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Muskegon will be site of regional food hub

July 10, 2015
| By Pat Evans, Grand Rapids Business Journal 


Muskegon soon could be a regional hub of food activity.

An $85,000 study of how to grow the West Michigan food system recommended a food hub be created in Muskegon.

Food hubs support local food systems by acting as aggregates for small to mid-size local growers, processing, packaging and distributing the food.

The study was conducted by Marty Gerencer of Morse Marketing Connections, and Evan Smith of Cherry Capital Foods, who were advised by several community, state and national organizations.

The Community Foundation for Muskegon County backed the study, with funding from Consumers Energy and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

CFMC requested the study to determine how to increase the city’s supply of regional food and the access low-income communities have to the food.

“We are very involved and interested in helping food access in the Muskegon community,” said Chris McGuigan, CFMC president.

The community has set a collective goal of making Muskegon the healthiest county in Michigan by 2021. Since the Healthy Muskegon initiative began in 2011, the community foundation has re-granted $676,000 from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to various Muskegon community endeavors focused on promoting healthy living.

Despite forward strides, McGuigan said there is another level to be reached in connecting local food with the urban core. Much of the foundation’s recent effort has worked toward that goal.

The county as a whole has a household median income that is 17 percent lower than the state average, and an 18.5 percent poverty rate from 2007 to 2011.

With that in mind, Gerencer was called in for the study. In addition to Smith, she also received assistance from Renae Hesselink, vice president of sustainability at Nichols Inc., Dennis Marvin, Consumers Energy’s community engagement manager, and CFMC’s Janelle Mair.

The study found a huge network of farmers in the region that includes Muskegon, Newaygo, Oceana and Ottawa counties who could use support to move their products, as well as a large array of organizations and retailers that could use the food.

With eight food hubs currently in Michigan but a relative dearth in West Michigan, Gerencer said the area was prime for the study. There are approximately 3,600 small producers in the four-county area, she said, and the study found 60 percent of them were ready to commit product to a food hub.

Gerencer said many of the producers are in the middle ground — too large for direct selling through food stands or farmers markets, but too small to supply large retailers and other larger organizations.

“Small growers have difficulty getting into retail stores such as Meijer,” Gerencer said. “So a food hub would take 20, 50 — even the 3,600 growers in the region and work together to clean it, package it and distribute the food.”

In addition to serving the four-county region, the infrastructure is in place to send food to major metropolitan areas such as Grand Rapids, Detroit and Chicago.

The food hub may not be the final solution for all of the region’s food problems, but it can help address some of the issues, Gerencer said. She said the study found 59 percent of the area’s potential buyers are ready to purchase now.

She hopes by the time the hub is operational — within the next year — even more would be ready to commit.

“The study indicated Muskegon is an excellent place for this,” Mair said. “Now a group will look to establish a small hub to take the next step.”

Locations being scouted, and the organization is looking for a general manager for the business.

The economic potential of the hub — which will be a for-profit business — is the reason Consumers Energy became involved. Consumers contributed approximately $50,000 to the study, with USDA Rural Development kicking in $30,375.

Consumers is seeking ways to stay connected in the community as it gears up to retire the B.C. Cobb power plant, Marvin said.

He said the company had two objectives when it committed to the study. One was recognizing the decrease in taxes the company would pay with the plant’s retirement, therefore putting a financial hardship on the community. Second was to attempt to replace some of the jobs that would be lost through the plant’s closure. Marvin said Consumers would still be the No. 1 property taxpayer in the city based on its distribution facilities.

“We’re not going away,” he said. “But we want to replace the tax dollars and jobs that will be lost.”

There was a third point Marvin made, which he said was the most important. The Cobb facility is one of very few 100 percent water-borne coal plants, and provides the Muskegon port with approximately two-thirds of its activity.

“That’s a big priority for us. How can we keep that port viable?” Marvin said, adding the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers requires 100 million tons of annual commercial activity before agreeing to dredge a waterway.

