Muskegon Powers Up

    (Editor’s note: One of 10 stories profiling the finalists for Thursday’s Business Journal Newsmaker of the Year Award.)

    MUSKEGON — Muskegon is looking very Smart.

    The lakeshore community made great strides in 2002, headed by the creation of the Muskegon SmartZone and subsequent attraction of Siemens Corp. to its high-tech business park, now called Edison Landing.

    Partnerships and cooperation defined this project from the start, ultimately culminating in a $34 million deal that brings Siemens and a fuel-cell generating plant that will provide electricity to the business park, which will focus on the research, development and commercialization of energy-related technologies and products.

    While Siemens’ investment was pegged at $34 million, John Mundell III, vice president and office adviser for CB Richard Ellis/Grand Rapids, which is marketing the project to prospective developers and tenants, called it “just the tip of the iceberg.”

    He said the initial deal could result in interest in the park from companies both outside of West Michigan and from across the country, giving the project a “more national sense.”

    Indeed, by year’s end, estimates were that the park would easily attract upwards of $50 million in development to the Muskegon area.

    “It will put Muskegon as a place where people will want to locate,” said Chris Kelly, a partner in the Muskegon law firm of Parmenter-O’Toole, whose partners are undertaking the project.

    Siemens, which is based in New York City and has more than 80,000 employees in the United States and recorded 2001 revenues of $19.1 billion as the American arm of German-based Siemens AG, has agreed to partner with Grand Valley State University on the fuel cell plant.

    GVSU’s involvement in the project also includes a site for a business incubator for energy-related start-up companies, as well as Siemens’ fuel cell plant.

    The ambitious project, which began in 1998 as an effort by Parmenter-O’Toole simply to build a new office building for itself, evolved into the public private initiative that’s seen as a vital component to Muskegon’s continued revitalization.

    The development received SmartZone designation in April 2001 from the Michigan Economic Development Corp.

    In fact, the state liked the energy concept so much that then-Gov. John Engler created a program called NextEnergy, which is designed to encourage development of alternative energy sources through a series of economic stimulus and tax break packages.

    Of course, that plan was to be started elsewhere in the state, but Muskegon carried on.

    The SmartZone status enabled the city of Muskegon to offer tax-increment financing that makes developers eligible for state tax credits, both of which are designed to lure and support high-tech business development. The city also established the parcel as a brownfield site, which qualifies developers for additional tax credits.

    Parmenter-O’Toole still will get its new office building in the park, which is a 34-acre tract that housed the former Teledyne plant, located along Muskegon Lake and adjacent to downtown.

    But the emphasis for the project definitely has changed.

    Kelly said landing more major corporations the size and stature of Siemens won’t come easily because trying to sell a large corporation on Edison Landing means dealing with a large corporate structure and working up the chain of command.

    “Whenever you go to the higher level to attract tenants or companies, the more red tape there is, the more contacts you have to go through,” he said. “You’re no longer going to have a local guy making the decision.”

    But that’s something the project’s developers will have to get used to.           

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