How Cool Metro Region Is Fired Up

June 30, 2006
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Yep, West Michigan is in recovery. In fact, it would appear the metro area has lunged past recovery and is doggedly pushing growth and profit curves. Economic development offices are becoming more concerned about quality of life and “cool city” concepts to attract an educated work force than the old tax incentives. There is plenty of proof of both in the metro area.

The Michigan Retail Index showed that 48 percent of West Michigan retailers reported an increase in sales in May, and forecasts for West Michigan predict that 51 percent will see those increases continue over the next three months. Only Northern Michigan is expected to do better in the forecast, with 60 percent expected to report increases, as summer vacationers head in that direction.

Steelcase quarterly earnings, released last week, showed increasing profits, with its Turnstone and architectural products registering double-digit growth. Herman Miller, the world’s second-largest office furniture manufacturer — uncontent until it overtakes No.1 Steelcase — reported its 10th consecutive quarter of year-over-year sales growth and another year of double-digit growth. Reports showed it is in its strongest position in five years and earned 36 percent growth in its international business in the fourth quarter alone. Even better news: One-third of its operational expenses are spent on research and development of new products.

Alcoa Howmet Castings in Whitehall won part of a $1.3 million U.S. Department of Defense contract, which combines Alcoa’s design capabilities with Howmet’s titanium manufacturing capabilities in a project to help DOD cut costs. Howmet has been part of DOD’s Advanced Aluminum Aerostructure Initiative.

Grand Haven is the proud recipient of a $30,000 Michigan Economic Development Corp. grant to help identify the strength and needs of its Main Street program. The city is one of four in the state to receive such funding, and anticipates that survey work will be finished in time for the Christmas holiday season.

Muskegon celebrates its enormously popular Summer Celebration this week, and with Michigan’s Adventure just up the street, one wonders why anyone would leave town this holiday week to sit in a major hub airport.

Millions of dollars are fueling development news in the city of Grand Rapids, with a $17 million Heartside project that will expand affordable housing, Saint Mary’s Health Care’s $60 million neurological center, and the new Grand Rapids Art Museum and JW Marriott hotel taking more obvious shape.

If “quality of life” and “cool city” concepts are the lifeblood to sustain recruitment and retention of a work force for the growing businesses in this region, then Ed Kettle deserves the city salute this month. The Grand Rapids businessman became a one-man force to keep fireworks popping over the Grand River this week. With city budget cuts, the usual sponsors couldn’t make up the difference to pay for the annual show, but Kettle took it upon himself to relentlessly seek out the necessary dollars. Centennial Wireless, Spartan Stores, Alticor Inc. and Metro Health put up the money for the celebration. “It’s like Christmas without Santa Claus, or something like that. … It’s what we do. It’s a national expectation. … People were not going to be deprived of fireworks on the Fourth of July,” he told the Business Journal.

And that’s also the coolest example of what any one person can accomplish in this community.    

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