Muskegon named a top 10 metro area for economic development by Site Selection Magazine

Pigeon Hill’s co-owners Michael Brower, left, and Joel Kamp celebrate the groundbreaking of their $2 million production facility in downtown Muskegon. The project is one of the reasons Muskegon landed on Site Selection’s top 10 list. Photo by Anna Gustafson

Muskegon County’s growing economy is landing in the international spotlight.

For the first time ever, Site Selection Magazine named Muskegon as one of the country’s top 10 metro areas with the most economic development projects.

Site Selection, an internationally circulated business publication covering corporate real estate and economic development, recently notified Muskegon Area First (MAF) that Muskegon has been placed on its top 10 list for regions with populations of less than 200,000 people.

“What an exciting time for the Muskegon metro area,” MAF Interim President and CEO Darryl Todd said in a press release. “To be named in the top 10…speaks to the tremendous success we’ve had working cooperatively as a team to ensure that Muskegon is a great place to live, work, play, and succeed in business.”

Every year, the publication rates metro areas in terms of the number of major economic development projects happening in the region. Site Selection publishes the top 10 lists—which were released on Monday, March 4—for metro areas with more than one million people, between 200,000 and one million individuals, and fewer than 200,000 residents.

Compiling the lists using a database that provides information about investments and the overall economic health of communities across the country, Site Selection focuses on new corporate facility projects with significant impact, including headquarters and manufacturing plants; research and development operations with logistics sites; and other economic development projects. It does not track retail or government facilities, schools, and hospitals. To qualify for the publication’s lists, new facilities and expansions must involve a capital investment of at least $1 million, create at least 20  new jobs, or add at least 20,000 square feet of new floor area.

With six such projects, Muskegon tied for the number 10 spot alongside Saginaw, Michigan and Blacksburg-Christiansburg-Radford, Virginia. Other areas on the list include Bowling Green, Kentucky; Ames, Iowa; Gainesville, Georgia; Sioux City, Iowa; Albany, Georgia; Dubuque, Iowa; Odessa, Texas; Columbus, Indiana; and Florence-Muscle Shoals, Alabama.

The six projects that qualified Muskegon for Site Selection’s list included investments from Arconic, Smart Vision Lights, Motion Dynamics, and Pigeon Hill Brewing Company. Because the data collected by Site Selection is proprietary, it does not release complete information about all of the projects.

Arconic is adding 45 new jobs as part of its $100 million expansion at its aerospace engine parts facility in Whitehall, which is slated to be completed by 2020. Smart Vision Lights is investing a little more than $4 million in Norton Shores. The lighting manufacturer is moving from a 12,500-square-foot building in Dalton Township to a 36,000 square-foot venue at 5113 Robert Hunter Dr. in Norton Shores. The construction on the new building is slated to finish this summer.

Motion Dynamics, a medical device supplier, is expanding with a $3.75 million, 28,000-square-foot addition on Airline Road in Fruitport. The expansion, which is set to be completely this summer, is expected to create about 80 new jobs.

A rendering of Pigeon Hill’s incoming $2 million production brewery in downtown Muskegon. Image courtesy of Andrea Riegler

Pigeon Hill will soon celebrate the opening of its $2 million, 15,000-square-foot production brewery at 895 Fourth St. in downtown Muskegon.

These projects, among many others, are emblematic of a region that has made a dramatic comeback in recent years. After losing business and industry and suffering a population decline similar to other Midwest areas in the 1970s through 1990s, the greater Muskegon area is now experiencing sweeping change and investment.

“The growth in the Muskegon metro area and throughout Muskegon County in the past five years has been amazing,” Muskegon County Administrator Mark Eisenbarth said in the same press release. “Our county and municipal governments, along with local and regional organizations and state departments, are working together to create a business friendly climate that is being noticed by people and corporations across the country. The lakeshore location, outdoor recreational opportunities, housing market, and overall high quality of life in Muskegon County makes this area an ideal location to live, work, and play.”

From more than $100 million in proposed downtown development projectsincluding the $17 million convention center and a potential $65 million Foundry Square projectto the hundreds of millions of dollars set to be invested at the expansive Sappi redevelopment project and a focus on dramatically growing the region’s food processing industry, Muskegon’s economic landscape is being entirely reshaped.

In response to the region’s growing economy, the city of Muskegon announced this week that it is restructuring its economic development efforts, including hiring former Muskegon Heights City Manager Jake Eckholm as the economic development director, a newly created position. The city too hired Peter Wills as its new director of strategic initiatives. For the past eight years, Wills served as the chief of staff to former state Sen. Goeff Hansen (R-Hart).

“As Muskegon has redeveloped over the past decade, we have focused our attention on providing consistency, predictability, and urgency to commercial, industrial, and residential developers,” Muskegon City Manager Frank Peterson said in a prepared statement. “We’re able to respond quickly to market demands so site selectors and developers are able to move forward on-schedule and on-budget.”

And while Muskegon’s economy is diversifying and manufacturing is no longer the overwhelmingly dominant presence it once was, officials noted the industry continues to grow.

“Due to our manufacturing history, we are well positioned to provide sites that meet the needs of a wide variety of industries,” Peterson said. “We pride ourselves on our ability to take a project or deal from concept to completion very quickly. In 2018, we were able to see this in practice when we assisted in identifying a site for a local manufacturer, completed the land assembly, mitigate wetland issues, reconstruct roads, issue abatements, and construct a 500,000-square-foot distribution center in less than 15 months.”

To see the entire Site Selection report, please click here.

Story by Anna Gustafson, the publisher and editor of Muskegon Times. You can connect with Anna by emailing MuskegonTimes@gmail.com or on FacebookTwitterand Instagram.

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