So you want to know how to grow Hang on

October 13, 2008
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Haworth Corp. President and CEO Franco Bianchi rolled with the punches last week when the company hosted the Association for Corporate Growth Western Michigan Chapter’s annual dinner.

As the popular event’s keynote speaker, Bianchi tip-toed through his presentation in front of 250 attendees as he discussed the company’s continuing global growth amid difficult financial times. Haworth had net sales of $1.66 billion in 2007.

“It’s certainly ironic to be speaking on corporate growth strategy following two of the most dramatic weeks our markets and economy have ever seen,” Bianchi said in beginning his wry but spot-on description of how the Holland-based office furniture systems maker has continued to thrive.

The family-owned and privately held Haworth recently added to its cadre of global outlets when it opened a new showroom in Seattle.

As is the case with the highly-praised new corporate headquarters building in Holland which was the site of the ACG event, the Seattle showroom serves as a resource center for designers, architects, real estate professionals, clients and dealers, and, in Bianchi’s words, “demonstrates work and collaborative work spaces representing the best thinking from around the world.”

Noting that when companies are expanding and filling office vacancies, “we all enjoy the ride,” Bianchi conceded the upbeat company flow charts he displayed to the audience will likely take a hit as the turbulent market forces hit home. But he believes the company’s low profile enabled by a private company environment will continue to see Haworth “experience less excitement but also less panic” than some of his highly-visible public company competitors.

MBT ‘Replacment’ a dilemma

Get rid of the Michigan Business Tax.

That was the No. 1 recommendation from the business community represented at the West Michigan Regional Policy Conference back in September.

Okay, Lansing, why not just do it?

"The governor and the House are going to ask the first question: how are you going to replace it?" said Republican Senator Mark Jansen of Gaines Township.

Jansen, who chairs the Senate MBT Impact Assessment Subcommittee, has sponsored legislation that would phase out the MBT 22 percent surcharge in three years.

Abolishing the MBT altogether is a very different proposition.

The MBT is intended to generate about $1.9 billion a year for the State of Michigan. In FY07, according to the State of Michigan website, the state collected $24.4 billion in taxes. Five specific taxes comprised 80.7 percent of the total: personal income tax was 30.1 percent (about $7.3 billion), sales tax was 26.9 percent (about $6.6 billion), and the other three were at or close to $2 billion each. Property tax was 8.5 percent, motor vehicle and fuel tax was 7.8 percent, and the single business tax was 7.3 percent. (The state's math is off by one tenth of one percent but what's $24 million, anyway?)

As far as proposing a law to abolish the business tax, "I can probably pass it out of the Senate," said Jansen, chuckling. But then he stopped chuckling, because "I have to convince 56 people in the House, and I've got to convince the governor to sign it. That's the way it works here," he said.

He compared the legislative process to a three-legged stool. The other two legs — the House and the governor — "are going to ask the question: how are you going to replace it?"

Proponents of eliminating the MBT "may not like that question, but that's the reality."

Some tree-mendous offers

Unlike the former Reagan Administration, neither the city of Grand Rapids nor the Downtown Development Authority apparently view tree planting as a pollution-causing activity.

GR Mayor George Heartwell took inventory of the curbside tree grates downtown and noted last week that 72 of the grates were either empty or contained dead trees.

Heartwell also found out that the cost to replace the standard one-inch diameter trees that dominate the district’s curbs was $100 each. And he feels that the one-inchers are “kind of wimpy” and he wants two-inchers installed in the grates. But planting two-inch trees triples the tree price to $300 apiece and bumps-up the overall cost from $7,200 to $21,600.

So Heartwell made the DDA a deal, one the board couldn’t refuse last week. He said the city would plunk down $100 for each two-inch tree, if the DDA picked-up the $200 cost difference between the rail-thin and not-as-skinny trees. When DDA member Catherine Mueller asked Hizhonor if the two-inch trees would last longer than the one-inch ones, the mayor responded in the affirmative.

“Yeah, for our lifetime. Somebody else can worry about that later,” he joked.

The DDA then adjourned and did so without taking up the question of whether ketchup qualifies as a vegetable for school lunch programs.

But before the DDA did adjourn the mayor inquired if the Louis Campau Promenade reconstruction project would include a fountain. DDA Executive Director Jay Fowler said no because of the sewer costs associated with having running water on the plaza. “It’s a big number,” he said. Fowler then paused, smiled and said, “I think it’s a nice place for art, a good place for art.” Hey, maybe he should talk with Reb Roberts about some tree art.

Roberts and his wife, Carmella Loftis, own Sanctuary Folk Art at 140 S. Division and they’ve offered to do some parking ramp art — for free, too. They’re will to paint and install a 25’by15’ vinyl mural on the west wall of the city-owned ramp at Cherry and Commerce.

“Every time I’ve passed by that wall I’ve wanted to put something there,” said Roberts.

Together Roberts and Loftis have created over 4,000 art pieces, including paintings and sculptures and have displayed many of their creations throughout city neighborhoods over the years. The mural would be temporary and the city’s Arts Advisory Committee (yes, there really is one) has to review the piece, which at this point in time can best be described by an art neophyte as a colorful depiction of two happy-looking mammals carousing in a field of bright flowers. Roberts, though, said the painting could change. He had hoped to get the mural up next month, but now it might not be hung until spring.

“I like to put art where these isn’t any,” he said.

You mean like the Louis Campau Promenade?

A celebrity attraction

Foundations have a key role to play in Michigan’s economic transformation, Council on Michigan Foundations President & CEO Rob Collier said.

The nonprofit sector is one of the state’s three pillars, along with the for-profit and public segments, said Collier, who is welcoming 650 foundation staff members and trustees to CMF’s 36th annual conference this week in Grand Rapids.

The conference was to open Sunday with a speech from Dan Rather, host of “Dan Rather Reports” on HDNet and former anchor of CBS News. It is scheduled to conclude Tuesday with appearances by singer Judy Collins and actress Ruby Dee. A gala is planned at the Grand Rapids Art Museum for Monday evening.

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