Genzink Steel becomes the latest pandemic-fueled loss in Holland

·4 min read
The former Genzink Steel on Monday, Dec. 6, at 40 E. 64th Street in Holland. The manufacturing company, specializing largely in fabricated steel, plastics processing and machining, announced it would close in August.
The former Genzink Steel on Monday, Dec. 6, at 40 E. 64th Street in Holland. The manufacturing company, specializing largely in fabricated steel, plastics processing and machining, announced it would close in August.

HOLLAND — After six decades in business, Genzink Steel is no more.

The manufacturing company, specializing largely in fabricated steel, plastics processing and machining, announced it would close in August. The decision affected 60 remaining employees, while dozens more had already been let go.

The closure is the most recent in an all-too-typical story of local manufacturers affected by strained supply chains, staffing shortages, global competition and — perhaps most poignantly — the government's response to an ongoing pandemic.

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"Everything is political," said business owner Ken Genzink. "That's the way we resolve issues in this country. And political is a good thing, because that's how we work in a pluralistic society. We don't have a king or a dictator — but when the governor starts shutting things down to focus on COVID as the only problem we have, it creates a whole other set of problems."

According to Genzink, the company had been looking for a partner since before the pandemic began.

"Our company was too big to be small, and too small to be big," he said. "And global competition is bringing fabricated steel into this country at amazingly low costs. I'd go to trade shows and see a tremendous amount of steel product that comes into this country fully-built and assembled, and we could fabricate it, but we can't touch it for price."

He compared the struggle to running a family farm in the era of major agribusiness.

"Nowadays, when you're a small fabricator, it's better to share purchasing power and services like HR and accounting and IT," he said. "And it really looked like we'd find the right partner, but then COVID hit and it just destroyed our workload."

Key customers pulled back. Genzink was forced to cut his team from 160 employees to 80. By the time the business closed altogether, there were 60. Even with two PPP loans, $1.45 million in 2020 and $1.37 million in 2021, there wasn't enough left for recovery.

According to records at federalpay.org, to qualify for that amount in PPP loans, Genzink Steel had payroll expenses of at least $6.5 million in 2019 alone. That's not including all the other costs of running a business — utilities, equipment, machinery.

"We lost some really important people," Genzink said. "We lost the whole rhythm of the business. When the workload did come back, we just weren't strong enough. It had devastated our workforce."

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Genzink is far from the first business owner in the Holland area to criticize Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's handling of the pandemic in 2020. Between March and June 2020, the governor shut down all nonessential businesses in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Lawsuits were filed by leaders in industries as far apart as hospitality and bowling, with involvement from Suburban Inns, headquartered in Hudsonville, and the owner of Bam Entertainment Center in Holland. Nearly all frustrated business owners said the same thing: the solution caused more problems than the pandemic.

"Businesses are fragile," Genzink said. "They can look strong, but a few things get interrupted and it devastates them. It's a delicate mix of having the right people in the right place doing the right thing at the right time and long-standing relationships and the costs of material and foreign competition. Any of those things going wrong can kill it."

Genzink took over the business from his father, Donald, in the 1990s. Donald opened the business in 1961, eventually growing to become a major provider of structural steel for the building industry throughout Michigan, and a fabricator of heavy equipment frames for manufacturers across the country.

The former Genzink Steel on Monday, Dec. 6, at 40 E. 64th Street in Holland. The manufacturing company had about 60 employees left when it was forced to close its doors in 2021.
The former Genzink Steel on Monday, Dec. 6, at 40 E. 64th Street in Holland. The manufacturing company had about 60 employees left when it was forced to close its doors in 2021.

The company's structural steel division, based in Sanford and Zeeland, closed following the financial crisis of 2008, but Genzink was able to expand its customer base for heavy equipment frames. The company began 2020 with plans for significant growth, until COVID shut them down.

"I want to thank all our employees who, over 60 years, made Genzink Steel a great place to work," Genzink wrote in a letter dated Nov. 10.

"I want to thank our customers and vendors for your contributions to our success over all those years. We survived no less than four severe recessions in our history, but this one was by far the worst, and unfortunately, not survivable for many reasons."

It's unclear what will happen to the company's former center of operations at 40 E. 64th St. — but an auction for equipment was held in mid-October and Genzink believes another company is currently renovating the 100,000+ square-foot building.

— Contact reporter Cassandra Lybrink at cassandra.lybrink@hollandsentinel.com. Follow her on Instagram @BizHolland.

This article originally appeared on The Holland Sentinel: Genzink Steel becomes the latest pandemic-fueled loss in Holland

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