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Market Van Buren recognizes accomplishments of area businesses 

Several businesses throughout Van Buren County received recognition this past week from an economic development group dedicated to promoting business in the county.

Market Van Buren hosted its inaugural Business Recognition Awards at the Black River Barn in South Haven, June 29. The event brought together company owners and community leaders to honor local businesses for their achievements over the past year.

The evening also included a keynote address by Brian Calley, the 63rd Lt. Governor of Michigan and president of the Michigan Small Business Association.

“I am pleased to have had the opportunity to join in celebrating Van Buren County businesses and Market Van Buren’s efforts to grow a stronger local economy,” Calley said. “While there is still much work to be done to ensure the small business community fully recovers from the pandemic, I appreciated this opportunity to celebrate with businesses that found success in the past year despite significant adversity.”

Following Calley’s keynote address, the first-ever Market Van Buren Business Recognition Awards were issued. Contenders for the awards were selected following a nomination and application process, which culminated in formal reviews by a panel of judges and the Market Van Buren Board of Directors, according to Mary Morphey, manager of corporate communications for Kinexus Group.

The following local businesses were honored with an award:

Best New Business of the Year – Learn and Grow Childcare in Hartford

Community Champion of the Year – Lounsbury Excavating in Paw Paw

Economic Pioneer of the Year – Barber Packaging in Bangor

Business Innovator of the Year – Getman Corp. in Bangor

Business Resilience Leader of the Year – Mercantile Bank of Michigan in Paw Paw

“Our community has many outstanding businesses,” said Zach Morris, executive director of Market Van Buren. “The five businesses we recognized tonight stood out among their peers and illustrated the talent and skills that our business community possess. I am grateful to have these businesses acting as leaders, innovators, pioneers, and champions in Van Buren County.

In recognition of their support of Market Van Buren in the organization’s early years, more than 30 local municipalities and businesses were also celebrated at the event as Pioneer Investors during the awards ceremony.

“Without our Pioneer Investors supporting us in the early days, we would not be here today,” said Tom Stanek, Chairman of the Board of Market Van Buren. “The financial support of our local municipalities and business owners is what empowers us to create programs, write grants, and build relationships that promote a robust local economy for all.”

Market Van Buren was forced to limit the size of the Business Recognition Awards this year due to the uncertainty of capacity restrictions in the early days of event planning. However, the organization plans to open the event to more business owners and community leaders next year.

Market Van Buren, a subsidiary of Kinexus Group, is an economic development organization dedicated to the advancement of economic growth in Van Buren County. The organization was formed to bring the public and private sectors together to advance the economic interests of Van Buren county.

Barber Packaging Expanding In Bangor
Barber Packaging in Bangor is expanding. After their successful conversion to make one-million face shields for the medical community during the COVID-19 pandemic, the firm is creating as many as 20 jobs with a six-acre, 36,000 square foot facility. That will be built in Bangor and will relocate the Paw Paw facility to it. This expansion will house production and warehousing for both their new Protective Products Division, as well as their traditional core product line of industrial packaging. The expansion is on the fast track and expected to open in the fall of 2020. During the initial stages of the pandemic Barber worked closely with Market Van Buren to identify critical needs in the medical industry, and was subsequently partnered with the Pure Michigan Business Connect to drive new orders. Barber said Market Van Buren was instrumental in the process of connecting their manufacturing resources to the need for PPE at the state level.

Cass County partners with Kinexus Group subsidiary

Cass County is creating a new partnership with Kinexus Group and its subsidiary, Market Van Buren, to raise the economic development profile of the county.

Officials made the announcement Friday in an effort to strengthen both counties in the ever-changing economic development landscape.

“Market Van Buren has always reached out to provide assistance, and the agreement with Kinexus Group for services makes our community even better,” Cass County commissioner and board Chairwoman Roseann Marchetti said in a news release.

According to Marchetti, Zach Morris, executive director of Market Van Buren, has helped Cass County and its businesses several times over the past few years.

“Cass County is important to our region and there are obvious synergies in the work that Market Van Buren is doing, and services that can be provided to help Cass,” Kinexus Group President and CEO Todd Gustafson said in the release. “We look forward to not only marketing and promoting Cass County through Market Van Buren, but to assist with policy issues like rural broadband and building a better ecosystem for growth in the region.”

Market Van Buren has had a number of high-profile successes over the past year, helping Barber Packaging transition to providing face shields during the COVID-19 pandemic, helping 40 companies in Cass and Van Buren land state grants to stay in operation, and landing another grant to develop a high-tech park in the Mattawan area.

