Cautious optimism fiestas and the real summer school

August 2, 2011
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If the debt-ceiling debate is decided today—and that’s a big if—then there just might be some sunlight on the horizon for West Michigan’s real estate market.

In addition to Colin Kraay’s assessment from the commercial broker’s perspective on page 14, others in the food chain are cautiously optimistic as well.

A well-known subcontractor with a lot of experience in commercial construction in West Michigan said there may be a “slight uptick” underway in commercial development activity.

“We’re seeing a slight increase in bidding opportunities,” said Linda Vos Graham. She said the uptick has been noticeable for about six months, and “it’s still very competitive for those contracts, but there is a slight uptick.”

Vos Graham is president and owner of Vos Glass, which employs slightly more than 50 and is one of the largest glazing contractors in the state.

Vos Glass, founded in 1982, also has automotive and residential glazing divisions but its major business is commercial construction. Vos Glass has been involved in a number of high-profile projects, including second-phase work on Van Andel Institute and the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.

Vos Graham is also the president of the board of directors of the American Subcontractors Association of Michigan, which has 5,500 members. She said her opinion on a perceived uptick in bid opportunities reflects her views alone, and is not the association’s official position.

She said there had been a steady decline in commercial development projects for as much as two years in a row, and that the increasing bid opportunities is finally a reversal of that.

“I’m not sure if that’s a trend or will continue, but I will have to say, in the last six months we have seen a slight increase in the opportunities,” said Vos Graham.

Fiesta Festida!

Employees of Festida Foods Ltd. were busy last week preparing a 155,000-square-foot building that the company bought last month in the Union Station industrial park in Grand Rapids for installation of a tortilla chip manufacturing line that will effectively double its chip-making capacity.

Festida bought the building for $2.1 million from Voordelig Ventures LLC through a transaction overseen by Amicus Management Inc. in Grand Rapids, which was acting as court-appointed receiver for the property that formerly housed warehousing for Grand Rapids Sash & Door, which has been winding down its operation after 86 years of business.

Festida employs about 30 people in the Cedar Springs plant where it manufactures the private label snacks, President Kyle Curtiss said, but the company will move to Grand Rapids when the 219 Canton St. SW facility becomes operational sometime before the end of the year. The company expects to add between 10 and 20 employees to handle the expansion. Festida Foods makes tortilla chips for its own label and 50 other accounts, including MexAmerica Foods LLC in St. Mary's, Pa., according to the MexAmerica Foods website.

Festida traces its roots to Raul Vega, who emigrated from Cuba to Grand Rapids in 1960 and worked for several years as a broker of Mexican food and spices before opening a Mexican restaurant. He then launched a tortilla chip manufacturing operation in 1989 in a former automotive plant.

Amicus Management was founded by Daniel Yeomans and is one of the largest and oldest workout and court-appointed receivership firms in Michigan. Yeomans may be best known throughout West Michigan as the court-appointed receiver that secured the cash and physical assets of 16 shell entities making up the Cyberco Holdings scam perpetrated by Barton Watson in Grand Rapids. The scam was highlighted on the “Fraud in Cyberspace” episode of CNBC’s “American Greed” national television show.

Life lessons

More than a dozen West Michigan teachers are back in the classroom this week, but without the chalkboards and AV equipment.

They are participating in the Educator in the Workplace “business immersion” program put on by the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce and the Kent Intermediate School District. The program is designed to provide teachers with firsthand knowledge of how hard skills like math and science, and soft skills like group work, are used in the workplace.

Teachers will spend time at a variety of companies to get a better understanding of what skills are necessary for the workforce. Participating companies include Granger Construction, Mindscape at Hannon McKendry, Flexco, The Rapid, Van Andel Institute, Wolverine Coil & Spring, Amway, GR Community Foundation, Butterball Farms, Gymco, the city of Grand Rapids, Lacks Enterprises, Steelcase and Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.

The business hosts will join educators in the classroom during the school year when the teachers implement a lesson plan and presentation based on their experience.

Every little bit

Educators at Crestwood Middle School in Kentwood are reaping the benefits of a new business partner, too.

A Big Lots store opened Friday in Kentwood Town Centre on 28th Street SE and one of the featured guests was Omar Bakri, Crestwood’s principal, who received a $2,500 check from Big Lots district manager Mark Norcross.

And what did Crestwood do to earn such a reward?

“We always make a $2,500 donation to our new public school neighbor — kind of a ‘thanks for welcoming us to the area gift,’” said Toni Fink, a spokeswoman for Big Lots. “So this year, 90 schools will be receiving the donations.”

As a Fortune 500 company with more than 1,400 stores in 48 states, Big Lots can probably afford the donations. But still, it’s a nice neighborly gesture, especially at a time when public schools are fighting for every dime.

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