21 Lakeshore expansion projects create 1,000 jobs in 2019

Lakeshore companies collectively invested more than $127 million in 21 primarily expansion projects in 2019. The result was more than 1,000 new jobs.

Those were among the results disclosed during Lakeshore Advantage’s annual meeting on Jan. 30.

The nonprofit works with the region’s biggest contributors to the gross domestic product (GDP) in Ottawa and Allegan counties to support growth that leads to more jobs. 

Those are primarily manufacturers, whose jobs pay about 35% higher wages than the average jobs in the region — $76,000 vs. $56,700. Manufacturing accounts for 40% of area GDP, or about $8.22 billion. Three industries add up to 41% of the region’s manufacturing sector: furniture and related products, fabricated metals, and computer and electronics.

Fewer projects, more jobs

The number of projects traveling through the Lakeshore Advantage pipeline dipped a bit in 2019, compared to 2018, when 27 projects were completed. But the number of new jobs rose by roughly 25% in 2019, according to the nonprofit’s data.

“Typically, we have about 40 projects that we're working with at all times. It just really depends on what stage they're at,” explains Emily Staley, Lakeshore Advantage’s vice president of marketing and communications.

During a lunchtime gathering at the Pinnacle Center in Hudsonville, the organization’s staff shared three stories of the collaboration and connections that go into the projects in a TED Talk-style format.

Lakeshore Advantage CEO Jennifer Owens speaks at the organization's annual meeting on Jan. 30. One focused on the two-year effort that resulted in DeWys Manufacturing’s recent 30,000-square-foot expansion. Making it happen required support from about a dozen entities from Consumers Energy to the Michigan Economic Development Corp. The nearly $7 million project generated 41 jobs for the Wright Township metal fabrication business.

“That's an example of one of the longer projects we worked on, but there are projects that take years,” says Staley. “I would say that 80% of the growth we are seeing is coming from smaller projects.”

Consistency expected

The project pipeline has been consistent in recent years and is expected to continue that pattern in coming years. 

The prediction is based on data Lakeshore Advantage collected from executives across the two counties throughout the year.
More than 70% of the 120 company leaders reported they expect to launch expansion projects in the next three years. And that’s despite one-third of those same leaders indicating concern about rising tariffs.

In January, Perrigo announced plans to spend $13.6 million to build a 66,000 square-foot facility in Holland Township. The upgrade is intended to retain the company's Holland area workforce.

In 2019, topping the list of big projects were Royal Technologies completing a $23 million, 270,000 square-foot manufacturing facility in Jamestown Township, and Mead Johnson Nutritionals’ $68 million upgrade to its longtime Zeeland facility.

While there are a handful of big projects, the majority tend to involve small, incremental growth of existing employers.

Lakeshore Advantage works with manufacturers to make these projects happen by navigating through complex permitting issues, local tax break applications and state grants that can provide training to upskill employees, adds Jennifer Owens, president of Lakeshore Advantage.

“In 2020, we look for it to be a strong year, although not at the rate of the last few years,” says Owens. “Our team will continue to be here to help primary employers at all stages of development to remove barriers to growth and expand in the region.”

This article is part of The Lakeshore, a new featured section of Rapid Growth focused on West Michigan's Lakeshore region. Over the coming months, Rapid Growth will be expanding to cover the complex challenges in this community by focusing on the organizations, projects, programs and individuals working to improve conditions and solve problems for their region. As the coverage continues, look for The Lakeshore publication, coming in 2020.
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