Business Journal announces Newsmaker nominees

January 10, 2011
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The pace of economic activity in 2010 was driven by diligent endeavors of public-private cooperation, surges in industry growth that included the burgeoning medical sector and emerging manufacturing technologies, and expansions.

Grand Rapids Business Journal staff culled the top 10 Newsmakers of 2010, but many stood out in another transitional year in the local marketplace.

The annual Grand Rapids Business Journal Newsmaker of the Year will be announced at an Economic Club of Grand Rapids luncheon Feb. 7. The 10 nominees listed below in alphabetical order rose above nearly 40 others, nominated on the basis of long-term economic impact in West Michigan.


The second year of ArtPrize brought 1,713 artists from around the world to Grand Rapids, eliciting the participation of 465,000 “voters” through social media who picked the top 10 winners of the $449,000 in prize money. The 2010 event is expected to exceed 2009 estimates of 200,000 visitors and economic impact of $7.6 million.

Anecdotal evidence from ArtPrize venues, downtown retailers and restaurant operators indicated strong surges in business, with downtown merchants getting on board to serve as venues, extending hours and holding special events related to the competition. The arts community pointed to increased recognition of the cultural value of the arts to the area.

Chemical Bank

Chemical Financial Co., a holding company for Chemical Bank, closed its acquisition of O.A.K. Financial Corp., the holding company for Byron Bank, in an all-stock transaction. The acquisition added 14 West Michigan branches to Chemical Bank and approximately $438 million in the bank’s core deposit base, moving Chemical Bank from the 16th largest institution in the Grand Rapids area to the sixth.

Proof of the purchase impact was on display in Chemical Financial Corp.’s market performance. The company posted third-quarter net income of $8.9 million, or 32 cents per diluted share, in the second quarter of 2010, contrasted to $2.5 million, or 10 cents per diluted share, in the third quarter of 2009. Net income was $15.6 million, or 60 cents per diluted share, for the nine months ended Sept. 30, 2010, compared to $7.5 million, or 31 cents per diluted share, for the nine months ended Sept. 30, 2009.

Elan Nutrition

The Kentwood-based manufacturer of snack and nutrition bars was acquired by food giant ConAgra, which moved some operations from Texas to Kentwood and is investing $73 million in plant expansion and creating more than 200 new jobs. The upgrade of the Elan facility at 4490 44th St. includes the purchase of new equipment and machinery and will allow ConAgra Foods to expand its manufacturing capacity and R&D capabilities.

The Right Place Inc. collaborated with the Michigan Economic Development Corp. and the city of Kentwood, arranging an incentive package valued at approximately $9 million to support ConAgra’s added investment in Kentwood. ConAgra Foods employs more than 500 throughout Michigan. “Food processing continues to be one of our strongest industry clusters,” noted Right Place President Birgit Klohs.

Ferris /Kendall expansion

The former Federal Building, which also served as the home of the Grand Rapids Art Museum until its new home was constructed, will see a $28.5 million renovation as part of the Ferris State University/ Kendall College of Art & Design campus expansion and additional degree programs including architecture.

Christman Capital Investment Group is renovating and investing in the property at 148 Ionia Ave. NW. Christman Capital plans to invest $28 million into the project. Most of the cost will be financed by $25 million worth of Recovery Zone Facility Bonds made available by Congress through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Kent County and the city each allocated $12.5 million of their RZF bond allotments to the project. Ferris and Kendall also are pursuing philanthropic support for the project.

The extensive renovation project will rehab a building central to the downtown business and education structure, providing a living-learning-educational setting within the central business district. Announcement of the project capped years of effort from education leaders and public sector representatives.

Gentex Corp.

Gentex Corp. purchased the 108,000-square-foot former Invensys Controls plant in Holland for increased production capacity, buoyed by the possible federal effort to mandate rear-view mirror sensor technology on all vehicles. Gentex is seeking to fill about 140 manufacturing positions and nearly 100 engineering and software jobs in highly specialized disciplines.

A quicker recovery of the auto industry than had been expected led Gentex to expand into additional manufacturing and R&D space, along with ramping up its hiring of both hourly production workers and R&D professionals.

