MOVE Systems International has 50 food carts operating in New York City. Production of the units, which retail for about $60,000 each, will take place at an expanded facility in Walker. Courtesy The Right Place
James Meeks was looking for just about any reason to return to West Michigan.
A partnership between The Right Place Inc., the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, Start Garden and Start Garden’s venture fund spin-off, Wakestream Ventures, gave him one.
Last week, Meeks announced his company, eco-friendly food cart manufacturer MOVE Systems International, would invest $13.3 million and create 27 jobs at its Walker facility, 3691 Northridge Drive NW. To ramp up production, the expansion will include adding more machinery and equipment and expanding the facility’s administrative areas.
At the announcement, held at Rosa Parks Circle and backdropped by MOVE’s flagship food cart, the MRV100, Meeks said the company was pitched by several other states to relocate, but Michigan’s super team of economic development agencies was “head and shoulders” above the competition.
“The amount of personal focus, dedication and grit was assuring to me because it also helped me convince my board to live out my dream, which was really to come home (and) bring this back to Michigan where the company belongs,” Meeks said.
By choosing Michigan over those competing sites, MOVE was awarded a $200,000 performance-based grant via the MEDC’s Michigan Strategic Fund.
While The Right Place, Start Garden, Wakestream and MEDC all have collaborated in the past, this project marked the first early-stage corporate expansion collaboration that resulted in direct job creation and economic investment.
“This is one of the most exciting and fun projects that we’ve worked on in many, many a time,” Right Place President and CEO Birgit Klohs said.
Klohs said the MEDC brought the project to The Right Place a couple years ago as an attraction project when Meeks still was based in New York, where the food carts are being distributed. The MEDC was able to help MOVE lock down the Walker facility, and The Right Place connected Meeks with Start Garden and Wakestream to secure additional capital for upscaling its production.
“I think that’s really what this project showcases is that we have an ecosystem to help these companies grow, expand, find capital and create jobs,” Klohs said.
Meeks, who is a Michigan native and a Purple Heart and Bronze Star-decorated U.S. Army combat veteran, said the variety of talent options in West Michigan made it the most attractive place for the company to expand.
“West Michigan has an incredible collection of people who understand all the different aspects of my business,” he said. “People who understand how to work in sheet metal manufacturing, people who understood the automobile and trailer aspect of what our carts are, but also people who understood how to create a mobile restaurant and put that on the wheel, people who understood software … West Michigan had this incredible collection of all (this) different intellectual capital and knowledge base across all these different sectors, all of which are important for us to create our MOVE systems food cart and our Simple Grid system.”
MOVE Systems’ MRV100 eco-friendly food cart is decked out with a solar panel roof, propane gas, lithium battery, refrigerator, grill, hand-washing sink, steam table, double basket fryer and counter space. It is powered via MOVE’s Simply Grid device, an anti-idling pedestal that eliminates the need for generators and idling trucks with an eco-friendly alternative.
Currently, MOVE has 50 food carts operating in New York City, and Meeks said the company is looking to get to 100 by the end of the year. The company is able to build and deploy about 12 carts per month, with the base cart costing about $60,000 retail. The carts are then leased to the operators in New York.
Meeks said he hopes one day to be able to see MOVE Systems’ product at work in Grand Rapids, but there still is some red tape to clear.
“It would be a dream for me to be able to build and deploy in Grand Rapids, and I think some of that will be working with the municipalities to see how this can work within their vision of street food and mobile vending for the city,” he said.