Focus and Economic Development

Development, events and investments highlight 2014

December 26, 2014
| By Pat Evans |
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Silver Line
The Rapid CEO Peter Varga, shown here with a new Silver Line bus, is planning the creation of a second bus rapid transit, or BRT, line that runs east and west. Photo by Johnny Quirin

January

The year started on an alarming note when fire engulfed the West Michigan Whitecaps’ home field, Fifth Third Ballpark. Renovation construction was blamed for the fire that damaged roughly half of the park, just a few months prior to the start of the season. Lew Chamberlin and crew were able to get the park back in working order for the team’s season opener in April.

While the planning of Fifth Third Ballpark’s rebuild was in the works, the plans for 616 Development’s Lofts on Michigan passed through the Brownfield Redevelopment Authority with an approval of a development and reimbursement pact. The project — estimated to be approximately $16 million — began in the spring with the razing of existing buildings at 740 Michigan St. NE. Construction is ongoing.

616 Development founder Derek Coppess also took home the Business Journal’s Newsmaker of the Year Award at the end of January. The Newsmaker Impact Award recipient was Rick DeVos for the impact ArtPrize has had on the West Michigan region.

Before the Newsmaker Awards at Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, a polar vortex hit Michigan with a fury and made life difficult, in more ways than one.

Freight companies were able to use built-in logistical cushions to make it through the storms, but January saw the first signs of driver shortages in West Michigan, an issue the Business Journal reported on much of the year.

The winter storms didn’t slow the hiring at Open Systems Technologies as the IT firm hired more than 20 full-time employees in the early part of 2014. Meanwhile, OST announced the opening of an office across the pond in London. 

As OST continues to serve as one of the anchors in the West Michigan technology community, The Right Place announced it would add technology and communication and commercial design to its new three-year goals. The economic development nonprofit is looking to add 5,500 new jobs, $390 million in capital investment and $183 million in new payroll.

Those numbers follow the previous five-year plan in which The Right Place helped create 11,000 jobs and injected more than $370 million in disposable income. The numbers were achieved by focusing on three high-growth sectors: smart manufacturing, agriculture and food processing, and life sciences and biotech.

February

The month began with a bang as Amway reported record sales of $11.8 billion in 2013.

With the Winter Olympics in full swing in Sochi, Russia, the West Michigan Sports Commission found the perfect time to launch the first Meijer State Games of Michigan Winter Games, which brought more than 2,000 Michigan athletes of all ages and abilities to Grand Rapids to take part in 13 sports.

The creative fields ruled much of the rest of February as ArtPrize 2013 numbers were totaled: The international art competition pumped more than $22 million into the local economy.

With ArtPrize acting as a major catalyst, the creative economy in Grand Rapids is worth $3.6 billion, according to a survey by ArtServe Michigan. The survey found that much in wages was paid to more than 74,000 employees at nearly 10,000 businesses. The report also noted arts and culture in Kent County brought in $2 billion worth of tourism.

Arts and athletics weren’t the only active industries. Stryker Corp. made a deal to acquire Germany-based Berchtold Holding for $172 million. Stryker struck it big again later in the year when it acquired Pennsylvania-based Small Bone Innovations for $375 million.

A plethora of hospitals and life science companies such as Stryker helped make the Grand Rapids health care market No. 9 on a list on Livability.com of Top 10 Cities for Affordable Health Care.

German filtration maker Mann+Hummel announced plans for a Portage plant that would cost $17.4 million and create 70 jobs.

Kellogg decided to grow its Grand Rapids presence by opening its North America Global Business Services Service Center on Patterson Avenue SE. The hub was predicted to bring between 300 and 600 jobs in finance, IT, supply chain management and human resources.

Companies old and new are growing in Grand Rapids including Varsity News Network, a high school sports website company, which secured $3 million from venture capital firms for a national expansion.

March

Kent County reported its residents recycled more than ever in 2013: more than 30,500 tons of “recyclable” trash. More than 25,000 tons were reclaimed and sold, bringing in more than $2.5 million to the county.

As recycling became more common, Lowell Energy AD broke ground on a $5.4 million anaerobic digester project to turn waste into energy.

Energy might be a hot new industry in the state, but Gov. Rick Snyder spoke about the strength of Michigan’s auto industry at the 15th Annual Automotive Suppliers Symposium at Grand Valley State University in March. One of the main takeaways from Snyder’s speech: continue to bring auto-industry talent to Michigan’s West Coast.

The governor might have a new place to stay next time he’s in town: Third Coast Development began its construction of a five-story Hampton Inn & Suites off Michigan Street near the Medical Mile.

Construction also was big on the Grand Valley State University campus in March as the school began work on a $42 million science building and approved a $7.5 million expansion of Kleiner Commons.

April

U.S. 131 has long been familiar to Grand Rapids commuters, but the Grand Rapids Planning Commission had another vision as it backed a study recommending the removal of the freeway, despite Mayor George Heartwell’s objections.

Haworth Inc. made a commitment to source 100 percent sustainable wood for its office furniture manufacturing by the end of 2015.