Third quarter 2010 sales of its rear-view mirror camera display and auto-dimming headlight controls for automakers around the world marked the company’s all-time record revenue for a quarter, 33 percent more than the same period in 2009. Gentex had 2,800 employees in Zeeland in the summer of 2008; the crash of the worldwide auto industry meant that by December of that year, employment was down to 2,100 — the company’s first mass layoff. Earlier in 2010, however, Gentex announced it needed to add from 250 to 300 employees by 2011, including 100 electrical and software engineers.

Kent County Recycling & Education Center 

The new $12 million single-stream recycling facility sorts 144 tons of trash daily, and the project was under budget by $400,000. The city of Grand Rapids, cited with a Siemens Sustainable Community Award, was a partner in the project.

The new center has changed the manner in which materials are processed. Neither residents nor the pick-up drivers in local communities need to separate the recyclables.

The new center’s educational element enables the Kent County Public Works personnel to demonstrate to students and adults what qualifies as trash and what types can be reused, recycled or composted. The center also informs residents as to how they can reduce the amount of trash they create.

LG Chem Ltd.

The CEO of the Korean chemical and rechargeable battery maker was in Holland to break ground on its $303 million facility to manufacture lithium-ion batteries, the same week Ford Motor Co. and Eaton Corp. announced orders for the plant product.

President Barack Obama also visited Holland for the groundbreaking for the 650,000-square-foot plant, which will be occupied by LG Chem’s wholly owned Michigan subsidiary, Compact Power Inc. of Troy, and is already scheduled to supply battery cells for the Chevrolet Volt electric car.

Compact Power is investing $151 million in the plant, along with a matching grant it received from the U.S. Department of Energy under the Recovery Act Award for Electric Drive Vehicle Battery and Component Manufacturing Initiative.

A White House announcement during the groundbreaking indicated that the plant is expected to employ about 450 people by 2013. LG Chem expects the plant to be fully operational by 2012.

Spectrum Health 

The health care giant in West Michigan began its new heart and lung program, completed a Blodgett Hospital renovation, closed 2010 by opening the new Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, and completed hospital mergers and acquisitions from Zeeland to Petoskey while acquiring MMPC and West Michigan Heart.

Spectrum secured affiliations with Gerber Memorial Health Services, Fremont; Mecosta County Medical Center, Big Rapids; and Northern Michigan Regional Health System, which is based in Petoskey but reaches as far as Mackinac Island.

Spectrum Health also affiliates with community hospitals in Greenville, Kelsey and Reed City in addition to Blodgett and Butterworth hospitals and their related facilities in Grand Rapids.

The health system has 16,000 employees and is the largest employer in Kent County.

Urban market

Grand Action joined with the Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority to create a $27 million urban market. The economic multiplier for the project, which has garnered private sector support and state and local government financing considerations, is anticipated to be significant.

Grand Action Committee co-chairmen David Frey and John Canepa said there is enough community support to build the year-round, indoor-outdoor downtown market that would not only sell fresh and locally grown products but also offer consumers a variety of other goods ranging from wine to books.

Enthusiasm for the project emerged from a feasibility study Grand Action commissioned. That study conducted by Market Ventures Inc. of Portland, Maine, said a successful market would deliver $775 million to the local economy over 10 years and create nearly 1,300 new jobs, including the construction employment. It is estimated that $20 million in food sales could take place at the market annually. The location for the market is targeted for land owned by the Downtown Development Authority on Ionia Avenue near Wealthy Street.

Whirlpool Corp.

The global company became a major player in the opening of Harbor Shores resort in St. Joseph-Benton Harbor and cemented its West Michigan presence even further when it announced plans to build a $68 million new office campus along the St. Joseph River in downtown Benton Harbor as part of a consolidation of its 15 owned and leased facilities. Overall improvements amounted to $85 million in one of West Michigan’s most depressed areas.

The project provides the $17 billion global home appliance manufacturer with three office campuses in its hometown area. The construction project received local and state incentives and will leave the $17 billion home-appliance manufacturer with three office campuses in its hometown area: the existing Benton Harbor Administrative Center and St. Joseph Technology Center, plus a new three-building complex on Main Street in Benton Harbor. The company also plans to retain its Hilltop Drive South offices in St. Joseph and the Harbor Town offices in Benton Harbor.

The company has more than 4,000 employees in its Twin Cities facilities. The West Michigan expansion is seen as a preservation of that job base for a company that has 67,000 employees worldwide and 67 manufacturing and tech research centers around the globe.

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