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New Pregis Films to generate $17.1 million in investment, 50 new jobs

Local and state partners in the city of Grand Rapids, alongside regional economic development organization, The Right Place, Inc., announced a $17.1 million investment in the acquisition and expansion of a local manufacturing facility by Deerfield, Ill.-based Pregis, LLC.

Made possible by the approval of a Michigan Strategic Fund incentive, Eagle Film Extruders will now take on a new name — Pregis Films — after its acquisition by Pregis, LLC, complete with an expansion of its Roosevelt Park facility located at 1100 Hynes Ave. that will allow for the opening of a new production line to increase capacity and meet customer demand. 

“One of the things that The Right Place has really worked hard to do over the past decade or so, is work to retain — and Eagle Film is a classic example of this — retain and expand those industrial businesses we have within city limits,” says Tim Mroz, vice president of marketing at TRP. “We have a strong belief that in order to have a vibrant city, you have to have businesses of all shapes and sizes, including industrial facilities.”

With a three-year investment total of $17.1 million, the acquisition and expansion is also expected to generate 50 new jobs at the Grand Rapids facility, where it will continue production of high-quality polyethylene blown film used for a variety of packaging applications 

Pregis CEO Kevin Bauduin says the company is currently experiencing an increased demand from industrial and e-commerce, among other market segments, for higher quality materials, so investing in the facility will help meet market segment expectations for packing performance and provide vertical integration for some of Pregis’s other products. 

The 160,000-square-foot facility currently houses four state-of-the-art multilayer blown film extrusion lines, converting equipment, and warehouse space, though Pregis plans to install a new  five-layer blown film line that is expected to be operational mid-summer following the facility’s expansion. 

Eric Icard is the senior business development manager at TRP and project lead on the expansion. He says when hearing from businesses interested in building or expanding manufacturing and distribution facilities in West Michigan, the appeal is in no small part due to the quality of the region’s workforce alongside an often overlooked geographic advantage with its proximity to both major U.S. cities and Canada.

“I don’t believe we give that much consideration, but that’s very nice for anybody looking at distribution,” Icard says.

“Plus, there’s just providing opportunities for the people we serve in West Michigan,” he says. “As an entity, at The Right Place, our focus is the standard of living and how we can improve the standard of living. When people are elevated through opportunities for higher wages, they have a better chance at increasing that standard of living, which in turn creates a better quality of life.”

For more information, visit The Right Place, Inc. online at www.therightplace.org. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of The Right Place, Inc./Pregis, LLC 

Holland-based Premier Freight is growing quickly, thanks to new warehouse space

West Michigan-based shipping, logistics and warehousing company Premier Freight announced last week the acquisition of the Hart & Cooley building in Holland, Mich., a warehouse space located inside the Federal Square Business Park. 

Currently, Premier Freight resides in the 105,000-square-foot former Life Savers plant in the East 48th Industrial Center. However, the acquisition will bring its total factory space up to 180,000 square feet.  

Specializing in full-service logistics, with an emphasis on transporting large, complex, and unique items for manufacturers throughout the U.S., Premier Freight offers its premium “One-Touch” service — a supply chain program that spans all aspects of the fulfillment process, from transportation to warehousing and customer receipt. 

Doug Walcott is president of Premier Freight and says the expanding economy in West Michigan is fueling demand for new warehousing space. 

“Manufacturers that once kept warehousing on-site are looking to trusted, full-service, logistics partners like Premier to manage the entirety of their supply chain,” Walcott says. “Premier Warehousing service stores manufacturers’ raw materials until they need them for production, and they come back to us as a finished product ready to ship out to their customers. We help them manage their products during the entire process.”

Walcott and Vice President Mark Laning say they have already gotten commitments from some of Premier’s major customers to continue expanding in the new warehouse space, for which the company will take on such additional tasks as light assembly, quality inspections and sorting, and sequencing product. 

Walcott and Laning say that by adding additional square footage for warehousing, Premier is given the ability to essentially become an invisible arm of those customers it serves by holding raw materials for vendors, which then move on to other large Michigan manufacturers. 

“We are proud to bring new life and vibrancy into two manufacturing buildings with abundant history in the Holland community,” Laning says. “Doug and I did considerable business with both of those companies when they were located in Holland, and it is a distinct honor to help repurpose the properties and bring them to new life.”

