Economic Development and Real Estate

NorthStar shines on West Michigan market

Commercial real estate firm blends local talent into its culture.

July 10, 2015
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When the legendary King Arthur created his Round Table, it was designed in a circular fashion so there would be no head seat, allowing all the knights to enjoy an equal status and voice.

That’s what Steve Millman is creating in his Grand Rapids real estate version of Camelot.

Millman is the president and founder of NorthStar Commercial, a Grand Rapids-based full-service brokerage firm that offers tenant representation, site selection and more in the industrial, retail and office sectors. It also has a full-service property management division.

The firm’s multi-faceted skill-set combined with a small-yet-talented team of agents plucked from some of the area’s most respected brands, such as Colliers, CBRE, Robert Grooters Development Co., Horizon Group Properties and Meijer, is what’s helping its culture succeed, as well as its business, Millman said.

The firm currently employs 11 licensed realtors, two licensed support staff and about five maintenance crew members — and NorthStar is planning to grow in the coming year.

Millman believes it’s now the largest non-nationally affiliated firm in Grand Rapids.

“As far as vision … we’re real excited for what’s to come for Grand Rapids and NorthStar. We have a great culture here, a great philosophy. We truly sit at a round table with everyone who works here, and everyone has a voice and is heard,” he said.

“We formed the company about six years ago, in 2009, and it really formed organically. It’s just kind of a different approach. I had an idea as far as how to create a real estate company that really gives it back to the people like the 11 other realtors in our company give back. Our idea wasn’t to make money off our associates but to reward them off the (commission) splits as much as possible.”

NorthStar is headquartered in a three-story, 30,000-square-foot office building at 660 Cascade West Parkway SE in Grand Rapids, where it currently has about 3,000 square feet but plans to add another 2,000 square feet within the year.

NorthStar also has an office with four employees at 16920 Ferris St. in Grand Haven.

Although the bulk of NorthStar’s work is in Grand Rapids, approximately 25 percent occurs throughout the state. But the west side of the state is where a firm like NorthStar will have tremendous opportunity, Millman said.

When asked where he comes from, Millman used to say he was from Chicago. Now he proudly tells people he’s from Grand Rapids.

“I feel Grand Rapids, specifically for us, just seems to be perfect. I think in the past people have chopped up the commercial sector for various reasons. Maybe it was because their firm was getting too large. But I think if you’re a talented commercial realtor, you shouldn’t be handcuffed because of that. And I think that’s what happened in the past,” he said.

“I think (our size) definitely helps. Being too large of a company, sometimes voices are not heard, ideas are passed over, and we’ve made a conscientious decision to not make that happen.”

Millman started in commercial real estate at the age of 16, working for his uncle in Chicago. In 2006, he and his wife, Katie, a Grand Rapids native, decided to move to Grand Rapids to raise their family. He worked for Grubb & Ellis before venturing out on his own to start NorthStar.

Millman’s plans for NorthStar are to continue on its path and keep growing its property management division. Quality will remain the top priority, however.

“Some of the real estate companies in town were only industrial and only office, and I just felt that was not the case for the type of talent we were attracting. Not only could we handle more than one type of real estate, but we could be really good at it. We took a different approach and it turned out to be the right approach.

“We have grown organically from inception. It’s never been about being the biggest firm — just being the best. I know that’s probably cliché, but we really are laser-focused on our clients.”

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