From BALLE to Bucktown, 2012 saw it all


Rhoades McKee attorney Bruce Courtade completes his term as State Bar of Michigan president with a sense of accomplishment and renewed commitment to issues involving justice. Photo by Johnny Quirin

A year of true change or simply a year of transition? As West Michigan shook off the last dredges of the Great Recession, history might look at 2012 as a pivotal time in the region’s economic development. Has West Michigan turned the corner, or is another year of “recovery” in store? Take a look at what happened locally in the business world and then make that decision.


With the New Year came the announcement that Grand Rapids would host the 2012 BALLE Conference. Local First brought the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies conference to Grand Rapids in May, hosting about 600 “sustainable business entrepreneurs” from across the country. It was the organization’s first conference in the Midwest, as prior conferences were held in cities such as Denver, Philadelphia and Portland. The conference highlighted West Michigan’s status as a leader in entrepreneurship and sustainable business practices.

Some of those entrepreneurs were helped out when it was announced Grand Rapids SmartZone Local Development Finance Authority received a $500,000 grant from the Michigan Strategic Fund. The fund was set up to support entrepreneurs in the life sciences field. More than $6 million was given statewide to stimulate the industry. The Grand Rapids SmartZone received five times the amount it did in 2011. The fund will be used for two years, allowing entrepreneurs to use lab space at the Cook DeVos Center for Health Sciences.

Also in the medical field, Kent County’s EMS system was rated as good by the Kent County Emergency Medical Services Inc. The 76-page report said the system is better than most counties’ but improvements can be made, mostly at the government level and by limiting redundant responses.

Grand Valley State University was ranked the 16th most sustainable and environmentally friendly university in the world by Universitas Indonesia’s GreenMetric World University Ranking. The system rated 178 universities across the globe; only seven U.S. universities were ranked ahead of GVSU.

The Commercial Alliance of Realtors of West Michigan released numbers showing a 29 percent rise in sales transactions from the previous year. The sales transactions resulted in a 23 percent jump in sales volume, with a total of $91,330,913. Most of the increases were in the industrial class, which saw 101 of the 271 transactions — a 49 percent increase — and $45,523,602 of the sales volume, representing a 48 percent change.

The Business Journal’s 10 Newsmaker of the Year finalists were released and included The Gallery on Fulton, Grand Rapids Black Chamber of Commerce, advanced energy storage, Cascade Engineering, Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, ArtPrize, Colliers International, Gordon Food Service, Grand Valley State University and Locus Development. GVSU ended up with the Newsmaker of the Year award.


Vice President Joe Biden visited American Seating Co. to address a crowd of about 300 and also toured the plant on Grand Rapids’ west side. The plant’s supervisor said Biden was impressed that the company has maintained all its production in the United States.

Gentex reached the $1 billion sales mark for the first time but left analysts disappointed that the gross profit margin fell in the fourth quarter.

Also on the money side, it was reported that Kent County had a $50,000 surplus for the 2011 fiscal year, despite revenue being down from the previous year.

Grand Rapids Magazine, a sister publication to the Business Journal, gave Essence Restaurant Group two of its top dining awards: Bistro Bella Vita took home Restaurant of the Year, while newly opened Grove was awarded Best New Restaurant.

Amway announced its sales grew 17 percent in 2011 as sales passed $10.9 billion.

Oliver Evans, president of Kendall College of Art and Design, received the American Advertising Federation West Michigan’s Silver Medal Award, recognizing his efforts to further the local advertising industry.


The city of Holland was awarded $1,593,610 in a case it filed against Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan for charging hidden fees.

Holland also saw a 10 percent jump in hotel occupancy, from 50 percent to 60 percent, in 2011. The city hoped continued aggressive advertising, along with increased events, would continue the occupancy rise in 2012.

Bruce Courtade, a shareholder of Rhoades McKee PC, was named president of the Michigan Bar Association. He was sworn in during the association’s annual meeting, held in Grand Rapids in September.

Reuters reported Michigan as one of the top four states with defaults on religious facilities. A dozen Michigan churches were foreclosed on from 2008-2011.

