i graduated in '99 from kcad.
ok, there are a few threads that are running sort of parallel to each other. the west michigan/exhibit/furniture discussions.
i have been in furniture since '96. in '00, there was a huge downturn in the furniture industry. i was laid off at a firm due to this. i took an exhibit and pop design job (point of purchase) and ‘nested’ until i could get back into furiniture. it took about 30 months. that’s when i relocated to the SE for another furniture job ('03).
exhibits and pop in west michigan there is Xibits near GR and Harbor Industries in Grand Haven. Xibits does a lot of custom and intricate displays and environments. Harbor builds permanent and semi-permanent fixtures and displays. Harbor focuses on wood and metal, though they build with other materials. I worked with both. Not the highlight of my career, but a great learning experience.
furniture in west michigan is still king.it isn’t just grand rapids. holland has herman miller and haworth. haworth has a main, centralized facility on the south end of holland, off 196. herman miller has facilities scattered all over holland, zeeland, and norton shores. they used to have a large oeration in grandville, but that is no longer used. miller has chair plants all over those areas. their design center is on the south side of holland. the HM design center (known as the design yard) and the haworth headquarters are about 3 miles apart.
there are a couple of other lesser recognized industries in that area.
automotive interiors - johnson controls in holland, used to be prince. this place is loaded with trans designers from CCS, art center, UofC, etc.
boats - tiara yachts is in holland, i believe they also own S2. chriscraft used to be in the area, but i don’t know about their operations anymore. Atwood makes a lot of nautical equipment and accessories.
bissell - vaccuums and such.
there are other tertiary industries, but i haven’t lived in the area for almost 5 years now.
the furniture industry is suffering again because competition from overseas. many companies are not positioned correctly to compete at the international level. this is particularly true in the SE. a lot fo restructing has been happening for quite some time. HON is now the largest contact manufacturer, but they have acquired many smaller contract companies over the past 5-7 years. some of these include gunlocke, harter, paoli.
i think steelcase still has an IDEO office in GR. Chesser-Schot <sp?> is a player in contract furniture, though i have an unsavory opinion about one of the principals there. Synergy product development, JRD, etc all have contract furinture clients. most of the firms in the GR area with furniture clients were former employees of those clients.
all the furniture companies manufacture prototypes. i worked for HM in the late '90’s their protoype shop is large, professional and incredible. i know steelcase, haworth and their subsidiaries also have the same capabilities. the firms inthe area build working prototypes of varying degrees and function.