Rich History Meets New Business Opportunities in Muskegon

Economy evolves full circle to tourism that supports heritage, nature and art.

By
Bill Lewis
On Wednesday, May 6, 2020 - 19:43
muskegon

You can take a fascinating stroll through Muskegon’s economic, social and industrial history at the Muskegon Heritage Museum. Stepping outside, you’ll see how the economy has evolved to take advantage of new opportunities.

Perhaps you’ll spot a Great Lakes cruise ship approaching the shore with tourists eager to visit downtown merchants, restaurants and historic sites or meet a friend with a new job created by one of the growing businesses that invested a total of $151 million in 2019. You might meet someone who first arrived as a tourist and then came back to buy a home and stayed as a permanent resident.

“Next season, we expect 34 cruise ship visits to Muskegon. That translates into about 10,000 global visitors. These are smaller, more exclusive ships, where most passengers are U.S. citizens with international travel experience. They marvel at our quaint, historic district with beautiful pocket gardens and over 30 pieces of public art. They are fascinated by our Victorian heritage and local farmers market,” says Cindy Larsen, president of the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce.

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Jeff Adkins

Diverse Economy

At the height of the lumber trade, Muskegon had more millionaires than any other American town. During World War II, the production of tank engines established Muskegon as a foundry town. Today, manufacturing is still one of the city’s top industries, joined by tourism and health care.

“Based on our most recent survey, all three sectors are predicting a strong growth and continued hiring,” Larsen says.

Muskegon has a diverse economy, with strength in the manufacturing, aerospace, defense, automotive, food processing and medical device sectors. Other strong sectors are construction, tourism, health care and social assistance, says Jim Edmonson, CEO of Muskegon Area First.

Muskegon Economic Development, a countywide economic development corporation, leverages public and private investment to accelerate business growth and the creation of high-quality employment opportunities in Muskegon County.

Creating Jobs

Edmonson says the advantages of doing business in Muskegon include the “talented workforce, strong industry clusters and logistics network, near-unlimited amount of wastewater capacity (30 million gallons a day) and abundant fresh water.”

For residents, the advantages include affordable housing, year-round recreational opportunities and a growing urban experience in a small region, says Edmonson.

New and expanding businesses added 566,000 square feet of space in 2019 and announced 374 new jobs. There was more than $1 billion in completed, underway or proposed projects, he says. Manufacturing projects include ADAC Automotive, GE Aviation, La Colombe, Arconic, Seabrook Plastics, Production Fabricators and others.

Port and waterfront development projects include Heritage Landing dock improvements, Windward Pointe, Forsite Port, Verplank Dock, Mart Dock improvements, West End Boat Storage, beautification projects, Aquastar Cruises and Blue Water Group.

The health, manufacturing and retail sectors are well represented among the area’s top employers. They include Mercy Health hospital system, with nearly 4,400 employees; aerospace company Arconic, with 2,400 workers; county government, with approximately 1,000 employees; ADAC Automotive, with 911; and Meijer supercenter, with 900 workers.

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Michigan's Adventure

Visitors Welcome

Tourism is a major contributor to the economy. Muskegon welcomes more than 1.6 million visitors every year, says Larsen.

“The largest visitor segment is families because of our great beaches and popular water and amusement park called Michigan’s Adventure. Yet, with the growth of cruise ship visits to our port, the senior market is growing as well,” she says.

For families, Muskegon is a popular Midwest destination for summer vacations. It’s not unusual to see vehicle license plates from every state in the nation with the exception of Hawaii. Visitors enjoy outdoor activities throughout the year, and the city is known for its fall color tours, thanks to abundant maple, oak, elm, birch and evergreen trees. Visitors frequently decide to stay in Muskegon.

“We routinely hear stories about people relocating from as far away as Colorado,” Larsen says. “Anyone who enjoys the outdoor lifestyle tends to gravitate to Muskegon. And since we are just three hours from Chicago and Detroit, one vacation turns into a summer or retirement home purchase.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bill Lewis is an award-winning business journalist whose work has appeared in publications across the United States.