Grand Rapids: Economy

Major Industries and Commercial Activity

The furniture industry has been a mainstay of the Grand Rapids economy since the late 1800s. Today the metropolitan area is home to five of the world's leading office furniture companies: Steelcase, Herman Miller, Haworth, Knoll, and American Seating. Several firms also produce residential furniture. The Grand Rapids metropolitan manufacturing base is among the largest county employers. Steelcase and Amway, manufacturer of home care products, along with Meijer, a supermarket chain, are the largest private companies in the county. In October 2000 Amway became a subsidiary of a newly created company, Alticor.

Grand Rapids has always thrived because of its entrepreneurial, family owned businesses. Among the national firms that began as family operations are Meijer; Bissell, carpet sweeper makers; Wolverine World Wide, makers of Hush Puppies; and Howard Miller, the world's largest manufacturer of grandfather clocks.

Automotive parts, industrial machinery, printing, graphic arts, plastics and chemicals, grocery wholesalers, and food processors comprise a substantial portion of the economic base. International businesses also play an important role, with more than 50 foreign-owned firms in the county and many metropolitan area firms involved in international trade. Tourism is an emerging industry as West Michigan increasingly becomes a popular vacation and convention destination.

Items and goods produced: office furniture and hardware, home furniture, automobile parts, plastics, industrial machinery, tool and dies, home-care products, home appliances, commercial printing, electronic equipment, scientific instruments, food, leather

Incentive Programs—New and Existing Companies

In 2004, the Michigan Economic Development Commission approved a total of more than $10.3 million in Single Business Tax credits for the expansion and consolidation of Steelcase and the redevelopment of two contaminated brownfield sites in the city's downtown. Gaines Township will support the Steelcase expansion with a tax abatement valued at approximately $96,000 over four years.

Local programs

The city of Grand Rapids and its downtown development authority have committed approximately $6.3 million in local incentives toward the brownfield projects through tax abatements and tax increment financing incentives. The Right Place Program (RPP), founded in 1985, is a regional non-profit organization headed by business and government leaders to encourage economic growth through expansion and retention of area businesses and attraction of national and international companies.

State programs

More than 800 properties within 10 areas of the city are designated Renaissance Zones, where Michigan Single Business Tax, the state education tax, Michigan personal and real property taxes, and city income taxes are waived. Tax credits and exemptions are also available in the city's SmartZone, an area adjacent to downtown where the city is seeking to locate high tech and life sciences companies.

Job training programs

Through the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, employees have the opportunity to improve their skills through three Michigan Technical Education Centers (M-TEC) operated through Grand Rapids Community College.

Development Projects

Rosa Parks Circle, a small, downtown park, opened in 2002. It was designed by architect Maya Lin, who also designed the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. Millennium Park is a $25 million, 10-year restoration of 1,500 acres of industrial land. A 200-acre section of the park, including Millennium Park Beach, opened in 2003. The $210 million De Vos Place project incorporates De Vos Hall and the old Grand Center convention space in a new one-million-square-foot facility, which was completed in 2005.

Economic Development Information: The Right Place Program, The Waters Building, 111 Pearl Street NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503; telephone (616)771-0325; fax (616)771-0329

Commercial Shipping

Because of its strategic location, Grand Rapids is no more than two delivery days away from all Midwest, East Coast, mid-south, and eastern Canadian markets. Ground transportation is available through more than 40 motor carriers, several of which operate terminals in Grand Rapids, and three rail freight systems provide a range of services such as piggyback shipments, bulk handling, and refrigeration. The South Beltline Corridor, currently under construction, connects I-96 on the East with I-196 on the West, with U.S. 131 in the center. Portions of this highway opened in 2001 and 2004, with the remainder scheduled to open in 2005. Seven air cargo carriers and a deep-water port on Lake Michigan, 35 miles away in Muskegon, link Grand Rapids with world markets.

Labor Force and Employment Outlook

Employers in the Grand Rapids area have access to a young and growing population with a Midwestern work ethic. Employer relations are said to be excellent and work stoppages rare.

The city and region enjoy a high rate of employment overall. With a designated foreign trade zone, Grand Rapids importers and exporters expect to continue to expand markets internationally.

The following is a summary of data regarding the Grand Rapids metropolitan area labor force, 2004 annual averages.

Size of nonagricultural labor force: 384,100

Number of workers employed in . . .

construction and mining: 19,300

manufacturing: 74,100

trade, transportation and utilities: 73,200

information: 5,700

financial activities: 20,900

professional and business services: 52,900

educational and health services: 51,400

leisure and hospitality: 31,700

other services: 17,100

government: 37,800

Average hourly earnings of production workers employed in manufacturing: $17.56

Unemployment rate: 6.6% (March 2005)

Grand Rapids: Economy

Largest employers Number of employees
Spectrum Health 14,000
Meijer 9,785
Steelcase 5,400
Johnson Controls 5,000
Herman Miller, Inc. 4,400
Alticor, Inc. 4,000
Farmers Insurance Group 3,500
Grand Rapids Public Schools 3,490

Cost of Living

Grand Rapids is noted for its quality of life and affordable health care costs.

The following is a summary of data regarding several key cost of living factors in the Grand Rapids area.

2004 (3rd Quarter) ACCRA Average House Price: $229,900

2004 (3rd Quarter) ACCRA Cost of Living Index: 97.7 (U.S. Average = 100.0)

State income tax rate: 4.3%

State sales tax rate: 6.0%

Local income tax rate: 1.3% for residents; 0.65% for non-residents

Local sales tax rate: None

Property tax rate average: varies from 22.1515 to 29.0215 mills per $1,000 of assessed home value (2004)

Economic Information: The Right Place Program, The Waters Building, 111 Pearl Street NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503; telephone (616)771-0325; fax (616)771-0329