Birgit M. Klohs

President & CEO,

The Right Place, Inc. 

To our investors and partners,

2020 was a year history will not soon forget. The COVID-19 pandemic brought unprecedented challenges and uncertainty to the region. Throughout it all, our community persevered and The Right Place remained a steadfast and trusted partner for business. During times of crisis like these, both communities and organizations are tested to their limits. Although the pandemic is not over, West Michigan has already proven itself a collaborative and capable community that can take on any challenge, no matter the severity.

I am proud to say The Right Place has also passed the test. After all, our organization was built to guide West Michigan businesses through difficult times. This year our team rose to the challenge and assisted thousands of businesses both large and small through the pandemic, while also continuing our traditional economic development work. Those stories and more are detailed throughout this annual report.

The achievements and resilience demonstrated this year showcase why it has been my privilege to lead this organization for over 33 years. When Jay Van Andel first created this organization back in 1985, we really were the little engine that could. Since then, we have generated over $5.1 billion in new capital investment and nearly 47,000 new and retained jobs for the region. It is amazing how far you can go with an extraordinary vision and commitment to success.

The collaborative spirit and caliber of this community are second to none, and I am sincerely grateful for the dedicated commitment our partners and investors have shown The Right Place throughout my career. With your continued support, I am certain the next few decades will continue to build on the success of the past 33 years.

As I close my career at The Right Place, I look forward to seeing what the future holds for West Michigan.  



To our investors and partners,

This year our community faced a myriad of challenges as we grappled with the devastating effects of the pandemic, and we met these challenges with a determination and collaborative spirit that are truly unique to West Michigan. During this extraordinary year, we also celebrated the career of an extraordinary woman who has led The Right Place for 33 years.

On behalf of the Board of Directors and team of The Right Place, I would like to thank Birgit Klohs for her decades of service and leadership in our community. When she joined this organization over three decades ago in 1987, she quickly established it as the premier economic development organization in West Michigan. Since then, the organization has grown significantly, becoming one of the leading economic development organizations in the county.

In addition to all the success The Right Place has achieved, Birgit has also volunteered her time on numerous community boards throughout her career. Notably, in 2014 she was appointed to serve on the International Crossing Authority, a joint authority between the State of Michigan and the Country of Canada for the construction of the North American International Trade Crossing. And most recently, she was instrumental in the creation of the New Community Transformation Fund, created to uplift communities of color through capital investment.

She has worked closely with five Michigan Governors to pursue economic development opportunities around the globe during her tenure. She is credited with fostering countless public-private ventures that advanced the economic prosperity of the region, including her involvement with the revitalization of downtown Grand Rapids and the growth of the Medical Mile.

She has truly left an indelible mark on the region and become one of our most influential leaders. As she concludes her career leading The Right Place, we wish her continued success as she enters the next chapter.

Our work has been impactful and will be ongoing under the leadership of our new CEO, Randy Thelen. I want to thank all of our investors, community partners, staff, and board members for their commitment to the success of our region. The Right Place is positioned to continue to be the organization that creates economic opportunities for all that live in our region. Your ongoing advocacy and support makes West Michigan a great place, for all, to live and work.


Sean P. Welsh

Chair, The Right Place, Inc. 

Regional President, Western MI

PNC Bank


2020 Economic Development Metrics

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Every success starts with a strategy.


In February of 2020, The Right Place announced our 2020–2022 Strategic Plan. This three-year plan was developed with our board of directors, team members, and community partners, along with support from our strategic partners at TIP Strategies. 


Strengthening our region’s position as the leading resource for growing companies in the Greater Grand Rapids Region. 


Perrigo establishes North American Corporate HQ in Grand Rapids

Since 1996, Grand Rapids has been investing in its now world-renowned health industry cluster. Over $2 billion has been invested in the Medical Mile alone over the past two decades. This year Perrigo announced it would be establishing its new North American Corporate Headquarters in downtown Grand Rapids, becoming the latest company to invest in this thriving hub of research and innovation.

Founded in 1887 in Allegan, Mich. Perrigo is a leading provider of quality, affordable selfcare products. Global companies like Perrigo have many location options when choosing to expand. The Right Place worked with  state and local partners to ensure Perrigo chose West Michigan over competing locations.

As a result, Perrigo will be investing $44.7 million and bringing 170 new jobs to the area as part of its new headquarters, further solidifying West Michigan as a destination for business success.  

