Walker mayor praises rebound

185

(As seen on WZZM 13 TV) The city of Walker is zeroing in on many of the same challenges Grand Rapids is facing, according to a recent address by Mayor Gary Carey.

Carey highlighted the achievements of the city while bringing attention to new initiatives aimed at transportation, affordable housing and development during the recent State of the City address at Flak Manufacturing in the Walkerview Industrial Park.

In his opening remarks, Carey praised the city for its resilience, even in times of economic downturn. Over the last 10 years, he said, Walker rebounded from the depths of the 2008 recession and recovered from some financial decisions made decades ago.

“Like many others during the recession, we were hit with painful budget cuts and layoffs,” Carey said. “Development projects being proposed or underway came to a dead stop.”

The location from which Carey gave his address was intentional to showcase just how resilient the local business community is. While the park is now a hub of manufacturing activity, the land these businesses are now on once was the site of a proposal to build a 242-acre retail development.

A Cabela’s store was proposed for the city in the current Walkerview Industrial Park prior to the Great Recession. Carey said the large project had some positives, but also offsetting negatives and public controversy. When the recession hit, the project came to a halt. 

“Many, at the time, thought the world was coming to an end because we were not getting a Cabela’s,” Carey said. “At the time the project was officially dead in the water, one of our former city commissioners was quoted as saying ‘maybe there’s something waiting for that particular location which none of us can see right now but will just be city-altering.’”

Falk Manufacturing, 1782 Northridge Drive NW, is one of many 100,000-plus-square-foot buildings either done, underway, or about to break ground in the Walker View Industrial Park, he added.

“Oh, and those thousands of jobs that were being promised? They are not only still here, they are now higher paying positions because of the type of industry we have,” Carey said. “These have proven to be more stable jobs and they continue to be created.”

The creation of these jobs directly reflects the strong financial health of the city, Carey said. In 2009, the city of Walker had approximately 19,500 full- and part-time jobs.

“And the down economy still had years to use us as a punching bag,” Carey said. “Because of the perseverance, vision and grit shown by everyone in this city and the help of our business partners, we ended up 2019 with 26,200 full- and part-time jobs. That is a growth number of 6,700 new jobs in 10 years right in the middle of The Great Recession.”

“So, in 10 years our job growth number has increased around 34%,” Carey said. “If that does not tell a story of a healthy economy, I don’t know what does. I don’t remember a time ever seeing a construction crane in Walker, let alone several of them at the same time.”

Additionally, Walker has a new $57 million Michigan State Police Post facility in its final stages of completion. The building will be a little over 100,000 square feet and is expected to bring 130 to 135 new jobs into Walker.

While Carey took time to tout the success of businesses in Walker, he also drew attention to local organizations in need of help and support.

“As a community, this last decade has provided proof that we are no longer a busy one-mile retail stretch of Alpine or the same on Lake Michigan Drive through Standale,” Carey said. “We have added large manufacturing businesses like the one we are in tonight, and some even conduct business internationally. There are also other critical areas they need help with and if we are to be a sustainable industrial district, we need to have solutions.”

To take aim at this issue, the city recently began a partnership with the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, Carey announced. The partners already were actively involved in efforts to help support the local business community, including joint visits to companies in Walker.

Another significant challenge for the area is the availability and convenience of public transportation, but with the launch of the Laker Line in August, Carey expected Walker will see some traffic mitigation along Lake Michigan Drive.

Walker’s industrial corridor, however, is a huge opportunity for The Rapid and the city to provide solutions to existing problems, Carey said.

“The Wheels to Work program launched a couple of years ago has been successful and sustainable, but we can still do a lot better,” Carey said. “There is potential for more frequent service in the Alpine corridor, as well as more efficient service in Walker with additional opportunities to connect to the rest of The Rapid’s system.”

Currently The Rapid is collecting public feedback and refining proposals for service changes and improvements. 

Housing inventory is another issue Walker hopes to tackle, Carey said. The city wants more people to move and live there, but residential stock is currently limited.

“We have multiple residential developments underway in different parts of the city, yet as soon as the first shovel of dirt is turned on a project, most of the lots are sold,” Carey said.

The average sale price of a Walker home has climbed from around $128,000 in 2010 to nearly $215,000 in 2020, Carey said.

He said Walker is working with the city of Grand Rapids and Kent County to address affordable housing, as well. Studies are currently underway that will give insight for the city to better create an action plan.

Facebook Comments