Initially, the food hub would not be a large participant in the waterway, but Marvin said he hopes the early talks with potential customers in Chicago could help put agricultural products on vessels to ship across Lake Michigan.

Gerencer believes the food hub facility could offer approximately 20 jobs and create many more through the farms and distribution networks. She pointed to the Cherry Capital food hub in Traverse City, which opened in 2009 and now has 50 employees.

While the for-profit portion of the food hub is attractive to several people involved, the community foundation is driven by the social mission of the organization. Its potential to connect Muskegon area schools, hospitals and food pantries with local food is great, Mair said.

With the need and feasibility acknowledged, the effort to make the food hub a reality is underway.

“We’re going to start small and build. If we do well for the community, then we can be a regional opportunity,” Gerencer said. “The grower gets a new market, and the community gets better food.”

   

Port City Group merges with leading die casting company based in Arkansas

Reddit

MUSKEGON, MI – Port City Group has merged with North America's largest, full-service aluminum, zinc and magnesium die casting company.

Pace Industries, a Fayetteville, Ark.-based company announced the acquisition of the Muskegon-based Port City Group on July 1. John Essex, CEO of Port City Group, said the company will be able to increase its capacity for business in Muskegon and in other parts of the country.

"It's a great thing," he said. "We're excited, our customers are excited. It just makes logical sense. We wanted to create this merger so we had access to Pace's resources but still had the same local control.

Port City Group will become a division of Pace Industries, which consists of 12 divisions and 21 facilities in the United States and Mexico worth approximately $600 million. The Port City name will remain and Essex will remain the CEO. He will also serve on the Pace Board of Directors and become one of its largest shareholders while leasing Pace's automotive growth strategy.

"Blending the strengths of Pace and Port City Group will result in a formidable automotive supplier and preferred non-automotive supplier in the die casting industry and build our capabilities to deliver better quality, service and value to customers," said Pace Industries President and CEO Scott Bull.

Essex said Port City's 670 employees won't likely see much of a change and the company outside of a small label that states "A Division of Pace Industries" on its products. He added that the company could see employment growth of 5 to 8 percent over the next year.

The merger with Pace should also allow the automotive-focused Port City to diversify its capabilities, which in turn should allow it to avoid downturns like it experienced in 2008-09. Less than 20 percent of Pace's capital is derived from the auto industry. It is also heavily involved in recreation vehicles, medical, lighting and electric, aviation and more.

We want to continue to grow here (Muskegon)," Essex said. "This is my home, it always had been, but this gives us really good tools to do that and avoid some of the impact we saw in 08-09 by diversifying." 

Brandon Champion covers arts and entertainment, business, sports and weather for MLive Muskegon Chronicle. Email him at  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it  and follow him on Twitter @BrandonThaChamp.

   

Bayer CropScience announces plans for $50 million expansion to Muskegon site

Brandon Champion | 
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By Brandon Champion | This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it  Follow on Twitter 
on July 02, 2015 at 12:46 PM, updated July 02, 2015 at 2:00 PM

MUSKEGON TOWNSHIP, MI – Bayer CropScience's Muskegon operations will grow substantially over the next two years.

Company leadership announced plans for a $50 million expansion project for its manufacturing facility on Thursday, July 2. Company officials were joined by state and township officials and plant neighbors and employees at the outdoor ceremony that took place on the lawn in front of the plant.

"Our goal at Bayer CropScience is to help shape the future of farming by providing cutting-edge agricultural innovations to deliver on Bayer's mission of Science for a Better Life," said Michael van Nooy, head of Global Active Ingredient Operations for Bayer CropScience. "The expansion we are announcing today is a demonstration of our commitment to that mission."

The expansion to the facility at 1740 Whitehall Road will help to double the company's production of the site's flagship product Liberty herbicide, a chemical designed to help in weed management.  

