German orchids to sprout in Kalamazoo

April 2, 2012
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Michigan’s trade mission to Europe in late March, led by Gov. Rick Snyder, resulted in news about Hark Orchids LP, an orchid “propagation” company in Lippstadt, Germany, that plans to invest approximately $5 million in Kalamazoo — its first facility outside of Germany.

That’s not as odd as it may sound. Southwest Michigan has a lot of commercial greenhouses and is historically known as “the Bedding Plant Capital of the World,” according to Ron Kitchens, CEO of Southwest Michigan First, a privately funded economic development organization in Kalamazoo.

Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Director Keith Creagh noted that Michigan ranks third in the nation in floriculture production.

Founded in 1904, Hark Orchids is a family-owned business that now plans to set up a 30,000-square-foot lab and climate-controlled chambers in Kalamazoo. The Michigan Economic Development Corp. and Southwest Michigan First supported the project with cash grants totaling $750,000, because the company will create up to 80 jobs in the next three to five years.

In Germany, Snyder also met with executives from BASF AG, a major global chemical company, at their headquarters in Ludwigshafen. Snyder thanked the company for its strong commitment to Michigan and made the pitch for additional investment and jobs in the future.

New Jersey-based BASF Corp. is the North American affiliate of BASF AG, and operates eight facilities employing about 1,400 people in Wyandotte, Livonia, Southfield, Mattawan, Lincoln Park, Wixom, Rochester Hills and Troy.

According to The Right Place, there are at least a couple of dozen German (and a few Austrian) industrial firms with operations in West Michigan, such as Bayer CropScience (chemicals), Benteler AG (auto parts), MAHLE International GmbH (more auto parts), Daimler AG (automotive fuel systems), Sellner Holding GmbH (automotive interior trim), and Siemens AG (metal products, electronics.)

The German desk

Shortly after Gov. Snyder got back from his trip to Europe to promote Michigan for business investments, we received an e-mail from Bliss PR in New York, which represents BDO USA LLP, one of the nation’s major accounting and consulting organizations, and part of BDO International Ltd.

Lisa Karel, senior account executive at Bliss, informed us that BDO was a sponsor of a reception in Germany that Snyder attended.

“Specifically, BDO’s Anette Estrada, Partner, German Desk, based in Grand Rapids, could discuss some of the major takeaways from the trip to Germany and — based on her experience — discuss opportunities and challenges for German firms expanding operations/investing in the Grand Rapids area,” wrote Karel.

Estrada told the Business Journal that she was not a member of the Michigan delegation, but BDO was one of the sponsors of the reception at the Mercedes-Benz Museum, near the Daimler AG automotive plant in Stuttgart.

“And so, in my capacity as head of the German Desk for BDO — which is a national role — I went, and attended the reception in Stuttgart,” said Estrada.

Estrada mentioned that some of the German companies interested in setting up shop in the U.S. have particular expertise in alternative energy and electric vehicles, mainly because “energy has been more expensive in Germany for a long time.”

She couldn’t provide any specific challenges for German companies wanting to do business in Michigan, just the general challenges of foreign ventures, involving language, culture, and the establishment of close, personal business relationships.

Would she name some of the German companies there that are interested in doing business in Michigan?


“Some of the companies that were there (to meet with Snyder) were our clients, and some other companies, we hope, will become our clients because they are interested in building up something here, so it probably would behoove me not to name names,” she replied.

Alrighty, then.

First showing

On Wednesday, Local First hosted its 4th annual Sustainable Business Conference. The conference was attended by more than 130 vendors, speakers, panelists and community members passionate about the sustainable business movement. Hosted by the Center for Sustainability at Aquinas College, the conference was a chance for business owners and others working for the creation of a more sustainable West Michigan to get together and share their best practices.

The conference kickoff, led by Local First Executive Director Elissa Hillary, Gazelle Sports owner Chris Lampen-Crowell and Dwelltech Solutions owner Brian Bosgraaf, highlighted the importance of sustainable practices in business and how these practices can be a boon to any business. This was followed by a series of breakout sessions where conference goers could learn in a more intimate setting the practical steps to making sustainability a central part of their business.

Jackie Victor, co-founder of Avalon International Breads, delivered the keynote. In 1997, Victor used a small initial investment to start an all-organic flour bakery in one of the most depressed neighborhoods in Detroit. She shared with the crowd how she used a strong vision and community building sustainable practices to grow her business into a multi-million dollar enterprise. Victor’s address concluded with the world premiere of a short film featuring Victor and Avalon.

Coke and a smile

Ever notice how Michigan looks sort of like a mitten-clad hand? Well, picture that mitten grasping an icy bottle of Coca-Cola. That’s how the tourism folks at Pure Michigan would like you to envision it.

According to information from the governor’s tourism conference, “Images of Michigan’s sparkling waters, white sandy beaches and exciting destinations will soon be featured alongside the Coca-Cola logo in numerous places to inspire people to experience Pure Michigan. The collaborative effort will feature co-branding on billboards, Coca-Cola delivery trucks, vending machines and in-store signage statewide.”

And in keeping with the state’s passion for luring out-of-state visitors, people across the country will have the opportunity to win one of four Pure Michigan vacations through MyCokeRewards. Winning destinations include Mackinac Island, Traverse City, Detroit and the Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway. (No mention of the beach towns of West Michigan. Must be a Pepsi stronghold.)

“We are always looking for innovative ways to introduce Pure Michigan to new audiences, and it doesn’t get much bigger than partnering with an iconic brand like Coca-Cola,” said George Zimmermann, vice president of Travel Michigan, part of the Michigan Economic Development Corp. “With more than 17 million people participating in MyCokeRewards, this is a perfect opportunity to showcase the scenic beauty, great cities and exciting events that make Michigan a terrific vacation destination.”

The vacation prize packages, which include airfare and travel, will be featured on, which state tourism officials say is the No. 1 beverage website in the United States and one of the largest brand marketing programs in the world, with nearly 5.7 million visits every month.

“By joining forces with Pure Michigan, Coca-Cola is helping to support travel across the great state of Michigan and in all of its communities where we do business,” said Matthew Barribeau, Coke’s vice president of sales operations for Michigan.

In all fairness, the beverage giant does have a significant Michigan presence, with eight distribution centers and three manufacturing facilities in cities across the state, including Bay City, Detroit, Flint, Grand Rapids, Lansing, Kalamazoo, Sault Ste. Marie and Traverse City. Coca-Cola has been operating in Michigan for more than 100 years.

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