Tech company brings energy and hope to underserved Grand Rapids neighborhood

GRAND RAPIDS, MI — For nearly 20 years, the old Dexter Lock building on Madison Avenue SE sat vacant, creating an eyesore officials hoped would one day see redevelopment and bring energy and activity to the neighborhood.

Today, this goal has become a reality.

After an approximately $14 million demolition and construction project, the property, 1601 Madison Ave. SE, now houses MCPC’s new headquarters in Grand Rapids. The Cleveland-based information technology company moved into the 60,000 square foot building about six weeks ago, and it now has about 45 employees based there.

The company says it is looking to hire more workers and build relationships with the community.

“I’m thrilled to see the change, to work here and to come to this office and this area and be a part of it,” said Chris McGraw, director of operations and logistics for MCPC, showing a historic photo by Dexter Lock. Building and adjacent South Field, where former President Gerald Ford once played football.

Redevelopment of the property and bringing in a business suited to the area took years of work, officials said. It is considered a significant project in a part of Grand Rapids that has not seen the same level of investment as downtown and other areas of the city.

The effort was led by community development group Amplify GR and Rockford Construction, which bought the industrial property on the southeast side of town in 2016 for $1.9 million. The two organizations have purchased approximately 32 properties in the Cottage Grove, Boston Square and Madison Square neighborhoods and are working to redevelop the area.

“I think this is one of the best projects that’s come to the city,” Third Ward Commissioner Nathaniel Moody said. “I think MCPC’s project coming to the community will help develop the whole economic community within the Third Ward.”

The construction of the project began in the summer of 2021.

Inside the MCPC building, there is a mix of offices, meeting rooms, open workspaces, as well as a warehouse and production area. Employees work with customers on a myriad of tasks, from acquiring new computers and technology to managing that technology and ensuring company data is erased when devices are ready for use. recycled.

As the company began thinking about finding a new home, officials knew they wanted more space and wanted to bring all of their West Michigan employees together under one roof.

They also wanted to be in a neighborhood where they could recruit workers for entry-level jobs and beyond. Being located along a bus route, for workers who do not have a car, was also important.

“There were options to go to the airport, to expand where we were, they probably would have been about 30% cheaper,” said Andrew Shannon, president of MCPC’s operations in West Michigan. “We chose here. We wanted to be part of this neighborhood and have as much impact as we could.

MCPC has about 100 workers in western Michigan.

While around 45 of the company’s workers are based in the new building, around 40 others are based directly in the offices of MCPC customers. Its clients include Miller Knoll, Davenport University, Meijer, Perrigo, Van Andel Institute, Corewell Health and Steelcase.

Standing in the MCPC lobby, where floor-to-ceiling windows bathe the area in light, McGraw said part of MCPC’s mission is to partner with the community.

“We want to give back to the community,” he said. “We want to involve the community. We want to grow the community in both hard and soft skills and provide opportunities for the people who live here. »

MCPC received a performance-based grant of $70,000 from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation as part of its commitment to create 28 new jobs in its new building. The company, as part of its agreement with Amplify GR, has committed to hiring approximately eight of these positions, at a minimum, from residents who live within the city’s 49507 zip code in downtown Grand Rapids.

The idea is to ensure that neighborhood residents benefit from the development in the area.

Shannon said he has already hired four employees, all of whom live in the surrounding neighborhood. Amplify’s approach ties into MCPC’s goal of creating pathways for people of color and other underserved communities to enter the tech industry, he said. Entry-level positions are paid around $17.50.

“When we built this location, we were looking for underserved markets where we could make an impact,” Shannon said. “The Cottage Grove, Madison Square area was just perfect for what we were looking for.”

Because the site where MCPC’s building is located had a history of environmental contamination, the project received a host of incentives to help make the project viable.

This includes $2.2 million over 30 years from the City of Grand Rapids brownfields fund, as well as an additional $540,000 from another city’s local brownfields revolving fund.

The project also received $275,000 from the City of Grand Rapids’ Southtown Corridor Improvement Authority and $775,000 from the Michigan Department of Energy, Great Lakes and Environment.

“I appreciate MCPC’s interest in moving its facilities from surrounding areas to the City of Grand Rapids,” said City of Grand Rapids Commissioner Senita Lenear, who represents the city’s Third Ward.

She said residents have long wanted to see vacant properties like the Dexter Lock building – where MCPC’s building now stands – redeveloped.

“It’s been vacant for decades if my memory serves me right,” she said. “Like any other place, what we want are vibrant business, industrial and residential districts, and when that’s lacking, it’s actually a blight on a neighborhood.”

The project is important to Grand Rapids because MCPC has been “engaged” with the community. It was not, she said, just a tenant filling the building with little connection to residents and other stakeholders.

“What they wanted to do was build relationships so they could hire people who live in the neighborhood, which cuts down on transportation costs to an employer,” Lenear said. “They wanted to be able to engage with young people so they could even help students understand the interest in technology.”

PNC Bank also played a role in the project. It supported the financing of the project with an “opportunity zone” investment.

Opportunity Zones were created by President Donald Trump’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed in December 2017. It provides tax breaks for individuals and corporations who invest their capital gains in the real estate and commercial development in designated areas.

“This development has brightened up this block in the neighborhood,” said Danielle Williams, director of economic opportunities at Amplify GR, the community development organization that worked with Rockford Construction to make the project a reality.

“We heard comments, MCPC heard comments from neighbors who just commented on how beautiful the building is, the lighting at night, how fresh it looks and feels on the block, especially considering given the history of this Dexter Lock property and knowing that it has been vacant and dilapidated for decades.

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