The expansion of the Liberty herbicide is in response to urgent calls from farmers in need of an alternative weed control technology to help combat the growing problem of weed resistance.

"Farmers have one objective in mind when they come to work," said David Tanner, BCS Broad Acre Crops. "And that is producing successful harvests that are safe for consumers and delivered in an environmental and economically sustainable way."

The expansion is expected to be completed by the middle of 2017. It will be similar to a smaller, $15 million expansion completed in 2010.

The building that will house most of the expansion equipment has already been constructed, so the $50 million investment is largely represented by equipment and production materials. No new jobs will be created because of the expansion but it will secure the jobs of the 70-plus employees currently working on site, company officials said.

"Thanks for picking the best spot and understanding we have the best people working here," said state Sen. Goeff Hansen, R-Hart. "I don't know why the people that have the Bayer CropScience shirts on are sitting to the sides. They should be in the middle because they're the people that made this happen.

"Because of the quality of their work, because of them coming to work every day, because of them being safe and because of them caring about what they're doing, we've got a $50 million addition going on right here. What that means is that they decided we're one of the best; they decided that we're the place to be."

"Bayer's expansion at this site is a tremendous opportunity for us," said state Rep. Marcia Hovey-Wright, D-Muskegon. "Not only will it protect the 70-plus good jobs in our community but it will help anchor Bayer to this site and give us hope that they will continue to grow here in the future."

Thursday's ceremony concluded with a ceremonial "turning of the wrench," symbolic of Bayer CropScience Muskegon site's eagerness to begin its official expansion in response to agricultural and customer needs. 

Bayer's Muskegon operations are on 40 developed acres surrounded by 400 acres of woods and wetlands. The facility includes two production units and one formulation unit. Bayer CropScience is a subgroup of Bayer and is responsible for its agricultural business.

Brandon Champion covers arts and entertainment, business, sports and weather for MLive Muskegon Chronicle. Email him at  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it  and follow him on Twitter @BrandonThaChamp.

   

Brunswick Bowling Sold

Brunswick Bowling Products in Muskegon sold to Atlanta-based investment firm 

By Brandon Champion | This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it The Muskegon Chronicle 
on June 04, 2015 at 2:11 PM, updated June 04, 2015 at 8:42 PM

MUSKEGON, MI -- Brunswick Corp. has sold its remaining ties to the bowling industry, a field with which it has been synonymous for more than a century.

The Lake Forest, Illinois-headquartered corporation announced last week Brunswick Bowling Products, which is headquartered in Muskegon, has been sold to BlueArc Capital Management LLC. 

According to Brunswick Chairman and CEO Dustan McCoy, the Atlanta-based BlueArc is a long-term investor that plans to keep the company's bowling products headquarters in Muskegon with manufacturing operations in Szekesfehervar, Hungary and Reynosa, Mexico.

"The Brunswick name and all that it stands for will carry on and continue to set the standard in the bowling industry," McCoy said in a news release.

The sale comes about a year after the corporation agreed to sell its bowling center business to Bowlmor AMF for $270 million. At that time, the company announced its intention to divest its bowling products business, which it now has completed.

BlueArc completed the acquisition of Brunswick Bowling Products with investments from Gladstone Investment Corp., a publicly traded business development company in McLean, Virginia, and Capitala Finance Corp., a business development company in Charlotte, North Carolina. A sale price was not disclosed.

"Brunswick is a great fit for us," Michael Roher, managing partner of BlueArc's private equity business, said in a news release. "We focus in investing in well-established, market-leading companies and helping them innovate and grow over time. The brand, the products and the management team all demonstrate the high performance attributes we seek within our portfolio companies."

Officer of Brunswick Bowling Products Brent Perrier told MLive Muskegon Chronicle in July 2014 that Brunswick Corp. derives less than 10 percent of its overall business from bowling and billiards.

While it has financial interests in a wide variety of fields including boating and recreational equipment, bowling is what it has been most closely associated with for many in the general population.

