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Kawasaki revs up R&D in Grand Rapids

May 17, 2017
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Kawasaki Engines inspection
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Kawasaki Motors Corp. celebrated last week the renovation and expansion of its engines division headquarters in Grand Rapids — and the opening of a new, state-of-the-art research and development center within the 200,000-square-foot facility.

R&D for Kawasaki Engines had been housed in Maryville, Missouri, where Kawasaki Motors Corp.’s manufacturing facility is located, but last year, the company decided to relocate the R&D operations to the division’s HQ, at 5080 36th St. SE.

Grand Rapids has been home to Kawasaki Engines’ sales, marketing, accounting and other operations staff since 1992, when it relocated from Wisconsin.

Nelson Wilner, VP of Kawasaki Engines, said the R&D move was due to a need for the R&D team to be closer to other Kawasaki teams that work with customers on a daily basis.

“R&D people need to be close to the market,” Wilner said. “They need to be close to customer information and market research, otherwise they are working in a vacuum.

“As far as the facility, the impetus for the remodel was we needed good test areas for the R&D group. We built a magnificent test lab and test cells for all (the) different ways you’d internally test and design engines. We made the offices look beautiful, but the star is the R&D center.”

Wilner said moving R&D to Grand Rapids will also help Kawasaki recruit and retain engineers as the company grows.

“The manufacturing plant is in northern Missouri, about an hour north of Kansas City, which is not the best place for recruiting and keeping high-quality engineers,” Wilner said.

“Michigan is loaded with great engineers and automotive engineers. It’s a much better area to recruit and keep good engineers, and Grand Rapids is (an) attractive place to live, no disrespect to Marysville. We are attracting people to the area and bringing people to Grand Rapids.”

Kawasaki Engines currently employs 149 employees in Grand Rapids.

Wilner said Kawasaki expects continued growth over the next several years, and the company is committed to Grand Rapids.

“We are growing and are successful, and this R&D facility will add rocket fuel to our growth and our strength,” Wilner said.

“We are an American division — obviously, with a Japanese home office — and we are very grateful for the money our home office has put here into Grand Rapids….There is a full commitment to not only (a) physical location here, but American jobs and employment in Grand Rapids.”

Kawasaki Engines supports 7,500 independent lawn and garden dealers nationwide, providing engines, Kawasaki parts and accessories, sales and warranty support.

OEM customers include John Deere, Toro/Exmark, MTD, Ariens/Gravely, Excel, Dixie Chopper and Bad Boy.

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