Taxing '07 Gives Way To Hope

December 31, 2007
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A tumultuous year that began with the unification of a community joining the world in saying farewell to its homegrown national symbol, President Gerald R. Ford, proceeded to evolve with the dismissal of a far-fetched “mystery” business scheme and the ushering in of a new era of true economic opportunity bolstered by the promise of a burgeoning medical and life sciences industry.

Political wrangling over taxation issues clouded progress in Lansing and threatened to send more businesses and their shrinking work force to friendlier environs. Even as the area battled a tightening credit crunch that was driven by a wave of housing foreclosures and a wary financial community battered by unwise concessions to an individual suspected of loan fraud, signs of continued prosperity blossomed within a determined commercial real estate market and globally positioning manufacturing and retail sectors.

Partnerships, coalitions and strategists came together in industries impacted by economic development, technology, life sciences and homeland security issues to identify innovative ways to forge positive momentum for the social and economic good. It wasn’t without its share of heartbreak, dispute and hard work, but 2007 departs with plenty of positive contributions and a mission to further stay on task in 2008.

The Business Journal’s traditional review of stories that hit these pages in the past 12 months begins on page B1, but individual stories rarely find print without a connection to other developments, plans, pleas or schemes. In the business world, in particular, what goes around almost always comes around.

Just when all eyes appeared focused on the explosion of the “Medical Mile” in downtown Grand Rapids, construction of new medical office space sprouted in the suburbs. East Paris/Cascade Road, East Beltline Avenue and areas adjoining M-6 saw significant growth in medical office space.

Amid complaints that the focus of meeting, convention and travel priorities was squarely on the beam in the downtown area — as public facilities continued to attract audiences and a major international hotel was going up on the riverfront — legislation was cleared to allow the Convention and Visitors Bureau to collect another $2 million annually in lodging taxes, providing essential marketing dollars for showcasing suburban destinations and lodging locations. The rise of the West Michigan Sports Commission also will boost this effort.

As concerns were muttered about the downsizing of area companies and what impact it would have on large facilities left vacant, other companies were committing to locate in the Grand Rapids Commerce Center, the former Steelcase campus at 44th Street and Eastern Avenue SE. Ashley Capital, a New York-based real estate developer, bought the property and is redeveloping the site into full productive use.

Similar “replacement players” were filling a role throughout the area as vacant big boxes left by Lear Corp., Pfizer Inc., Life Savers and Hart & Cooley were rescued by enterprising developers with concrete plans to put the once-aging facilities and properties to good use.

Even a devastating fire couldn’t stop one burgeoning redevelopment plan. When a 110-year-old bicycle factory building burned last winter, some thought the project that was planned for the near southwest-side site went up in smoke, too. Instead of a renovation, the partners now plan to put up a new five-story building.

So as it is said frequently about the region’s weather, if you don’t like it, stick around, there’s probably something to your liking coming soon. West Michigan’s economic climate is much the same. Just wait. We haven’t seen clearly what’s coming around the bend just yet.    

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