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Premier Freight 

California private equity firm relocates headquarters, brings seven investment jobs to Grand Rapids

Irvine, California-based private equity firm Blackford Capital has relocated its headquarters to Grand Rapids' Heartside business district (15 Ionia SW) to be closer to its Midwestern clients. That move has generated seven new jobs for financial and market analysts, researchers and support staff, says owner Martin Stein.

Blackford invests in mature businesses with $20M to $100M in revenue and earnings that range between $2M and $10M. The company works with business owners who want to retire or leave the company. Stein says his current portfolio of companies have about 750 employees and create some $200M in revenue.

"Seventy percent of our investments are in the Midwest and on the East Coast, so it was redundant to have an office in Irvine and one in San Francisco," Stein says. "Ninety-five percent of our investments have been in manufacturing, and while we have investments across the U.S., there's an abundance of manufacturing here in the Midwest."

Blackford Capital has leased some 1,800 square feet of office space at 15 Ionia SW and is conducting "business as usual," even though the dust is still settling.

Stein says that when he graduated from Forest Hills Northern High School in 1990, there were no jobs in West Michigan for the type of private equity investing he wanted to do.

"We're looking to hire analysts, staffing support and fund administrators," he says. "We made offers to all eleven of our employees to come with us, and three considered it but decided to stay in sunny California. We've been recruiting from local colleges, looking for students who wouldn't otherwise have opportunities to start a career in the type of finance we do."

Source: Martin Stein, Blackford Capital; Kristie Burns, Lambert, Edwards & Associates
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

Illinois Institute of Technology to hold Michigan's first Master of Design Methods program in GR

The Illinois Institute of Technology's Institute of Design has announced that it will launch Michigan's first Master of Design Methods program at GRid70 in Grand Rapids. IIT bills the MDM as an executive master's degree designed to drive innovative methods and frameworks for the development of products, communications, services and systems.

GRid70, the nickname for Grand Rapids Innovation and Design at 70 Ionia, is a new $5M design hub that brings together teams of innovators from local corporate giants Amway, Meijer, Pennant Health Alliance, Steelcase & Wolverine World Wide in a collaborative environment. The purpose of GRid70 is to promote idea generation and innovation through collaboration.

Seth Starner, Amway's manager of business innovations, is part of the collaborative. In 2008, while seeking a master's degree program that fit his own aspirations, Starner says he attended IIT's summer MDM program in Chicago. That inspired him to pitch the idea to bring the program to Grand Rapids.

"I want to see Grand Rapids as a regional and national design hub and there's a potential it could be an international design hub," Starner says. "This program really hones that skill for discovering new value, harnessing that value (and) serving your customer in new ways. That's the name of the game in finding and creating new businesses."

The program, which begins Aug. 19, has some stiff prerequisites that include:
• At least five years' professional experience.
• Team leadership or product manager experience.
• Recognition of professional work (awards, publication in professional journals, etc.).
• Specific achievements in design or product development/management.

Students will attend MDM classes at GRid70 two weekends a month, plus two mandatory one-week summer workshops. The course schedule allows students to work full time and complete the degree in 24 months. For more information, click here.

Source: Seth Starner, Amway Corporation/GRid 70; Michael Zalewski, Seyferth PR
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

City of Grand Rapids looks at "economic gardening" to sustain, strengthen small business climate

It takes more than a good business idea and hard work to grow it into a thriving enterprise. It also takes the right business climate, and that climate is what the City of Grand Rapids Economic Development Department wants to create for second-stage businesses in the city.

"Economic gardening," an economic development process touted by Governor Rick Snyder, the Small Business Association of Michigan and the Edward Lowe Foundation, helps existing businesses grow by providing them with the information they need to succeed, community partners that can help them get to the next level, and by developing a culture of growth and change.

"It's about cultivating what you already have in a community in terms of the business mix before trying to attract new business," says Economic Development Director Kara Wood. "It's a lot of what's happening in East Hills, on Wealthy Street and other places in the city where there are more small businesses. It creates a sense of place, and that's what helps us create and attract new businesses."

Wood says the city has already used state tools and incentives to keep growing businesses like Dematic and DornerWorks in the city, but "economic gardening" is also about raising awareness that Grand Rapids is a great place to start a business and be an entrepreneur.

