Success Stories Spur Optimism

August 22, 2008
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Honda isn’t building a plant in West Michigan but the announcement of more than 1,000 anticipated new jobs from the lakeshore to Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo is just as big.

Analysts have long said the new economy jobs would come from dozens of smaller business, as the IBMs and General Motors of the world shrink. The types of job opportunities announced last week also reflect a healthy balance of economic diversity. The tax abatements promised to help make the deal is an important consideration for the Kent County Board of Commissioners, now embroiled in discussion with constituent cities over capping its participation in similar economic initiatives.

The Michigan Economic Development Corp., The Right Place Inc. and Lakeshore Advantage last week announced the awarding of tax incentives for a combined 20 businesses around the state, five of those in West Michigan. Wolverine World Wide has indicated the tax abatement makes its bid to manufacture combat boots more competitive and is the deal breaker to win that contract and those jobs. It is just one example of how the abatements can be used to leverage expansions and new business, especially given the onerous Michigan Business Tax, a disingenuous legislature, a credit crunch limiting second-tier and expansion financing and other impediments in the land of the unemployed.

It is important to note that the majority of the new jobs are being created by companies that have suffered through Michigan’s bleak days and have the wherewithal to succeed and expand. Another example of that success is reported on page 3 regarding the growth of GR Spring & Stamping.

A report in the Business Journal last month underscores that success in a measure of industrial property real estate vacancy rates. Down slightly from last year, Grubb & Ellis|Paramount Commerce noted expansions for Grand Rapids Plastics and Bata Plastics, and the consolidation of operations by Diversified Distribution Systems, which closed facilities in Chicago and Detroit and brought them to Grand Rapids. Ashley Capital’s ability to redevelop 206 acres of vacant, former Steelcase property is a tremendous reversal of fortunes, especially for the communities the property borders.

The Business Journal also reported last week at that the previously vacant 41-acre former GM-Lear plant in Walker is home to more than 200 new jobs in what is now known as Avastar Park, which has created a domino effect in Walker. City commissioners are ready to review a zoning change of some of the property for a commercial development for retail businesses.

The success of Southwest Michigan First Life Science Venture Fund is notable here, too, with nine investments in just three years that bolster biotech and life sciences companies. Grand Valley State University’s ability to spark commercial applications for its programs has been the subject of several stories in GRBJ this summer, and ranges from its engineering department to its Alternative and Renewable Energy Center.

The announcements provide but a small picture of the skill sets apparent in those successes. That guarantees there is more to come.

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