Pandemic didn’t stop businesses from locating and expanding in Bay County

In 2020, the entire world faced a pandemic. Measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 closed businesses and schools across the globe. In this area, businesses and the government worked together to minimize the economic fallout from those closures.

In April, Bay Future gathered the community together to talk about the many positive actiions taken to help local businesses. During Bay Future’s Annual Meeting, government and local detailed what’s coming in 2021 regarding new businesses, business expansions, and community investments.  

Bay Future President & CEO Trevor Keyes opened the April 21 meeting by discussing the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and looking forward to 2021 to continue the mission of Bay Future and address the needs of the economy.

“Thank you for your support of Bay Future and our efforts to grow jobs and investment in Bay County,” Keyes said. “It is because of you, our Bay Future Drive Forward investors, who believe in the work that we're doing and support us that we can execute our mission, our vision, and our strategic plan through every foundational and pivoting initiative.

Chris Rishko of Great Lakes Bay Michigan Works! was on first to address regional employment.

“2020 has been a year of incredible change,” Rishko said. “A little over a year ago, COVID-19 went from a term of relative insignificance to forever altering the world in which we live.”

Since January 2020, Michigan has lost around 400,000 jobs or about 10% of Michigan’s employed positions. To combat this, Great Lakes Bay Michigan Works! has helped to secure over 8,000 jobs in the region since March 2020 by utilizing virtual workshops, career coaching, outdoor job fairs, and drop-off resume events, among others.

During the virtual meeting, Kristen Wenzel, Chief Operations Officer at Great Lakes Bay Michigan Works! and chairperson of the Board of Directors for Bay Future, discussed the Recovery Bay County Plan. The plan focuses on the next two years of recovering Bay County businesses from the impacts of shutdowns, and is an addendum to the 2020-24 Bay Future: Drive. Forward strategic action plan.

Through quick and aggressive surveys, Bay Future gathered data on the economic damage from the pandemic.

“They advocated for financial assistance with our local and state government entities to identify funds that could be allocated to small businesses,” Wenzel said.

Bay Future collaborated with community partners and acted as recipient and administrator of grants to develop new initiatives to help small businesses. The results were 12 financial support programs providing 346 awards for companies and over $2 million in support funds for small businesses in 2020. Highlighted businesses that were helped include Mulligans Pub and Mode’s Tavern.

In the first year of Bay Future: Drive. Forward, 2020, things are off to a great start.

“Despite the challenges of an unprecedented pandemic, Bay Future assisted three businesses in expanding their current operations in Bay County and we’re responsible for the attraction of two new businesses in Bay County,” Wenzel said. “In total, nearly 200 jobs were either created or retained in 2020 from these five projects, and our team was responsible for securing over 89 million in new capital investment through these efforts.”

Wenzel highlighted the virtual Coming Home Event this past November as a great example of retaining and attraction efforts.

Keyes recognizes those three business expansions and two new businesses thanks to Bay Future’s business expansion and attraction projects.

“We appreciate their capital financial investment, their dedication to our community, and the impact they have on creating new jobs to increase the opportunities for individuals and families throughout the community,” he said.

Thanks to BRD Opportunity Zone Development LLC and Shaheen Development, Uptown Bay City has produced a strong sense of place and a pedestrian friendly riverfront environment with market rate housing. The $14.3 million project is helping create a dynamic area attracting new residents and businesses.

Gougeon Brothers, Inc., in need of additional space to support their business and workforce growth, invested over half a million dollars into their business.

“This is Gougeon’s third physical expansion in less than 10 years,” Keyes said. “All of which have been supported in partnership by the City of Bay City, the City Commission, and Bay Future.”

An emergency room expansion project started in 2020 on the Mid-Michigan Health Park in Bangor Township.

“This $21 million project will create 50 new jobs in our community and expands the existing health park that was recently built in 2017,” Keyes said.

Slated for completion by the end of this year, it will be a complete emergency room comparable to a hospital facility.

As for new businesses, Servpro of Saginaw/Bay City has purchased the former Valley Publishing Company site in the Monitor Township Technology Park. The company plans to invest $3 million into the facility and continue to grow.

The last new business Keyes introduced is set to make a splash on the Bay County economy. Wilkinson Minerals is currently under development at 101 Picard Str. on Bay City’s East Side bordering Essexville on the riverfront. The $150 million investment will bring 80 new jobs to the 20+ acre site.

“One of the things that they were really interested in at that point in time was being very close to the natural resource that they were going to be extracting and then processing,” says Keyes. “And we just so happen to sit on an underground ocean of that chemical.”

Below the surface about 4,000 feet sits the Sylvania formation where brine can be extracted from limestone.

“Brine contains high concentrations of both magnesium as well as calcium chloride, and some sodium chloride will extract that out in process add into downstream products,” said Rick Billings of Wilkinson Minerals.

The project is expected to be the second largest producer in North America.

“They’re in the best city in the state of Michigan,” said Bay City Manager Dana Muscott. “We’re happy that they’re here.”

The project includes new rail lines, and multiple new skilled trades, clerical, marketing, and engineering positions. The average salary for these roles is $57,000, and operations are expected to begin in late 2023 or early 2024.

Don Scherzer, Bay Future 2021 board chairperson and executive vice president of the Spicer Group was introduced to discuss the progress made this year.

“I'm proud to share with you that since the start of 2021, the amount of support funds has grown to over $3 million and our team continues to advocate and identify additional funding and resource opportunities to help support our Bay County companies,” Scherzer said.

He announced that Tri City Cheese and Meats, home of the Troll Smokehouse, is investing $2.4 million into an expansion and received close to $100,000 in grants from the Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development for a USDA Federal Meat Processing facility in Kawkawlin.

To close the meeting, Keyes formally recognized the Bay Future: Drive. Forward investors.

“Without our investor support, Bay Future would not have the resources we need to carry out our mission of facilitating economic development strategies that promote and secure opportunities for business retention, business growth and the attraction of new industries that create quality jobs for our community’s residents,” he said. “Your support, partnership, and collaboration and vision are the pillars to driving our Bay County economy forward.”