"There will be no wrong door for entrepreneurs," she says. "All service providers will be equipped with resources to help them, so if they approach the Chamber or the SBTDC or another of our partners they'll be able to get the direction they need."

The city has reached out to a handful of its 30 service providers to-date, including Local First, the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce and Neighborhood Ventures, who have all taken leading roles in developing the initiative. Next steps are the creation of measurables for the program with the help of the Edward Lowe Foundation, and then launching the program in the next 60 to 90 days.

Source: Kara Wood, City of Grand Rapids Economic Development Director
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

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Grand Rapids' Economic Development Foundation grows economy, jobs across Michigan

Officials at the Grand Rapids-based Economic Development Foundation say they stand ready to help entrepreneurs throughout Michigan get funding for business expansion and job creation and retention.

The Economic Development Foundation helps small businesses apply for low-interest Small Business Administration (SBA) 504 loans. That assistance has enabled Grand Rapids businesses like Adtegrity, Alternative Mechanical and Baribeau and Sons Jewelry Hospital to obtain loans to purchase buildings and equipment, and spur job growth, says Executive Director Sandy Bloem.

"We walk the small business through the loan application process, get it approved, get the loan funded and then stay in touch with the small business through the term of its loan," says Bloem. "With any government financing, the loan process can be pretty daunting; with us being in business for 30 years, we can put it all together and then say 'sign here.'"

The SBA defines a small business as one with a net worth of $15 million or less and a net income of $5 million or less. SBA 504 loan is a partnership between a bank or credit union, the SBA and the small business: the lender provides 50 percent of the loan amount, the SBA provides 40 percent and the business supplies a 10 percent down payment -- much less than the 20 to 30 percent lenders require.

The SBA portion of the loan carries a fixed interest rate for 20 years (for financing a building), a rate that is often lower than a bank's, Bloem says.

"It's very common practice to give a loan for 20 years, but after five years the loan will balloon and the bank renegotiates the interest rate," Bloem says. "I don't know how your crystal ball works, but mine doesn't tell me anything about the future of interest rates."

The outlook for economic development in West Michigan is good, says Bloem, and adds that growth in manufacturing, hair salons and microbreweries has prompted an increase in loan applications from local businesses in those industries.

Source: Sandy Bloem, Economic Development Foundation
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor


Chaos to clean: new showroom in downtown Grand Rapids has hot ORGanizing options

The tried-and-true expression "a place for everything and everything in its place" has come to life in a new showroom that helps customers put the stuff of their busy lives in livable, accessible, stylish order.

ORG West Michigan
, a custom closet and home organization company, has opened a 3,200-square-foot showroom on the Windquest Building's second floor (201 Monroe Ave. NW, Grand Rapids). Homeowners, builders, architects and designers can touch, feel and try out the array of custom organization products in all 20 colors and numerous finishes and textures.

The showroom highlights solutions to a number of organizational trouble spots in homes and businesses, such as the garage, laundry area, kitchen pantry, clothes closets, craft room organization, office spaces and break rooms. Set up in vignettes, the showroom helps customers see how an entertainment system, mudroom storage or a wallbed might work in their own homes.

Children have their own area to play in while parents shop. A private design studio enables ORG's designers to help customers re-envision their living or work spaces using ORG's own 3-D design technology, ORGdesign.

"ORG brand is a do-it-for-me product," says Carl Seymour, director of ORG. "We design it, manufacture it, and install it. We'll sit with a homeowner, a builder, or a designer and determine what they need, then have our trained installers install the product in the home or office.

"The showroom build-out process was extensive," Seymour adds. "We rebuilt the entire interior with the quality of finishes that might be in a client's house. We want them to be able to envision these types of products in their own homes."

Holland-based Stow Co. manufactures ORG. The showroom is open by appointment.

Source: Carl Seymour, ORG West Michigan
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor


Grand Valley State University alternative energy center attracts another energy startup to Muskegon

Brighton-based McKenzie Bay International launched 12 years ago as a mining company, then made the switch in 2004 to alternative energy. The company eventually ran out of money and a major wind turbine project stalled, but President and CEO Kevin Cook says the firm has not only rebounded but has re-launched as an alternative and renewable energy "research and development visionary."

