BENTON HARBOR, Mich. — “It’s good news for us. It’s good news for Benton Harbor,” said Abonmarche President and CEO Chris Cook when he announced recently that his engineering, surveying, planning and architectural consulting firm has doubled in size since 2013, surpassing the 100-employee mark. Half of the firm’s staff are housed at its downtown Benton Harbor headquarters and the other employees work in five locations across Michigan and Indiana.

This employment growth spurt validates an increasing confidence in the economic health of the region. Cook saidAbonmarche serves as a barometer of the optimism that exists here.

“Many of our projects for Lake Michigan waterfront cities and inland communities are the precursor to positive economic conditions,” said Cook. Abonmarche’s decision to grow its employee base stems from the region’s steadily increasing interest in improving harbor areas, city infrastructure and schools as well as plan new residential and manufacturing areas. “It shows that our area communities aren’t stagnating or dying. They’re investing in their future.”

Cook credits Abonmarche’s roots in Benton Harbor to helping the company expand its economic footprint in the region. When the company’s founder, Ron Schults established the business in 1979, he served as the city’s engineer. The consulting and engineering work Schults did for the city has continued under Cook’s guidance.

“The issues and projects we’ve been involved with in Benton Harbor have given us experience and knowledge we’ve parlayed in other communities,” said Cook. “What we’ve learned from their visions and improvements we’ve applied here. This exchange of ideas is not only good for our clients but for our employees who see what can happen when cities rally their resources.”

Cook says people only need to visit Benton Harbor’s Main Street business district to see proof of the optimism that companies like his are feeling. “You can see the grandeur of Whirlpool Corporation new office buildings, Michigan Department of Transportation’s road improvements, the development of Harbor Shores golf course and residential areas and the Arts District. There’s momentum to develop and improve the riverfront and harbor, too — all are positive indicators,” said Cook.

For Cook this momentum means more than the potential for Abonmarche and developers to help improve the city and region he proudly calls home. He says it will give entrepreneurs the confidence to establish more restaurants, shops and companies in Benton Harbor. “That economic energy will help us continue to attract and keep employees who share our passion.”