Site Selection magazine honoring Muskegon comes as surprise, but leaders note it is well-deserved


from local sources with
notes by Cynthia Price

“We were oblivious to this whole thing going on while they were looking ino it, and then we got the notification that Muskegon was on the list,” says Muskegon Area First Interim?President/CEO Darryl Todd about the Muskegon Metro Area tying for the #10 spot in Site Selection magazine’s Top Ten Metro Areas for 2018.

Site Selection is a magazine published by Conway, Inc., to deliver expansion planning information to nearly 50,000 executives in growing companies. It turns 65 this year, but it is not retiring from its task of ranking metro areas in terms of their attractiveness as potential business destinations.

Cities are ranked in three population categories: cities over one million, cities with between 200,000 and one million, and cities with populations less than 200,000.

Metro areas are chosen based on the magazine’s parent company database (the Conway Projects Database) which collections information about investments and the overall economic health of the communities.

And for 2018, Muskegon has tied with Blacksburg-Christiansburg-Radford, Va. and another city in Michigan, Saginaw for the number ten spot in the under-200,000 category.

In the early 2000s, the Grand Rapids-Muskegon-Holland MSA (Metropolitan Statistical Area, a government designation) placed third in the country, but since that designation has changed with all three cities splitting off, Muskegon has not ranked.

So this is a welcome surprise for economic development and city leaders, especially considering that it is a comeback story.

“The narrative of the county  and city of Muskegon has changed quite a bit over the past few years,” said Todd. “When I’m on the east side of the state, or in Lansing or even Grand Rapids, people always ask me, ‘What’s going on in Muskegon?’ They’re curious about all the investments. And the Watch Us Go campaign is increasing our visibility.

“It’s a new day.”

Todd took over on an interim basis for long-time Muskegon Area First director Eddie Garner. MAF?is a non-profit economic development corporation which the Muskegon County private, non-profit economic development corporation founded in 1999. The group focuses on leveraging public and private investment to accelerate business growth and the creation of high-quality employment opportunities county-wide.

Todd also said in a statement, “To be named in the top 10 on our very first time being listed 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!”

Muskegon City Manager Frank Peterson said, also in a statement, “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.  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 County Administrator Mark Eisenbarth stated, “The growth in the Muskegon metro area and throughout Muskegon County in the past five years has been amazing. 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.”

Examiner readers will recall that Muskegon also came in first in the Strong Towns bracketed competition in 2018, in which the traits listed by Peterson played a large role.

The comeback story continues, as Todd notes, mentioning Arconic, Smart Vision Lights,  Pigeon Hill Brewing, Hemisphere Design Works (the kayak company that was formerly called KL Industries), and others. “I think you have a number of people that have come around  in the past few years with a can-do attitude. They’re willing to try to make things happen for the better,” he says.

And Peterson agrees, stating, “Due to our manufacturing history, we are well positioned to provide sites that meet the needs of a wide variety of industries. 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.”

The unique geographic situation of Muskegon, encompassing both Lake Michigan and Muskegon Lake, offers a lot of opportunity. Expect to see Muskegon on a lot of great lists as sound, thoughtful development continues.