Street Talk: Lowell clears the air


The Lowell City Council approved a plan that will allow Litehouse Inc. to pretreat the water used in its manufacturing processes.

The council approved the terms of a lease and operation agreement that will enable Litehouse to pretreat its process water at 625 Chatham St. The decision will allow Litehouse, the largest employer in Lowell, to more cost-effectively pretreat the process water it generates in creating its salad dressings and dips.

For the past 17 months, Litehouse has trucked an average of 67,000 gallons of processed water per day to Muskegon for treatment and disposal. Company officials said this agreement will eliminate approximately 170 trucks from the roadway per month, resulting in a reduction in noise pollution, greenhouse gases and the number of trucks passing through school zones.

During the same meeting, the council and the Lowell Light & Power Board approved an agreement with Lowell Energy AD LLC (LEAD) to terminate the lease and purchase power agreements it has held with LEAD. While the Chatham building housed both pretreatment equipment and the biodigester, the approval only applies to the pretreatment operation of Litehouse’s process water. The agreement does not permit the biodigester to restart operations. Residents previously had complained of foul odors emanating from the biodigester.

“We are very pleased we have been able to reach a solution that makes environmental and economic sense for Litehouse,” Lowell City Manager Michael Burns said. “Litehouse has been part of our community since 1932 and is a great employer and corporate citizen. This will allow Litehouse to continue to operate and to grow right here in Lowell.

“Since Litehouse will only pretreat process water at the facility, we do not expect any of the odor issues associated with the former biodigester.”

Litehouse has a successful history of wastewater management in its other production facilities located in Idaho and Utah and has spent years investing in research to determine the best path forward in handling its wastewater in Lowell, according to company officials.

Litehouse will operate the pretreatment facility utilizing single-source effluent from its manufacturing facility on Foreman Street. The company anticipates it will take six to eight weeks to complete the necessary work to begin pretreatment operations, with an expected start date in June. During that time, representatives from Litehouse will meet with neighbors close to the facility, offering tours in advance of operations beginning.

“Over the past 10 years, we have experienced substantial growth in our popular salad dressings and dips, which are produced in Lowell,” said Jim Frank, president and CEO of Litehouse. “This growth has allowed Litehouse to invest nearly $22 million in facilities and equipment and maintain a workforce of more than 400 permanent residents in the greater Lowell area.

“Because we are a 100 percent employee-owned company, and many of our employee-owners live in the area surrounding the facility, it was of the highest importance that we found a solution that would ensure a comfortable living environment for all of our employee-owners and our local neighbors. We appreciate the ability to work with the city on finding the right solution and are committed to ensuring our operations do not impact residents.”

Bridge building

Kirsten Hillman, Canada’s deputy ambassador to the U.S., visited Grand Rapids to speak at a World Affairs Council of West Michigan luncheon May 8.

The main topics of discussion surrounded ongoing NAFTA negotiations and the coming Gordie Howe International Bridge between Michigan and Canada.

She said the negotiations have made progress, but she could not give an estimate of when they would be completed. She hopes it’s as soon as possible, though, especially as election cycles draw nearer, which she said can slow down the process.

What’s most important is striking the right deal for all three countries involved, she said.

“I really do believe everyone wins if you do right,” Hillman said.

She shared some significant statistics about trade between the U.S. and Canada.

Led by trade in auto-related deals, trade in goods alone between the counties topped $72 billion, she said.

Fifty-seven percent of agriculture and agri-food exports from Michigan go to Canada.

She said if Michigan was a country, it would be Canada’s second-largest trading partner. She added Michigan sells more to Canada than to its next seven export destinations, combined.

“These are big figures. They’re figures that give a sense of magnitude to the relationship, but what really matters … are the jobs that trade creates and the benefits it gives to the communities,” Hillman said.

Trade and investment with Canada support thousands of jobs in West Michigan, she said.

Hillman said she recently visited the sites in the U.S. and Canada where construction will begin for the new international bridge. She said construction still is slated to begin next month.

“This particular gateway to trade cannot be underestimated,” Hillman said, estimating 7,000-10,000 trucks cross the current bridge each day. She said “without doubt” there would be enough traffic to support using both structures.

“Why would we not want to increase facility of trade?” Hillman said. “The benefits will be significant.”

Fab 50

May is a notable month for a couple of notable businesses, both of which are celebrating 50 years in West Michigan.

Trendway Corp., an employee-owned office furniture manufacturer, celebrated its 50-year anniversary with a visit from state Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof on May 9. More than 100 employees joined company leadership and its board of directors at Trendway’s headquarters in Holland.

“The core of Trendway is its people,” CEO Don Heeringa said. “The credit for our success goes to our incredibly talented and passionate employees and their ongoing commitment to customer service and our community.”

Meekhof applauded Trendway for its commitment to the Holland community and its employees. “As a legislator, it’s been my privilege to create an environment where people want to take risks, invest in their community and create jobs,” Meekhof said. “If we continue to remove the barriers, people like Mr. Heeringa will continue to grow companies that cherish its employees.”

The celebration also included an unveiling of a vintage Holland Furnace Co. horse carriage that Heeringa and Trendway employee Ken Harper restored. Holly Palmer, widow of former Holland Furnace Co. President P.T. Cheff, donated the horse carriage to the Holland Museum after it sat dormant at the Cheff estate for over 50 years. Heeringa’s wife, Jodi Heeringa, is the granddaughter of A.H. Landwehr, a founder of Holland Furnace Co., and rode in the wagon at the age of 5.

After being restored to its former beauty, the cart will be featured in the 2018 Tulip Time Volksparade and Muziekparade.

Even as big box stores shutter their doors and make room for a new generation of lean and mean retail venues, one industry vet is marking 50 years in Grand Rapids.

JCPenny first opened its doors at Woodland Shopping Center on May 16, 1968.

The company’s founder, James Cash Penney, opened his first retailer, the Golden Rule, in 1902 as a small dry-goods store in Kemmerer, Wyoming. The name came from Penney’s personal and business philosophy to treat others the way he himself would want to be treated.

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