Architecture & Design, Economic Development, and Human Resources

Architecture firm’s growth indicative of industry

TowerPinkster adds 14 employees this year as design business booms again.

July 31, 2015
| By Pat Evans |
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Arnie Mikon would like to think TowerPinkster is a dramatic exception among local architecture companies — it has 14 new employees so far this year — but he said actually the whole industry is expanding.

Mikon, who is TowerPinkster’s president and CEO, said the company has recovered steadily since the Great Recession and is up to approximately 80 employees. In the past 10 years, the most employees the company has had was in the low 70s.

“We’re a cyclical business; it’s more fun when it’s going well,” Mikon said.

“It’s a result of western Michigan’s great economy that has gotten all sorts of national press, and that’s partly related to the nation’s improvement since the financial crisis.”

In late July, TowerPinkster announced the addition of 10 employees and two promotions to help with its growing portfolio of work.

Mikon said much of the firm’s work currently is in the not-for-profit sector and it is running several fundraising phases for projects, which include two churches. TowerPinkster also helps schools with bond proposals to help fund projects.

For the past several years, the organizations knew the climate wasn’t right to ask for money to help start projects so they held off. With the economy stabilizing, the not-for-profits have recruited TowerPinkster to create drawings to show prospective donors.

Northwood University recently finished a fundraising campaign and began construction on a project, and Central Michigan University’s business school is looking into a new building project, as well.

Universities are once again planning for the future, and TowerPinkster is set to start on its third collegiate four-year master plan, Mikon said.

“People are thinking more long range and not spending $30 million all at once,” he said.

TowerPinkster also is working with Kelloggsville, Hart and Godwin Heights public schools on design work.

“The bigger for-profits were able to set aside money for things like roofs, but a number of not-for-profits knew the environment wasn’t right,” Mikon said.

“A couple of years ago, at one time we had five significant projects of $10 million that were doing fundraising packages so they could go out and show people the images.”

The new additions have been a mix of senior staff members and support staff and interns. The most recent round of hiring included several project managers, an interior designer, a human resources manager and a mechanical engineer.

The new hires are Marika Hawes-Ruhrup, Carrie Hoch-Mortlock, George Huyler, Tom Kaywood, Kendra Logan, Michelle VanderBor, Yvonne VanWormer, Cristal Bugarin, Aaron Riess and Sabrina Senninger. Ashley Brenner was promoted from a design intern to a full-time design architect.

Aside from the positive economic climate encouraging the increase in employees, Mikon said people have actively been looking at TowerPinkster since it was named the best mid-sized firm to work for in 2009 by management consulting and research firm ZweigWhite.

That designation has a lot to do with the company’s office culture, which is laid back, collaborative and open.

This year, two of the new employees are coming from Virginia and Massachusetts.

“They’re both returning to be closer to family, and that’s clearly somewhat related to the aura that Grand Rapids is having nationally,” he said. “That’s pretty unusual — people haven’t wanted to come anywhere near Michigan.”

Having new employees move here from other regions of the country means new ideas and concepts are brought to the table, Mikon said.

“When we hire someone who hasn’t been here in a long time and coming from a new firm, we always look to them for new ideas and to see how someone else is doing things,” he said.

New ideas for the firm are needed, as it’s beginning to dabble in auto dealerships, Mikon said.

As auto manufacturers see sales on the rise, they look for their dealers to step up their game.

“The competition is stiff, particularly at the upper-end dealers,” Mikon said.

“Some of that is coming from auto manufacturers saying, ‘If you want to sell my cars, you have to upgrade (your facilities),’ and they actually threaten to pull the franchise if you don’t do that.”

Upgrades are what most businesses are interested in, Mikon said, pointing to a variety of companies that are moving their office spaces into downtown Grand Rapids as consumer confidence increases.

That confidence extends to TowerPinkster, Mikon said. The economists at the Association of General Contractors have forecast a positive 2016.

“It’s still the upgrade kind of things,” he said. “People are looking at new offices now that they have money to spend and they feel confident about the economy.”

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