McKenzie Bay is the newest tenant of Grand Valley State University's Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center (MAREC), at 200 Viridian Dr., Muskegon. MAREC is a cutting-edge facility created to advance innovations in alternative energy; it dedicates a portion of its 25,000 square feet as an incubator for energy startups.

The firm moved into the alternative energy arena with the development of the Windstor Wind Turbine, a three-bladed commercial turbine that rotates on a vertical access and can pick up the breeze from any angle, Cook says.

"The turbine prototype is installed at Pioneer Bluff Apartments in Ishpeming (Mich.) and has been built over a five-year period," Cook says. "When the project stalled, Clean Green Energy bought the turbine and they now own it. We are contracted with them to continue its development and they'll manufacture it. An important point is that we received a grant from the Department of Energy to develop it."

Other MAREC tenants are Energy Partners, LLC, Logical Lighting Systems, LLC. and Smart Vision Lights.

"MAREC has multiple spaces for conferences and meetings, a place we can bring our shareholders," Cook says. "We'll be able to collaborate with the other tenants here. I'm excited to see what could happen in the next year or so."

Cook says McKenzie Bay is also working on development of Ethereal Logic, a wireless lighting system that could control multiple electrical systems within a building, including HVAC and security.

Source: Kevin Cook, McKenzie Bay International
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

New furniture company in Holland crafts innovative pieces for public spaces

Deborah Johnson Wood

A hip new furniture startup in Holland plans to spark up the way people use public spaces with the launch of the company's initial furniture line geared for a technology-driven society.

Sparkeology is a combined effort of longtime library furniture-maker The Worden Company, architecture and design firm Via Design and its sister company Viable, and graphic design firm Square One Design. The company operates out of Worden's headquarters at 199 East 17th St.

"We saw that public spaces have become community hubs where people gather," says Worden spokesperson Robin Hendrick Lane. "On campuses, students gather in coffee shops, in hallways between classes, in lounges in dorms. We see opportunities in all of those spaces where people need to sit down and plug in, and the need to create little spaces where people can work."

Lane says users can plug into built-in electrical connections in the furniture, as well as "plug into" engagement with any group that gathers – the furniture is lightweight and designed to fit a number of configurations.

For example, Flip can be a table or a stool, or flip it over and it holds your briefcase and coffee – off the floor and upright. And there's Ty, a space divider that "ties" everything together and doubles as a central power hub. Add a Ty-Pad backrest and Ben, a coordinating bench, and you have seating, a power source and a divider that can become a display piece.

"We're looking at ways to accommodate a laptop in terms of a tablet arm that can be folded away," Lane says. "And our display pieces double as space dividers with interchangeable interiors that go from cubbies to shelves and you can hang a flat screen TV or monitor off the interior."

Worden will manufacture the furniture in its FSC-certified facility, using wood veneers, low-formaldehyde wood cores, or metals made of recycled and recyclable materials.

Sparkeology's first nine products will make their debut at NeoCon World's Trades Fair 2010, a decision made just six weeks ago. Flip will compete in the Best of NeoCon competition for office accessories.

Source: Robin Hendrick Lane, Sparkeology

Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com. Development News tips can be sent to info@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

GR Chair Company owner credits company expansion to thriving West Michigan

Deborah Johnson Wood

Tom Southwell says the untold story of West Michigan is that the region is thriving, and he points to his company's recent manufacturing expansion as proof. Southwell is a partner in the Grand Rapids Chair Company, which just added a 28,000-square-foot table top manufacturing facility to its properties.

The company, headquartered in the old McInerney Spring and Wire plant on Chestnut St. SW, added the former Studio Ink / StudioCraft building, 837 Godfrey Ave. SW, in response to increased customer demand for tables for healthcare, education, hospitality, corporate and government environments.

"We've always made tables," Southwell says. "We saw the opportunity to enhance our production in both volume and flexibility, and to make other types of tabletops and chair components. This new plant allows us to increase our volume capacity, our throughput and our quality while lowering our prices for customers."

The cost reduction and increased quality control come from bringing the entire manufacturing process in-house, Southwell says. That process uses both modern CNC equipment and traditional woodworking machinery – both of which require skilled employees for operation.

