for fast food and coffee. Part of the problem is it is a major share of the non-degradable material going into landfills.

“They don’t realize all this stuff is recycled, and it’s a great product,” said Van Dyke. “It’s hard to replace it,” he added. “Try to get a cup of coffee in a paper cup. A lot of people use two cups, or paper sleeves.”

The foam coffee cups used at his church are recycled, he noted.

In fact, Harbor Foam recycles discarded EPS.

He said many recycling centers will not accept EPS foam because it’s not a revenue stream for them, mainly because there is so much available. Metals, glass and some plastics are readily recycled because the material has scrap value.

As a community service, he said, Harbor Foam allows companies that accumulate a lot of used EPS packaging to dispose of it there for free. Harbor Foam grinds it up and reprocesses it.

Van Dyke said he will be giving a talk on recycling used EPS at a meeting at Clark Retirement Home in April, with Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell also slated to speak.

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