Technology company brings energy, hope to underserved Grand Rapids neighborhood

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

Today, that goal has become a reality.

After a roughly $14 million demolition and construction project, the property, 1601 Madison Ave. SE, is now home to MCPC’s new Grand Rapids headquarters. 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 excited to see the change, to work here and come to this office and this area and be a part of it,” Chris McGraw, director of operations and logistics for MCPC, said as he showed a historic photo of Dexter Lock Building and adjacent South Field, where former President Gerald Ford once played football.

Redeveloping the property, and bringing in a company that was the right fit for the area, took years of work, officials say. It’s seen as a significant project in a part of Grand Rapids that hasn’t seen the same level of investment as downtown and other neighborhoods in the city.

The effort was led by community development group Amplify GR and Rockford Construction, which purchased the industrial property on the city’s Southeast Side in 2016 for $1.9 million. The two organizations purchased about 32 properties in the Cottage Grove, Boston Square and Madison Square neighborhoods, and are working to redevelop the area.

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

Construction on the project started in the summer of 2021.

Inside MCPC’s building, there’s a mixture of offices, meeting rooms, open work areas, as well as a warehouse and production area. Employees work with clients on a multitude of tasks, ranging from acquiring new computers and technology, managing that technology, and ensuring company data is erased when devices are ready to be recycled.

As the company began thinking about finding a new home, officials knew they wanted more space and wanted to bring all their West Michigan employees 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 don’t have cars, was important too.

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

MCPC has about 100 workers in West Michigan.

While roughly 45 of the company’s workers are based at the new building, another 40 or so are based directly at MCPC’s client offices. Its clients include Miller Knoll, Davenport University, Meijer, Perrigo, Van Andel Institute, Corewell Health and Steelcase.

Standing inside MCPC’s 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 engage the community. We want to grow the community both in technical and non-technical skills and offer opportunities to individuals who live here.”

MCPC received a $70,000 performance-based grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation as part of its pledge to create 28 new jobs at its new building. The company, as part of its agreement with Amplify GR, has pledged to hire about eight of those positions, at a minimum, from residents who live in the city’s 49507 zip code in inner city Grand Rapids.

The idea is to ensure neighborhood residents are benefiting from development in the area.

Shannon said he’s already hired four employees, all of whom live in the surrounding neighborhood. Amplify’s approach ties in with 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 about $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.

That includes $2.2 million over a 30-year period from the city of Grand Rapids’ brownfield fund, as well as another $540,000 from another city’s local brownfield revolving fund.

The project also received includes $275,00 from the city of Grand Rapids’ Southtown Corridor Improvement Authority, and $775,000 from the Michigan Department of Energy, Great Lakes and Environment.

“I’m grateful for MCPC’s interest in moving their facilities from surrounding areas into the city of Grand Rapids,” said Grand Rapids City 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 correctly,” she said. “Just like any other location, what we want are vibrant business, industrial and residential districts, and when that’s missing it actually is a blight on a neighborhood.”

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

“What they wanted to do is build relationships so they can hire people who live in the neighborhood, which reduces the expense of having to have transportation to an employer,” Lenear said. “They wanted to be able to engage with the youth so they can even help students understand interest in technology.”

PNC Bank also played a role in the project. It assisted with the project’s financing through an “opportunity zone” investment.

Opportunity zones were created by President Donald Trump’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed in December 2017. It offers tax breaks to people and corporations that invest their capital gains in real estate and business development in designated areas.

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

“We’ve heard feedback, MCPC has heard feedback from neighbors who have just commented on how nice the building looks, the lighting at night, just how fresh it looks and feels on the block especially given the history of that Dexter Lock property and knowing that it’s been vacant and blighted for decades.”

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