Although some discrepancy exists regarding the origin of “Kalamazoo,” a colorful name that often appears in poems and children’s stories. It is almost certainly Native American, and few city names are as memorable. Despite its exotic name, Kalamazoo is a rather plain industrial and commercial center with a bit of a college-town flair thanks to Western Michigan University and Kalamazoo College. Diverse industry and the university give Kalamazoo some employment stability.
Industries include general manufacturing, some of which is auto-industry related, with plastics, pharmaceuticals and pharmaceutical research, and food flavorings businesses added to the mix. Some of these industries have replaced other noted names that started locally but have declined or moved elsewhere, like Gibson guitars and Checker cabs.
Pfizer employs some 6000 in a former Upjohn facility in Portage, a growing suburban town to the south. Downtown is unremarkable, although there is a better-than-average concentration of shopping and small businesses. The university brings some college town amenities and minor arts and cultural resources, and there are reportedly nine theaters in the city.
A new anonymously-funded tuition grant providing free Michigan state higher education tuition for graduates of Kalamazoo schools, called the “Kalamazoo Promise” has brought some life and interest to the area. While Kalamazoo is centrally located among Chicago, Detroit, South Bend and Grand Rapids, none of these places are close enough to take advantage of on a regular basis.
The terrain is flat to gently rolling, with more significant hills (including a ski area) to the northwest. The climate is continental with a strong influence from Lake Michigan. Summers are warm but not too hot and moderately humid.
Winters are cold, wet, and snowy with the most extreme cold tempered by the lake and the harshest winds moderated by the hills to the northwest. Still, prevailing winds bring significant cloudiness and precipitation. Warmth from the lake and local hardwood forests create attractive autumns with some periods of clouds and rain. Winter snow cover is common. Freezes are mid-October through late April.