GH Leaders Erasing Negative Image

    GRAND HAVEN — Local industries struggling to compete and survive in an unforgiving global economy are finding a new partner to work with — City Hall.

    City leaders, seeking to reverse perceptions about Grand Haven’s attitude toward business and see employers retain and grow jobs locally, say they want to do all they can to help local manufacturers that are facing intense pressures both at home and abroad. Business leaders who met last week with Grand Haven City Council members in an unprecedented session say they welcome any help they can get.

    “We’re under relentless pressure. We need to change every day. Council needs to change, too,” Nelson Jacobson, vice president for furniture products and international business development for JSJ Corp., told city council members.

    “You need to be a partner with us,” Jacobson added.

    City leaders indicated a willingness to do what they can on the local level to ease the pressures that manufacturers face today. Among them are intense competition from overseas firms where labor is cheap and regulations are virtually non-existent, increasing pressure from automotive customers to cut prices, and the rising costs of raw materials and liability and health insurance.

    On the local level, business leaders said, city government can help business mitigate those pressures somewhat by keeping the cost of public utilities low, reducing the property tax burden, supporting tax abatements for new business investments, helping to secure state grants to finance public infrastructure improvements to support plant expansions, helping to deal with state environmental regulators, and relaxing code requirements when a business tries to rehabilitate an old building.

    Gordon Ritter, executive vice president at Automatic Spring Products Corp. and chairman of The Chamber of Commerce, told council members that manufacturers today know they need to meet fierce global competition through product innovation and creativity, high quality, a highly skilled work force, rapid response and customer service.

    Having the support of City Hall to address local issues that affect the business environment can help, Ritter said.

    “We need this dialog,” he said.

    The 69 manufacturing companies within the Grand Haven-Spring Lake area employ more than 4,400 people and collectively have an annual payroll of $28.4 million, according to a 2002 survey conducted by The Chamber of Commerce in Grand Haven. They pay some $800,000 in city property taxes and, when indirect benefits and spin-off employment are figured in, have an estimated $199 million annual economic impact on the area.

    In an era where manufacturing jobs in Michigan and across the nation are disappearing, Mayor Roger Bergman wants to “create an atmosphere” where City Hall works cooperatively with local manufacturers and to help them grow, prosper and create new jobs.

    “As a city we need to support and help these people any way we can,” said Bergman, the owner of Borr’s Bootery shoe stores in Grand Haven and Holland who was elected mayor last November. “We’re serious about helping these guys survive in our community. Not only survive but thrive.”

    Bergman wants to set up similar sessions with his counterparts in neighboring communities to possibly develop a common strategy for retaining and growing local manufacturing jobs.

    Several of the approximately 15 business leaders who spoke to council members last Monday said they were looking for a working partnership with the city to produce the best business environment possible locally in the face of a harsh global economy.

    “It’s looking at leveling the playing field. There is a global economy out there and we have to embrace it somehow,” said Craig Seaver of Seaver Finishing Co., a 51-year-old finishing company.    

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