Grand Rapids is “the most successful intensive manufacturing city in America,” according to The Economist magazine. Manufacturing is the largest sector of the local economy, accounting for nearly 19% of all jobs in the region. The number of manufacturing jobs here grew 29.1% from 2011-2020, far outpacing the national rate of 7.6%.,

Our manufacturing base is not just strong, it’s also incredibly diverse. We are national leaders in aerospace, automotive, biopharmaceuticals, medical devices, office furniture, plastics, production technology and more. Experts point to West Michigan manufacturers’ diversity and penchant for collaboration as reasons for the booming manufacturing economy here. But local executives also credit a strong West Michigan work ethic.

We take a deeper dive into those factors in this story, which looks at two of the region’s global manufacturers – Medbio Inc. and Plasan North America – to see how and why West Michigan figures into the business success of these two very diverse companies.

Just considering the products made, it would be hard to imagine two more different companies than Medbio Inc. and Plasan North America.

Medbio is a contract manufacturer making components used in a variety of surgical procedures – cardiovascular, opthalmology, orthopedic, neurological and more. For instance, Medbio manufactures the iTClamp for Innovative Trauma Care. The product provides temporary control of severe bleeding by sealing the edges of a wound until it can be surgically repaired. Medbio also manufactures a range of implantable components for customers – we’re talking tiny, intricate devices used inside the body.

Plasan, on the other hand, makes composite structures and armor survivability solutions for the commercial automotive and defense industries. On the commercial side, the company engineers and manufactures lightweight carbon fiber roof and hood components for, as an example, for the Chevy Corvette. On the defense side, its Ballistic Protection Solutions help ensure that crew and passengers survive enemy attack. Here we’re talking relatively massive components designed to protect the body from the outside.


Plasan Carbon Composites

Photo by Photo Courtesy of Plasan Carbon Composites

But dig deeper and you find surprising similarities – among them, a huge respect for the West Michigan workforce and a steadfast commitment to collaboration.

Chris Williams, who served as president and CEO of Medbio from 2006-2022, credited the majority of the firm’s success to its West Michigan workers.

“I believe the company is successful, in great part, because we’ve hired people from West Michigan who are all deeply committed to customer satisfaction,” Williams said. “We hire like-minded individuals who take pride in workmanship and in delivering high quality products to our customers. Our industry lends itself to this because we’re making products designed to save lives.”

Williams noted that this unique factor means consistency and quality are critical to maintaining a strong customer base in the medical device industry.

“Commitment to high quality, precision manufacturing and customer satisfaction are even more important in medical device manufacturing than in other industries,” Williams said.



Photo by Courtesy of MedBio for AGI story

Williams explained that Medbio customers are looking for long-term partnerships, because the cost of moving their product to another supplier is lengthy and costly. Therefore, customer satisfaction and retention have been key to Medbio’s growth.

Adrienne Stevens served as president & CEO for Plasan Carbon Composites, Inc. and Plasan North America, Inc. from 2017-2020. She said then that the pride Plasan employees take in their work is the signature of the company – befitting a company culture that is entrepreneurial and customer-focused, and which values speed, quality and innovation.

Plasan, headquarted in Sasa, Israel, was attracted to West Michigan because of the region’s strong work ethic and easy access to both customers and the supply chain of needed materials.

Most of the company’s engineering for defense technologies originates in Israel. However, the company continues to expand its engineering resources in West Michigan from its plant in Walker, a suburb on the northwestern border of Grand Rapids.

Combine the highly valued West Michigan workforce with a commitment to industry collaboration and you’ve got a recipe for economic success.

Plasan Carbon Composites

Plasan Carbon Composites

Photo by Photo Courtesy of Plasan Carbon Composites

An outgrowth of the region’s commitment to collaboration is The Right Place/MMTC-West Manufacturers Council. The group includes nearly 50 manufacturing leaders and presidents of area colleges and universities. Their goal is collaboration to promote, facilitate and advocate for best-practices manufacturing in West Michigan. They problem-solve, discuss best practices and share lessons learned.

But the effort doesn’t stop there. Various manufacturing industries have formed their own councils and collaboratives to innovate, take advantage of complementary skill sets, create efficiencies and attract investment and talent.

MiDevice, for example, is comprised of 20+ leading medical device manufacturers and suppliers in Michigan. The group was convened by The Right Place regional economic development organization. The consortium works to grow the West Michigan medical device industry into a nationally recognized business cluster by encouraging collaboration among members.

Members tour each other’s facilities, share best practices and processes, and work together to meet overall product lifecycle and supply chain needs.



Photo by Courtesy of MedBio

West Michigan’s aerospace and defense industry is also collaborating through participation in the Michigan Defense Center, formed in 2006 to target statewide defense and homeland security opportunities for Michigan businesses. The effort has paid off with Michigan attracting nearly $750 million in new aerospace capital investment since 2018 and West Michigan generating approximately $1.1 billion in annual aerospace sales.

With a workforce driven by quality and leadership committed to collaboration, West Michigan companies are leading the way for innovative manufacturers nationwide.

Grand Rapids is Michigan’s fastest growing metro area and one of the nation’s strongest economies, fueled by a creative, collaborative spirit that generates global, national and entrepreneurial investments. Experience Grand Rapids highlights leading sectors of the local economy to underscore the city’s suitability for innovation-focused meetings.