Michigan Community Grows as Byrne and Others Plant Roots, Igniting Growth and Progress
When Michigan businesses like Byrne move in, Michigan communities move up.
We’ve all heard the phrase, “It takes a village.” Well, if you ask the people of Lakeview, Michigan, they’ll tell you, “it takes a village to make a village” – and they’ve experienced the growth to prove it.
In 2016, Rockford-based power and data industry leader, Byrne, built a manufacturing facility in Lakeview on the south side of scenic Tamarack Lake. Soon known to employees and customers alike as “Pickle Docks,” the new facility was erected on the same site as a pickle factory that had closed nearly five decades earlier. And for this small Michigan town, when that old factory was shuttered many years ago, it had taken with it the industrial heart of the community – and hundreds of jobs.
Today, you need only take a drive around this small town to spot some of the big changes that have transpired in the years since Byrne opened its doors. Every street in the village has been re-paved. There’s a new municipal complex which houses the community’s police department, public works, and village offices. Lakeside Park’s restrooms have been renovated and expanded, and the first phase of the park’s Tamarack Trail construction has already begun. Lakeview was even recently chosen to be the pilot site for the first 24-hour self-service compactor recycling center – an asset the residents have quickly come to love.
On the horizon is community-wide signage going up in parks and parking lots this spring. New lamp post banners that will be displayed downtown and village sidewalk construction projects in the works for this summer. Add to all that the return of Music in the Park summer concerts, the Farmers’ Market, and Lakeview’s many festivals, and this is a town that has a lot going on.
But what brought Byrne to Lakeview in the first place?
Well, if you know anything about the company, it’s not surprising to learn that it all began with a customer.
Detroit-based Shinola, creators of handcrafted timepieces, leather goods and more, was looking to collaborate on an innovative new power product. Shinola’s love for the city they call home had always been the cornerstone of their company’s ethos – and here on the west side of the state, they discovered in Byrne, individuals who shared that same kind of passion.
At the heart of each company’s philosophy was the fundamental understanding that while many businesses work to make things, fewer work to make things better. To make communities stronger.
So when Shinola reached out, Byrne knew pretty quickly that this wasn't simply an order to be filled. It was, instead, the spark that would fuel not only a new partnership, but the construction of a whole new enterprise – about an hour north from their home base in Rockford. In Lakeview, Byrne found a community that needed a hand and was ready to put in the work. A place where Byrne employees would assemble world-class products worthy of the Shinola name. And of the town itself.
“The catalyst for community growth is almost always job growth,” says Lakeview Village President Emily Griffith. “Since the arrival of Byrne, we’ve seen beneficial impact not just as a great employment option, but also in the efforts their employees put back into our town – whether it’s spending at local businesses or volunteer efforts. There’s no question their positive presence here is felt.”
Griffith and her family moved to Lakeview nearly a decade ago intentionally choosing it as a place where they could plant roots and make a home for their young children. Now, she and her husband are investing in their community by opening Griffith Market, a foodie’s paradise right downtown. Gourmet cheeses, fine wines, and specialty foods will be on hand as well as charcuterie boards, gift baskets, and even a wine club – all in their previously sleepy little town.
“We became motivated to open a business here because this rural area is thriving, and we want to be a part of it. We realized some of our favorite things were very difficult to come by unless we traveled down to Grand Rapids so we’re opening a retail store that will bring our favorite things to our favorite village!”
In any small town you’re bound to meet plenty of residents who wear more than one hat, so while Griffith is busy working as Village President and budding entrepreneur, Darin Dood serves as both Lakeview’s Village Manager and their Chief of Police. And when asked, he’s also passionate about the changes the area has seen and the role businesses like Byrne have played.
“A whole bunch of positives began with Byrne,” says Dood. “From the time they came to our town, we instantly saw growth. They could have picked any community, but I think they saw Lakeview like the company sees itself – as one big family.”
Dood will also remind you that one of the real benefits of a manufacturer like with Byrne in your community is that employees don’t need a fancy degree to be a part of the team. Many of the jobs Byrne offers involve skills that are relatively easy to learn, allowing residents to find valued positions close to home. Some may be recent high school grads, others looking for a training ground to build greater opportunities, but whatever their story, a company like Byrne can help people write that next chapter.
“There is always going to be a portion of our Michigan communities with financial challenges,” continues Dood. “Some people struggle with transportation as well. The good paying, local – even walkable – job opportunities offered through Byrne and other employers give motivated individuals a lot more options here and now.”
When previous Byrne employee, Chris Maddox, moved back to Michigan to help care for her ailing father, she was able to find an opening for a plant manager at Byrne's Lakeview location. “I was really excited to hear that Byrne had opened a new facility in Lakeview. I’m working so much closer to my family than I would be from Rockford, and I’m not the only one. This new location has seriously cut the commute for many of the employees here – it’s a game changer.”
Every new business. Every new resident. Every new project. They all fuel the next bit of growth for a community of any size. But with all the “new,” we shouldn’t forget the contributions of the “improved” too.
In just the past few years, the town of Lakeview saw its Dollar General store moved into larger digs, Van’s Auto and Body expanded services from a neighboring community. And McKenna’s Village Restaurant, a favorite gathering spot for over fifty years not only enlarged their establishment, but also opened Village Kupps where residents and visitors alike can also enjoy specialty coffees and delicious daily lunch offerings.
And then there’s development that not only keeps people happy, but healthy too. Lakeview area residents will soon be able to receive outpatient services at the Corewell Health Lakeview Care Center. The state-of-the art facility will combine the Lakeview Family Medicine practice, outpatient rehabilitation, lab and walk-in clinics and also provide space for specialty care services – all under one roof.
“Lakeview and Northern Montcalm County is important to us at Corewell Health,” says Andrea Leslie, president of Corewell Health Greenville, Kelsey, Big Rapids and Reed City Hospitals. “Our investment of more than $12 million shows our long-term commitment to the area, and we have a large group of team members who are busy planning for our spring opening.”
Since Byrne’s Pickle Docks facility opened, the company has even grown themselves, adding another abandoned Lakeview factory to the mix in 2022. The renovated building has enjoyed a new lease on life as a facility dedicated to innovative enterprises for the company. Employees have appropriately dubbed this new addition “Gherkin” – the smaller pickle.
Of course, it’s important to note that growth opportunities like many of those featured here are often bolstered by the help of a whole host of key area partners. In Byrne’s case, The Michigan Economic Development Corporation awarded the company a performance-based grant tied to job creation and training. Regional economic development organization The Right Place, Inc. and Montcalm Economic Alliance also provided staff support and resources to assist with land acquisition and economic incentives to promote local job creation.
When Byrne’s Lakeview facility first opened, even the local school wrote a letter of gratitude to the company for choosing to build in their hometown.
“We have to take care of our Michigan communities,” says Byrne CEO, Dan Byrne. “And partnering with a company like Shinola, one that values human talent and connection like we do, has been an incredible experience.”
Yes, this is only one town’s story, but it doesn’t need to be. Towns like Edmore, Howard City, and Stanton have felt the impact of a thriving Lakeview as well. All across Michigan, “investing in home” is delivering benefits far greater than the bottom line. The positive momentum that builds from a few key businesses – or even just one – backing a community, can reach far beyond what you simply see as you walk their streets. It can change the life of a place and every person in it.
In other words, it really does take a village.