Focus, Construction, and Manufacturing

Byrne Electrical growth surge pinned to mobile technology

Expansion project hopes to revitalize northern community.

October 30, 2015
| By Pat Evans |
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The growth of the technology industry is having a significant impact on a local manufacturer.

Byrne Electrical Specialists has approximately $2.25 million in expansions either completed or in progress, including a new facility in Lakeview, in response to the increase in mobile technology.

Recently, Byrne finished a $1.5 million, 15,000-square-foot expansion of its Rockford facility, where it is currently staging the manufacturing process that will eventually occupy its Lakeview facility, managing director Dan Byrne said.

The growth of the company stems from the growing need for workers to be mobile, Byrne said. Byrne Electrical supplies power and data outlets that are integrated into furniture, including that made by West Michigan manufacturers such as Herman Miller, Haworth and Steelcase.

“There’s a need for people to collaborate and be plugged in wherever they are when their battery dies,” Byrne said, mentioning smartphones, iPads, laptops, and a number of cutting-edge technological pieces such as smart watches and Google Glass-type inventions. “There’s this need to stay connected with all the emerging verticals.”

That need now stretches beyond office cubicles and conference rooms. Byrne said the integration of technology into home office furniture also is critical, as more employees desire to work from home while staying connected to their work office.

He said it’s important for health care facilities and the hospitality industry to have the integrated technology, as well.

This need is due to advances in the technology field that didn’t exist 10 years ago, Byrne said.

“It used to be when you needed more power, you went to Lowe’s and picked up a power strip,” Byrne said. “Now people need agility and flexibility. It’s all these new ways people work.”

The growth of the company has led to adding 30 to 40 employees to its workforce each year since 2009, and expectations are that sales will break $100 million this year.

Next year, the company expects to hire between 50 and 75 employees, he said.

Rockford has been a focus for Byrne Electrical since the company moved from downtown Grand Rapids to its current location in 1979, but the driving force will now shift to Lakeview.

Lakeview, located in Montcalm County, was once a hub of manufacturing activity, but that dried up when manufacturing started to shift overseas in the 1990s.

“Lakeview is a great town and a great place to invest. It’s how we felt about Rockford when we built in 1979,” Byrne Electrical founder Norm Byrne said.

Byrne and his wife, Rosemary, founded the company in 1971.

“Investment in manufacturing in Lakeview over the past few decades has been limited. We are excited to change that trend,” Byrne said.

As more expansion became necessary, Byrne Electrical looked outside of the United States. The company already has distribution centers in Brazil and Mexico and a manufacturing facility in China.

But reinvestment into Michigan became a priority for the company, Byrne said.

“After the jobs left the area, some people came to work for us,” he said. “They drive a long way, and we’d like to invest farther north. We hope it encourages other companies to look at the area.”

The Lakeview facility will sit on an 8.8-acre site on Tamarack Lake that was once a sawmill. The facility will initially be a 15,000-square-foot building, but Byrne said there are plans for two or three manufacturing and office buildings — not necessarily for use by Byrne Electrical. The site has been mostly vacant since the 1970s.

The investment comes from the company but also from a group of investors called Pickle Dock. The entire project will be $750,000 to start, with $160,000 coming from Michigan Economic Development Corp., tied to economic growth, job creation and training.

The site should be completed in June 2016. Expansion will happen as needed for Byrne Electrical or for other tenants, Byrne said.

“There is an optimism that this growth will continue,” he said. “People will continue to realize they need to power all sorts of devices quickly and efficiently.”

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