Education, Human Resources, and Manufacturing

College building $3M manufacturing lab downtown

September 25, 2017
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AMP Lab @ WMU partial interior rendering
A partial rendering of the interior of the AMP Lab @ WMU in downtown Grand Rapids. Courtesy WMU

A college is building a manufacturing training lab downtown to address the shortage of skilled trades and engineering workers.

Western Michigan University has started construction on a two-story Advanced Manufacturing Partnership Laboratory, or the AMP Lab @WMU, which is being built in collaboration with Grand Rapids Community College and local manufacturers.

AMP Lab @WMU will occupy the first two floors of the university’s downtown Grand Rapids location, at 200 Ionia Ave. SW.

Private investors are partially funding the $3-million lab. WMU will cover the remaining costs of construction and maintenance, while GRCC and other community partners will provide the equipment. The lab is expected to be finished in fall 2018.

“AMP Lab will be a place for collaboration and learning in an advanced manufacturing and design environment,” said Steven Butt, professor and chair of WMU’s Engineering Design, Manufacturing and Management Systems department. “Entrepreneurs will have opportunities to prototype their ideas. For some it may be a place to start, and for others, it will be a place to hone a new product, process or skill.”

Uses, amenities

The lab will contain hands-on instructional learning spaces and research areas. It will eventually support college lab sessions, professional workshops, training sessions, K-12 outreach and workforce development activities.

Along with WMU, GRCC will offer various manufacturing and engineering courses inside the lab. WMU also is exploring offering high school courses and inviting other universities to use the facility.

Firms on the project

Grand Rapids-based Rockford Construction is the project’s contractor.

Progressive AE is the architect and interior designer.

Need for skilled labor

According to a recent assessment by Talent 2025, a talent development association of 100 CEOs from West Michigan, the demand for qualified engineers and designers in manufacturing outstrips the supply by at least a factor of two. It also reported the supply for managers and supervisors is at about 90 percent of the demand.

John C. Kennedy, president of Grand Rapids-based Autocam Medical, was a key player in building support within the engineering and manufacturing communities for the creation of AMP Lab @WMU.

“This open, urban location will allow individuals to see inside an advanced manufacturing space and will help enhance the image of manufacturing,” Kennedy said. “The AMP Lab is a maker space in its truest form, addressing the needs of entrepreneurs and providing a space to bring ideas to life. Programming this facility will foster a format of collaborative learning between educators and students.”


WMU has boosted its focus on academic and community partnerships in STEM during the past few years, most recently adding an engineering degree partnership with Aquinas College and a technical training academy with Urban Alliance in Kalamazoo.

Dawn Fortin Mattoon, associate provost of WMU’s Extended University Programs, said this lab is one more link in the chain.

“AMP Lab @WMU will establish academic and career pathways between workforce development entities, educational institutions and industry partners for our region,” she said. “These pathways can lead to new skills, certifications and degrees, but more importantly, careers in manufacturing, engineering and design.”


Western Michigan University, founded in 1903, serves more than 23,000 students from across the U.S. and 100 other countries.

The university offers more than 250 degree programs, including 32 at the doctoral level.

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