Michigan produce industry unruffled by Detroit bankruptcy - The Packer

Michigan produce industry unruffled by Detroit bankruptcy

11/12/2013 04:46:00 PM
Coral Beach

Invoking the memory of Mark Twain, produce industry insiders in Michigan say reports of the death of Detroit’s economy have been greatly exaggerated by national media.

It’s no secret that the city’s government is bankrupt, and that is being felt statewide in some ways, but people are still eating fresh produce and suppliers across the state are seeing increasing sales.

“The future is firmly in place with the fourth generation here at Ben B.,” said Detroit-based Ben B. Schwartz & Sons Inc.’s chief operating officer Nate Stone.

“The reason I bring that up is because sometimes Detroit has a stigma associated with it, but the reasons behind that stigma are not related to the produce industry, which remains strong.”

Stone said the terminal market is busy and the Detroit bankruptcy has had “very little effect on the everyday operations there.”

Robert Sanders, Jake Billmeyer and Ralph Laderoot IIICourtesy Ben. B. SchwartzBen B. Schwartz & Sons Inc. was founded in 1906 and was one of the first tenants to move into the Detroit Produce Terminal when it opened in 1929. Today the fourth generation is in place on the market with Jake Billmeyer (center) in the role of co-owner. The company also has young talent in its sales department to keep up with growing demands. Robert Sanders (left) and Ralph Laderoot III both serve as buyers and sellers for the company.Dominic Russo, manager and buyer-seller for Riggio Distribution Inc., Detroit, said the city’s economic woes have been developing for a long time, but the state’s produce industry has maintained profitability.

“It’s making national news, but it’s not news to us,” Russo said, adding that he thinks business at the terminal market hasn’t suffered this year.

Jim Heeren, president of Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Heeren Bros. Inc., said he has actually seen “some upticks in Michigan’s produce business.”

“Business has been pretty stable,” Heeren said.

“But since the auto industry is coming back we’ve seen a bit of increase around Detroit. In Grand Rapids it’s much different with a strong economy and real growth.”

Linda Gobler, president and chief executive officer for the Michigan Grocers Association in Lansing, agreed that the Grand Rapids area is “seeing phenomenal growth right now.”

She said there have been a few statewide implications from Detroit’s bankruptcy as some state and federal resources that could have been used in other areas of Michigan have been diverted to the Motor City.

However, Gobler echoed the comments of the produce suppliers regarding the overall impact of the Detroit’s economic situation. The plight of the city has not resulted in decreased produce business.

Detroit Produce TerminalCourtesy Ben B. SchwartzIn this vintage shot taken at the Detroit Produce Terminal, buyers and sellers negotiate much as their modern counterparts do today.She pointed to a revitalization in Detroit’s downtown that is being driven by young professionals moving into the urban core.

Michael Badalament, salesman for R.A.M. Produce Distributors LLC, Detroit, said he never takes the economy for granted, but it does appear that the city is poised for a comeback.

“There are some issues inside the city limits, but younger people are moving back in,” Badalament said.

“And the outlying areas are doing really well now that the cars (automotive manufacturers) are back.”

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