Group Serves Needs of Manufacturers: Northwest Michigan Industrial Association provides group workers’ comp fund

When your membership includes 81 companies that employ more than 8,000 workers with a combined annual payroll of nearly $200 million, it’s kind of hard to fly under the public’s radar.

But that’s precisely the situation for the Northwest Michigan Industrial Association (NWMIA), a group founded in 1974 when a handful of business owners in the Petoskey and Charlevoix area began talking about safety issues.

“They were soon talking about all types of business issues they were facing in common,” said Dennis Muth, who serves on the group’s board of directors. “Since ’74, things have changed a lot.”

Over the years, NWMIA has expanded both in membership and geographically. Members now come from seven counties – Antrim, Charlevoix, Cheboygan, Emmet, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska and Otsego. The association is administered from its headquarters in Petoskey.

When the economy soured a decade ago, the group’s enrollment fell when several members went out of business. But in the past few years growth has been steady, and the group is always welcoming to new members, Muth said.

“Our goal is to serve any need a manufacturer may have in conducting business in northern Michigan,” he said.

NWMIA offers training seminars, technical recruiting efforts, training at area colleges, partnering with area physicians about industrial accidents, safety employment physicals, and workers compensation claims.

It maintains a legislative voice through regular contact with state officials and lawmakers in Lansing. Of particular interest is proposed legislation pertaining to workers’ compensation, single business tax, unemployment contributions, and Occupational Safety and Health Regulations right-to-know laws.

“The association is also a great opportunity for relationship building and networking,” added Muth. “We’ve worked hard to keep work local, which otherwise would have been sent out of the area.”

One of the most attractive and important services that NWMIA provides its members is enrollment in the group’s workers’ comp fund. Established in 1996, the fund has 25 members and is administered by Traverse City’s Peterson, McGregor and Associates, where Muth is employed. The fund offers competitive pricing, claims management, loss control and performance-based dividends and investment income returns. It’s managed by a board of trustees who are all NWMIA member companies.

Rates are based on payroll and range from $10,000 to $250,000.

“It’s worked very, very well for our members,” said Muth. “It’s rated as one of the most efficient workers compensation funds in the state.”

As varied as NWMIA’s services are, so are the products its members manufacture. They include companies that make wood and paper products, plastics, electronics, die casting, steel fabricators and die makers. In addition to the manufacturers, there are dozens of associate members that provide key services, such as utility companies, colleges, real estate firms, insurance agencies, consultants, financial institutions, hospitals and freight companies.

Among the NWMIA’s members are Century Inc. of Traverse City, Alcotec Wire, Springfield Roofing, Northwestern Michigan College, Manthei Inc., EJ (formerly East Jordan Ironworks), St. Mary’s Cement, Petoskey Plastics, PNC Bank Petoskey, American Spoon Foods of Petoskey and Grand Traverse Container.

The association’s web site, nwmia.org, offers an on-line membership application and job listings where members can submit info about openings they have. Prospective job seekers can search for opportunities in their geographic region.

Like a lot of companies in northwestern lower Michigan, NWMIA members are always looking for qualified workers.

“The labor force is a big, big thing for our members,” said Muth. “You used to have three applicants for every opening, but now that’s upside down with one applicant for every three openings.”

Despite its growing membership, the NWMIA is still always welcoming new members. Each year it conducts quarterly meetings which are open to the general public and focus on business. For example, a recent session looked at how manufacturers and other companies can relate to and attract millennial workers. Dues for either manufacturing members or associate members are $150 a year.

Each year the NWMIA’s spring gathering is devoted to safety issues. Members who post the best records receive awards.

“We really scrutinize the safety records of the members for the awards,” said Muth.

The association also awards grants and annual $1,000 scholarships to members’ employees and their families. Recent grants went to the North Central Michigan College Fab Lab and robotics teams from Petoskey, Boyne City, Boyne Falls and Charlevoix.

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