Agribusiness appointments highlight growing industry
Delbridge Langdon/Sentinel contributor
From left, Mark Wilson and Patrick Barbour kneel in front of a Zeeland Farm Services soybean processing plant at 2525 84th Ave. in Zeeland. They're part of a Huntington Bank leadership team out of the Holland office that is focused on handling agribusiness.
The epicenter for economic recovery in Michigan is right here in several communities along the lakeshore, where agribusiness continues to help lead the surge.
Perhaps no one understands better than Mark Wilson and Patrick Barbour.
The appointments of both Huntington Bank executives to new leadership positions in the Holland office were made to further sharpen the lender’s focus of serving the fast-changing and fast-growing needs of its agricultural business partners.
Barbour, vice president of corporate banking, previously spent about three-quarters of his time handling agribusiness matters. He now becomes a full-time point man for Huntington’s expanding food and agribusiness team, while Wilson, lakeshore community manager, is responsible for overseeing that team.
“I’m going to be busy,” said Barbour, who leads a support staff of 50 employees statewide whose primary focus is Huntington’s agribusiness sector. “The Holland area is a great spot to be. This is where it’s happening in terms of an economic turnaround in the state of Michigan. It’s the right time to be in this spot.”
Huntington is so bullish on the future of agribusiness expansion along the lakeshore it is forecasting 20 percent annual growth in that segment for the next three to five years.
“The lakeshore market is critical for us,“ Wilson said. “(Agribusiness) is expected to be a critical growth area for us. My role is making sure we deliver on that promise.
“The lakeshore area continues to recover and grow tremendously. The economic success we’re having here will be critical to the success of Michigan as a whole.”
Agriculture is the second largest industry in the state behind automotive.
Allegan County and Ottawa County rank first and second, respectively, in agricultural sales in Michigan, while Ottawa County leads the state in diversity of products.
The demand for agricultural products is getting more intense, Barbour said.
“Yes, it’s just going to continue to grow,” he insisted. “We could see a conversion of 400,000 acres to tillable land in Michigan during the next 20 years. If you compare that to other states ... I don’t know if there’s any farmland left in Iowa.”
He points to the unique climate and soil conditions of the lakeshore region, which supports growing seasons for a stunning variety of crops, from apples, peaches, cherries and blueberries to asparagus, corn, peas, squash and soybeans.
“We’re feeding two very large metropolitan areas,” he said of Detroit and Chicago. “The water advantage with Lake Michigan also is a real advantage. A lot of people (around the country) are not aware of what a huge advantage that is for us.”