Muskegon Area First, County Use Wastewater Facility To Attract Industry

Andrew Trzaska | February 23, 2011

If one hadn’t yet thought of enough reasons for businesses to set up shop in the Muskegon area, Tuesday’s County Board of Commissioners meeting served as a reminder:

The County’s wastewater treatment facility in Egelston Township has enough capacity to support all sorts of new industrial development.  The country, and world, just needs to know it exists.

Representatives from Muskegon Area First, a countywide economic development corporation designed to attract business to the area, gave the County Board of commissioners an update on their recent activities and the role of the county-owned facility in attracting industry, jobs and new tax dollars.

Built over four decades ago, the state-of-the-art facility received further improvements in the 1990s to handle water with higher amounts of solid waste, which not every average wastewater system is capable of.

This uniqueness and excess capacity could have attracted new users of the system on top of those using it at the time.

However, the facility actually saw its user base decrease when major customers closed or moved out elsewhere.

Most notably and recently, Sappi paper left town.  They alone used about 1/3 of the facility’s capacity when it the company was running at full capacity.

Muskegon County now carries the burden of keeping a giant facility maintained with less-than-ideal tax revenue to fund it.

Muskegon Area First’s efforts to market Muskegon County’s wastewater capabilities are again reaching into food processing, an industry that could benefit from the system’s capabilities.

Karen Benson, Business Development Manager for Muskegon Area First, noted that there are well over the 1,000 acres needed to build a food processing “mega site” near the facility out off of Apple Avenue, and they have been working with construction companies in the area to see what they need to do to get such a facility going.

Previously businesspeople in the county have attempted to court Ocean Spray, but the company has never decided to place operations in the area.

Benson also cited Muskegon’s deepwater port status as another water resource Muskegon County has to offer for shipping in and out of the area.

She also noted that the Foreign Trade Zone that currently exists in Ottawa, Kent and Muskegon County could aid in attracting international businesses who may want to use the wastewater system.

Ed Garner, president and CEO of Muskegon Area First, expressed optimism about new efforts to attract food and other industries, but noted that it was a long, continuing process:

“It’s difficult to find just one company like [Sappi] again.  You just have to keep fishing, throwing your line out there.  But we are getting noticed.”

Andrew Trzaska

103.7 “The Beat” – local government beat reporter and political analyst