MEDC faces the heat

August 30, 2010
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The Senate Finance Committee held a hearing last week on the alleged failings of the Michigan Economic Growth Authority and Michigan Economic Development Corp. — and it isn't done yet.

State Sen. Nancy Cassis, R-Novi, chair of the committee, said the group will hold "further hearings in September on the RASCO and Hangar42 scandals, which also have shaken the public's confidence in state programs, like MEGA, to be responsible with taxpayer dollars."

The hearing was focused on the state audit of the MEGA tax credits program, with questioning of MEDC officials "about the audit's findings and what actions have been taken to address issues raised in the report," according to a news release from Cassis' office.

Auditors reported 10 of 15 companies failed to submit all requested information needed to verify the data for the tax credit and often relied on self-reporting for new jobs and payroll figures.

"This audit was the first of the MEGA credit program and identified serious problems on validation — or lack of validation — by the Michigan Strategic Fund regarding critical information needed to qualify for the MEGA tax credit certificates," said Cassis. "I am encouraged that the MEDC has made some corrective actions, but if not for this audit, the state would be continuing business as usual …"

Her news release said the state auditors found that the Michigan Strategic Fund's procedures were not sufficient to validate job creation claims and wage data, provided by the companies seeking tax credits. The audit determined "that either the MSF or the company inputted formulas or standard amounts for missing data elements rather than actual data."

"I am extremely concerned about MEDC's inflated job creation numbers because of the strategic fund's failure to verify job and wage numbers before giving out refundable tax credits," said Cassis.

Last year, she said, the state awarded the highest number of MEGA credits in the program's history, "yet Michigan had a net loss of 233,000 jobs last year alone. If the MEDC and the governor created 1.4 million jobs as they claim, Michigan's unemployment rate would be less than 4 percent instead of more than 13 percent."

The Michigan Department of Treasury has recovered nearly $3.1 million in credits that had been over-claimed.

MEDC officials weren't responding to media inquiries regarding the hearings late last week.

Nothing afoul here

He didn't chicken out. Grand Rapids 3rd Ward Commissioner James White was filming a movie in Coopersville with Hollywood's Kurt Russell and missed the vote on whether to allow city residents to raise hens in their backyards. That vote ended in a dead heat, which killed the proposal. An effort to table the measure until White shot his scenes was rejected, which ruffled the feathers of the chicken proponents.

But White said last week that he would have voted against the proposal had he been there. White added there are plenty of places in the city to find farm-fresh eggs other than in the backyard, and doing so helps the local economy.

Sprucing up Muskegon

Grand Rapids developer Jonathon Rooks has been hard at work making play areas in Muskegon. Rooks and company have finished renovations of properties on Muskegon Lake, including the Terrace Point Marina and Shoreline Inn, but Muskegon has long waited for the doors to reopen at the adjacent former Rafferty's restaurant.

A "soft open" was successful in late July, and this week marks the celebratory grand opening of The Lake House Waterfront Grille.

For staff, Rooks picked clean the bones of Muskegon's restaurateurs. Former Sardine Room owner Dave Biesiada is general manager, former corporate executive chef Dustin Schultz is executive chef, teamed with former Pints & Quarts/CF Prime Chef Charlie Forrester.

The restaurant has been completely modernized by high-end design. The subdividing banquet room seats 350, the restaurant seats 100, but the deck is set for 130. Mayor Steve Warmington will cut the ceremonial ribbons at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 2, and Rooks has the 10-piece band Westside Soul Surfers on deck at 7 p.m.

Some tweet anticipation

Speaking of big doings, the Grand Rapids/Kent County Convention & Visitors Bureau will make a major announcement next week. CVB President Doug Small is being very hush-hush about it. In fact, he wouldn't even let the board members of the Convention and Arena Authority in on it at the CAA's last meeting.

The super secret will be revealed in the Eve Lounge at The BOB Tuesday, Sept. 7, at 5 p.m. It might be a short announcement — maybe only 140 characters long — because it's called "The GR Tweet Elite."

Points of order

Once upon a time, being a good citizen was considered its own reward. But that was then, and this is now. So the city of Grand Rapids has joined with Local First and CEOs for Cities to reward citizens who recycle and volunteer. Those who do will earn MyGRCity Points, which can be redeemed at local businesses for discounts on products and services. The points program will be rolled out in three phases starting later this year.

"MyGRCity Points promises to be a powerful economic engine that links local residents with local businesses," said Elissa Sangalli Hillary, executive director of Local First.

"With MyGRCity Points, individuals are rewarded for taking actions, like participating in the city of Grand Rapids/Kent County Single Stream Recycling Program and volunteering in city projects that support a high quality of life in our community," said City Manager Greg Sundstrom.

"Another benefit is more customers are supporting local businesses with increased foot traffic. The city of Grand Rapids is committed to strengthening support for local businesses and building a stronger community that benefits all of us, now and in the future," he added.

Online registration for the points program will take place at points.mygrcity.us later this year.

Keeping in touch

Another local website lets citizens track the transformation progress Grand Rapids is making to reinvent the way it delivers services.

"I am thrilled about our efforts to engage our customers and become more transparent," said Mayor George Heartwell. "This is a great example of city government changing to embrace a sustainable future." Citizens can track the city's efforts by going to transform.mygrcity.us.

Put on a happy face

Leave it to Amway Corp. to put another pretty Face(book) on things. The Ada company's "Positivity Project" is a program designed to help turn its national Power of Positive campaign into a movement — "to rally people to recognize, celebrate and embrace positivity as a tangible way to improve their lives and their communities. It's about using the power of positivity, taking another step to bring it to life, which results in the Positivity Project."

That's PR speak for the program in which Amway is having people share their stories and ideas for how to live life in a positive way. The company is asking people in the U.S. who are 18 years and over to share how positivity has impacted them or someone around them by submitting their experience through written essays, poems, personal videos, photos or illustrations.

A panel of elite judges will select 25 finalists from the entries. The general public will then determine the top 10 winners through Facebook. The selected winners will be invited to attend the Power of Positive Awards at Amway World Headquarters and will receive a cash prize to be used to "pay it forward."

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