“We have been successful in supporting the retention of over 416 jobs, helping create 168 new ones, and having an economic impact close to $44 million over the last four years,” said Morris. “Rural communities need to create an ecosystem that will sustain growth, and with the changes happening in larger communities right now, Southwest Michigan is positioned to capitalize on that.”

Cass County Administrator Jeff Carmen said Market Van Buren and Kinexus Group have been providing value to the region and building on that momentum and partnering would be positive for the whole area.

“Our corner of Michigan has a great quality of life; we are like a bit of a hidden gem with lakes, great schools, and plenty of room to grow, but in keeping with the rural charm that makes Cass County a great place to work, live, and play,” Carmen said.

Southwest Michigan company retools to make a million face masks

Barber Packaging, a custom packaging company, is shifting to also produce personal protection equipment.

The Bangor company switched from its usual business to help fill a need for local healthcare providers, by producing plastic masks. Barber Packaging matched with a purchaser through the Pure Michigan Business Connect program of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation to get the products to where they are needed, according to a news release from the economic development organization Market Van Buren.

“Pure Michigan Business Connect’s virtual matchmaking program builds on PMBC’s success in providing supply chain sourcing solutions by supporting critical COVID-19 response efforts, as well as creating opportunities for small and medium-sized Michigan businesses,” Senior Program Specialist at Pure Michigan Business Connect Nick Anderson said. “We were pleased to work with our partners at Market Van Buren to provide a connection for Barber Packaging, and we thank the company for stepping up to retool and support recovery efforts in this time of need.”

In response to COVID-19, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s Pure Michigan Business Connect program expanded its free online procurement platform in March to include donations from suppliers capable of filling health and human service needs across a broad range of product and service categories. The platform provides direct access to businesses within the state providing supplies including personal protection equipment, food, medical devices, paper products, cleaning equipment and more, according to the news release.

“When this pandemic reached our nation, we felt called to stand in the gap. We immediately began looking at several medical industry needs and realized we could retool to make face shields,” said Luke Barber, President of Barber Packaging and Vice Chairman of the Market Van Buren Board. “Now we are producing a needed product. I’d like to think we are doing our part to serve our neighbors."

Barber Packaging plans to make more than one million face shields over the next month. The project began in mid April.

“As soon as the pandemic reached our shores, Luke and his team wanted to be a part of the solution,” Executive Director of Market Van Buren Zach Morris said. “Barber’s strong leadership paired with the ingenuity of the Pure Michigan Business Connect program is resulting in healthcare workers getting the tools they need.”

Other Van Buren County based businesses are retooling to provide necessary resources for the community. One example of that is St Julian Winery, Michigan’s largest winery, 
retooled their distillery to produce hand sanitizer. In addition, Do-It Corporation in South Haven has retooled to provide face shields.

Morris said Market Van Buren has been helping local businesses fill out applications for MEDC grants and loan, among several other resources. In addition, he said they are working on plans to help companies once the emergency orders are over.

Major Expansion Plans Unveiled for Barber Packaging in Van Buren County
One of the most agile Michigan manufacturers during the pandemic not only averted tragedy by rapidly pivoting to a highly successful conversion of their manufacturing facility in Van Buren County, they have just announced a major expansion that will create up to 20 new jobs in the region going forward.

On the heels of their extremely successful conversion to craft one million face shields for the medical community during the coronavirus pandemic, Barber Packaging is announcing a major growth project in Van Buren County.

The Bangor-based packaging company has experienced steady growth over the last 30 years leading up to this expansion project. In 2018 they opened a 15,000 sq. ft. facility in Paw Paw, which they now plan to relocate to a 36,000 square foot 6-acre site near their headquarters in Bangor.

That expansion will house production and warehousing for both their new Protective Products Division, as well as their traditional core product line of industrial packaging. The expansion is on the fast track and expected to open in the fall of 2020.

Barber Packaging President, Luke Barber, says, “We have been on a steady growth trajectory for the last few years and we feel our strategic location between Detroit and Chicago, the skilled local workforce that is available along with our proximity to major transportation infrastructure makes Van Buren County the ideal place to grow our business.” He adds, “Market Van Buren has been instrumental in helping us to recognize the benefits of expanding here in Van Buren County, and we see them as a key partner in building long-term stability for our future, and for the future of those residents and businesses who call Van Buren County home.”

During the initial stages of the pandemic Barber worked closely with Market Van Buren to identify critical needs in the medical industry, and was subsequently partnered with the Pure Michigan Business Connect program to drive new orders. Barber says Market Van Buren was instrumental in the process of connecting their manufacturing resources to the need for PPE at the state level.

