Economic Future Hard Fought


    The annual Grand Rapids Business Journal Newsmaker of the Year provides certain evaluation of the regional economic health, and a review of the top 10 economic stories of 2005 certainly exemplifies the rollercoaster of events that will define 2006.

    The 10 Newsmaker nominees are defined not by the sum of events in the year passed, but in potential impact for years to come.

    At its worst, that long-term impact is defined by Delphi’s bankruptcy and reorganization; at its best it is seen in the other nine nominees all indicating economic growth. Grand Rapids remains poised to move forward, even while suffering not just a Delphi regrouping, but one encompassing all of manufacturing, across the country.

    There is some example of opportunity even within the Delphi reorganization plan, in that the Grand Rapids metro area plants in Coopersville and Wyoming are scheduled to remain open and producing parts. How long and how many will be determined, in part, by the Big Three automotive manufacturers. It will also be determined by another of the “top 10”: manufacturing initiatives, which could not be launched fast enough to save any politician from public grilling. Those initiatives from the Grand Rapids region included the creation of an Assistant Secretary of Manufacturing in the U.S. Department of Commerce, now seating board members who reside in this community. U.S. Rep. Vern Ehlers introduced legislation approved by the House last fall to provide assistance to small and mid-sized manufacturers to develop new technologies, and one of the best examples of that evolution belongs to Cascade Engineering, now forging a new affiliation with Surge Medical Inc. to create cardiovascular medical devices.

    In fact, the “medical” community creates a foundation of economic promise in this region. While health care cost increases have created a number of new business practices, the issue also has created new businesses, and a new phrase: consumer-driven health care.

    The medical sector also brought about another new partnership. Once again, several public and private groups led by members of this business community have agreed to a pact with MichiganStateUniversity to build a West Michigan medical school, concentrating on physician researchers. Economic impact studies by Deloitte Consulting provide “conservative” estimates of specific economic growth, not including the “domino” effect. But The Right Place President Birgit Klohs estimates what that means: “The intellectual capital you attract with a med school and commercialization opportunities that come out of it will completely transform our region and our state over the next 10 to 15 years.” she said.

    So it may not be a surprise that the Van Andel Institute is now developing its second phase, a 280,000-square-foot addition that will more than double the size of the medical research and education facility.

    Equally important is the growth of the IT sector in the metro area, defined as much by the move of Norseman Games to Grand Rapids but also in the success of iMart and InforMD. All are involved in — once again — a partnership to seed and grow the IT industry as another leg of this economy, having formed the Technology Sustainability Advisory Council.

    Sustainable business has deep roots in Grand Rapids, but 2005 saw it become a “movement” of sorts throughout the community, and one of the early leaders was Herman Miller.

    Contract furniture makers sustained in 2005, too, with projections showing it is likely to be the best year for this region’s “Big Three” since 1997, and the second best in 20 years.

    The economic growth hard fought to be sustained — and advanced — in 2005 came from several business sectors. It is a promise for the future, not unlike the Kalamazoo Promise of college tuition paid by anonymous donors to every graduate of Kalamazoo Public Schools. That promise is another cornerstone; a promise to help sustain a ready work force in West Michigan, and beyond.

    And so it’s not a wonder that Alticor was able to convince a national business partner that the time and Grand Rapids are right for an elite JW Marriott Hotel. It is another economic domino shoring up the convention and visitor trade emanating from various components of the “local economy.” Grand Rapids has proven in a very tough year that it is the right place.    

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