Manufacturer vows to rebuild after fire north of Holland

Ottawa County

OLIVE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Investigators are still trying to figure out what caused a fire at a company north of Holland Monday afternoon.

Damage from the fire at JR Automation, located on Tyler Street in Olive Township between Holland and Grand Haven, is expected to be in the millions. But the loss is especially difficult for one neighbor who has a very personal connection to the plant.

“Ya know… last night when I got in bed, there was tears,” Jean Assink said.

Assink lives next door to the Tyler Street facility, a series of buildings that make up JR Automation. She knows the complex like the back of her hand because she and her husband Ken, who died in 2020, built it.

“This was the original building… the red behind here,” Assink said as she pages through a photo album with pictures of the business’s early beginnings.

The Assinks started JR Automation, named after the couple’s daughters Jill and Rita, over four decades ago.

“He bought a mill and a lathe, and he was in business,” Assink said. “(We) had two desks, his, mine. He had a black phone for outgoing calls. I had a white phone for incoming calls. And we were in business.” 

The couple built the business, which produces robots and other automated equipment, over the decades.

They sold it about 30 years ago, but it’s always been in their backyard. Their home was built just west of the complex.

About 3 p.m. on Monday, the machinery building caught fire.

“I looked out there and I said ‘Oh, my goodness!’” Assink said. “It’s all the boring mills, the CNC machines. It’s the brains… to me… of the whole operation.” 

It took 10 Ottawa County Fire Departments and a lot of water, but firefighters were able to keep flames from spreading to nearby buildings on the site.

Officials with Hitachi Corporation, the current owner, said the community has come together to help keep JR up and running.

“A lot of suppliers, friends in the community offering us support, resources. Just offering anything they can do to help. We’ve been really blessed with that,“ JR’s Vice President for Marketing Chris Dolbow said. “It’s going to be a process. This was our machining building. We lost a lot of equipment. It’s going to take a little while to rebuild that. But again, the most important thing is everyone’s safe.”

About 100 workers would have been inside the building pre-COVID-19. Many are now working from home. Those who do work in the building went home early Monday, after a crash nearby knocked out power in the area.

“That’s a God thing, that there was nobody in that building,” Assink said. “Because it went poof! Ya know. It’s amazing. Amazing.”

Workers who were displaced by the fire have been moved to other portions of the facility.

Company officials say they will rebuild on this site.

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