COOPERSVILLE — Come spring, after the last light is turned off at the 600-plus employee Delphi Corp. plant, bulldozers and backhoes will rumble into this town of 4,200 people.
Their destination: 61 acres just outside the public school campus, where a New York developer intends to build more than 150 duplexes and single family homes called the Reserve of Coopersville.
“Although we followed what was happening with Delphi, it was never a major reason for coming into Coopersville and didn’t present a major concern when it looked like that plant would be closing,” said lawyer Jeff Muth, local representative for VB Development of Larchmont, N.Y.
Coopersville — home of the Division 4 high school football finals runner-up, hometown of 1950s rocker Del Shannon and host of the tourist magnet Coopersville-Marne Railway — no longer will be home for a Delphi plant. The latest word is that the plant may close in March or April. Delphi is shutting down 25 plants across the country, including facilities in Adrian, Flint and Saginaw.
But the fate of Delphi in this agricultural city, where about half the land is built up, had little bearing on the developer’s decision to invest here.
“On a larger scale, I think the New York developer really believes in West Michigan as a whole,” Muth said. “They were extremely impressed with Grand Rapids, blown away by the level of development going on, and the number of potential jobs within non-auto industries that should be created here in the next few years. Their view of Coopersville is how people looked at Rockford 15 years ago.
“I don’t think they ever looked at Coopersville and said this needs to be a self-sustaining community, but looked at it as a sub-enclave of the West Michigan strategic business triangle.”
City Manager Steve Patrick touts Coopersville’s Ottawa County location off I-96 halfway between Grand Rapids and Muskegon.
“It’s very fortunate where Coopersville is located, right next to the highway — and I mean right next to it — and halfway between Grand Rapids and Muskegon. It’s a bedroom community for people working in those areas,” said Patrick, although Census 2000 shows that many more Coopersville residents work in Kent County than in Muskegon County.
Over the past few years, the city has upgraded architectural requirements for new construction and the Downtown Development Authority has offered $10,000 grants for storefront remodels. The City Council rezoned land near the eastern gateway at Exit 16 to better control future development. The western gateway at Exit 19 already offers highway services such as gasoline stations and fast food. And Coopersville Public Schools snagged a Blue Ribbon School designation and is planning to build a new middle school.
Looming over the city, however, are the woes of Delphi. Since Patrick arrived five years ago, he has been urging city leaders to think about a city budget minus Delphi’s considerable contribution to property tax revenue.
“(City) staff and council always had in the back of their heads, ‘What if Delphi closes?’” Patrick said. “We have been very conservative about our budgets. We realized Delphi was having problems a couple of years before the announcement.”
Delphi generated $308,378 in taxes for the city, or 20 percent of the total $1.3 million property tax revenue in 2005-06, according to a budget planning document. To compensate for the loss, the document put cutbacks on the table, from jettisoning the recreation department, which also serves many residents of Polkton and Wright townships, to laying off two employees and raising property tax rates.
Patrick said the full impact of Delphi’s departure really won’t be felt until the 2007-08 budget, because the company still will have to pay taxes related to its short-term operation this year.
Also beset with falling income from state revenue sharing over the past several years, the city pinched pennies and postponed some projects to bolster the fund balance — the city’s savings account — to 38 percent of the budget. The document also points to 14 percent growth in property tax revenue in 2005. Patrick said those factors could soften the budgetary blow caused by Delphi’s absence.
“We wanted to sock some money away because we knew there was the possibility of them taking off,” Patrick said.
Patrick and Chamber of Commerce Director Jan Richardson said they think that other than the considerable effect on property tax revenue, Delphi had little economic impact in Coopersville.
“Even though Coopersville is slated to lose Delphi, few people who worked at Delphi lived in Coopersville,” Richardson said.
City Councilwoman Sue Schmidt owns Gallery 293 in the city’s downtown shopping district. “I really don’t see any impact on my business directly,” Schmidt said, adding that Delphi did sponsor community causes and events.
“A lot of people who were employed by Delphi came here to work and left,” Schmidt said. “To give you an example, I met up with a guy a couple of years ago who worked at Delphi in Coopersville and lived in Newaygo. He never knew there was a downtown business district.”
“What we know is that of 650 Delphi employees, maybe 40 live in Coopersville,” Patrick added. “That’s proven every day at shift change. They do very little business here.”
Phil Allor does do business in Cooperville. The owner of SelfLube, which makes self-lubricating parts for tool and die shops, said, “I’ve made the decision to locate in Coopersville three times and I’ve been pleased with the decision every time.”
About 10 years ago, Allor decided his business had outgrown its previous site and he needed to build a new plant. He chose to stay in Coopersville.
“The location is terrific, right off the freeway,” Allor said, allowing easy access for raw materials as well as for delivery of the finished product. “There’s a good work force here. And it’s a business-friendly environment.”
And he likes the marketing boost he gets from having a sign next to one of West Michigan’s interstates.
Not everyone is happy with the city’s changes, such as housing developments and rezoning, Patrick acknowledged. Coopersville has refrained from advertising for commercial or residential development, he said, partly because there’s little money for it. However, he has fielded several inquiries from companies interested in taking over the Delphi plant. But any action must wait until the plant is empty and court proceedings conclude, he said.
Patrick said he thinks Coopersville has a solid future without Delphi. He said he was heartened when the city nabbed an A+ bond rating from FitchRatings prior to issuing bonds to pay for water, sewer and road work.
“For a city like Coopersville, which had never gotten a B1 before, they announce a closure of a plant in Coopersville (and) we got an A+? And now, when the housing market has become somewhat soft, we had an out-of-state developer propose a new development.
“The city is not actively promoting growth. We are promoting smart growth when it occurs,” Patrick said.
Muth said he’s also hopeful about post-Delphi Coopersville.
“I see where Coopersville’s vision is headed and I think Coopersville has very dynamic leadership from the city management side,” Muth said. “They rezoned that east gateway into a mixed-use planned unit development, which I think shows a lot of vision, maybe a five- or 10-year vision. We’re going to see well-planned-out community.”
Median age: 31.4
White: 96.4 percent
Owner-occupied housing units: 1,112, or 78.3 percent
Bachelor’s degree or higher: 16.3 percent
Portion of employed residents in manufacturing: 27.8 percent
Sources: Population from city-conducted census in 2006; other statistics, Census 2000