Partnership Lands Newsmaker Award

July 28, 2003
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MUSKEGON — Mayor Steve Warmington perhaps best summed up the importance of the high-tech business and residential park that will soon begin taking shape along Muskegon’s waterfront in early June, when business and community leaders announced the addition of Siemens Corp. to the project.

As he stepped up to the microphone, flashing a broad grin across his face, Warmington conjured up images of the area’s former industrial base — and the high-tech future many believe the SmartZone will generate.

“Hello fuel-cell energies, good-bye foundries,” said Warmington during the June press conference to announce the Siemens partnership.

“It’s wonderful to have an international company that believes in Muskegon,” Warmington said. “Today is the beginning of the new evolution of time.”

When he stepped to the podium to accept the Grand Rapids Business Journal’s Newsmaker of the Year Award, Warmington recalled those statements with this statement: “Hello, Grand Rapids!”

More than 250 people gathered at Downtown Rotary’s Thursday luncheon to discover the winner of the Business Journal’s annual Newsmaker honor.

Warmington likened the effort to that of a Super Bowl team.

“We realize it takes a team and teamwork to win a game like this. Leadership and partnerships were really the key to this whole cooperative effort.

“We’re pleased that Grand Rapids and West Michigan is beginning to recognize what we call ‘our little piece of paradise.’”

Siemens Corp. had agreed to partner with Grand Valley State University to develop an “Energy Center of Excellence” in Muskegon that will include an alternative-energy research center, a business incubator for alternative-energy ventures, and a fuel-cell power station that will provide electricity to the entire 34-acre business park.

The announcement was one of many advancements that occurred during 2002 for the Lakefront Muskegon SmartZone, which late in the year was renamed Edison Landing.

In recognition of their public-private partnership that is bringing the development to fruition, the backers of Edison Landing — including Grand Valley State University, the City of Muskegon, and Lakefront Development LLC, which consists of partners in the law firm Parmenter O’Toole — received the Grand Rapids Business Journal’s 2002 Newsmaker of the Year Award.

“The criterion for the Grand Rapids Business Journal Newsmaker of the Year is the long-term impact of any event, decision or business plan,” said Carole Valade-Copenhaver, Business Journal editor. “The honor is not bestowed because of the year, or because it was newsworthy, but because it will have economic impact for the long-term.”

Valade-Copenhaver noted that in the 10 years of Business Journal Newsmaker decisions, partnerships most often have provided the necessary ingredient answering the criterion. “Those partnerships are forged in compromise and demonstrated by those who are the best examples of leadership in this region.

“Certainly the willingness of Parmenter O’Toole law partners to assist in Muskegon’s rebirth, and the unprecedented investment of both Siemens Corp and Grand Valley State University in new technology and in Muskegon, will profoundly impact this region for a long, long time,” she said.

Construction on the $8 million, 25,000-square-foot Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center began in late October. Additional projects within the development, featuring a mixture of commercial and residential uses, are expected to begin this summer.

Siemens Corp., the American arm of German global technology conglomerate Siemens AG, agreed to join the project because of the tax incentives offered within a SmartZone, and Grand Valley State’s commitment to support research, development and commercialization of fuel cells for commercial buildings that “created an environment that is welcoming to this type of technology,” said Bud Grebey, vice president of public relations for Siemens Corp.

“We really see the university as providing the opportunity to support development and showcase Siemens’ work,” Grebey said. “They seem to have a very solid plan on how they see the future. It’s the right place at the right time and with the right set of partners.”

Warmington and others envision new firms in the field of renewable and alternative energies sprouting up in Edison Landing, as well as within a new industrial park Muskegon County is developing on the former Cordova Chemical site in Dalton Township. They believe the Edison Landing development and research center will position Muskegon to become a leader in the development and production of “green power” technologies.

“The opportunities are endless,” Warmington said during an October ceremonial groundbreaking for the research center. “This is an exciting day and a colossal opportunity for our community.”

The facility, described as the “office building of the future,” is designed as a self-sustaining center that will use fuel cells and solar photovoltaic cells to generate power, nickel hydride batteries for storing electricity, and a heat recovery system for heating and cooling.

The project was first conceived in 1999 by group of businessmen that include Nick Pietrangelo of Harding Energy Inc. in Norton Shores, Stan Jasek of First Power LLC in Muskegon, and Grand Valley State Professor James Wolter, who now serves as research director for the center.

They in turn sold Grand Valley State administrators on the idea and connected with Lakefront Development, which at the same time was beginning to formulate plans to turn the former Teledyne site into an office park.

Dave Mielke, dean of Grand Valley State’s Seidman School of Business, called the Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center the product of “a tremendous group of believers, conceivers and achievers.”

“What we have here shows what you can, in fact, accomplish if you do work together,” Mielke said during the Oct. 28 groundbreaking.        

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