Food For Thought

September 6, 2005
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Spartan Stores don’t know Jack. But they might if recent reports in the Detroit Free Press pan out.

In reporting on the ongoing financial woes of the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co.’s struggling Farmer Jack grocery stores, Spartan keeps popping up as a possible suitor.

The $10 billion New Jersey company has been closing stores throughout Michigan and Ohio as it looks for a buyer. That buyer could be one of its own. Spartan CEO CraigSturken cut his teeth in the grocery business working for GA&PTC. At Spartan’s annual shareholders meeting last month, Sturken did mention acquisitions of other chains as a possible route to expansion.

Sturken is likely to tread wisely, though. After all, he got his job largely to clean up after the overly ambitious expansion plans overseen by former CEO James B. Meyer

  • Mayor GeorgeHeartwell at a recent commission meeting opened an informal ceremony by saying, “There is an old saying that no good deed goes unpunished. Well, today we have one that will be recognized.”

Spectrum Health then honored 3rd Ward City Commissioner RobertDean last week because he hit the 1,000-hour mark in volunteering his time as an overnight chaplain at the hospitals.

Rev. Dean reached that service milestone with shifts that lasted from 12 to 15 hours, all in addition to his day job and his duties as a city commissioner. Maybe, they’ll start calling him Robert “24/7” Dean.

  • “What’s yummy and gummy and comes from the sea?”

That’s the first line of a recent product announcement from Quixtar Inc., introducing Nutrilite Brainiums DHA, “the first and only DHA gummy and tasty Omega-3 supplement for kids.”

In case you didn’t get that, it’s a fish fruit snack, or, as the good folks at Quixtar call it, “a fun, kid-tested, sweet lemon-flavored gummy,” made from “high-quality fish oils from ocean fish like anchovy, mackerel and sardines.”

As many parents know, kids don’t like fish. As such, they’re missing out on important Omega-3 fatty acids like DHA and EPA. While not exactly a Fruit Roll-Up, Brainiums are an improvement over other Omega 3 supplements that, surprisingly, “taste like fish.”

  • Last Monday’s Daily Web Exclusive on GRBJ Express (www.grbj.com; go register now), featured the revelation that indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff had dealings in West Michigan.

A series of e-mails between Abramoff, Saginaw Chippewas tribal representative Chris Petra, and Italia Federici, president of the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, suggest that Abramoff and his cronies have been trying to block the Match-E-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians, who we all know as the Gun Lake Tribe, from opening a casino in Wayland county.

Allegedly, he convinced J. Steven Griles, then deputy secretary of the Department of the Interior, to use an environmental challenge to block the casino. Sound familiar? That’s the tactic that 23 Is Enough! and Michigan Gambling Opposition are using.

The Chippewas, owners of the Soaring Eagle Casino and Resort in Mt. Pleasant, donated $75,000 to Federici’s group between 2002 and 2003. But that’s nothing compared to the $9.4 million it shelled out in support of Proposal A last November.

  • As college classrooms fill up again this week, students’ and parents’ wallets are emptying. We’re talking jumps of 20 percent to 45 percent across the region over 2001 tuition prices. Forget the “break year” — who knows what school will cost when that European backpacking trip is over? If Junior stays in class through the summer, he could lop a full year of price gouging off his education.

In the Aug. 8 story, “Higher (Cost) Education: Broken Beyond Repair,” we gave Michigan colleges the benefit of the doubt, especially Grand Valley State University, which has managed to keep its rise in per-student operating costs below inflation since 2001.

“Simply put, tuition is going up because state aid is going down,” said Matt McLogan, GVSU vice president of university relations.

Twenty years ago, the state paid 75 percent of a student’s bill at its public universities. This year, the state will pay 23 percent of GVSU’s per-student costs.

This scenario might look familiar to the automotive manufacturers out there. If a company counts for three-quarters of its total revenue from one big customer, and financial strife forces that customer to cut its spending in half, there really aren’t many choices: 1.) Get lean. 2.) Hose the next guy down the supply chain. 3.) Layoffs. 4.) Cut benefits and bust the union. 5.) New revenue. 6.) Go bankrupt.

So far, universities seem to like 5, with some 4 and a little bit of 1. Unlike K-12 education, which is betting on 3 and 4.

As for getting lean, Baker College of Muskegon has raised its tuition an average of only 3 percent for the past four years. If the current trend holds, Baker will next year be the lowest priced four-year school in the region, despite the fact that it is the only local school funded entirely by tuition.

“We’ve managed to do that by keeping our staff lean,” said Rick Amidon, Baker president. “Especially administrative staff. You’re not routed to my assistant because I don’t have one. Look at how densely staffed a university is with executives and office staff.

“They have three people and a supervisor do what we do with one, and it’s not a case where our staff is doing three people’s jobs.”

Case in point: There are more than 40 positions in McLogan’s university relations division. Granted, most of that is public broadcasting staff, but seven fulltime positions are earmarked for news and information services alone — a role once performed in its entirety by GVSU professor Tim Penning

Perhaps to remind the university of the importance of communication, the department printed a special edition of the Grand Valley Magazine to commemorate its accomplishments this year, “Grand Valley: The Best of…”

  • No one in news and information services gets a house. In the past five years, GVSU has spent $275,000 to maintain and renovate the university-owned East Grand Rapids residence where President Mark Murray lives. The two-story home, built in 1929, has a market value of more than $740,000.    

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