Southwestern Michigan Economic Growth Alliance reviews year, honors

Published 1:49 am Thursday, April 17, 2003

By Staff
Murray Campbell
By BEN RAYMOND LODE / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- The Southwestern Michigan Economic Growth Alliance's annual meeting at Orchard Hills Country Club Wednesday was this year's chance to inform guests and members about last year's business activity in the Greater Niles and Buchanan area.
The meeting also provided SMEGA with the opportunity to officially welcome four new companies which have recently opened up business in Niles.
SMEGA is a non-profit development corporation which seeks to maintain current businesses while attracting new business to the greater Niles area and Buchanan.
Sharon J. Witt, SMEGA's executive director, said the pro-business attitude of the community and the state is one of the reasons businesses choose to come to Niles.
She said the organization tries to assist in a timely manner those interested in opening businesses in Niles.
A healthy tax base for the community depends on the retention of business and the creation of jobs. SMEGA facilitates economic growth by fostering this pro-business attitude, attracting new businesses and new jobs, while providing support to new and existing businesses.
Companies new to the area this past year, according to SMEGA, are Specialty Products and Polymers Inc., Ris Paper Co., Tru-Blu Industries and Vision Machine, LLC.
Ris Paper is a wholesale distributor of printing paper and industrial supplies with $550 million in annual sales.
The company moved to Niles from South Bend, Ind., in October 2002.
Specialty Products and Polymers Inc. moved to Niles from Watervliet in July 2002 and is the only independent silicone rubber compounder in the Midwest, and one of only two in the U.S.
The company's largest customer is the automotive industry and company founder Rick Rey predicts sales of $5 million in 2003.
Tru-Blu Industries produces exam books and other education-related paper products. Anyone who's written a final exam in a "blue book" is familiar with the product.
On Tru-Blu's client list is the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill., and the Naval Academy.
Jerry French, SMEGA president, however, said the alliance is not only working to make new business come to Niles.
He commended the alliance for making the effort to stay in touch with the companies who are already established here.
The Berrien County Manufacturers Council and SMEGA last year also aided several companies in obtaining Industrial Facilities Exemption Certificates, French said.
The certificates basically give in- or out-of-state companies a 50 percent tax break over a period of up to 12 years to make the establishment of new businesses easier.
Major companies to obtain the certificates in 2002 were Indeck-Niles, LLC, Pilkington North America and South Shore Power, LLC.
Indeck-Niles, which is behind the proposed Niles-Indeck Energy Center, would create 40 new full-time jobs, according to SMEGA.
Witt, however, said that project has been delayed at least until next year, due to the current declining U.S. economy.
Overall in the past year 293 full-time jobs and 26 part-time jobs were retained, while 111 new full-time jobs and 3 part-time jobs were created in the Greater Niles and Buchanan area.
The annual meeting also gave the local community a chance to honor the late Niles attorney Murray Campbell, who died on Jan. 17.
He was awarded posthumously SMEGA's annual President's award.
Campbell's widow, Deborah Campbell, accepted the award.
Ted Halbritter III, SMEGA's membership liaison, said it is difficult to realize the impact Campbell had on the local community.
Campbell, who served as SMEGA's third president was, Halbritter III said, instrumental in establishing the alliance's legal foundation.
Halbritter also said Campbell used his community knowledge and friendships to make things work.