West Michigans Glass HalfFull

“Steelcase headquarters will remain in West Michigan.” The quote from President and CEO James Hackett did not get the emphasis it deserved last week as the company continued announcements of restructuring.

Cities with absentee landlords do not thrive, nor do the agencies counting on their beneficence. The purchase of Zeeland’s Batts Industries by Tyco International in the late ’90s is a most painful reminder. That Steelcase is taking all the necessary steps to remain a world leader in the office furniture industry, then, bodes well for the West Michigan community because the company’s long-sustained philanthropy may continue. (Universal Forest Products is another example of community leadership. The Grand Rapids company celebrating its 50th birthday employs administrative staff here, but the vast number of its employees are in several other states, communities to which its chairman and CEO contribute, though Grand Rapids projects and issues remain — to date — its largest beneficiary.)

Further, it is largely unheard of (outside of West Michigan) that in the same week of job cuts the CEO would reward the productivity gains and loyalty of employees. “Our employees worked very hard to improve customer service even as we were reducing half of our work force. I’m very proud that today I will announce bonuses that are the direct result of their commitment to service and savings,” Hackett said.

Steelcase continues to build its research and development efforts, and Hackett indicated that future growth will come from product innovations. The concentration of R&D personnel also provides West Michigan with intellectual property, and salaries that ripple into the economy in new housing construction and services.

The excruciating evolution from a manufacturing age to the “information age” is not without its “upside,” a calculated process of hatching “new economy” jobs. The Van Andel Institute is far more than a research lab, and its economic ripple effect is far greater than that so easily seen as the result of the Van Andel Arena and the growth of entertainment venues.

Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell notes Grand Rapids’ legacy “and deep core competency” of entrepreneurism, and its legacy of hard work and skilled labor. Each is necessary; each is already in place in West Michigan.

The plans now being made to move the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine to Grand Rapids, concentrating on medical research, adds to that success. The new medical staff at Saint Mary’s Health Care’s Lacks Cancer Center and that added at Spectrum Health’s Meijer Heart Center position this community as a medical leader.

The manufacturing cuts announced this week may not be the last, but this community would have a much bigger deficit if locally headquartered companies like Steelcase were eliminated or moved. It’s still a glass half full.    

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