This Michigan region ‘perfect fit’ for expanding agri-business

This Michigan region ‘perfect fit’ for expanding agri-business

Not every business that asks Steve Erickson for help comes with quite the same list of needs. That was especially true with Dyna Products.

The company that makes firewood processors sought Erickson’s assistance with finding a building large enough to house its growing manufacturing operations. Plus, the Amish-owned business needed to identify several personal properties for employees – close enough to work and to each other for horse-and-buggy transportation.

Dyna Products started searching for a new headquarters in Tuscola County in Michigan’s I-69 Thumb Region, which has a vibrant agri-business sector and where a low cost of living and ample recreational opportunities combine to offer a great lifestyle.

“You’re moving a company and you’re moving their workforce,” said Erickson, executive director of the Tuscola County Economic Development Corporation. “This just seemed to be the perfect fit.”

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Dyna Products ended up relocating from Evart, Mich. to an aging downtown building in Millington, Mich. last summer. The Tuscola EDC helped the company find the building, get zoning approval to operate an industrial business in a commercial district and apply for a tax abatement to make necessary renovations to the property.

Beyond that, Erickson’s team identified several residential properties within a close radius – which wasn’t easy because zoning prohibits the keeping of horses inside village limits. Seven Amish families have moved to the Millington area, with a few more expected to join them soon.

The community has embraced Dyna Products, which took an empty, dilapidated downtown building and turned it into something that looks fresh and new. For its part, Dyna likes being in The Thumb where there’s a small-town feel and relatively close proximity of medical services, shopping and even an airport. And “the roads are nearly all paved and flat,” said Nathan Miller, one of the owners. “We like that.”

Plus, the area has been good for business. Dyna manufactures, sells and rents firewood processors, or “glorified log splitters,” as Miller calls them, in varying sizes. The machines are capable of cutting logs ranging from 8 to 20 feet long into pieces, pushing the pieces through a splitter and then piling the firewood through a conveyor.

Homeowners typically rent a processor for a weekend to cut up a winter supply of firewood, while commercial operators – from the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Armed Forces to the Harvard University forestry program and Abercrombie & Fitch corporate campground – are among customers that buy them, Miller said.

It’s not always the kind of machine that people think they might need until they come across one. But “once somebody starts using our processor, they never go back,” he said.

The prevalence of dairy cows in Michigan’s Thumb Region attracted Quality Roasting to the area. Jobs in the region are more plentiful than skilled workers.

The prevalence of dairy cows in Michigan’s Thumb Region attracted Quality Roasting to the area. Jobs in the region are more plentiful than skilled workers.

“We’ve instantly seen much greater potential (here in Millington on Highway M-15),” Miller said. “Where we’re located, the type of clients we tend to service travel this highway a lot. Nearly every day we have people stopping in to rent or interested in purchasing. We’ve had a huge benefit on the sales side and also, logistically, it makes sense. We’re about 100 miles closer to many of our clients” around the country.

Dyna Products found the people of Michigan’s Thumb Region very welcoming, which Miller notes “was no small matter.” And the Tuscola County EDC was a great partner and “indispensable resource” in moving to the area.

The EDC has about three dozen projects in the works. Many of them are smaller than the Dyna Products relocation, but one this year is much bigger. Quality Roasting, a Wisconsin company that processes soybeans into high-end feed for dairy cattle, is getting $10 million in bonds to move into Tuscola County.

“They wanted to be close to the beans and close to the cows,” said Erickson, noting that there are more cows than people in Tuscola County.

Unlike Dyna Products, not every company moves to Michigan’s Thumb Region along with its workforce. As a result, finding skilled workers remains a challenge for businesses throughout the 7-county area. That challenge for employers windmillpresents a golden opportunity for workers.

“The biggest challenge we have, like everyone else, is finding talent,” Erickson said. “Everyone’s looking for help. Not only is our manufacturing up here struggling to find workers, so is our agriculture. We’re for the most part at full employment and the quality of life is rising because it’s taking a few more dollars to draw people in.

“Anybody looking for a job, just call me. You’ll be hired very soon.”

Dyna Products has been hiring employees from The Thumb Region to supplement its workers from the Amish community. The business is bringing additional business to the area, too, hiring local vendors to paint parts or ship out finished processors.

“It’s been a big boon for that area,” Erickson said.