Shiawassee Economic Development Partnership Project Specialist Brent Jones, far right, presents Prolime owner Bob Rogers with SEDP’s Project of the Year award as SEDP board of directors member Kathryn Burkholder looks on during SEDP’s annual meeting Thursday, held at Fortitude Outdoor Fitness in Bennington Township.

BENNINGTON TWP. — The 10-year economic rebound in Shiawassee County continued during the past year with several companies locating and expanding here, Shiawassee Economic Development Partnership President/CEO Justin Horvath announced at SEDP’s annual meeting Thursday.

Horvath was addressing the dozens of area business owners, visiting dignitaries, state and local elected officials, and SEDP board members who attended the 16th annual meeting, held outdoors at Fortitude Outdoor Fitness.

“Without your partnership and your help, this good stuff could not happen,” Horvath said. “A big reason we’re here today is to thank you.”

Bob Rogers, owner of Prolime, an agribusiness in Woodhull Township that is constructing the first pelletized lime and gypsum processing plant in Michigan, a $5.7-million investment, was presented with SEDP’s Project of the Year award. Rogers thanked two of his key employees and everyone present for the honor.

Kathryn Burkholder, a Consumers Energy official and SEDP board member, described Rogers as a visionary who saw how he wanted Prolime to grow and made it happen.

Special guest speaker Tim Sowton, a vice president of Business Leaders For Michigan, talked about the organization’s goal of making Michigan a “top 10” state for jobs, income and a healthy economy. It ranks in the 30s right now, he said.

Horvath noted that since the last annual report, the county’s unemployment rate dropped to 4.5 percent, 300-plus more residents are working, incomes rose 3.2 percent, property values increased 3.7 percent and the number of homes for sale plunged to about 150.

A 10-minute video highlighted area business projects that boosted the local economy:

n Elite VR, a virtual reality gaming facility, opened in Caledonia Township, and is expected to draw players from throughout the state and create jobs.

n Prolime expanded by 38,000 square feet.

n Tri-Mer Corp., a maker of custom air pollution control systems is expanding with a $2.5-million investment in building space and equipment, helping to create 25 new jobs.

n Retriever Solutions, a new company resulting from a merger of local firm Say Computer and Colorado-based Retriever Software, opened in Owosso, located in the former Baker College Bentley Campus building at Oliver Street and M-52.

n Great Lakes Family of Companies in Vernon Township hired about 20 new employees and began work on cleaning up the concrete debris on their property, inherited from the former owner, with the goal of developing the acreage into an industrial park.

In the video, the owners of the highlighted businesses thanked SEDP’s Horvath and Project Specialist Brent Jones for assisting them in finding grant funding, locating contractors, identifying properties suitable for their companies and obtaining local government approvals.

“These are all great businesses from a wide varieties of sectors, bringing money in and contributing to our economy,” Horvath said.

The main obstacle to recruiting and facilitating the expansion of local businesses is the lack of a pool of potential employees with the right skill levels, he said.

“The biggest issue is talent,” Horvath said. “We cannot continue to grow our population unless we continue to grow our economy — it’s become our county’s No. 1 priority.”

SEDP’s strategy to address the “talent” issue, he said, is to (1) market available employment opportunities to the 18,000 residents who currently leave the county for work; (2) offer educational and training opportunities to support skills growth for existing employees; (3) support organizations and programs that help reduce social barriers to employment; (4) facilitate partnerships between educational institutions and businesses; and (5) attract more people to move to Shiawassee County by supporting new housing options and revitalizing downtown areas.

Sowton described Business Leaders For Michigan as a “business roundtable” composed of CEOs from most of the larger companies in Michigan aiming to strengthen Michigan through competition, investment and growth. He applauded Shiawassee for employing those strategies as a county.

“You have really come together to move Shiawassee County forward,” Sowton said.

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