West Michigan Cities Fighting For Economic Success

Posted at 7:43 PM, May 15, 2014
and last updated 2014-05-15 19:47:12-04

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (May 15, 2014) – When it comes to filling spaces on Michigan Ave., whether in downtown Battle Creek or downtown Kalamazoo, the people responsible for attracting business think they have a plan.

“Residential development in the downtown is a big priority for us,” Karl Dehn, CEO, Battle Creek Unlimited. “We’re working on a couple of different developments in that regard and the one that’s most known is the interest from 616 developments in grand rapids.

Dehn says the project would bring new life to the 19-story Heritage Tower, a building that helps define the Cereal City skyline. The plan includes adding restaurant and retail, but it would also double the residential space downtown.

“We continue looking for more retailers, that are more destination retailers, that will draw people and serve the people that are living and working downtown,” Dehn said.

Bringing those businesses downtown could be the tipping point for a city that’s struggled to keep storefronts occupied.

Down the road in Kalamazoo, it’s the business of Tim Terrentine, Vice President of Southwest Michigan First to determine just how to grow and attract employers.

“Between Southwest Michigan First and the chamber, we do over 1,700 face-to -face consolations with companies this year,” said Terrentine. “We sit down with companies and ascertain their needs, wants and desires are, and how we can help them grow.”

In both communities, preparing young people with the skills they need to compete is also key. But it’s more than that: there are thousands of people who are either under employed or unemployed.

“Battle Creek has continued to invest in is workforce development, training capabilities and we’re even doing so at a much faster pass in the last 2-3 years than we ever had,” said Dehn.

But when businesses are successful and looking to grow, that can bring positives and negatives to a business environment.

“We always want to accommodate every business’ expansion opportunities first in Battle Creek, but this was a little bit unique,” Dehn said.

Unique because the expansion of Arcadia Ales was two-fold: it needed more space and it wanted to break into a new market.

“We can produce about four times as much beer here [in Kalamazoo] and then the packaging and the filling, all those things,” said Sarah Bauman, marketing manager with Arcadia Ales. “We have much more efficient machinery to do it here.”

While communities are constantly competing for business, one city’s gain isn’t necessarily another’s loss.

“We don’t think in terms of Kalamazoo and Battle Creek and Grand Rapids,” said Terrentine. “We’re a regional organization and therefore, what’s good for Battle Creek is good for us. We don’t lose when a company grows in Battle Creek.”