The Grand Rapids Bar Association and 13 regional law firms joined together to create the Managing Partners Diversity Collaborative. The group has a five-year plan to increase, retain and promote attorneys from diverse backgrounds. The diversity goes beyond women and race, expanding to sexual orientation, religion, nationality and geographic origin, among others.

The state held its tourism conference in Grand Rapids and released data indicating the Pure Michigan campaign brought more than 3.2 million out-of-state visitors into the state and added about $1 billion to Michigan’s economy.


Grand Rapids joined Muskegon County as the first two members of the West Michigan Economic Partnership, shortly followed by the cities of Muskegon, Kentwood and Wyoming, and Cascade and Muskegon townships.

Plans for a potential downtown entertainment complex were unveiled in what was called the “next-generation of state-of-the-art entertainment facilities.” Initial plans called for a facility that would house a movie theater and convention space behind Van Andel Arena. By the end of the year, however, those plans remained on the shelf.

According to the American Wind Energy Association, Michigan’s wind energy capacity rose 130 percent in 2011. The state added 213 megawatts, representing more than $400 million in investments.


The International Trade Administration in Washington released a report showing Michigan’s exports were up 13 percent in 2011. Key export categories included transportation equipment, machinery, chemicals and computer and electronic products.

Mark Sellers and Jeff and Tami VandenBerg, owners of The Pyramid Scheme, were honored for their preservation work by the city of Grand Rapids and its Historical Commission. The music venue helped save the building at 68 Commerce, built in 1926.

X-Rite Inc. of Kentwood was purchased by Washington, D.C., company Danaher Corp. X-Rite’s merger with the $16 billion science and technology firm is expected to help increase sales growth.

Incentives from the Michigan Strategic Fund helped guide Amway, Center Manufacturing and MedDirect to $84 million worth of expansions in West Michigan. The expansions will result in about 600 new area jobs. Companies in Muskegon and Greenville also received incentives.

Grand Rapids and its burgeoning craft beer scene was named BeerCity USA by a National Beer Examiner readers poll. Grand Rapids tied with Asheville, N.C., which won the award in four consecutive years.


Steelcase celebrated its 100th year in business, and Progressive AE saw its 50th anniversary.

Steelcase truck
Steelcase celebrated its 100th anniversary with a number of community-based activities, as well as a new design and fresh coat of paint for its trucks.

Downtown has more room for retail and restaurants, according to Robert Gibbs, an urban planner and retail specialist, who came to Grand Rapids at the behest of the Downtown Development Authority. He determined that while the downtown core is in good shape, it can easily sustain more retail developments in several sectors.


Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation encouraging banks to allow farmers and processors the ability to apply for loans to make up for a damaged crop season. Greenstone Farm Credit Services and Huntington Bank jumped on board immediately. The loans likely will be used for irrigation systems to prevent a repeat next season.

Fulton Manor headed into its 100th year as a retirement home.

New downtown parking rates were approved by the Grand Rapids city commissioners. Parking income came in at about $12 million.

Kent County commissioners voted yes, allowing the Kent County Land Bank Authority to purchase 43 of 340 properties on the county’s foreclosure list prior to its sale to the general public.


Kitchen 67/Brann’s Café opened, ushering in a high-tech restaurant concept utilizing various local partnerships.

The American Quilter’s Society held its annual convention in Grand Rapids, bringing more than 15,000 delegates from 40 states and six countries.

An annual report found that Grand Valley State University contributes more than $732 million to the region’s economy. Sierra Club, the nation’s largest grassroots environmental organization, added to the school’s green recognition citing it as one of the nation’s most environmentally friendly.

The Chronicle of Higher Education named Davenport University one of the best colleges to work for.


With the groundbreaking of the West Michigan Sports Commission’s 12-field baseball and softball complex nearing, Art Van was announced as the naming sponsor.

The Downtown Development Authority’s $30 million downtown marketplace project was given an official name: Downtown Market. The project is expected to contribute more than $775 million to the area’s economy in the next decade.

ArtPrize launched its fourth year, and founder Rick DeVos was featured in GQ magazine. A giant pencil drawing entitled “Elephants” won this year’s grand prize.