"Dave Miller, one of my partners, had his eye on the Cadillac of machinery, which is generally real old pieces of machinery," Southwell says. "We were able to purchase 20 of those machines for the new building and clean them up with new bearings, new knives."

The company hired 12 skilled employees who already knew how to operate the equipment.

"The craftsmen that are available for employment in West Michigan you can't find anywhere else," Southwell says. "The work ethic of the people is such that the people care about the products they produce."

"Michigan kind of gets a bad rap, primarily due to the auto industry," he says. "Grand Rapids and West Michigan is a thriving place for us to do business and we encourage other companies to do the same."

Source: Tom Southwell, Grand Rapids Chair Company

Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com. Development News tips can be sent to info@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

European style microbrewery will bring French, Belgian brews to East Hills business district

Deborah Johnson Wood

If Jason and Kris Spaulding have their way, local growers will drink the fruits of their labor at a new European microbrewery in the middle of the East Hills business district in Grand Rapids.

Brewery Vivant, a microbrewery specializing in French and Belgian beers, is the lead tenant in Locus Development's renovation of the former Spectrum Health Childcare property at 925 Cherry Street.

Three buildings – a barrel-roofed garage, a former chapel and a house – will undergo renovation. Locus Development's John Green says phase one will renovate the garage and chapel for the brewery and pub.

Jason Spaulding is a co-founder and former owner of New Holland Brewing Company and says his wife, Kris, began creating their business plan for a new brewery four years ago without having a location in mind.

"We wanted a vibrant neighborhood that felt small, near a populated area, a walkable neighborhood with a variety of owner-operated shops," Spaulding says.

"When this property came up, it was like it was meant to be – the barrel-roofed building has an 18-foot ceiling with trusses, so there are no posts in the middle of floor which is perfect for a brewery," he says. "The former chapel has an archway that looks very Belgian, and we're going to make Belgian and French beers."

Spaulding attended Doemens Brewing Academy near Munich, Germany, then he and Kris toured breweries in Belgium where they picked up ideas for Brewery Vivant.

"Belgians brew more artistically and use more local fruit and spices than the Germans do," Spaulding says. He wants to do the same, using local ingredients for his beers.

"We don't want to be a large brewery," he says. "We want to create a sustainable neighborhood brewery."

John Green says renovation of the entire project includes retail spaces in the existing house, possibly two additional buildings, and the brewery will be LEED certified.

Source: Jason Spaulding, Brewery Vivant; John Green, Locus Development

Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com. Have a development news tip for Rapid Growth? Contact us at info@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Grand Rapids athlete invents warming product for cold weather runners, cyclists

Deborah Johnson Wood

Dan Socie is an all-around guy – a freelance graphics and web designer by trade, and an amateur endurance athlete by hobby. And now he's an inventor.

Socie has invented an embrocation for use by runners and cyclists to warm up their muscles before they run outside in cold weather.

An embrocation is a warming liniment that's applied topically. Socie's embrocation consists of shea butter, capsaicin, black pepper and menthol. He and his business partner Geoff Kuyper are marketing it under the brand and business name Soigneur (swan-yer).

"Soigneur is French for 'an assistant,'" Socie says. "In professional cycling, a soigneur is an assistant that gets water, arranges for or does massage therapy, gets the food, and is basically the athlete's personal assistant. I wanted to make a product to take the soigneur role for amateur athletes."

Socie says cyclists who bike in cold weather have used European embrocations, but he plans to market his product to runners and skiers as well. He says athletes apply the embrocation to their legs before running, biking or skiing. The shea butter keeps the product on the skin, and body heat activates the capsaicin that warms the skin. That warmth penetrates to the muscles.

"Your legs are warm and it's nicer to go out in the cold with warm legs," Socie says. "It enhances the experience. When you go for a run or ride in the cold weather, it takes 20 minutes, half an hour to warm up. This product speeds up that process and you can get to the more enjoyable part of your workout sooner."

Socie says he spent the past year working with a Scottsdale, Ariz. laboratory and manufacturer to develop the product.

The embrocation is available for advance order online at www.soigneur.net and will begin shipping at the end of February. A launch party to introduce the product is planned for February 24 at Richard App Gallery from 6 to 10 p.m.

Source: Dan Socie, Soigneur

Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com. Have a development news tip for Rapid Growth? Contact us at info@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

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