A Tale Of Two Cities

July 5, 2005
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The city of Detroit played host to the annual Alliance of Area Business Publications conference last month, meaning more than 200 business paper publishers, editors and advertising directors spent four days on the state’s east side.

MaryKramer, the associate publisher of Crain’s Detroit Business, surveyed the visitors after they left, and wrote about their comments in last week’s paper.

Overall, respondents were impressed with Detroit’s friendliness but had other issues with the downtown.

Business Journal Publisher JohnZwarensteyn and Editor CaroleValade, among other Gemini personnel, attended the conference and couldn’t help but compare the state’s largest eastern city with its largest western one.

The responses from the other newspaper folks from around the country afforded the same opportunity.

For example, BillSettlemyer, executive publisher of Charleston Regional Business Journal, was dismayed to find that the hotel in the RenaissanceCenter complex had but one computer available for Internet access at its business center.

In Grand Rapids, Mayor GeorgeHeartwell would be happy to tell visitors about the citywide Wi-Fi initiative now taking place here.

DanSchankweiler, publisher of Central Penn Business in Harrisburg, Pa., wondered where the “heart of the city” was when it came to nightlife, shopping, etc.

VernOhlman certainly would be happy to tell visitors to Grand Rapids about the envisioned entertainment district(s) surrounding the Grand River. Or the already vibrant nightlife surrounding the Van Andel Arena area.

Boulder County Business Report Editor and Publisher JerryLewis wanted to know where the mixed use, loft developments along the river were.

TomBeckering, JonRooks and JackBuchanan would be happy to show visitors how living and working environments can mesh in a beautiful, waterfront setting.

Detroit conference attendees such as MarkDodosh, editor of Crain’s Cleveland Business, missed the trendy restaurants that offer good food and good atmosphere, along with dancing, socializing, etc.

Downtown GR restaurateurs such as LeoBiel, GregGilmore and DanVerhil would be most eager to show visitors around.

And one anonymous author commented that the downtown construction looked “rushed” and opined that it must be “resulting from the advent of the (NFL’s) Super Bowl rather than from a carefully planned, long-term urban strategy.”

Bob Herr, Kayem Dunn, Kurt Hassberger, Susan Shannon and Pam Ritsema might be willing to give lessons on how to do it right (see story on today’s page 1).

Overall, Detroit received decent marks from its visitors and praise for being hip and trendy. But it also had some ongoing issues.

Many of those same issues already are being addressed in Grand Rapids. So does that make the west the best when it comes to hosting conferences? Not necessarily, because Detroit still has plenty to offer, including that “big city” feels. But the experiences of newspaper people visiting Detroit may give SteveWilson and the gang at the local CVB just a little more insight into what’s required to reach the next level.

  • Grand Rapids went roughly 2-of-3 in the state’s budget battle over education. The revised university funding model tossed an extra $14 million, or 24.9 percent, back into GrandValleyStateUniversity’s coffers.

An 11th hour rewrite of the K-12 budget provided an additional $25 per student for any district with a foundation grant below $7,200, resulting in an over $500,000 bonus for Grand Rapids Public Schools.

“Just one step in the process,” said Rep. Jerry Kooiman, R-Grand Rapids. “It’s an attempt to provide more equity.”

Unfortunately, the Christmas-in-June tidings skipped over Grand RapidsCommunity College. With the school already dipping into its savings to make ends meet this coming year, GRCC is facing an additional cut of $150,000.

“We’re getting pretty skinny when it comes to our operating budgets,” GRCC Executive Vice President of Finance Bob Partridge said.

GRCC has lost more than 13 percent of its budget over the last three years. In response, the school has tightened its belt. In 2002, it took the largest of cost-cutting steps in the educational field, dropping the MESSA health insurance plan for a competitive provider, a savings of $500,000.

Thirteen percent is the same ratio by which GRCC’s enrollment has increased over the last five years. Statewide, community college enrollment is up 15 percent since 2000.

Yet, when more than $70 million was put back into the higher education budget, none of that fell to community colleges.

A substantial portion of that, $58 million, went to tuition grant programs for independent colleges and universities. The remaining $12 million went to the 15 state universities, with Michigan’s 28 community colleges sharing a 1.8 percent cut.

“The new funding formula had an impact on looking at the universities,” said Rep. Michael Sak, D-Grand Rapids, himself a GRCC graduate. “There is this ongoing issue of parity.”

“All we’re asking for is equal treatment,” Partridge said. “If the universities get an increase, the community colleges should get an increase. If there is a decrease, we should share equally in the decrease. That’s all we’re asking.”

Kooiman said lawmakers feel the same pain.

“There has been an effort to keep parity in the higher ed budget,” he said. “We’ve tried to keep that parity over the years between the two, (but) for whatever reason, it got lost in transition.”

Kooiman said he hopes the issue will be resolved in conference committee.

“We’re all interested in pursuing this. It’s just a question of where do we get the money?” he said.    

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