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Perrigo North American Corporate HQ Rendering

Downtown Grand Rapids

“Perrigo established its roots in West Michigan more than 130 years ago. Since then, we’ve become an industry leader and created thousands of jobs in the region,” said Murray Kessler, President and Chief Executive Officer, Perrigo. “We are thankful for all of those involved in making this project a reality, especially Governor Whitmer, The Right Place and their partners at the MEDC.” 

Gerber Products invests in Fremont

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Gerber Products Groundbreaking

Fremont, Michigan

The world’s largest producer of baby-food products has announced it will be expanding its manufacturing facility in Fremont, Michigan. This expansion will create 50 high quality manufacturing jobs and bring $36 million in capital investment to the region.

Beyond the initial capital investment and new jobs, Gerber will be adding new product lines and programs to the Fremont facility. They also support the region’s agribusiness supply chain via their strong relationships with local growers and suppliers.

Gerber’s Fremont facility has been a critical component of the regional economy for decades. The Right Place worked closely with its partners to secure this investment in West Michigan, keeping Gerber strong in the region for decades to come.  

Keystone Solutions Group produces COVID-19 Testing Kits

When The Right Place learned the West Michigan healthcare system was experiencing a major shortage of nasal swabs for COVID-19 test kits, the team sprang into action to find a medical device manufacturer in the region who had the needed production capabilities. 


That company turned out to be MiDevice member company Keystone Solutions Group. The Right Place reached out to Keystone’s owner Jim Medsker on a Saturday morning with the request, and he immediately responded. Specifications were complete by the end of the day.  

Keystone Solutions Group completed the entire supply chain needed to manufacturer the kits and began production. The kits have been and continue to be utilized by West Michigan healthcare systems, a testament to the medical manufacturing strength of the region.  

Drive-through Coronavirus Testing

The Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center-West launches COVID-19 support products

Metal Tubes

This year has brought unprecedented challenges to West Michigan’s manufacturers. From closures in the spring and a pivot to the production of essential supplies, to restarting operations and adjusting to the “new normal”; local manufacturers are in a state of flux. When facing tumultuous circumstances, many business owners find themselves in survival mode and feel they’re on an island.


This is where The Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center-West (The Center-West) can help. The team has identified several common challenges being faced by manufacturers during this pandemic and created customized solutions to help businesses navigate these challenges successfully. One of those companies was Jireh Metal Products, a local family-owned business who is a direct supplier to OEMs 

and other Tier 1 suppliers.


The pandemic and associated Executive Orders meant Jireh Metal could only fulfill essential business, which resulted in declining sales. They immediately recognized the need for assistance and contacted The Center-West.

The Center-West introduced Jireh Metal to the PIVOT 2020 Toolkit, which allowed them to outline their industry’s challenges and develop scenarios which impacted how they responded to situations as they became reality. They also relied on their membership in The Right Place | The Center-West Manufacturer’s Council to develop relationships with other manufacturers and share best practices during this time of crisis.


The results speak for themselves: Jireh Metal has done what they needed to do to keep their people safe at work and retain key talent while also growing into new markets. As business is rebounding, they are hiring.  

"Through our engagement, we have been able to improve many areas of our operation. With support, we outlined our industry challenges and developed multiple scenarios that would allow us options as we monitored the business and industry. Many of those scenarios then became reality, which we navigated with more confidence and awareness through the focused sessions and discussions within our team.”

- Josh Bischoff, Director of Operations and Strategy, Jireh Metal


Increasing our focus on inclusive growth initiatives to provide economic opportunities for all in the Greater Grand Rapids Region.


New Community Transformation Fund 


West Michigan has had one of the strongest performing economies in the nation, yet this economic growth has not been shared by all members of the community. 

Recognizing this,  leaders at Bank of America, the Consumers Energy Foundation, and The Right Place  announced the development of the New Community Transformation Fund. This is an investment fund based in Grand Rapids, Mich. to support diverse business owners and led by Skot Welch, Managing Partner for the fund.

The fund aims to increase ethnic and racial diversity in business ownership throughout West Michigan. Additionally, it will focus on businesses that intend to provide multi-generational wealth creation within historically disadvantaged groups.


The New Community Transformation Fund is currently in the process of raising capital and intends to launch in 2021.  

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From Left to Right: Skot Welch, Birgit Klohs, Garrick Rochow, Renee Tabben, Kwame Anku



Ensuring long-term economic growth by supporting the region’s foundational economic assets such as infrastructure and quality of life. 