The company's partnership with BlueArc would seem to indicate that association will continue for the time being, but in name only. The long-term future of Brunswick's Muskegon bowling operation also is completely up to BlueArc and its partners. 

The prospect of new ownership might be a bit an unsettling for some of its 200 employees in Muskegon, but Perrier seems content with the transaction.

"Brunswick Bowling Products has been known for quality products and innovation for 125 years," he said. "We're excited to be associated with BlueArc. Throughout the sale process, BlueArc was the obvious choice for our management team. Their commitment to our business is a very positive sign to the entire industry."

Brunswick brought its bowling and billiards operations to Muskegon in 1906. The Brunswick Bowling Products equipment manufacturing plant at Seaway Drive and Laketon Avenue was demolished in May 2013.

It had sat vacant since 2006 after an unsuccessful sale offer and the decision to move bowling ball manufacturing to a plant in Mexico.

Brandon Champion covers arts and entertainment, business, sports and weather for MLive Muskegon Chronicle. Email him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and follow him on Twitter @BrandonThaChamp.

 

   

Donations to Muskegon Community College

 

Donations allow Muskegon Community College to expand entrepreneurial program downtown

Written by  , Staff Writer, MiBiz
Muskegon&#039;s Masonic Temple
Muskegon's Masonic TemplePHOTO: Nick Manes

Muskegon Community College continues to grow its presence in the lakeshore city’s downtown.

Entrepreneurs Jon Rooks and Nick Sarnicola, as well as his wife Ashley, have donated the former Masonic Temple building at 396 West Clay Avenue in addition to a $200,000 permanent endowment for the college to use for its Entrepreneurial Studies program. Rooks, associate broker and owner at Muskegon-based development firm Parkland Properties of West Michigan LLC donated the 23,790-square-foot building. The Sarnicolas donated the endowment, which will fund a $10,000 annual entrepreneurship award for students. Nick Sarnicola is a founder of Troy-based multilevel weight-loss marketing firm ViSalus Inc.

The college’s entrepreneurship program has been active for four years, said program chair Dave Stradal in an announcement made this morning at the Masonic Temple building, which will be renamed the Rooks-Sarnicola Center for Entrepreneurial Studies. Classes could begin in the building as soon as next year, MCC President Dale Nesbary said.

The building is adjacent to the former Muskegon Chronicle building, which as MiBiz has previously reported, is being re-developed by MCC to house the college’s applied technology programs, such as engineering, manufacturing and welding.

According to Nesbary, the estimated investment for the Chronicle building is $13 million and very preliminary estimates for the Masonic Temple are around $2.4 million but that has not yet been approved by the college’s board. Nesbary also said the Masonic Temple building, upon completion, will have a Barnes & Noble Inc. bookstore with an onsite Starbucks.

While the building is a gift to the college, Rooks told MiBiz he believes the redevelopment is a boon for his other investments in the downtown area, which include two hotels, office space a marina, as well as housing and apartment developments.

“I feel like Muskegon is on the rise and this gift not only helps other people, I think it is going to help me, too,” Rooks said. “It makes for a larger investment by MCC and all told it will be the biggest investment in 20 years in one place in downtown Muskegon.”

Both Rooks and Sarnicola in prepared statements cited their early years as upstart entrepreneurs as top reasons for the gifts.

“I’d never heard of a community college that offered an (entrepreneurship) program like this,” Sarnicola said during his remarks. “(Entrepreneurs) learn it from a mentor or someone else who has started a business.”

Rooks, on the other hand, noted that he started his first business at 12 years old and got into real estate after college. He was an early investor in the downtown housing market, particularly in the Monroe North and west side neighborhoods.

“I believe my investments have all been ahead of the curve and I like to invest that way,” Rooks said.

The MCC board later convened for a private session to discuss a land acquisition. No further details were available concerning those discussions.

   

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