West Michigan hunts more foreign companies

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Capital News Service
LANSING – There are fewer foreign-owned companies in West Michigan this year than last due to company consolidations, but the area continues seeking more foreign investment, a nonprofit economic growth organization study shows.
Foreign companies have 74 facilities in West Michigan, 17 percent fewer than in 2009, according to the Right Place Inc., which promotes West Michigan’s economic growth.
“It was sort of the nature of the result of what happened with such economic conditions,” said Tim Mroz, the vice president of marketing and communication with the Grand Rapids-based organization.
West Michigan is no exception to the economic difficulties facing the state, Mroz said.
As a result, he said, companies decided it’s best to consolidate some jobs or locations into a single location.
Many international companies in West Michigan consolidated last year, plus two or three so far this year. For example, Siemens Energy and Automation in Grand Rapids was consolidated with a larger facility in Texas last year. The United Kingdom-based Hart & Cooley Inc. consolidated its facility in Canada with the one in Grand Rapids.
The Right Place has had a fairly strong business relationship with Europe for more than 25 years, Mroz said, and will continue to expand that connection.
More than 80 percent of the foreign companies in West Michigan are based in Europe, the data show. Germany accounts for the most, including Benteler Automotive Corp. and Erwin Quarder Inc. in  the automotive industry and other companies in various fields.
Mroz said that’s because Right Place President Birgit Klohs is a German native, which is helpful to develop business ties and attract those companies.
Klohs makes trade missions to Europe every year and is scheduled to visit the region starting Sept. 20.
Located between Chicago and Detroit, West Michigan, especially Kent County, has convenient transportation, which, Mroz said is an important advantage. That includes highways, railways and the Gerald R. Ford International Airport that provides connections to many major markets.
Foreign companies are attracted by a chance for successful investment, a good workforce and help to grow, said Chuck Hadden, president of the Michigan Manufacturers Association.
They can find all of them in Michigan, he said.
Jill Murphy, chief of protocol with Michigan Economic Development Corp., said: “Automotive, heavy manufacturing and the world-class research development universities in Michigan are attractive for people to come to, particularly for those companies that are seeking a highly skilled workforce.”
Twenty-four colleges and universities are in West Michigan with an enrollment of 75,000 students. The region also has nearly 700,000 highly skilled workers, one-third of them with a college degree, according to the Right Place.
Two foreign companies, Canada-based Magna International Corp. in Newaygo and Germany-based Benteler Automotive, are among the top 65 employers in the region.
Mroz said West Michigan’s diverse economy and clusters of manufacturers appeal to international companies.
The area ranks high in 18 industry clusters among 173 U.S. metropolitan regions, according to the Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness at Harvard Business School.
Both state and local organizations are helping foreign companies to develop.
They include the Michigan Economic Growth Authority, which provides tax credits to companies expanding or relocating operations in Michigan.
Murphy also cited tax-free zones, corporate infrastructure assistance, business real estate help and corporate relocation services.
“We aggressively seek business investment from around the world,” she said.
The Right Place provides services to foreign companies interested in West Michigan. But international business attraction is not an overnight thing and needs long-run strategies, Mroz said.
“You got a company in Spain that knows nothing about West Michigan. They are trying to decide where one building for them should be located. We can help out with that,” he said.
“We can make sure that they are close to any local business partners they need to be. We can make sure that they are taking advantages of many taxes if they are available,” he said.
West Michigan is looking now at Asia.
For example, the Right Place has completed one trade mission to Asia and a South Korean company, LG Chem Ltd., has started a $300 million lithium-ion battery plant in Holland.
© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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