Perception challenges seen for Michigan

May 26, 2009
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An executive in the biotech industry of China made a detour to West Michigan last week, after attending the 2009 BIO International Convention in Atlanta.

Daniel Guo, vice president of Life Science New Town, a biotech industrial park built near Beijing in 2002, said few in China have heard of Grand Rapids but many there know by name the West Michigan companies and organizations involved with pharmaceuticals, medical devices and life sciences research.

During a stop at Amway Corp. headquarters in Ada, Guo said through an interpreter that Amway vitamins and other nutritional products are very popular in China, albeit rather pricey for the Chinese consumer.

Guo and other members of his group visited the Van Andel Institute and later met with The Right Place Inc. staff. The next day they were scheduled to visit MPI Research in Mattawan, Southwest Michigan First and other economic development and biotech organizations in that area.

Guo said he sees a lot of opportunity for the Chinese and American biotech industries to work together. They were especially interested in the R&D being done at Van Andel Institute and were impressed with what VAI is accomplishing after only its first few years in existence.

The Chinese companies "need to outsource some of that (R&D) work," said the interpreter.

But American companies in general still have much to learn before getting involved in the pharmaceutical, food supplement and medical device markets in China, said Guo. He was referring to that country’s version of the Food & Drug Administration, and the process of getting products like that approved for the Chinese market.

Guo's group obviously came loaded for bear: among them was a very high-ranked executive in the Chinese version of the FDA.

A sign of how well West Michigan is known now in biotech is the fact that when Guo's group was at the convention in Atlanta, governors from other states tried to persuade them to come visit those states — but the Chinese delegation had West Michigan targeted from the start.

That perception thing, again

One of Michigan's problems, according to the boss at CMS Energy in Jackson, is that some things really aren't as bad here as some people elsewhere claim they are.

"The perception of the state is worse than the reality," said David W. Joos, president and CEO of CMS, and CEO of its primary subsidiary, Consumers Energy. He made the comment during a visit to Grand Rapids to speak to the World Affairs Council of West Michigan.

Joos said Michigan is perceived by some out-of-state investors as a state that isn't business-friendly, and its state-imposed business taxes are cited as proof.

Joos didn't defend the Michigan Business Tax, but he noted that Michigan's "business taxes actually are pretty close to average," among all the states.

After his presentation, Joos told the Business Journal he was citing research data compiled by the Tax Foundation in Washington, D.C.

The latest data from the Tax Foundation does place Michigan at number 20 in its State Business Tax Climate Index. Number one is Wyoming; number 50 is New Jersey.

Joos said Michigan's score isn't good enough in this era where practically every state is fighting for more investments to create jobs.

"We have to get to the top ten," said Joos.

He also indicated that he believes Michigan's reputation elsewhere as a state to be avoided because of the UAW isn't justified, noting that making Michigan a right-to-work state probably won't help bring more business here — but we can't afford to go the other way, either.

With a Masters of Science degree in nuclear engineering, he thinks that's the way to go for this country’s energy needs, but American nuclear plants are expensive to build and "new coal plants are in the best interest of Michigan in the long term."

He spoke about global warming being the main reason people oppose coal-fired plants, but said, "I don't know how real that is."

Dunk one with Marge June 1

If you know what's going on in the city of Wyoming, you've probably just been to Marge's Donut Den.

Marge Wilson started her business on 28th Street in 1975 and 34 years later, she's still there in the same spot, doing better than ever.

According to Megan Sall, the city Community Services Coordinator who works closely with the Wyoming Downtown Development Authority, Wilson recently poured thousands of dollars into renovating the Donut Den and added three employees.

The Donut Den is well-known for a few reasons. It's perpetually open, even on holidays. Sall said Wilson does that for people who are stuck in town when everybody else is gone, and don't have anywhere to go. She's usually open on election nights, too, and other nights when people are out and about and need a place to get a cup of coffee and wind down before heading home to bed.

Then there's the "chatter," as Sall puts it.

"If you ever want to know what's going on in Wyoming, you go to Marge's. That's where you can hear it first," said Sall.

On June 1 at 11 a.m., Wilson is having a big whoopty-do at the Donut Den to celebrate the renovation. It will provide another good opportunity to have a cup of java, a donut and “network” in this community’s popular retort to My Space and Twitter.

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