The Right Place forms partnership with MICHauto to accelerate the West Michigan economy

One of the key foundations of Michigan’s economy is its world-renowned automotive sector. While Detroit may be the automotive capital of the world, the West Michigan region is home to a robust industry of global automotive suppliers. The quality jobs created by these companies provide opportunity to thousands of our region’s residents. 

To keep our region’s automotive industry strong and at the forefront, The Right Place has announced a partnership with MICHauto. The two organizations share a vision to promote, retain, and grow the industry statewide and will work together to leverage resources, companies, and talent from both sides of Michigan. This partnership will drive the creation of a statewide mobility ecosystem and strengthen the automotive sector for years to come.  


MICHauto Roundtable Event at The Right Place


North Ridge Connection is completed, bringing shovel-ready sites online in Walker

Image by Troy Mortier

Infrastructure underpins the economic growth of the entire region. Without it, the regional economy cannot thrive. The Right Place team collaboratively works with our local partners to strengthen the region’s infrastructure and drive economic growth. 

Oftentimes these projects can take many years, which is why it was exciting to officially announce the opening of the North Ridge Connection in Walker. The Right Place had been working with the City of Walker and Visser Development to complete this project for several years.

This connection at the Fruitridge Dr and I-196 interchange has increased access to 300+ shovel ready sites for business in Walker, and already resulted in Amazon locating a major distribution facility in the area.  


Providing comprehensive strategies for economic prosperity in the region by engaging business and community leaders.


Navigating 2020 via virtual events

Any other year, The Right Place would have convened thousands of area business and community leaders to learn about the latest trends and development impacting our economy, via a robust calendar of in-person events. 

While COVID-19 put an end to large gatherings in 2020, it couldn’t stop The Right Place from continuing to deliver thought leadership to the community. Our events calendar quickly shifted from in-person events to virtual, and we launched two entirely new webinar series to keep leaders informed: Navigate 2020 and Re-engaging the Rural Economy.

The Right Place was designed to guide our region through times of crisis, and these webinars allowed us to bring the latest expertise and share best practices directly  with the business community. Each webinar featured expert speakers focused on discussing the most pressing topics impacting businesses throughout the year.  


The Right Place 2021 Economic Outlook for West Michigan

Recorded live at Chase Creative Unlimited Studios


Driving economic growth throughout the Greater Grand Rapids Region with strategic partnerships and collaboration. 


Delivering emergency assistance to

small businesses

This year, The Right Place administered two rounds of small business relief and restart grant funds to struggling area businesses. Thousands of area businesses have been negatively impacted by the pandemic and many continue to struggle today due to its detrimental economic effects.

Within an 11-county region in West Michigan, The Right Place was allocated nearly $10 million in funding from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. The demand for funding far outstripped available funding, with over 6,000 applicants requesting $121M+ in support.

To make these challenging funding decisions, The Right Place engaged local business and community leaders in counties across the region to make funding determinations. Funding was ultimately able to be awarded to 1,255 small businesses via both the Restart and Relief rounds of funding. Of the Restart funding round, over half the grants were awarded to women, veteran, and minority-owned businesses.  

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Felisha Rodriguez, Founder, Wear Your Curls

West Michigan Small Business Restart Grant Recipient

“With the COVID-19 pandemic, Wear Your Curls (WYC) lost out on a lot of opportunities for sales and brand awareness this year,” said Felisha Rodriguez, Founder, Wear Your Curls, LLC. “Because of this I had to shift my sales strategy and plan on using a sizeable part of the grant towards marketing and advertising. Social media has become a popular outlet for many during these unforeseen times, therefore, I am focusing my advertising efforts on these platforms. I will need a team to help me better manage this and so I plan to use part of the grant to hire one or two people to become part of the WYC team, whether it’s a part-time employee or a contractor.”

Jerica Buchanon Vegan Cheesecake Company

Jerica Buchanan, Founder, The Vegan Cheesecake Company

West Michigan Small Business Restart Grant Recipient

“Receiving this grant has been such a blessing for The Vegan Cheesecake Company,” said Jerica Buchanan, Founder, The Vegan Cheesecake Company. “Our business growth plans were put on hold due to COVID-19, and I was afraid my hard work in starting this company would all have been in vain. Thanks to this grant I will be able to pay off debt, restructure our website for ecommerce, hire a team, purchase equipment, and get the business up and running again.”

