In difficult economic times, community colleges thrive

May 24, 2010
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Last week’s kickoff of Grand Rapids Community College’s $15 million capital campaign — the largest in the organization’s history — is due in part to the need to further support the record numbers of students who are attending community colleges, according to the Michigan Community College Association.

Due to the state’s bad economy, students are choosing community colleges to save money.

“It tends to be, when we do well, other people are suffering,” Michael Hansen, president of association, told Capital News Service reporter Chantal Cook recently.

He said parents want their children to attend a community college and live at home, save money, attend smaller classes and collect credits to transfer to a four-year college for a bachelor’s degree.

In addition to new high school graduates, many workers are going back to school for training in developing industries, he said.

“Community colleges will play a very vital role for students because we’re accessible, open door and provide sensible programs,” Tina Hoxie, dean of student affairs at Grand Rapids Community College said.

While community colleges can provide services to students less expensively, their capacity is limited, Hansen said. Due to high enrollment rates, some have turned down applicants for space and financial reasons.

Community colleges receive most of their revenue from tuition, property taxes and state appropriations. Hansen said that, recently, state appropriations have been flat and property tax revenue has gone down, which may result in cuts.

“It’s a huge challenge to run an institution right now,” Hansen said.

While revenue is shrinking, programs like nano-science, technology and health care are expensive to provide. Hansen said tuition may rise as a result, adding that grants are only a short-term solution and are hard to run community colleges on.

Local ad work saluted

A slew of entries from the American Advertising Federation West Michigan received District ADDY Awards. The projects are headed to the national competition at the AAF National Conference in Orlando next month. Up for the honors are: Auxiliary Advertising & Desing; Fairly Painless Advertising; Gorilla Pictures; Gravity Six Alliance; Greenlight Marketing; Grey Matter Group; Highland Group; Kantorwassink; Kendall College of Art & Design; and Wolverine World Wide. Also works from KCAD students Cody Eckert, Michael D. Kleinpaste and Sarah Vanderson are moving to the national level.

Seizing opportunity

Zondervan’s public relations vice president Jason Vines told some tales from the front of corporate controversy at last week’s meeting of the West Michigan chapter of the Public Relations Society of America. A veteran leader of public relations at three automakers — including Ford Motor Co. during the Firestone tire recalls — he offered some opinions on current corporate controversies: thumbs-down on Toyota’s communications performance in the wake of  “unintended acceleration” and thumbs-up for BP’s reaction to the oil rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

“This is a great opportunity for the American automakers and they better take advantage of it with great products,” he added.

Vines also took umbrage at C-suite execs who dismiss their PR staffers to the back seat, and he urged young professionals to quit their jobs at companies where the communications staff doesn’t report to the CEO. “Otherwise, you are relegating them to the end of the parade, cleaning up after the elephants,” Vines said. “I turned down several jobs over the past decade that were reporting to the head of marketing. That is wrong. We are different disciplines.”

That comment drew applause from the roomful of PR professionals.

Film fund saga grows

Those sleuths from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy have been investigating the Hangar42 movie studio in Walker for three months, they say, seeking “answers regarding the cost of the property, the status of the deal, the owners of the studio, payment of contractors, financing and more.”

The Mac Pack has been on the case since Gov. Jennifer Granholm mentioned the new Hangar42 in her State of the State speech back in early February. Established in part of a former automotive plant, the movie studio is an investment originally expected to qualify for a 25 percent state subsidy under the film industry incentives Granholm signed into law a couple of years ago, to help create a movie industry in Michigan.

The Mackinac Center news release last week noted that news reports in February stated the total investment in Hangar42 was $45 million, “but Mackinac Center research shows that the building converted for use as a studio was listed for sale for as little as $9.8 million just days before the governor’s State of the State speech.”

“Was the buyer prepared to pay more than four times the previous asking price for the property? Was the building purchased only after $30 million to $35 million in upgrades? Taxpayers are entitled to know how their money is being spent,” wrote the Mac Center’s Kathy Hoekstra.

The Mackinac Center alleged the Michigan Film Office and the Michigan Economic Developoment Corp. was unwilling to return calls or “share details with taxpayers who are bearing much of the cost.”

Well, here’s an update:

The Business Journal contacted the PR agency Lambert Edwards & Associates, which represents Hangar42. They replied with an e-mailed statement from Joe Peters, the principal there.

“On behalf of the owners of Hangar 42 Studios, we’re confident we negotiated a fair price for the purchase of our building.  A MAI certified appraisal completed earlier this year appraised the property’s value at $45.5 million, which is $5 million more than we negotiated.  In addition, we sought a number of valuations on the cost involved to build a studio like this from the ground up and the numbers came back between $75 million and $90 million.  Compared to the cost of other similar projects across the state, this was a very good deal and will boost the economy and create much needed jobs and the interest and momentum to date has far exceeded our expectations.  Unfortunately, the Mackinac Center, which has been on the record as being opposed to the Film Incentive Program since before the legislation was passed,  is using dated and inaccurate information in their quest to further their agenda and cast doubt over a project that is good for Michigan. ”

— Joe Peters, principal with Hangar 42 Studios

Then the Business Journal heard from Mike Shore, a spokesman for the Michigan Film Office.

“There’s nothing for us to comment on. Not a penny of state funds have gone to this project nor been approved for the project,” wrote Shore in an email.

No trial balloons

So you say it’s your birthday. Well, a fine fundraiser to you. It’s not the first time candidates for public office have been feted on their special day, and it won’t be the last. Within a matter of a few hours one day last week, “Birthday Bash” invites hit the “in boxes” from the campaign camps of Bill Hardiman, who’s running for Congress in the Third District, and Bing Goei, candidate for state representative in the 75th District. The men were born 60 some years ago, just one year apart nearly to the day, if political fundraising opportunities actually coincide with birth dates. Checks are welcome, of course, made out in the appropriate campaign donor legale

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