A Season Of Change

December 22, 2006
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October

InnovationWORKS, the first of 12 initiatives in the $15 million Workforce Innovations in Regional Economic Development grant program, or WIRED, kicked off this fall with the belief that innovation can be taught like operational excellence, organizing training and assistance programs to help entrepreneurs realize and commercialize ideas.

Grand Rapids Community College attempted to teach its stakeholders its importance to the region. A study by CCbenefits Inc. showed the school to have a $977 million impact on the local economy.

The Van Andel Arena didn't bring an economic impact study to the party, but since it was the venue's party, that was OK. The arena celebrated its 10th anniversary with an ice skating exhibition and a string of other events.

Dematic president and CEO Prashant Ranade won't be celebrating any more anniversaries. Shortly after speaking to the company's robustness after emerging from a lengthy reorganization, Ranade abruptly left the company. With or without him, the company saw solid growth this year, adding over $400 million in new U.S. business based on its service and technology innovations.

Zeeland Farm Services is another West Michigan firm feeling a positive impact from technology adoption — and gas, too. The family-owned firm is using methane gas captured from the Autumn Hills landfill to control operational costs and promote the use of renewable energy.

Back in Grand Rapids, the fumes coming out of City Hall were anything but renewable, as the city commission enacted an ordinance regulating smoking in workplaces and public areas, which, by all appearances, will be enforced as an honor system.

Speaking of smoking, software firm Atomic Object proved itself a hot commodity. A year ago, all of its customers were located within a five-mile radius of its Wealthy Street office. Today, the six-year-old firm boasts an exciting client list that includes DaimlerChrysler, The World Bank and Universal Remote Control.

Also seeing smoke this fall was West Michigan's automotive supplier base. Unfortunately, the smoke was largely under the hood, as a series of deep production cuts at the Big 3 automakers disrupted the business models of even the best adapted of local suppliers.

"That wasn't anticipated," said Roger Andrzejewski, executive director of Lacks Industries, upon experiencing a 7.5 percent reduction in its sales forecast. "That's a change in the business plan for us."

Two local banks broke the $2 billion mark in assets this year: nine-year-olds Mercantile Bank and Macatawa Bank. That plateau is a long way off for the folks at American Expositions Inc., which organizes charity porker tournaments. The group was satisfied with a lifting of the state cap on charity poker pots.

November

After months of discussion, Kent County is ready to swing on a West Michigan sports commission. Backed by the motivational muscle of Universal Forest Products Chairman Emeritus Peter Secchia, the proposed 40-member commission has hopes to carve a larger chunk of the $118.3 billion sports tourism industry. It will have a budget of $475,000.

In other sporting news, the Whitecaps organization is hoping its 200-seat Stadium Club at Fifth Third Ballpark can attract some nontraditional business, including wedding receptions.

The MSU Medical School added an agreement with Saint Mary's Health Care to pacts signed this year with the Van Andel Institute and Spectrum Health. Saint Mary's also hit a home run with its $60 million Hauenstein Center, with economist George Erickcek predicting the neurological services facility will have an economic impact of $22.1 million during the construction phase alone.

Dennen Steel Corp. is reaping benefits from its investment in online steel auction service SteelSalvor. The auction company is set to grow by 50 percent this year.

And then there was the election. Despite a $35 million campaign, Republican gubernatorial candidate Dick DeVos was unable to unseat Gov. Jennifer Granholm. In a stunning upset, the State House fell into the hands of the Democrats for the first time in this decade.

But most importantly, a ballot issue banning affirmative action in the state government was overwhelmingly approved by voters. Opposition to the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative came from all corners, but it passed nonetheless, and some politicians have aspirations to keep fighting "by whatever means necessary." Mayor Heartwell is one such leader, proposing the city stage a lawsuit to overrule the amendment.

December

Local independent pop band the Icicles scored a Motorola commercial with its track "Sugar Sweet." In the not-too-distant past, selling a song for commercial use would have been considered "selling out." Now it's just selling.

There is nothing sweet about replacing the Single Business Tax. Granholm is proposing a formula tax known as the Michigan Business Tax that would tax profits, assets, gross receipts and insurance premiums. There are at least five other tax plans currently in circulation, including a value-added gross receipts proposal from the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce that would also eliminate the Personal Property Tax.

As debated for most of 2006, the update of the state's Telecommunications Act provided statewide access for new providers of cable-TV-equivalent video services, namely AT&T. Theoretically, incumbent cable companies could use the legislation as an excuse to nullify franchise agreements with municipalities, eliminating a significant source of non-tax revenue.

Spectrum Health was the first of Grand Rapids' three hospitals to open the doors of a new health care facility near the M-6 highway in southern Kent County. Metro Health had an enormous head start, but is still building the first phase of its Metro Health Village campus. The new hospital is a year away from completion, but an additional five structures around the building could be done relatively soon. The first businesses in the village opened their doors this fall in a building owned by contractor Granger Construction: Starbucks and Michigan OB/GYN.    

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