Making a grand stand for a college education

January 11, 2010
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Grand Valley State University's vice president of university relations, Matt McLogan, recently noted the school launched a new marketing campaign in the fall that plays off the word "grand." The previous marketing campaign was four years old and had run its course, McLogan said.

"The past four or five years, we've been concentrating on Grand Valley academic excellence and the depth and breadth of its programs," he said. "We think the previous messages have been understood and accepted.

"Now we want to make the point that Grand Valley's atmosphere, the facilities and the historically low tuition are also a grand value — which brought us to the emphasis on the word 'grand.' In some of the messaging, we say, 'Our first name says it all.'"

McLogan said the campaign and materials were developed mostly internally, with some outside consultation.

Even for a growing college such as GVSU, where enrollment hit a record 24,408 in September, the use of marketing to lure students is likely to remain an important tool as the cohort of traditional college-age students shrinks over the next 15 years.

"This is a robust market right now," McLogan said. "In West Michigan, there are more than a dozen public and private institutions, nearly all of which are doing a significant amount of advertising — not to mention hundreds of institutions from across the U.S. who recruit the very talented students who live in Michigan. I don't expect that landscape to change at all."

Spectrum pursues Gerber

Matt Van Vranken, an executive vice president at Spectrum Health and president of the health system's Hospital Group, recently told the Business Journal that a proposal to add Gerber Memorial Health Services in Fremont to the fold is likely to come during the first quarter of 2010.

Boards of both hospitals still would need to vote on the proposal, which was announced in 2009, he said. "We're looking at sometime the first quarter of this next calendar year of probably presenting something to the respective boards. The cultural fit is really good," he said.

Gerber already belongs to the Spectrum Health Regional Hospital Network and the Helen DeVos Children's Hospital Partners in Children's Health. In addition to the 77-bed Gerber Memorial Hospital in Fremont, GMHS, which has 500 employees, includes a home health care unit, occupational medicine unit, two clinics, a doctors' practice, three rehabilitation and wellness locations and a clinic for cancer and diabetes treatment.

Spectrum Health's discussions with Northern Michigan Regional Health System in Petoskey are "still in play," despite a change at the helm there, Van Vranken said. And at a third potential addition — the publicly owned Mecosta County Medical Center in Big Rapids — Sam Daugherty continues as CEO, as well as at Spectrum's Reed City Hospital. Van Vranken said that arrangement is in place into 2011, when Mecosta County commissioners will need to visit the question again.

Finding their seats

Last week, Kent County Commissioner Sandi Frost Parrish became the first woman in 18 years to be elected to the top leadership post. Katherine Kuhn accomplished that feat in 1992 and was re-elected three times. Parrish's accomplishment should not be overlooked, as only two females serve on the 19-member board and the other woman, Carol Hennessy, was also chosen for a leadership position. Hennessy was re-elected as the minority vice chairwoman, a post that goes to the leader of board's minority party — which, countywide, is still the Democrats.

But what is also rather remarkable is both Parrish and Hennessy were unanimous choices for their posts, meaning that all 17 men on the commission fell in line.

The choice of a vice chairman, though, wasn't nearly as unanimous. In fact, for the eight Democrats on the board, it bordered on being strange. Following Parrish's election, County Commissioner Dick Bulkowski suggested it might show regional cooperation to the cities and townships that a Democrat become vice chair. So Bulkowski, a Dem, nominated Jim Talen for the vice spot. Talen ran against Commissioners Dean Agee and Stan Ponstein, two of the board's 11 Republicans.

The race had all the makings of one for the ages: After the first ballot, Agee and Talen were tied at eight votes each. But on the second ballot, the Dems abandoned ship as Talen lost six of his first-round votes and the vice chairmanship to Agee by a 12-2 margin. Some Dems voted for Agee, some for Ponstein, and only one voted for Talen because he voted for himself. We can hear it now from the GOP: "That's so typical of Democrats."

Health card popular

No need to be a card-carrying Dem or GOPer to be pleased with this. Use of the Free Rx discount card has grown. The card made its debut a year ago as the brainchild of Kent County and the Area Agency on Aging. It offers everyone an average 30 percent price cut on prescriptions, along with savings on eyeglasses, vitamins, pet medications and dental care.

"We anticipated the card would be useful to Kent County residents and it certainly has been," said Jackie O'Connor, assistant director at the agency. "The last report showed over 1,200 users in October 2009. This is double the 600 individuals reported just after the card debuted."

More info on the card is available at www.accesskent.com and www.aaawm.org.

"This was a great option to give our citizens without costing the county any money," said Wayman Britt, assistant county administrator. "It assists Kent County residents who may not have drug coverage and helps individuals and families control skyrocketing prescription expenses."

Despite efforts, credit scarce

Economic conditions over the last couple of years have "made it a very difficult credit market for most companies in West Michigan," according to Tom Hiller — and he doesn't see the situation improving just yet.

Hiller has 35 years of experience at BDO Seidman and is the partner in charge of the assurance side of the practice in the Grand Rapids office (as opposed to the tax side).

"I think that the banks are all really trying to do the best they can, given the regulatory constraints they have to deal with," he said. Those government restraints determine what the banks "can and cannot do for their customers today."

Hiller said companies can improve their odds of getting credit through better communication with their bankers, "and avoiding surprises with their lending institutions throughout the year."

Hiller said BDO Seidman would like to see its client companies have "at least quarterly meetings" with their bankers, and make sure that what they are saying in their budgets and forecasts "doesn't get out of line with what actually happens."

Actually, he said, interest rates "have remained relatively favorable." The credit problem is not the pricing, he said, so much as it is the fact that collateral held by many companies, whether it be real estate or inventories or receivables, has some "valuation issues."

It has been said that a crash in commercial real estate is just now taking place.

"I'm not a real estate guy necessarily, but I hear the same thing. I believe the commercial side of the real estate business has lagged from the residential side, and we could see further deterioration before it gets better," said Hiller.

Hiller believes that banks that work with their clients "are certainly willing to make loans where it makes sense from a business perspective … and the collateral values support the loan."

"Our banks in this community are relationship-oriented, for the most part. I believe they do want to help companies where they can and where it makes sense," he said.

"You don't need to be an accountant or a banker to recognize a balance sheet that is so far under water that, if you loan them money, it's just not going to help — or you're never going to get repaid," he said. "What would you do?"

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