Muskegon company survives recession, expands

By Dave Alexander

MUSKEGON, Mich. (AP) -- The ride up has been a lot more fun than was the ride down, said Port City Group President B. John Essex, Jr.

Port City Group President B. John Essex, Jr. recently addressed the Muskegon City Commission explaining the company's expansion plans.

Like all companies in the automotive sector, the Great Recession and the near implosion of the North American automobile industry left Port City going from 365 employees in 2008 to a low of 170 at the depths of the economic downturn.

But as other auto parts manufacturers went away, companies like the Port City Group began to take on more and more business. The company has grown to 450 employees today in Muskegon and Norton Shores.

When it was time for expansion, the company founded as an aluminum die casting manufacturer in 1980 remained in Muskegon County.

"We have been offered some lucrative proposals," Essex told city commissioners. "We got some insane proposals out of Indiana. But this is home and this is where we want to stay."

The city has provided Alloy Resources Corp. at 2281 Port City Blvd. a 100 percent personal property tax exemption on a $3.1 million investment in equipment for 12 years. The expansion will increase production of recycled aluminum for all of the Port City Group's needs and other casting plants in the Muskegon area, Essex said.

New equipment has allowed the Port City Group to diversify to LED light products and medical devices.

The new company is Engineered Aluminum Castings Inc. at 2121 Latimer Dr. The new Port City Group division has made the former Bekaert Steel Co. building its home and received a 100 percent personal property tax exemption on a $7 million investment in equipment.

Engineered Aluminum Castings also received a 50 percent property tax break on a $738,000 in building improvements. Both tax breaks are for 12 years.

Finally, Muskegon Castings Corp., 2325 S. Sheridan Rd. will receive a 50 percent property tax break on a $501,000 building expansion for a 13,500 square foot addition. The tax break is also for 12 years.

Essex said the 65 new job level is very attainable and a conservative estimate. He said the company could be hiring even more mid-level, skilled technicians and entry level production workers.

"This is a company that has taken a vacant building and made it alive again producing products for U.S. manufacturers," Mayor Steve Gawron said. "They are proving that metals and tool and die work is not dying. We are ground zero for the metals industry and Muskegon can be a top industrial town again.

"It will not be 2,000 employees at a huge foundry but 65 jobs at a time to produce 2,000 jobs in our manufacturing sector," the mayor said.

Essex praised the professional service his company received from city economic development staff. The Port City Group also is working with Muskegon Area First, the local economic development agency, to receive assistance from the Michigan Economic Development Corp., Essex said. The city incentives were needed to trigger upcoming state assistance, he said.

"This is exciting stuff from where we were at," Essex said. "It is a lot more fun to be riding up and not much fun when we were going down. That was the most challenging time in my career."

Published: Tue, Nov 6, 2012