By SALLY YORK Argus-Press Staff Writer. Reprinted with permission of the Argus-Press.
OWOSSO — In a surprise announcement, the Great Lakes Family of Companies in Vernon Township snagged the Shiawassee Economic Development Partnership’s Project of the Year award during the SEDP’s annual meeting Wednesday.
The roughly 100 SEDP members who came applauded as Great Lakes owner Bryan Marks accepted the award, which recognizes a new or expanding business in Shiawassee County that creates a significant positive impact on the local economy.
In addition, Marks was presented with certificates of recognition by representatives of U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, and U.S. Congressman John Moolenaar.
“I am honored and humbled to receive these awards. I appreciate everyone here, and I appreciate the community and the support we receive,” said Marks, the new SEDP board vice president and, coincidentally, the emcee of the annual meeting, held at Elite Virtual Reality Arcade.
Marks’ group of companies was selected in part because of its investment in cleanup activities to remove thousands of abandoned and unusable concrete culverts left behind by a previous occupant of its property, SEDP officials said in a news release.
The Great Lakes Fabrication and Machining facility on the site was essentiallly destroyed by the tornadoes that struck the area March 14.
“The company immediately made their intentions known to rebuild the facility, larger and more modern,” SEDP officials said in the release. “Through all of this activity, employment at the companies has continued to grow.”
Marks noted his business was one of dozens of structures damaged in the storm, and praised area residents for pulling together and getting everyone to safety. No one was injured by the tornadoes. He also thanked SEDP for its support.
Justin Horvath, president/CEO of SEDP and the reigning Mr. Owosso, called Marks one of the great entrepreneurs in the area.
“The Great Lakes Family of Companies is a great success story in Shiawassee County,” Horvath said. “Their efforts have demonstrated a great tenacity and a commitment to our community, making it an honor to present them with our Project of the Year.”
Other companies were highlighted in a 10-minute video played during the annual meeting: Ranger Power, which is moving forward with a plan to build locally what would be the largest solar energy project in Michigan; Covenant Eyes, an internet use accountability firm, whose president Ron DeHaas said in the video he expects the company to “grow dramatically over the coming years”; and Spartan Fence, producer of chain-link products, which built a warehouse last year.
Representatives of the three firms thanked SEDP in the video for its efforts to facilitate expansion plans, and assist in grant-writing and obtaining permits and other approvals from local governments.
Horvath announced a new partnership between SEDP and the Shiawassee Regional Education Service District to implement programs aimed at engaging local students with local businesses with the goal of retaining more youth as long-term county residents.
“Our future talent pipeline needs to come from our school districts,” Horvath said. “We need to bring back co-op and talent tours.”
In the video, Horvath said in his tenure at SEDP he has never seen a stronger local economy, noting that 400 jobs were added last year, the unemployment rate was 4 percent and incomes rose by an average of $1,600.
Identifying a lack of available housing as an obstacle to future development, Horvath praised an emerging 14-unit housing development on John Street in Corunna, and the Osburn Lakes development in Owosso, in which four new houses have been built and another nine homes are slated for construction.
Representatives of annual meeting sponsors Memorial Health Care and Baker College of Owosso touted their companies’ strides over the past year. Memorial Vice President of Business and CIO Tom Kurtz described the hospital’s growth in patient satisfaction, its addition of 12 physicians and more than 100 employees, and its awards, including one that placed nurses in the surgical unit in the top 3 percent nationally.
Greg Klapko, Baker College employer relations and recruiting coordinator, emphasized the college’s continuing commitment to staying in Shiawassee County, where it has been located for 30-plus years, despite recent announcements about consolidating campuses.
“We’re not going anywhere,” Klapko said.
After the program, SEDP members were invited to enjoy catered refreshments and try out Elite’s virtual reality games.