Muskegon’s Baker College announced an investment of $8 million to build a health science center.

Byron Center saw new economic development as Italy-based INglass-HRSFlow announced a $17.6 million investment in a facility for hot-runner systems for injection molding. The investment will include 109 new jobs.

Victory Electronic Cigarettes had a big month — and year. The month began with rollout of a $20 million international marketing plan. Later in April, the Nunica-based company acquired England-based e-cigarette maker VIP. It was the fourth acquisition of the year for Victory, as it also had acquired Field’s Texas Group, FIN Branding Group and Vapestick. Later in the year, the company became Grand Rapids-based Electronic Cigarettes International Group with plans of an initial public offering of $150 million. The company also agreed to a distribution deal with TDR to extend its distribution further into Europe.

May

The merger of Mercantile Bank and Alma’s Firstbank Corp., first announced in 2013, finally received approval. The first full quarter as a combined entity proved to be worthwhile as income for the organization was $5.9 million, compared to $3.5 million in the same quarter in 2013.

Chicago-based fairlife LLC, producer of workout-recovery drink Core Power, announced plans for a $96.3 million expansion to its Coopersville plant that would add 100 jobs.

In Algoma, Steel 21 invested $4.5 million in its new steel plate processing plant. The startup planned to hire 31 employees to begin, and up to 61 employees in the next three years.

June

Grand Rapids hired David Rahinsky as its new police chief, replacing Kevin Belk, who retired.

As Rahinsky started his first year as the city’s top police officer, Independent Bank celebrated its 150th year as a company.

The American Homebrewers Association held its annual conference at DeVos Place, which saw more than 4,000 homebrewers from across the country travel to Grand Rapids for the event.

Beacon Hill at Eastgate, an assisted living facility, announced a $30 million expansion to add between 50 and 60 units to meet growing demand.

Downtown, a $13 million expansion and renovation of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum got under way.

Roughly $10 million of capital was raised for an expansion of the Grand River Aseptic Manufacturing plant.

July

A study to see what passenger rail could bring to Michigan was included in the state budget. The study focuses on a rail line that would connect Holland, Grand Rapids, Lansing and Detroit.

Grand Rapids philanthropist and Steelcase executive Peter Wege was mourned and celebrated following his death. Later in the year, Wege’s estate made several large donations, including million-dollar gifts to Grand Rapids Ballet and St. Cecilia Music Center and a $2.5 million gift to Aquinas College.

July was a big month for auto suppliers. Walker-based Challenge Mfg. Co. announced a $65.5 million investment in a plant in Lansing to create 420 jobs. Challenge had invested $50 million in a Detroit plant earlier in the year. 

Meanwhile, Italian Brembo S.P.A. plans a $78.4 million plant in Albion Township to create 254 jobs.

Herman Milller acquired Connecticut-based furniture retailer Design Within Reach for $154 million.

Another major West Michigan company, Whirlpool Corp., acquired a majority stake in Fineldo S.P.A., an Italian appliance maker, for $1 billion.

August

The Grand Rapids skyline is changing again as Orion Construction began building the $45 million Arena Place. The 11-story building will feature apartments, offices, retail and parking.

Orion isn’t the only company looking to change the shape of the Arena District. Franklin Partners announced an investment of up to $5.5 million to renovate 25 Ottawa, including exterior improvements.

Development around the arena — and the Medical Mile and Division Avenue — could be helped along by The Rapid’s Silver Line. Eleven years of planning for the $39 million bus rapid transit system finally came to fruition Aug. 25 when the first bus ran the route. The project was completed under budget.

One of the Silver Line route stops is at Grand Rapids Community College, which celebrated its 100th Anniversary in 2014.

As GRCC celebrated its centennial, the Meijer LPGA Classic held its inaugural tournament at Blythefield Country Club. It will return next year.

Down south, Kalamazoo startup Vestatron Corp. announced it closed a $10 million Series C round of preferred stock financing led by investor Cultivian Sandbox Ventures. Vestatron plans to bring a bio-pesticide to the marketplace in 2015.

September

Kent County Health Department opened up a clinic in Kentwood, a $2.6 million project that converted a former library to a facility that will offer traditional medical services and dental work.

Varnum Law attorney Carl Ver Beek was honored at the State Bar of Michigan’s annual meeting with the Roberts P. Hudson Award, the highest award given by the state bar.

West Michigan Sports Commission hosted a scrimmage featuring the Michigan State University baseball team as part of the opening fall season at the Art Van Sports Complex. The 60-acre, $7.8 million facility took six years to come to life, but is projected to inject more than $20 million into the region.

Twenty million dollars in economic impact seemed like a popular number in September as the Anderson Economic Group found the Grand River restoration project could bring in up to $20 million per year.

Less than a month after BarFly Ventures opened its third HopCat location in Indianapolis, it announced plans for a tiki-themed barbecue restaurant named The Shrunken Head on Commerce Avenue. The company also saw HopCat Detroit open in December and announced Ann Arbor and Madison, Wis., locations, as well.

