DOWAGIAC, Mich. - When National Copper Products closed its doors in 2008, 170 people lost their jobs at one of Dowagiac’s largest manufacturers. Those jobs haven’t been replaced but a new use for the 600,000-square-foot building on Prairie Rhonde Street is slowly bringing back employment.
Bill Sheffer is an entrepreneur and one of 16 start-up businesses that operates in the building, now called The Business Center of Southwestern Michigan. After 30 years of foundry work making metal machine parts the old fashioned way he thought he would try something unique. “It started at my house about 4 years ago,” said Sheffer.
He started his own business, Unique Cutting and Metal Works, cutting metal parts with high powered jets of water. “One of the things customers did not like was that I was a backyard business in my pole barn,” said Sheffer.
It was a small operation that needed to grow but Sheffer didn’t have the money to invest in the manufacturing space. Brian DeLong, Vice President of Prairie Rhonde Realty, says Sheffer is the perfect tenant for a new concept in Cass County.
DeLong runs the Business Center. When National Copper Products closed he decided to create a new use for the building instead of tearing it down or waiting for a new business to move in.
The idea was a business incubator. Instead of one business, several manufacturing businesses share the cost of one industrial building. “It would be much more expensive for them (to rent their own manufacturing space). They could not put their resources in the things they need to,” said DeLong. Delong said lower cost mean’s more people can try their start up and if there is success jobs will follow.
“We’re attracting three to four new customers a month,” said Sheffer. It’s a type of success his business is starting to enjoy. “With all the businesses that have gone out in Dowagiac. That will help individuals that haven’t been working for quite some time,” he said.
Sheffer is getting ready to hire his first employees this spring.
Currently 32 employees work at the 16 businesses in the incubator but that could grow to many more in the future.