Potomac Fever

May 8, 2002
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Nobody here had a chance to see how former Sen. Spencer Abraham, R-Michigan, performed last week before the Senate Energy Committee when it started asking him how to solve California’s energy mess. But it’s hard for at least some of his fellow Republican office-holders to believe he won’t be in over his head if the Senate confirms him as U.S. Secretary of Energy.

In fact, his is the one appointment by President George W. Bush that seems to make no sense to anybody – unless you look at it as a pay-off to MichiganGov. John Engler for raising so much campaign dough for Dubya.

Certainly not an administrator by training, inclination or experience, Spence is headed for a nightmare department. Aside from the economic threat that the California crisis promises, OPEC is cutting prices, portending more fuel price spikes. EPA’s remove-the-sulfur-from-diesel-fuel mandate will make 2001 interesting for truckers, refiners and politicians, and Dubya, a delegating manager-type who knows a thing or two about oil, will ask, “Hey, Spence boy, whatchew gone do bout it?”

Meanwhile, the Los Alamos-to-Beijing nuclear weapons technology pipeline seems to be flowing freely and every living, breathing American has compelling reasons why the nation’s growing pile of nuclear power plant waste should be disposed of in somebody else’s back yard.

But Spence will be in Washington, the place he apparently loves best. To be sure, the UAW, Michigan Education Association and NAACP went after him big-time in the election campaign. But to hear other legislators tell it, the one-term senator would have won if he hadn’t contracted a real bad case of Potomac Fever. From the day he become senator, they say, he could return calls with a 202 area code, but he had a hard time with 616, 517 and 231.

To put it in Harry Truman’s words, he forgot where he came from and who sent him there. A Republican Senate seat from Michigan is a pretty precious commodity, and some contend the surrender to DebbieStabenow should hardly be rewarded.

Now the interesting thing will be to see how well he manages the patchwork department which, as a senator, he tried to abolish.

  • One West Michigan legislator who won’t be going to Washington is Sen. WilliamVanRegenmorter, the longtime Hudsonville Republican and champion of victims’ rights.

Van Regenmorter, who has gained a national reputation for fairness and a tough stance against criminals, was asked to consider the position of director of the federal Office for Victims of Crime.

Some family health issues, however, have convinced the senator that home is where he needs to be.

“While this is a unique opportunity and such a request is a significant honor, the time is not right for me and my family to move to Washington, D.C. As the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and Majority Whip, I intend to continue to be a strong voice for West Michigan, and look forward to other opportunities to serve in the years ahead.”

As usual, a West Michigan legislator knows when to stay and when to go. And Van Regenmorter returns phone calls from the 616 area code, too.

  • A new year brings new challenges for the West Michigan economy, and the outlook, at least initially, is not good.

Reports from the Small Business Association of Michigan and Michigan Small Business Development Center, as well as Grand Valley State University’s Seidman School of Business, paint a less-than-rosy picture of area’s and state’s fiscal confidence, especially as it relates to small business.

Statewide, SBAM and MI-SBDC interviewed 200 small business owners. The results, unfortunately, were historic. For example, for the first time in the seven years of the quarterly survey, more small businesses reported sales decreases than experienced increases. Likewise, fewer small businesses reported growth in profitability than at any time in the survey’s history, and more small businesses reported shrinking profitability than at any time since the first quarter of 1994.

A couple other findings also seem ominous. Only 15 percent of small businesses report a recent increase in investment, fewer than at any other time in the history of the survey. Many small businesses are not investing in business growth at all.

Locally, GVSU’s Confidence Index of the Grand Rapids MSA, based on results from 700 surveys mailed to CEOs in Kent, Ottawa, Muskegon and Allegan counties, portends a decline of almost 9 percent for 2001. Executives list a confidence rating of 85.9 percent in January, but that figure slips to 77 percent for December 2001. The GVSU forecast also shows an expected employment growth rate of 2.2 percent, projected sales growth of 3 percent and an increased export growth rate of 7 percent.

But SBAM says there are some silver linings in the cloudy survey results. Twenty-three percent of small business owners expect to add employees in the coming year, small business owners still feel positive about Michigan as a place to do business and small business owners reported no problem in accessing credit.

“I don’t think the sky is falling,” said MikeRogers, vice president of communications for SBAM. “To keep the results in perspective, it’s important to remember that the small business owners are reporting a slowdown from what has been near-record levels of economic prosperity.”

  • Winter is the tradeshow season. For those who visit, they’re fun, entertaining and even educational.

But for participating firms, tradeshows often are a headache.

That’s why GVSU’s Van Andel Global Trade Center is hosting a program titled, “Maximize Your Tradeshow Investment” to help businesses make the best of the shows they attend.

People attending the class will learn the behind-the-scenes activities that go into planning a tradeshow, how to establish a better relationship with even organizers and how to ensure that exhibit dollars are best spent.

The event takes place from 8 a.m. to noon, Thursday. Cost is $130. Call 771-6811 for information.           

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