ArtPrize The B.O.B.
The city’s fourth ArtPrize competition included several local venues. This year, The B.O.B. hosted 107 entries and began planning for the September event in the spring.


Following nearly 70 years in business downtown, Van Hoecks Shoes announced it would close up shop.

Muskegon saw an increase in wind turbines as the Beebe Renewable Energy Project came to life. The wind farm is expected to generate more than 81.6 megawatts, or enough juice to power 27,000 homes.

The Business Journal launched the new, beginning a new era of journalism for Gemini Publications.

WYCE celebrated its 25th year of bringing local and eclectic music to the ears of Grand Rapids listeners.

The first seven businesses opened in the LINC Community Revitalization’s Business Incubator. Thirty more are in the works.

Integrated Architecture was named the No. 32 most sustainable firm in the nation by Architecture Magazine.

Integrated Architecture LEED
Integrated Architecture has created some notable LEED firsts, including YMCAs, churches and fine arts centers, and earned recognition from Architecture Magazine as one of the nation's most sustainable firms. Courtesy Integrated Architecture


The third annual Give Camp helped provide a weekend of volunteers for 18 nonprofits to help with more than $500,000 worth of work.

The potential closure of Creston High School was announced, but the surrounding business district was holding out hope that the building would be used for something and not be shuttered.

Wolverine brand Keds teamed up with Taylor Swift for an endorsement deal. The shoe manufacturer’s first combo with the singer, special red sneakers, sold out within hours of being offered to online customers.

Hostess, makers of the famous Twinkie, filed for bankruptcy. The company employed 381 area employees.

Kent County officials called its sprawling park system good, not great, and set about investigating a system of collaboration with other area municipalities.

Lake Michigan Credit Union had a record month in October, funding 848 new mortgages worth more than $132 million.

Michigan credit unions saw “extraordinary” growth, with nearly 72,000 new members from June 2011 to June 2012.

Lake Winds Energy Park went on line on Thanksgiving Day. The wind farm near Ludington will generate nearly 100 megawatts, enough to power 49,500 homes.

Bagger Dave’s Legendary Burger Tavern announced a location on the riverfront to open sometime in 2013, and stirred up some discussion on’s social media platforms about what is “local.”


Gerald R. Ford International Airport announceda project for two new gates and a single security checkpoint. Southwest Airlines is expected to land in Grand Rapids in 2013, and a roof might be added to the top level of the parking structure. The airport also voted to extend its Fly Ford ad campaign an additional three months.

Grand Rapids Brewing Company opened Dec. 5, capping a huge year for Grand Rapids beer. Aside from GRBC, Harmony Brewing, Perrin Brewing and Mitten Brewing Co. opened in Grand Rapids’ city limits. Several more area breweries are set to open in 2013.

The West Michigan Policy Forum stood behind Gov. Rick Snyder’s right-to-work bills. One of the forum’s goals was to make Michigan a right-to-work state.

Gov. Rick Snyder proposed a change to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan that would turn it into a nonprofit mutual insurance company.

The U.S. Department of Energy announced it will fund $120 million worth of research for electric vehicle batteries. Leading the charge will be Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago and include work at Johnson Controls.

A Grand Rapids eyesore finally has a new use, as 616 Development began to renovate the Kendall Building on Monroe Center. 616 Development had a big year, using several historic buildings to create its 616 Lofts community.

Kendall Building
The renovation work at the five-story Kendall Building on Monroe Center is underway, much to the relief of its downtown neighbors. Courtesy 616 Development

Grand Rapids PBS affiliate WGVU turned 40.

Start Garden, Rick DeVos’ seed fund, surpassed $1 million investments. The entrepreneurial support project helped start 60 ideas in its initial year. The fund has an initial reservoir of $15 million.

Experience Grand Rapids reached a new three-year deal with Kent County. The deal is incentive based and allows Experience GR to collect 16.75 percent of the total revenue from the county’s 5 percent lodging excise tax. The organization is expected to surpass $1 million in revenues this year.

Cabela’s, an outdoor enthusiast megastore coming to Grandville, announced hundreds of jobs for the Bucktown development, which also includes a Target and a Five Guys Burgers and Fries, among others.

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