Christmas Wishes

December 18, 2006
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At press time, Grand Rapids-based Alliance for Health had a 50-50 chance among 12 finalists to be chosen for a $600,000 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant. "Aligning Forces for Quality: The Regional Market Project" is aimed at improving health care delivery for people with chronic diseases.

The three-year grant, at $200,000 per year, would be used to network physicians' offices to measure their performance in providing care for those with selected chronic diseases, said LodyZwarensteyn, president of Alliance for Health. Even more importantly, he said, it could give a kick-start to the long process of connecting West Michigan's health care providers by computer networks. The foundation, which concentrates its giving on improving health care, was expected to make up to six awards.

  • In naming their company, Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin were advised by venture capitalists that the best startups of the time all had five-letter names. They eventually chose a misspelling of googol, the number that occurs when 100 zeros is placed behind the number 1.

Yes, both words have six letters, admitted Google Ann Arbor chief Grady Burnett, and there isn't much explanation for that, but it does beat the original name, BackRub.

As reported in the Business Journal's online edition, Burnett was in town last Wednesday for a packed Ad Club of West Michigan program at The BOB. The director of online sales and operations for the new Google office in Ann Arbor, he is leading the Mountain View, Calif., firm's investment in Michigan.

"It was interesting moving here during the election season, when you were hearing and seeing all these bad things about Michigan," he said. "From the outside looking in, we didn't see any of that."

In Michigan, Burnett sees a diverse, highly educated state that will become the hub of Google's largest business sector over the next five years. He has been impressed with the warm Ann Arbor welcome: brownies, cookies and the occasional résumé.

  • The New York Times had an interesting piece on the underbelly of East Coast gaming capital Atlantic City, where four crack-addled prostitutes were found murdered over Thanksgiving. The report detailed the city's two-tiered economy, with the glitz of the casinos on one side and the dirty life of the streets just outside. It does not directly connect the two, however, so apparently the underbelly existed before the casinos.

In other news, the Teamsters Union is attempting to organize employees of the Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort in Mt.Pleasant. The Seminole Tribe of Florida bought the Hard Rock business for $965 million, and MichGo won an extra three months of delay against The Gun Lake Casino.

  • Leading into its third quarter report today, furniture maker Steelcase on Friday increased its quarterly cash dividend for the second time this quarter. At 13 cents per share, the return is now three cents higher than at any point in its history.

Wall Street forgave Steelcase last quarter when it downgraded its earnings estimate for the coming period by 33 percent, partly because of its stellar second quarter and the rose-colored view of the industry predicted by Herman Miller. Both stocks had a strong quarter, with Steelcase jumping 22 percent to $18 per share and Herman Miller 24 percent to $37 per share.

The two firms will release their respective quarterly results this week: Steelcase this morning and Herman Miller on Wednesday. The good money says Steelcase was sandbagging in its last guidance, when it cautioned analysts of slowing growth in the office interiors market, and Herman Miller was closer in its prediction for the industry, predicting a 12 percent to 16 percent increase in its sales.

If that's true, expect the Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association to finally up its 2006 growth projection into the double digits.

  • Disappointed in their efforts against the Grand Rapids nudity ban, Sensations and Showgirls Galleria proprietor Mark London has jettisoned the legal team of Allan Rubin and Gregory Fisher Lord, despite the pair's Velvet Touch victory over the city and Tennessee morality ace Scott Bergthold

"It became fairly obvious that this Bergthold guy was pretty sharp and I needed some more horsepower," London said. "They came in with this canned approach that they'd matched up against Bergthold before, and I was disappointed with the lack of creativity."

As the case moves into the 6th District Court of Appeals, London has tapped Plymouth attorney J. Michael Southerland, who cut his teeth as counsel to London's Detroit area counterpart, Johnny Lee Hamilton

Also underway for London is the evolution of Showgirls Galleria into a "bikini bar" following its rezoning to allow the serving of alcohol by the glass. Two years ago, London questioned the viability of such a model in downtown venue Tini Bikinis, but today's market is quite different. Every strip club in the Grand Rapids area has converted to a bikini bar, seriously altering the competitive scale. Those without alcohol are doing the worst, with Herbie Newhouse's Red Barn retaining only a tiny percentage of its business and likely to cease operations if an injunction against the ban isn't forthcoming.

"Right now there is no erotic entertainment in Grand Rapids," London said. "If someone wants that kind of business, they're going to have to drive to Lansing, Muskegon or Kalamazoo and risk the price of gas, weather conditions and drinking laws."

The Showgirls Galleria liquor license raises the question of whether London has given up on nudity in downtown Grand Rapids. If the ordinance were to fall, topless entertainment is not permitted in downtown commercial zoning, as London's property is now classified.

"The city tells me I'd be considered a non-conforming use," he said. "The plan hasn't changed."

  • USA Today religion reporter Cathy Lynn Grossman spoke at a Public Relations Society of America West Michigan event earlier this month, and was so impressed by the region's use of faith as an economic driver that she brought back a piece for last Wednesday's edition citing Zondervan, Family Christian Stores and the Convention/Arena Authority.

You heard it here first. "Faith's Purchasing Power" is a less sourced version of the April 10 Business Journal story, "Is This

Christian Wall Street
?"

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