Last year’s numbers are in for Lakeshore Advantage, the nonprofit economic development organization serving employers in Ottawa and northern Allegan counties.
In 2017, Lakeshore Advantage supported 49 business expansion projects in the organization’s project pipeline. Of those, 18 business growth projects resulted in more than $90 million in private investment and more than 650 new jobs.
The organization helped leverage $25.3 million in funds, benefitting 89 employers. This includes 57 companies that attained $2.4 million in Skilled Trades Training Fund grants to upgrade the skills of new and existing employees.
The organization reports that every dollar invested in Lakeshore Advantage returned $74 in private investment to the community.
Among the major business expansions were Zeeland-based Gentex, which led to $36.6 million in private investment and 250 jobs, and Holland-based LG Chem, which led to $19 million in private investment and 250 jobs.
Another business that received assistance with local approvals and tax abatements was the newly constructed Hutt Trucking cold storage facility in Hudsonville. The 81,000-square-foot cold storage warehouse, a logistical optimization center with room for 19,000 pallets stored at minus-20 degrees, supports the distribution needs of Hutt’s clients, including Hudsonville Ice Cream and Ludington-based House of Flavors.
The construction more than doubled the company’s capacity and brought nearly 20 new jobs.
Jim Hutt, CEO of Hutt Logistics and Hutt Trucking, said the project was possible because of Lakeshore Advantage’s “significant” involvement, among other organizations.
Lakeshore Advantage launched SURGE in June, described as a collaborative one-stop shop for the entirety of the organization’s resources portfolio and designed to connect entrepreneurs and startups at all stages of their development. Though Lakeshore Advantage always has had a presence in the entrepreneurial biosphere, SURGE narrows the focus of assistance, funneling the needs of all the region’s startups into a focused pipeline.
The program served 53 entrepreneurs in 2017. The Entrepreneurial Support Network, in partnership with West Coast Chamber members, provided $29,000 in in-kind services to complete six projects for startup companies.
The program has allowed the organization to foster and maintain connections with other organizations in the region, such as Start Garden in Grand Rapids.
“What it allows us to do is to think more regionally,” said Jennifer Owens, president of Lakeshore Advantage, adding the interconnectivity is more effective toward reaching common goals.
Lakeshore Advantage is making an effort to address the issue surrounding lack of talent in the area according to business intelligence data.
“The data showed the No. 1 barrier for growth was access to talent,” she said, adding the neediest fields at this point are skilled trades and engineering.
“We continue to hear from our employers that if the talent issue is not addressed, they’ll have to look at other places for expansion,” Owens said.
In 2017, the organization educated more than 300 teachers on regional strengths and in-demand careers to most effectively prepare a future pipeline of talent, Owens said.
Lakeshore Advantage extended the outreach of the talent attraction brand Michigan Smart Coast to five new partners. There were 210 summer interns, mostly in the engineering field, that attended the brand’s educational and networking events, meant to inform interns about job and social opportunities in the area.
Looking ahead this year, Owens said her team will continue being “laser focused” on the talent issue.
They also are continuing to work on major infrastructure projects in the area.
That includes working with Muskegon over the past two years to connect wastewater treatment plants with Coopersville.
Another continuing project is focused on addressing “major barriers” in the roads systems, specifically a project with Zeeland to improve the freeway interchange areas.