Ground broken on $65 million manufacturer HQ and plant in Walker

Kent County

WALKER, Mich. (WOOD) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was on hand Monday afternoon as a warehouse logistics company broke ground on a new facility in Walker.

Speedrack is investing about $65 million to build its new corporate headquarters and 275,000-square-foot plant off Northridge Drive NW west of Peach Ridge Avenue. The company, which makes pallet racks and other storage products, expects the expansion will create 164 jobs.

Speedrack is currently based near Sparta and also has plants in Quincy and Litchfield in southwestern Michigan; it employs about 300 people across the three facilities. The company says it needs to expand to keep up with demand. Its customers include Amazon, GAP, Chewy, Ford, General Motors, Medline and Caterpillar.

“Our customers, particularly those in the e-commerce industry, have seen a significant increase in sales over the last several years, and so Speedrack has invested and grown in order to support that growth,” Speedrack President Eric Quist said in a statement. “We recognized that if we were going to continue to meet this new demand, we needed to expand our manufacturing footprint. Thanks to the support provided by The Right Place with their partners at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, we were able to focus our growth here in West Michigan, for which we are thrilled.”

The Michigan Economic Development Corp. provided a $820,000 performance-based grant to support the expansion, and Walker is also giving the project a tax abatement.

Also at the groundbreaking were MEDC CEO Quentin Messer Jr., The Right Place President and CEO Randy Thelen, state Rep. Mark Huizenga, R-Walker, and Walker Mayor Gary Carey.

HIRING DIFFICULTIES

One of the big challenges for a large expansion these days is finding enough workers to fill the jobs.

“We pay high, we have excellent benefits and we think we’re going to get the skill set we need,” Quist said.

But for most employers, hiring is not so easy these days. You can see the help wanted signs up and down the street at any given industrial park. The difficulty in finding workers began before the pandemic set in. Now, workers who lost jobs during the pandemic found new ones and stayed with them.

But according to state Rep. Huizenga and others, the state’s effort to help people who were put out of work during the pandemic through additional unemployment benefits has now incentivized many of them to stay home. State House Republicans introduced a bill last week calling for an end to an additional $300 a month in unemployment benefits.

“I hear from employers every single day that this is what we need to do because folks just need the incentive. I was at a ribbon-cutting on Friday, talked about the same thing: ‘Hey, we wanted to have 40 employees here when we started off; we could only find 20,'” Huizenga said.

Supplied by the feds but doled out by the state, the added benefits have been extended until September. News 8 asked Whitmer if she would end them before then.

“You know, at this juncture, what we are trying to do is work with businesses,” she replied.

That effort includes plans using $300 million for the state’s Economic Jumpstart Program to help subsidize rent and taxes for employers and moves that $300 unemployment extension to a newly employed person’s paycheck.

“We are encouraging workers to jump back in and lock in this $300 so it’s added. It’s an added incentive,” Whitmer said. “These are a couple of ways we’re encouraging people to get back in the workforce.”

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