Zeeland-based Gentex, founded in 1974, is a diversified maker of products for the automotive, aviation and fire industries. Courtesy Gentex
Two companies in the region are planning to expand their operations and workforces — after a number of improvements to nearby roadways.
Zeeland-based Gentex Corporation is investing $100 million to expand its production facilities, resulting in 250 new jobs, according to Lakeshore Advantage, an economic development agency, yesterday.
The Gentex expansion includes a new distribution center north of an existing center. Construction will begin in March. The average annual wage for the new jobs is $50,000.
Zeeland Farm Services, based in Zeeland, is investing $5 million to expand its headquarters and operations, resulting in 12 new jobs, according to Lakeshore Advantage.
Zeeland Farm Services has outgrown its current office space and is doubling its size, adding 13,000 square feet. The annual average salary of a majority of the new jobs is $42,000.
Lakeshore Advantage said each company’s plans to expand were hindered due to concerns about existing traffic issues on the road network surrounding their campuses.
The Michigan Department of Transportation, or MDOT, is planning a $7-million project to increase capacity in the area.
Traffic in the area is required to access I-196 via the busy I-196 Business Loop and surrounding local roads. The existing state and local roadway segments include a number of closely spaced intersections and indirect left turns along I-196 BL and M-121, or Chicago Drive. These segments are experiencing heavy and growing commuter trips, in addition to truck traffic from area companies. The addition of more commuters would add to the current problems.
To help accommodate expanding operations and reduce overall congestion, MDOT will reconfigure the I-196 BL from I-196 to west of Homestead Drive from a boulevard to a six-lane roadway with a raised concrete median.
Work also includes modifying the intersections to allow for direct left turns, along with opening a new north intersection leg at 84th Avenue. The free-flow movement on the westbound I-196 off ramp will be eliminated and the M-121/Main Street intersection will be improved.
The project is expected to begin in July and finish by the end of the year.
MDOT announced yesterday a Transportation Economic Development Fund Category A grant of $2.7 million for the project.
Last year, the state appropriated $2 million toward the project. There is also a $2.26 million MDOT Grand Region grant going toward the project. The remainder of the funding is coming from a match provided by local municipalities and businesses.
“Without hesitation, business and community leaders activated resources to secure this grant and move this project forward,” said Jennifer Owens, president, Lakeshore Advantage. “Their commendable swift action demonstrates commitment to citizens, employees and business investment in West Michigan.”
Gentex, Herman Miller and Zeeland Farm Services “led the way” in providing the local private sector match funding, according to Emily Staley, director of marketing and communications, Lakeshore Advantage.
Staley said 20 other businesses in the area followed the three companies in committing funding.
"Gentex is proud to be a part of the Holland/Zeeland community and viewed the investment in this project as key to improving the safety of our employees, customers and supplier partners, as well as helping lay the groundwork for future economic growth in the area," said Steve Downing, president and CEO, Gentex.
Cliff Meeuwsen, CEO, of Zeeland Farm Services, said, “The Zeeland area has been our company's home since it began nearly 65 years ago.”
"These needed road improvements will make a positive difference and increased safety for our community, company and employees,” Meeuwsen said. “Thank you to Sen. Arlan Meekhof for leading the charge to bring these long-needed improvements to a reality."
Gentex Corporation is a global diversified manufacturer of products for the automotive, aerospace and fire-protection industries.
Founded in 1974, the company has engineers and salespeople working in offices throughout the world.
Zeeland Farm Services
Zeeland Farm Services is a family owned and operated business that provides farm, freight and food services.
Founded in 1950 by Bob Meeuwsen, the company employs more than 475 workers, including eight of the founder’s family members.