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From Site Selection magazine, September 2020

Resilient and Responsive

Michigan overcomes a pandemic and historic flood to move business forward.

The Great Lakes Family of Companies has been a mainstay in Michigan since 1998. The company partnered with Consumers Energy to find the best location.

When Bryan Marks was looking for a place to grow his company for the long haul, he knew he needed two things: a business-friendly location, and partners that could facilitate that growth.

He found that in Durand, Michigan, located between Flint and Lansing. With a long and rich history in manufacturing, this Michigan region provided the perfect soil for his array of companies to take root and expand quickly. And in Shiawassee County Economic Development Partnership (SEDP) and Consumers Energy, he found the perfect partners to make it happen.

“SEDP and Consumers Energy have been great partners,” says Marks, the owner of the Great Lakes Family of Companies, a highly diversified organization of manufacturing, logistics and energy operations. “We have primary power coming into our 40-acre site. SEDP and Consumers help us with leads, new businesses and incentives. We bought an existing 78,000-sq.-ft. building with a pipe pre-casting facility.

“Consumers suggested lighting upgrades and updates to our AC and furnaces. That saved us money. We also received a brownfield tax incentive from the state of Michigan for cleaning up the facility. We have since brought other tenants onto the property.”

Marks says Consumers Energy helped enable his suite of companies to grow from just two employees in 1998 to about 50 today. He started from a homegrown firm that installed methane gas systems for landfills, and now includes a Ready Mix concrete production facility, industrial equipment leasing firm, bioenergy plant, and metal fabrication and machining plant.

“The business climate here is great,” he notes. “This is a very pro-business state that has helped us with our expansion. We have literally exploded in the last four or five years, and we look forward to even more expansion in the future.”

Energy Ready Pioneers

In addition to partnering on energy savings, Consumers Energy helps a lot of companies grow in Michigan through the use of Energy Ready Sites. Valerie Christofferson, Director of Economic Development at Consumers Energy, says the certified sites offer ideal opportunities for companies looking to set up in the city or more rural areas.

“Today, Michigan is a global leader in advanced manufacturing, transportation mobility, technology and more,” she notes. “As our nation adjusts to life after COVID-19, several companies are re-evaluating their operations, supply chain and employee base. This is a great opportunity for many industries that are considering a rural environment, to consider our state.”

Each Energy Ready site profile includes infrastructure maps, engineering diagrams, construction timelines, cost estimates and incentives. Use of this program enables companies to build faster, move in sooner, save on costs, and support reuse of utility infrastructure investments.

Even in challenging times, Christofferson says, Michigan remains a state of pure opportunity. The high quality of life and affordable housing coupled with numerous recreational opportunities also make it easier to attract top talent.

According to the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, employers find Michigan has one of the most talented, diverse and abundant workforces in the U.S. Of note, Michigan ranks first in the U.S. for concentration of employment in engineering-related occupations. In addition, Michigan’s cost of living is 10% below the national average and ranks as the fourth most affordable state in the country.

Partnering for Success

Justin Horvath, president and CEO of the SEDP, says that even with the challenges in our current economic environment, there have been several success stories with businesses growing, adding employees, adding space and bringing more money into the community.

“When the crisis hit, we became 99% engaged with retention and expansion projects,” says Horvath. “New business went on hold for March, April, May and early June. In the last six weeks, things have really turned. The cap has come off. People are looking at opportunities again.”

One of the success stories is National Composites, a fiberglass manufacturer delivering parts across the Midwest, that has expanded its facilities and customer base to bring millions of dollars into Shiawassee County. The company also has grown from 14 employees in 2017 to 165 employees.

Brian Marks

“Consumers Energy helps us with new leads and new businesses, and they also help us with incentives.”
— Bryan Marks, Owner, Great Lakes Family of Companies

During the early stages of the pandemic in Michigan, Horvath notes, the SEDP pivoted to focus on relief efforts to keep existing businesses afloat and their workers safe. Connecting local businesses to personal protective equipment (PPE) and federal Paycheck Protection Program loans became job one. “We were sending out multiple messages a day through email, social media, webinars, etc., to connect our local businesses to resources they needed to survive,” says Horvath.

During its annual meeting in August, the SEDP presented the Project of the Year award to the entire Shiawassee County business community.

“After going through COVID-19 and working with hundreds of businesses throughout Shiawassee County, we were so impressed with the resilient entrepreneurial spirit that we felt it only fitting to acknowledge the entire community for the work they have done,” says Horvath.

Moving Forward in Midland

In nearby Midland, businesses were battling a crisis of another kind: the devastating flood of mid-May. When the Edenville Dam failed on May 20, the Midland Business Alliance had to shift into emergency response and disaster recovery mode to support its business community.

“We had the double whammy of the COVID pandemic and the flood,” says Nicole Wilson, vice president of economic development for the Midland Business Alliance (MBA). “Our businesses were already hurting from the shutdown, and then we were hit with the failure of two dams. Our community evacuated 10,000 people with no loss of life. The local disaster response was incredible. Consumers Energy, state and local emergency operations and support agencies were all hands on deck and supported response efforts in many ways including vital infrastructure support, supplying goods and other services.”

The Village of Sanford downtown business district “was pretty much wiped out,” notes Wilson. “It had up to 14 feet of water. Entire structures and homes were washed away. It was devastating.”

A $1 million relief fund from the state, along with another $1.5 million in no-interest loans for small businesses, enabled many local firms to survive, she adds. “On top of that, we had 14,000 volunteers assist in flood recovery in the first week. It was such a great response, with the entire community helping each other.”

The Consumers Energy Foundation also provided $90,000 in grants to support those working on the front lines and help directly meet basic needs such as food, water and shelter for victims of the historic flood.

Despite the setbacks, Midland is seeing business growth. Local companies like Dow, Corteva, DuPont, Trinseo and Savant Group recently announced or completed expansions. And the South Midland Redevelopment Area of 100 acres was assembled adjacent to Business US Highway 10 and will be available for business growth in the near future.

Michigan was among the states initially hardest hit by the pandemic. The resilience of Michiganders has been tested like never before, but businesses are battling through these crises to put people back to work and build an even better future for the communities they serve.

This Investment Profile was prepared under the auspices of Consumers Energy. For more information, contact Valerie Christofferson at 616-648-2777 or On the web, go to

Ron Starner
Executive Vice President of Conway, Inc.

Ron Starner

Ron Starner is Executive Vice President of Conway Data, Inc. He has been with Conway Data for 22 years and serves as a writer and editor for both Site Selection and the company's Custom Content publishing division. His Twitter handle is @RonStarner.


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