Muskegon aligns for economic sustainability

June 12, 2015
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Muskegon has endured a decade of fits and starts, especially the havoc wreaked during the Great Recession when promising projects abruptly were halted, and manufacturing losses left the city and county hard hit.

The final implosion of the Sappi paper mill in early 2014 was perhaps emblematic of the finality of old “structures” and thinking, clearing the way to new development. There has been progress in the first half of this year toward a redevelopment not only of Muskegon’s downtown and its highly important deep-water port but also its business groups aligning toward a shared vision. The success of those groups is a boon to the entire West Michigan region.

Grand Rapids Business Journal reported in 2012 that the new Sappi property owner, Doug Melching, of Melching Inc., was involved in development discussions for the 4,000 feet of Muskegon Lake shoreline, which, he said, “will take several years to complete.” There is no shortage of interested developers, including dock companies and the possibility for a Michigan Energy & Technology Center proposed by the Michigan Wind Energy Consortium, a group led by Grand Rapids logistics company Rockford Bergé and L-3 Combat Propulsion Systems, a Muskegon plant that has produced engines and vehicle suspensions for armored military vehicles since World War II.

Recent announcements have included the partnership of several economic development groups, including West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission forming Vision 2020 for all 4,100 acres of Muskegon Lake. The group segmented the work into four focus areas: recreational use, sustainable environmental and natural resources work already underway, commerce and port activity, and future development and residential properties. 

Muskegon’s most active developer, Parkland Properties’ Jonathon Rooks, pooled resources with Nick and Ashley Sarnicola to create education and entrepreneurial training through a grant to Muskegon Community College. Rooks donated the Masonic Temple building to house the Rooks Sarnicola Center for Entrepreneurial Studies. Sarnicola is co-founder of ViSalus.

In May, no fewer than 15 organizations — including Muskegon County municipalities — agreed to an image and marketing campaign underpinning development and employer prospects. Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce President Cindy Larsen candidly remarked to the Business Journal May 22: “Things were slowing down because people didn’t have good information about Muskegon and the Muskegon lakeshore.” She noted economic development groups and municipalities were concerned about the area’s image as it relates to attracting talent.

The painstaking work along each avenue — port commerce, future developments, education opportunities and image — is vital to the region.

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