The making of a MEGA deal: Traverse City sets its sights on job-building manufacturer and scores

TRAVERSE CITY – One year after its founding in 2007, Colorado-based manufacturing company Altus Brands was booming and looking to move.

The company, which manufactures and sells Pro Ears, top-of-the-line electronic-hearing protection devices used by hunters, competition shooters, police agencies and military around the world, considered cities in California, Florida, Pennsylvania and Michigan as possible relocation sites.

The winner – after a concerted seven-month campaign waged by the Traverse Bay Economic Development Corporation and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation? Traverse City.

"This is probably a textbook case of being able to attract a company," says Tino Breithaupt, senior vice president of economic development at the Traverse City Chamber of Commerce. "In six or seven months, we went from the first meeting to having a done deal."

The push to woo Altus began on Oct. 24, 2008 when Altus company officials first met with Traverse Bay EDC and MEDC to discuss possible relocation opportunities. The EDC followed up with several meetings, letters of support and advice, and then the group brought out the big guns: tax incentives. Big ones.

In February, the Michigan Economic Growth Authority awarded Altus Brands a five-year Rural MEGA employment tax credit valued at $68,619 over the five-year period. There was one caveat: the award would be contingent upon a "local match" property-tax abatement award by Garfield Township. In May, Garfield Township officials approved a property-tax abatement for Altus totaling $9,495 over five years.

With the lure of some $78,000 in public funds, Altus Brands was hooked. The company agreed to invest $710,000 in a Garfield Township location and to create a minimum of 25 new jobs over the five years.

Altus Brands' CFO Brian Breneman says the grant will cover a portion of the company's payroll-a smart bargain, according to Breithaupt: "It's a $78,000 deal to create 25 jobs. That's only about $3,100 per employee, a pretty low cost for creating this number of jobs. A lot of times these deals involve up to $10,000 to create each job."

"It will be a commitment on our part to hire 25 people over five years," says Breneman, but he's optimistic; already the company has hired six people and plans to open positions as product lines are added.

"The reception from the local community has been fantastic," he adds. "We've had a lot of interest from local dealers, and we're trying to work with as many local suppliers as we can." BN