Hart of Michigan

It should have been a Michigan success story.

Hart Enterprises Inc., a medical device manufacturer with around 100 employees, is not the size of Ford or General Motors, but it has the feel of the future. Located on a grassy 9-acre plot in an industrial park north of Grand Rapids, Hart is headquartered in a low, rectangular building of green glass panels and tubular steel.

Inside, Hart Enterprises personnel design and manufacture specialty medical needles and customized medical devices. Parts of the facility look like the set of a science fiction movie. In clean-rooms, workers in lab coats, gloves and bouffant hairnets assemble and examine products under microscropes; in a high-tech manufacturing area, employees in blue smocks and safety glasses fabricate components.

The finished products are used by physicians in hospitals all over the world. The company has expanded from a handful of employees in 1981, when it moved to Michigan, to roughly 100 production personnel, quality inspectors and engineers. Alan Taylor, president and founder of Hart Enterprises, projects that total revenues over the next 25 years will reach $1 billion and that the company will grow to employ more than 500 workers.

For Taylor and Hart Vice President Robert Striebel, Michigan was part of the dream for this business. Although they had started the company in the Chicago area, they moved it to the Grand Rapids area because of the favorable labor market and because Michigan had so much of the hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation they enjoyed.

By the mid-1990s, the company had grown to around 50 employees. Hart Enterprises officials began scouting the company’s current site in the village of Sparta, about 15 minutes from Grand Rapids. In 1996, Taylor purchased the property and built Hart’s 46,000-square-foot complex and an 80-space parking lot for Hart’s employees, leaving four acres of land for future expansion. In 2006, when the original parking lot became too small, the company prepared to extend the lot, excavating approximately one-quarter of an acre at the lot’s western end.

And that’s when the company received a phone call that threw this success story into doubt. The driving force of an entrepreneur was about to collide with the damping force of a powerful agency enforcing a poorly crafted state wetland statute. The dispute sheds light on what the Legislature and governor must do to reform state wetland policy and protect the rights of Michigan property owners.