Market Van Buren Executive Director Zach Morris thanked Barber for his leadership during some tough times, and willingness to help build an ecosystem for growth and development, saying,  “Luke’s efforts not only create job opportunities for local residents but helped build the local tax base and change lives in a meaningful way.” Morris adds, “We are excited to support Barber Packaging in its’ growth and think this is another example of the excellent business climate we are creating in Van Buren County through strong private-public partnerships. We are seeing the fruits of our labor over the past few years in bringing people together and identifying opportunities.”

Market Van Buren, a subsidiary of Kinexus Group, is an economic development organization dedicated to the advancement of economic growth in Van Buren County. The organization was formed to bring the public and private sectors together to advance the economic interests of Van Buren county. For more information, you can “like” Market Van Buren on Facebook or visit online at: http://www.MarketVanBuren.org

Kinexus Group is an organization that invests its time and resources into inspiring positive economic change one individual, one business, and one community at a time. For more information, visit online at http://www.Kinexus.org follow along on Twitter @KinexusGroup or “like” them on Facebook @KinexusGroup.

SW MI company making new face coverings for children

A Southwest Michigan business is now making reusable face shields especially created for kids in local schools. 

Barber Packaging developed the product just last week and is already beginning the production process. 

Luke Barber, the president of the company, says the shields have been approved for use in schools by the Van Buren/Cass District Health Department and replace the need for a separate shield and face covering.  

This type of shield is especially helpful for students who have challenges with wearing a traditional mask. 

“The superintendent of a local district was having trouble with at-risk kids and special needs kids with the face coverings, and so they were looking for an alternative method to allow those kids to return to school safely,” Barber said.  

The shields have a non-woven polypropylene fabric sewn around the base to cover the neck and catch respiratory droplets. Barber says the same material is used to make surgical masks.

The company started making face shields at the beginning of the pandemic because packaging orders were expected to drop from their clients in the automotive industry. 

“Once we got into face shields, we had a couple of different people approach us with different needs. We’ve developed shields around those needs, and so we’ve always been very flexible to respond to people’s specific needs,” Barber said. 

While many of the big orders being made for hospitals have tapered off, the company is still seeing a demand.  

“Now we’re meeting the need at a much more local level,” Barber said. 

Barber Packaging works with a partner company in Grand Rapids to sew on the fabric that covers the neck.  

“As the word gets out about this shield and as the health directors from the local districts start to meet with other health directors across the state, we believe there will be an increased demand for this kind of product,” Barber said. 

The shields range from $12 to $15, depending on the quantity purchased. 

The company created a new website to sell directly to customers. 

Pure Michigan Business Success Stories: Magna, RCO Engineering, Barber Packaging
In the midst of the COVID-19 global pandemic, the demand for personal protection equipment (PPE) skyrocketed. As health care and other frontline workers struggled to find the essential PPE to stay safe, Michigan’s manufacturing companies answered the call.

Building on Pure Michigan Business Connect (PMBC)’s success in providing supply chain sourcing solutions through its matchmaking program, in March 2020, PMBC pivoted to support Michigan’s critical COVID-19 response efforts.

In early April, the State of Michigan came to the MEDC and PMBC with what was initially thought to be an impossible request. The state needed to purchase 250,000 face shields within a six-week timeframe but didn’t have the connections with suppliers nor the resources to manage the purchasing process.

PMBC quickly responded by leveraging its existing relationships with Michigan’s supply base to find companies that would be able to meet this urgent need. They teamed up with one of their long-time partners Magna, a mobility technology company and the largest auto supplier in North America, who agreed to be an aggregator to facilitate the purchasing process; this included vetting suppliers, directly purchasing supply, as well as managing shipping and logistics – all within an extremely tight timeline.

“At Magna we are problem-solvers by nature,” said Jim Tobin, Magna executive vice president. “When the opportunity arose to use our purchasing and logistics expertise to help the state and more important help frontline workers, we jumped to the task.”

PMBC aligned Magna with two suppliers – RCO Engineering in Roseville, Mich. and Barber Packaging in Bangor, Mich. Essential to the success of this project was the suppliers’ proactive approach. Concurrent with PMBC’s pivot to facilitating PPE supply, RCO Engineering and Barber Packaging had already worked to pivot their regular business operations to produce essential PPE for frontline workers. Both cumulatively agreed to supply all 250,000 face shields within a six-week timeframe.

After learning that the state needed the first 50,000 delivered within a week, Barber Packaging reallocated some of its inventory designated for an existing order to instead go towards meeting this deadline. “

Nick Anderson from PMBC called me on a Wednesday night and by 2 p.m. on Thursday we had the order for the first 150,000 face shields, and two business days later we delivered the first truckload of 50,000 to Magna,” said Luke Barber, president of Barber Packaging. “We felt called to stand in the gap to do our part to serve our neighbors, so we made it work.”

