Stimulating reaction to a town finding its mojo

July 19, 2010
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When ground was broken last week on the new $303 million LG Chem Ltd. lithium-ion battery manufacturing plant in Holland, it also should have brought reassuring smiles to some small business operators in the area.

In addition to the several hundred workers who will be involved in the construction of the Compact Power Inc. facility — as well as the Johnson Controls battery plant going up nearby — there is an anticipated influx of corporate interests that may be coming to the area for the first time. And they will likely have money to spend at local stores, restaurants and hotels.

On the eve of the groundbreaking ceremony, about 15 visitors associated with the Korean-based LG Chem were spotted dining at Casey’s Food & Spirits on Holland’s near north side, just one of a number of Holland eateries known for Asian-American cuisine.

Throw into the mix the surge of regional, national and international media representatives (and we know they like to eat and drink) who descended on Holland for the groundbreaking activities and their anticipated return visits to track the progress of the battery plant phenomenon, and Holland should see a widespread spike at the cash registers.

You don’t have to call it that dirty word — “stimulus” — but it does deserve consideration, despite Pete Hoekstra’s worn-out tirades.

School cost breaks

Davenport University is offering a 25 percent break on tuition to people who can prove they are unemployed.

Executive Vice President for Enrollment and Student Development Larry Polselli said last week that as unemployment has risen, enrollment in the private business college has gone up, too.

“Davenport has a long-standing tradition of trying to reach out and help the community,” Polselli told Business Journal report Elizabeth Slowik. “We’re just trying to get Michigan back on track.”

Davenport’s announcement came in the wake of a 39 percent hit in federal funding for the state’s No Worker Left Behind program, which has supported retraining for as many as 130,000 laid-off residents. The program is limited to those currently enrolled or on its waiting list.

Polselli noted that in addition to master’s and bachelor’s degrees, Davenport offers associate degrees and certificate programs that take a shorter time to complete, are cheaper and are tied directly to specific jobs.

“As a general rule of thumb, when the economy takes a downturn, enrollment usually has a spike,” Polselli said. “People that are unemployed or underemployed try to come back for re-training.”

The discount will be available to current Davenport students who can provide documentation that they are receiving unemployment benefits, and to students who are underemployed and can provide documentation of current participation in a Michigan Works! program. The offer cannot be used with scholarships or other tuition aid.

Davenport’s enrollment is 12,340 at 14 Michigan locations, including 3,528 at its W.A. Lettinga Campus in Caledonia Township.

More incentive attractiveness

Kurt Dreyer, a Holland native who spent much of the last 25 years in the West Coast entertainment industry, is back in his hometown and has opened the Kurt Dreyer Acting Studio. The Michigan film industry incentives “play a role in why I’m here,” he said.

Dreyer — who began his career as a professional fashion model and then went into acting and filmmaking — wrote, produced and starred in a 2001 movie called “Underestimating Jake,” which won awards at the Ashland Independent Film Festival, Atlantic City Film Festival, Breckenridge Festival of Film and the Telluride Indiefest. The film was shot out West on a shoestring budget.

He recently came back to Michigan to work on a more ambitious project tentatively called “Blue Sky,” starring actor D.B. Sweeney. Sweeney was in “The Cutting Edge,” “Memphis Belle,” “Eight Men Out” and many other films. “Blue Sky” is about a blue-collar auto-racing family with lots of interpersonal conflict. A brief part of it already filmed can be seen at www.blueskythemovie.com

The Great Recession prevented Dreyer and his producers from finding financing to complete the film, however.

When he was recruiting West Michigan residents to be in “Blue Sky,” Dreyer said he saw some “very genuine talent,” but “ultimately, in the end, no technique, no craft.” He saw a need — hence the acting school, which opened in June at 496 Lincoln Ave. in Holland.

Each class is limited to 10 students. Two-hour sessions are held twice a week, in the evening. The three-month course costs $280.

Dreyer said the training isn’t just useful for aspiring actors; it can help anyone who wants to improve their public persona — their speaking skills and overall coolness when in the spotlight.

Political candidates: Take note.

Manlifters and art

In case you missed the American Subcontractors Association meeting last week, the buzz was about Titan Equipment of Byron Township, which just purchased the aerial equipment division of Grand Equipment in Hudsonville.

According to Paul Roussey, one of the principals at Titan, the deal added 10 employees for a total of 76. Titan was already “the largest private/locally owned manlift company in the state,” he said.

Manlifts are mobile pieces of machinery used to lift hardhat guys up in the air for construction work, repairing power lines, washing high-rise windows, etc.

The other Titan honchos, in addition to Roussey, are Ryan VanNest, Rick VanSwol, Jay Gruber and Dan Babcock.

“We rent to contractors all over the state of Michigan and have followed many of them to other states such as Texas, Colorado and North Dakota,” said Roussey.

They’re into the arts, too. Last fall, Titan was one of several heavy equipment companies that donated time and equipment to move “Nessie on the Grand” from the Grand River downtown to its new home on the pond at John Ball Zoo.

The 100-foot ArtPrize entry, a floating, expanded polystyrene sculpture, had gained weight: EPS absorbs water over time and Nessie now tipped the scales at almost 8,000 pounds — a ton-and-a-half more than when she went into the river.

Roussey said Titan is “already working with the Dwelling Place and the Children’s Museum on this year’s ArtPrize.”

Whirlpool news positive

When Whirlpool Corp. gave 24-hour notice of an “important announcement” to be made last week, locals cringed at the thought of more bad economic news for the region. But St. Joseph-Benton Harbor, bolstered by the blossoming of the Whirlpool-spurred Harbor Shores development in that community, received tidings of cheer from its corporate-based giant. Whirlpool said it will build a new office campus in downtown Benton Harbor as part of a consolidation of its 15 owned and leased facilities. The project, expected to take approximately five years to complete, is “contingent on approval of all state and local incentives” (here we go again), according to the company.

The project will leave the $17 billion global home appliance manufacturer with three office campuses in its hometown area: the existing Benton Harbor Administrative Center, the St. Joseph Technology Center, plus a new three-building campus on Main Street in Benton Harbor between River Street and Riverview Drive. The company also plans to retain its Hilltop Drive South offices in St. Joe and the Harbor Town offices in Benton Harbor.

The new buildings will be highly energy-efficient and built to achieve Gold LEED certification.

“Thanks to collaboration with our four local government bodies and with the state of Michigan, we will further strengthen our commitment to the Benton Harbor-St. Joseph communities,” said Jeff M. Fettig, chairman and CEO. “With more than 4,000 individuals in our current facilities, we have simply outgrown our current space.”

The investment is predicted to improve productivity of the corporation, which has 67,000 employees worldwide and 67 manufacturing and tech research centers around the globe.

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