With its new master real estate plan nearly finalized, the Gerald R. Ford Airport International is poised to enter the global stage.
The Ford Airport will unveil the plan during the first quarter of 2021 through a series of virtual stakeholder engagement meetings, a new website, social media and more. More than $500,000 was invested in the most “ambitious and robust study of the Airport’s real estate assets to date” as the Ford Airport looks to attract new development and investments that will shape the region’s economy for the next two decades.
“We want to be the economic catalyst for West Michigan – and we are well positioned to do so,” said Stephen Clark, Ford Airport Director of Commercial Development. “Prior to the pandemic, the Ford Airport had a $3.2 billion economic impact on our region. Our goal is to more than triple that to $10 billion in the next decade, and our new real estate master plan gives us the roadmap for success.
“The Airport has more than 900 acres of property open for development with some of the largest tracts of land with access to utilities along the I-96 corridor in West Michigan. We also have nearly 80 acres designated as a free trade zone. From industry clusters to an intermodal facility connected to Muskegon’s deep-water port to an R&D tech flex area, the Ford Airport has property to adapt to the future of business.”
Creating a World-Class Business Hub
The Ford Airport is working with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, The Right Place and industry partner McFarland Johnson to transform information and due diligence provided by local real estate brokers to develop solid action plans. Local real estate, design and architecture firms have also played a significant role in the process, including Colliers, NAI Wisinski, Rockford Construction and Tower Pinkster.
One of the more exciting opportunities is what Clark described the ability for the airport to partner with developers to create a “world-class business hub,” which could feature:
- Industry clusters, such as biomedical, medical devices or automotive that would benefit from co-locating near an anchor in order to shorten transportation times, strengthen relationships and take advantage of West Michigan’s location to major U.S. population centers.
- Corporate headquarters, with a company establishing a new global base of operations that would benefit from having a corporate hangar.
- In-land port connected to Muskegon’s deep-water that can house an intermodal facility to transfer freight from ship to truck to plane and back again.
- Hospitality, which could feature hotels, restaurants, gas station, pet boarding and other retail and convenience options to enhance business and leisure travel.
“What we are trying to do is unprecedented for an airport of our size,” Clark explained. “Very few airports, even large ones, are attempting anything this complex and intentional.”
2021 and Beyond
The Ford Airport is preparing to announce plans for the first development in 2021 as the real estate master plan is released. Clark, who joined the Airport in 2018 in a newly created role to lead business development, said the Airport has already approved more than a dozen new leases in the last 18 months.
Despite the pandemic, Clark and other business leaders are bullish on the future of West Michigan. The economy will recover, and the team at Ford Airport wants to make sure they are front and center in the conversation as businesses develop their plans to meet the future marketplace.
“We want to change the face of this area and put it on the map internationally,” Clark said. “People think of New York, Los Angeles or San Francisco as vibrant hubs for business, but why not West Michigan? We have the talent pipeline, an exceptional quality of life and moderate cost of living that combine to make West Michigan an attractive destination.
“While you may be able to find these things elsewhere, you won’t be able to do so with access to property like that at the Ford Airport, which is immediately available for development.”