The suppliers had numerous challenges to overcome – including managing a tight timeline, retooling to produce greater volume, and finding materials at a time when supply was scarce due to high demand. For RCO Engineering and Barber Packaging, having access to a strong supplier network that could feed them either available inventory or raw materials to produce face shields was paramount. Plus, both companies took swift action to design a quality product that could be released into the market in short order.

“One of the things that was key is that we didn't hesitate to help,” said Jeff Simek, general manager of operations at RCO Engineering. “We used our speed to market and technology to bring our face shield to all the local hospitals to make sure they were happy with the product. We went through several renditions of the product before we finally released it for final production. We moved very, very quickly. We got the best feedback from the best hospitals in the area to come up with the final design.”

Following the success of the first purchase order, PMBC worked with Magna to issue a second purchase order from the state for an additional 750,000 face shields – bringing the total order of face shields to one million, all of which were expected to be delivered within the same six-week timeframe.

The impact from this face shield procurement project was overwhelming, keeping Michigan businesses open and people working during a global pandemic that dealt a significant blow to the state’s economy. Plus, the added revenue gave these companies the capital to invest in ramping up their production capacity to enable them to produce the high volumes of product necessary to fulfill such a large order.

“We were able to retain 85 percent of our staff during the entire shutdown to work on face shields,” said Barber. “It not only saved jobs, it allowed us to bring back staff from our remaining workforce while also hiring additional workers to expand our business.” “When we brought up the face shield project, everyone in the company was aligned to it – it was a huge morale booster,” said Simek. “Even though it required a huge effort from everyone to continue to come to work, to get the tooling built, and to assemble the face shields - all during a pandemic, it uplifted the spirits of the entire company.”

The project also opened new opportunities for future work. For instance, it introduced RCO Engineering to a new industry. According to Simek, the company now has approximately 30 more customers from the medical industry than they had prior to COVID-19. As an approved supplier of Magna, Luke Barber says this will open new doors for ongoing non-PPE work. Also, Barber Packaging has launched a new Protective Products division as it makes face shields a permanent product offering.

“The first thing folks run into when they're making products is how do we find the demand and where is the demand coming from,” said Simek. “PMBC was able to look broadly across all the demand in the state and funnel it to one location and then, in turn, go find varying suppliers whether it be for masks or face shields. The PMBC team brought the aggregated demand forward and that allowed the supply chain to align with that aggregate demand.”

Every day, PMBC is helping to connect Michigan suppliers of goods and services with local, domestic and global buyers, based on demand and procurement needs. To learn more about this program, visit michiganbusiness.org/pmbc. 

SW Michigan companies retool to make virus protection gear

The COVID-19 pandemic has companies in southwest Michigan — and across the state — launching new product lines to help fight the virus.

In Bangor, Barber Packaging is manufacturing face shields being used by front-line workers.

Company President Luke Barber says the business worked with Pure Michigan Business Connect and Market Van Buren to find a product that was needed in the virus response.

“We’ve delivered over 400,000 face shields to date. We have open orders for over 800,000 and we think we will make over a million in the near term,” Barber listed.

The company plans to keep the product as part of its permanent offerings, anticipating continued need from a number of businesses ranging from dental practices to food processing sites. It launched a website to sell directly to customers.

“One of the reasons face shields was such a good fit for us is because in our traditional core business of industrial packaging, we convert plastics and foam materials and do complex assemblies every day, so we were able to use an existing supply base and a lot of existing equipment,” Barber said.

Zach Morris, the executive director of Market Van Buren said the economic development organization has been working with businesses to help them through the pandemic by securing loans and retooling to manufacture new products.

“You have a lot of businesses who said, ‘Hey, we don’t want to shut down, sit on the sidelines, we want to be in the game, producing a product that’s necessary and needed right now,’” Morris said.

He said many businesses in the area are well equipped and able to quickly adjust their product lines.

“A lot of these businesses are tier one, two, a lot of them even tier three suppliers, meaning that they have a lot of different customers they work with and so they have a lot of variety and diversity of capabilities,” Morris said.

St. Julian Winery and Distillery in Paw Paw is now manufacturing hand sanitizer, which has become a popular item. President John Braganini said the business can make between 1,200 and 1,600 gallons a day.

“We started to see distilleries, many of the small distilleries who have no distribution network out in the market place, started moving to hand sanitizer. We saw that and we knew that we could play a role in it,” Braganini said.

The business is also supplying smaller distillers with ethanol so they can also manufacture hand sanitizer. 

“It feels great to be part of the community. It feels great to help our colleagues,” Braganini said.

300 Industrial Park Road, Bangor, MI 49013 | Office: 800-554-9213 | 269.427.7995 | Fax: 269-427-5454 | contactus@barberpkg.com

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