It can be amazing how one small company can turn a community around. Beginning in 2006, the city of Coopersville felt the hard times that would soon envelope the Great Lakes State and the nation as a whole. Following the financial repercussions of a plant closure and many of its residents forced to leave to find employment elsewhere, Coopersville was a shell of its former self.
One year later, everything began to change and this change was thanks to the support of Coopersville residents and the leadership of Continental Dairy Facilities’ (CDF) general manager and chief operating officer. For his important role in the restoration of a community, Steve Cooper is the recipient of the 2015 John G. Thodis Special Achievement Award for Manufacturing and Community Revitalization.
“Our business is a success story, but it is a success because of the drive and forward-thinking approach of our owners and the incredible talent we have working here,” said Steve.
While he will immediately give credit to others, Steve was critical to CDF’s early success and remains the backbone of the company today. For a city that was so close to the edge, trust in businesses was hard to come by. Steve took the time to hear and address the concerns of residents. He worked with the Coopersville City Council and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation to secure funding to reinvest in the business and in the community.
New sources of funding allowed for improvements to the city’s wastewater treatment system, natural gas distribution system and roads infrastructure. Any construction efforts affecting the city were quickly addressed and resolved. Steve joined the Downtown Development Authority to personally ensure a smooth transition that would lead to new jobs.
“It all starts with honesty,” said Steve. “Trust is the most important thing and, for a long time, trust was hard to come by and rightfully so. Coopersville had to see CDF for who we were and what we wanted to be. Anytime we make a promise, at the very least we will meet that promise though we always look first to exceed it.”
The rewards of Steve’s hard work soon began to pay off for Coopersville. Since taking their first tanker load of milk on 3/25/12, the manufacturer of dairy products has been a symbol of excellence in the region. From the 700 percent growth in exports over the course of one year to the 100 direct jobs employed and the 500+ indirect jobs created, CDF over-delivered on Steve’s promise.
In 2014, CDF received the Michigan Agriculture Exporter of the Year Award and members of the Coopersville community continue to echo the important role Steve has had in revitalizing the town.
“Fortunately for Coopersville, the arrival of CDF also meant the arrival of Steve Cooper,” said Steven R. Patrick, city manager for the City of Coopersville. “He is an individual who not only cared for the success of CDF but also for the city and the community where he worked.
“Steve’s involvement in public policy in and for the City of Coopersville is tireless,” said Rance C. Miles, chief operating officer for Select Milk Producers. “His entrepreneurial spirit and 30 years of experience make him a highly respected and recognized figure in our industry.”
CDF now supports the entire county, once again over-delivering on initial expectations. Thanks to his dedication, Steve Cooper has helped breathe life into an old, abandoned automotive facility while revitalizing a once-struggling community — all in less than four years of operation.
“We go the extra mile at CDF because that is what this community deserves,” said Steve. “Manufacturing is about making a great product, but it has to start with the people. That’s why we’re in Coopersville — the people here make us who we are.”
This article appeared in the August 2015 issue of MiMfg Magazine.