BarFly Ventures continues to grow its Midwestern footprint as Meijer continues to solidify its hold on its home state of Michigan. The Midwest grocery chain said it plans to hire approximately 4,800 employees in Michigan.

Centerpointe Mall sold for $68 million.

Plasan Carbon Composites announced plans to invest $29 million into a plant expansion that could bring 620 jobs to the area.

October

New Holland Brewing Co. announced it would open a pub in Grand Rapids as part of a $17 million project on Bridge Street. The news came as the Holland-based brewery was making moves to solidify its front office for years to come.

The addition of the new downtown pub came several days prior to ArtPrize’s announcement of the 2014 Grand Prize winner: “Intersections” by Indianapolis’ Anila Quayyum Agha. This year’s ArtPrize included an updated mobile app and a new parallel prize system. About a month after the conclusion of this year’s event, ArtPrize announced a new Dallas affiliate had purchased the rights to hold an ArtPrize of its own.

Several board members from the nonprofit Alliance for Health resigned as the mission of the organization shifted from advocating for lower health care services to an insurance-based agency. The change in leadership from long-time president Lody Zwarensteyn to Paul Brand was the main reason behind the change in the organization’s strategy.

As Alliance for Health shifted focus, custom medical device manufacturer Rose Technologies invested in its goals with new construction on Front Street that will allow the company to continue its growth at about 15 to 20 percent a year.

Fitness is at the heart of health, and the groundbreaking of the $30 million Mary Free Bed YMCA in Cascade Township will be a one-of-a-kind, universally designed YMCA allowing both able-bodied and disabled persons access to all spaces. 

Business travelers to the area received an upgrade as parts of the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel underwent a $14 million facelift to accommodate its corporate-minded guests.

Grand Valley State University spent $22 million to renovate its former library into a new administration office.

Before long, it could be much easier for GVSU students to travel back and forth between campuses as a second bus rapid transit line is planned between the Allendale campus and downtown. The Laker Line would cost roughly $45.5 million.

Travelers on the Pere Marquette rail line to Chicago are better accommodated, as the train now arrives at the new $6.1 million station named for former U.S. Rep. Vernon Ehlers, who has been active throughout his lifetime in environmental conservation. A new level-boarding station opened at The Rapid intermodal transportation hub, which also includes state and national bus services.

And for travelers looking to fly, the Gerald R. Ford International Airport approved $95 million worth of funding for improvements to take place between 2015 and 2020. The projects include a consolidated checkpoint and marketplace, a master plan update and resurfacing of the airfield perimeter road.

Athletes from across the country might use the airport when they come to town for the 2017 State Games of America, which was awarded to Grand Rapids in October. The honor comes just five years after the creation of the annual Meijer State Games of Michigan held in the city every summer.

Those driving to Detroit to try some famous Slows BBQ won’t have to travel that far next year, when a Slows will open in Downtown Market.

November

Following the move of its headquarters to Dublin, Perrigo Co. announced a deal to buy Omega Pharma for $4.48 million. The move was made to accelerate the company’s international growth.

Other West Michigan companies also continue their aspirations for large revenue numbers, including Gill Industries, whose leadership set their sights on the path to be a $1 billion company in the near future.

A former headquarters of another major West Michigan company has changed hands. Steelcase’s Pyramid sold for $7.5 million to Pyramid Campus, which will convert the unique building into a STEAM — Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math — learning facility.

The Pyramid isn’t the only former Steelcase entity with a new role. Former CEO Jim Hackett was named University of Michigan’s interim athletic director following the resignation of Dave Brandon.

Hackett’s time as the school’s athletic director is unknown, but Mayor Heartwell now knows when his time as the city’s main man is up, as term limits were approved by voters during November elections.

The DeltaPlex received a new tenant in November when the Grand Rapids Drive kicked off its inaugural season in the NBA Development League as an affiliate of the Detroit Pistons. 

Chemical Financial Corp. got into the acquisition game in 2014 by signing a definitive agreement to acquire Monarch Community Bank for $26 million.

December

Grand Rapids Public Schools continued its innovative partnerships with a unique program with Van Andel Institute. More than 90 science teachers in the district will head through the VAI’s program to help change how science is taught.

GRPS students could end up helping supply the city’s many life science companies, such as Autocam Medical, which looks to continue its expansion as it picked up Tennessee-based Southeastern Technology Inc. and should see revenues in 2015 jump to $100 million.

More construction on the Medical Mile is in the works as Michigan State University approved the $3 million demolition of the former Grand Rapids Press Building on Michigan Street. MSU plans to put its Grand Rapids Biomedical Research Center in its space.

A $40 million expansion at Founders Brewing Co. is underway to eventually bring its capacity to 900,000 barrels annually, but the news was overshadowed by the brewery announcing it had brought on a major Spanish brewery as a 30 percent minority owner.

While the Spanish are investing in West Michigan beer, Coldwater Township’s Clemens Food Group will invest up to $255 million in a new pork production plant, creating more than 800 jobs.

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