Economic Development, Government, and Real Estate

Right Place tops goal a year early

Organization has summit planned for food-processing industry.

April 26, 2013
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Despite coming up with its new five-year strategic plan in 2008 — the year the nation went into the Great Recession — The Right Place Inc. has exceeded the proposal’s ambitious economic goals and did so in just four years.

The plan, which was implemented in 2009 and runs through this year, set goals of achieving $500 million in new capital investment, 5,000 new and retained jobs, and $175 million in new payroll. Instead, capital investment totaled $635 million, 8,654 jobs were created and retained, and there was $302 million in new payroll added from 2009 through the end of last year.

In 2012 alone, capital investment topped $188 million, 1,237 new jobs were created, and new payroll was more than $43 million. Amway Corp. made the largest investment last year at $81 million. Lacks Enterprises clocked in next at $31.9 million. Founders Brewing Co. and Undercar Products Group both announced capital investments of $26 million last year.

In addition, The Right Place President and CEO Birgit Klohs told Kent County commissioners last week the region’s economic development organization has closed four more deals this year, the final year of its five-year plan.

Klohs also gave commissioners an update on the former General Motors plant on 36th Street SW in Wyoming, which the automaker closed several years ago. She said the site has been cleared and cleaned, and her organization is helping with the marketing of the property.

“We do have interested parties,” she said. “It’s one of our key marketing projects. We’d like to fill it with high-tech manufacturing.”

County Commissioner Stan Ponstein asked Klohs where the local food-processing industry ranked on her organization’s pecking order, and she said the sector was near the top. Klohs pointed out that The Right Place helped keep Gerber Products in Fremont when the Nestle Co., the firm’s owner, wanted to relocate the baby-food maker as part of a consolidation move.

Klohs also said the region’s 9,000 farmers are important because they make up the local supply chain. “If we don’t have apples grown here, we don’t have apple juice made in Sparta,” she said.

Klohs also told commissioners The Right Place is holding a food summit May 16 that will bring food processors, growers and support businesses together at Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park to discuss the industry and its future. The topics to be covered at the day-long event include food safety, new markets and exports, and logistics and the supply chain.

The event’s keynote speakers are: Jamie Clover Adams, director of the state’s Department of Agriculture and Rural Development; Mike DiBernardo, an economic development specialist with the same state department; David Engbers, co-founder and vice president of Founders Brewing Co.; and Dave Zilko, vice chairman of Garden Fresh Gourmet.

Six breakout sessions also will be offered and will range from product innovations and consumer trends to energy and the environment. The agribusiness summit is from 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. More information is at rightplace.org.

Klohs added that The Right Place will create a food-processing council in the near future.

Commissioner Roger Morgan, also chairman of the Gerald R. Ford International Airport board, asked Klohs where the facility stands in trying to draw business here.

“To have a really good service airport here is absolutely critical,” said Klohs, who was recently appointed to the airport’s board.

“If it’s not the most important, it’s clearly one of the most important pieces of our infrastructure. I’m glad (GFIA Executive Director) Brian (Ryks) is here. He has done a good job,” she added.

Klohs said her organization’s annual budget is $2 million, which is about half of the yearly spending plan Kalamazoo’s group has. She said 75 percent of the budget comes from the private sector with the rest coming from the county, nine cities and 10 townships.

The county allocates $85,000 to The Right Place annually.

“The county is our largest public investor,” said Klohs. “The city of Grand Rapids is second.”

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