It’s show time for West Michigan’s Big 3 and more than 20 of its smaller area brethren. The full effect of the office furniture manufacturing sector on the local economy can be visibly measured on the roads and flight paths to Chicago this week, as industry and supplier-base executives (and invited guests) make the long-honored trek to the annual NeoCon.
They go with the blessings of an improving economy, re-budding in commercial (business sector) development and steadily improving profits and new products. It is the latter that give focus to continued future growth. Those new products are steeped in technological advances and research, giving birth to new affiliated companies — and newly needed alliances.
NeoCon is considered a time of celebration and show-and-tell, as it should also be in the homeland of West Michigan. The economic tentacles are imprecisely measured in economic development terms, but the number of related businesses reaches beyond 240.
That makes the work of a group of Kendall College of Art and Design students all the more interesting and important to note. The Ferris State University-affiliated college has included a student-initiated project in its furniture design lab/showroom, showing in great detail dozens of area companies that provided manufacturing or service for a single lamp — the Voyage lamp by the Light Corp. — from materials and prototypes to the ultimate packaging: a stylized “pizza” box.
The vignette illustrated here also reveals the deep connection of the colleges and universities in West Michigan to the furniture industry, to “design” thinking and to the creative class.
Some national industry watchers have suggested that new product introductions on display in Chicago this week crowd into the electronics and technology business sectors and suggest future battles. The Business Journal does not so predict; instead the Business Journal notes the new partnerships, products and companies that may hatch as a result of the new product lines. These are the buds of new economic activity for this region.
The West Michigan office furniture industry introduced to the world “flexible” moveable panels for the office, and in the 1980s began including power supplies built within those moveable units. In three distinct ways the industry this year is introducing the results of research about how the use of iPads (for instance), laptops and mobile technology have infused everything from how an office worker sits and interacts with co-workers to new designs that provide comforts and improved productivity in a world of rapid change. The stories beginning on page 11 provide a look at the future.
This year, West Michigan has much to show the world.