Discover Manufacturing goes digital in Newaygo County

Image by Joppe Spaa

Each year The Right Place partners with Michigan Works! to engage students in future manufacturing careers. Normally this involves touring students through the high-tech workspaces of local manufacturers and debunking commonly held misperceptions about manufacturing jobs.

With the limits on in-person gatherings posed by the pandemic, The Right Place shifted its Discover Manufacturing events virtual. This included virtual plant tours and live interviews with staff members from Gerber Products and Riveridge Cider.

A record-breaking 15 instructors from five schools participated, with more than 150 students attending virtually. In addition, grant funding for Discovering Manufacturing was diverted to create scholarships for 35 Newaygo County students.


Engaging in regional talent development, retention, and attraction efforts to address the Greater Grand Rapids Region’s most challenging economic growth issue. 


Hello West Michigan celebrates 10 Year Anniversary

2020 was a landmark year in more ways than one—it marked the 10-year anniversary since the official launch of Hello West Michigan as an organization and hellowestmichigan.com. The organization was the first of its kind in the country and continues to serve as a benchmark and model for similar organizations in other regions and states. 

Through its campaigns, programs, and wrap-around services, Hello West Michigan attracts talent to the region and assists people interested in relocating. They are the connection point between candidates, companies, and the community. In 10 years, the organization has served over 55 million ad impressions, reached over 300,000 website users, hosted 2,800 interns at Intern Connect, 2,400 candidates on Thanksgiving eve, and sent over 3,300 resumes. The website, which has over 1,000 linked resources, is the regional hub of information for anyone interested in relocation and covers all 13 counties the West Michigan region.

By providing a strategic and long-term approach to talent attraction, Hello West Michigan is moving the needle as the region’s talent attraction and retention organization.  


Hello West Michigan 10 Year Anniversary Meeting

February 2020, Embassy Suites Downtown Grand Rapids

ReThink West Michigan goes virtual with 'Back to Michigan' event


With pandemic-related relocations on the rise and people increasingly leaving large cities in favor of mid-sized cities like Grand Rapids, skipping the typically in-person ReThink West Michigan event was not an option. The international award-winning event, usually held on the night before Thanksgiving, is Hello West Michigan’s signature event. While only a single event, it is the embodiment of what the organization does all year around: attract, educate, and connect candidates to West Michigan.

In a first-time collaboration with 8 regions from around the state, Hello West Michigan led Back To Michigan, a series of virtual networking events, between November 17-24, where people interested in relocating to Michigan spoke directly with hiring employers.

The results for West Michigan were record-breaking. The event had over 500 registrants, doubling the highest ever for the ReThink West Michigan event. Hello West Michigan also received over 700 leads of candidates interested in moving to West Michigan, which they’ll be following up with in the months to come. Thanks to the leadership of the Hello West Michigan team and the vision of Back To Michigan, thousands of people are taking a look at living and working in Michigan.   


 Educating and informing the region on strategic long-term business trends impacting the regional economy.  


Connecting West Michigan businesses to in-demand PPE supplies 

While other communities have stagnant or vanished advanced manufacturing sectors, this industry continues to thrive in West Michigan. We are a region who still makes things, and that made us uniquely suited to answer the call for urgent production of PPE supplies in March 2020.


Many of our region’s manufacturers quickly switched their manufacturing lines and began producing all manner of supplies, from gowns and facemasks to thermometers and antiseptic. As The Right Place team assisted companies with setting up supply chains, we also began developing a directory of West Michigan PPE suppliers. 

By December, this directory had been viewed more than 11,000  times and counting. It features 100+ local companies manufacturing PPE supplies. Organizations can use this directory to quickly source in-demand and limited PPE supplies straight from West Michigan manufacturers.  

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Developing a single resource for COVID-19 business news


In the early days of the pandemic, businesses were overloaded with urgent information from multiple sources. Whether it was lock-down orders or new assistance available to companies, the resources were overwhelming and often disparate.

The Right Place quickly began working with other local business support organizations to develop a one-stop resource to house all business-related pandemic news and assistance. This website, www.covidwm.org, was launched within several days of the initial shutdown order and immediately began functioning as both a library of resources and news, and  a way to receive one-on-one assistance with pandemic-related questions. The Right Place team continues to update and maintain the site with news and resources as the vaccine is distributed.