Plenty of business morsels in new governor’s strategy

January 24, 2011
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There’s little doubt Gov. Rick Snyder’s State of the State message tapped into the Business Leaders for Michigan playbook to help set the table for his administration’s early strategy. It’s a circumstance that the following day put smiles on the faces of BLM principals as they met with the Business Journal editorial board. But they acknowledged the Republicans’ control of the governor’s seat and the legislature doesn’t present a slam dunk for remedies to the state’s economic woes.

Doug Rothwell, president/CEO of Business Leaders for Michigan and a key player in the gubernatorial transition team, told the Business Journal no one should assume that one-party control will lead to quick resolutions to a myriad of complex issues that have languished in Lansing for years. Nevertheless, the 2011 work plan from the group comprised of CEOs and business leaders from across the state will get a boost from a friendly ear in the governor’s chair in Ann Arbor — er, Lansing.

Several of the group’s 2011 work plan strategies are in step with Snyder’s ideas regarding multi-year budgeting and revenue forecasts, a citizen-friendly balance sheet and benchmarking scorecard (online “dashboard”), removing barriers and incentivizing service sharing, reducing regulations, developing and urban strategy, to name a few.

BLM board chair David Joos, chairman of the board for CMS Energy Corp., found agreement with the attempt to mitigate regulatory barriers, such as the double-barreled safety oversight presented by OSHA and MIOSHA. Joos also noted that while Snyder’s bid to eliminate the MBT in favor of a corporate sales tax isn’t directly aligned with BLM’s hopes to more closely match tax structure with a changing composition of the state’s economy, it is a good first step.

Board member Mike Jandernoa, Perrigo Co. board member and venture capital advocate, noted the relevance of Snyder’s plan to encourage immigrants with advanced college degrees to come to Michigan to work and live. Jandernoa used his experiences in working with the Van Andel Institute to recruit researchers to the facility, a process dependent on acquiring foreign nationals’ talent.

Snyder’s speech had plenty of morsels for Grand Rapids and West Michigan, with shout outs to the job creation abilities of The Right Place Inc., and formation of an urban office here to smooth relations with state government.

Snyder’s endorsement of a bridge to somewhere — Michigan’s most important trading partner — is not unlike the trail blazed by another West Michigan leader, Marge Byington Potter, who has been active for many years in enhancing the state’s rail transportation system to Windsor. She served as a top executive of the Detroit International Tunnel Partnership, which seeks to build a higher-capacity freight rail link to Canada.

Sign of the times

The sign now standing next to U.S. 131 a short distance from the new Gun Lake Casino — electronically announcing the casino’s grand opening Feb. 11 — is “the largest sign we have ever built,” according to Valley City Sign’s president, Randy Czubko.

You can’t miss it. The double-sided sign stands 110 feet tall and is 48 feet wide.

Valley City is an employee-owned Comstock Park company that has been in business since 1948. It now has 48 employees and builds substantial signs “all across the country.” Fifth Third Bank is a major customer, and in fact, its predecessor, Old Kent Bank, was Valley City Signs’ first customer, according to Czubko. Spectrum Health is another major customer.

This isn’t Valley City’s first casino sign, by any means. It built signage for the Odawa Casino in Petoskey, for Turtle Creek near Traverse City, and for FireKeepers in Battle Creek.

“The Native American casino is an excellent niche for us, an excellent market,” Czubko told the Business Journal. “In this difficult economy, we are fortunate and thankful that the Gun Lake Band of Potawatomi Indians, their partners and Skanska Construction have decided to hire a local Michigan company for their sign project,” said Czubko in a news release issued by the Gun Lake Casino.

After the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce joined the opposition to the casino in the early years of the Gun Lake Tribe’s legal battles for government permission to build, the tribe said it would not consider bids from any company that was a Grand Rapids Chamber member. The Wayland Area Chamber did not oppose the casino.

Some companies left the GR Chamber because of the tribe’s stance. Valley City resigned in 2007, but Czubko said it was not because of the tribe’s statement.

“Valley City Sign resigned from the Grand Rapids Chamber because of the stance it took in opposition to the Gun Lake Casino. We disagreed with their conclusion that the casino would take away business from the Grand Rapids area,” he said.

Meanwhile, over at the Grand Rapids Chamber, Vice President Jared Rodriguez noted that, despite the dismal economy, 2010 brought “good news”: The Chamber saw a growth in membership that is “closing in on 2,900.” Its retention of members is also up, “a signal we’re providing good quality programs that members are taking advantage of.”

There’s another chamber that’s probably a bit giddier these days: the Wayland Area Chamber.

“The new casino is looking great! It’s hard to believe that it’ll be less than a month till it’s open!” wrote Chamber Executive Director Denise Behm in an e-mail to the Business Journal last week.

Stonewalled by OMB

Kent and Ottawa county boosters have “turned over every stone and tried to force their way into every door, and it just is not going anywhere,” said Mark Knudsen, director of planning at Ottawa County.

“It” is the quest to have the two counties put back together in one designated Metropolitan Statistical Area by the Office of Management and Budget in Washington.

“The economic developers and others are really pushing for this because when you have over a million people in your MSA, you get noticed by site consultants and others much differently,” said Birgit Klohs, president/CEO of The Right Place Inc.

Ten years ago, Ottawa, Kent, Muskegon and Allegan counties were in an MSA (Grand Rapids-Muskegon-Holland) that had more than one million residents. In 2003, OMB established new boundary definitions for MSAs. Ottawa County became a stand-alone (Holland-Grand Haven MSA), as did Muskegon and Allegan. Kent County was attached to Barry, Ionia and Newaygo counties, with a total MSA population under a million.

OMB’s new standards stated that 25 percent of a county’s residents must commute to an adjacent county in order for the two counties to be defined as a single MSA.

Ottawa County became a single MSA because only 24.7 percent of its workday commuters were going to Kent County.

“If an additional 0.3 percent … had been traveling to Kent County, Ottawa County would have been included in the larger Grand Rapids MSA,” according to Knudsen. He noted that 0.3 percent represents about 317 people, “well within the margin of error for this calculation.”

Last year, Ottawa County commissioners approved a resolution asking OMB to modify its standards regarding MSAs “in order to allow the integration of Ottawa County into a larger West Michigan MSA.”

OMB disregarded the letter from the Ottawa County commissioners. The region’s senator and House rep in Washington haven’t been able to get action yet, either.

Klohs can rattle off MSAs around the country that now do not actually reflect those regions.

“We are very anxious to have this happen,” said Klohs. “It is very critical for us to present a more complete picture of our capabilities” in this part of Michigan.

Knudsen said the economic boosters are hoping the 2010 census establishes “that connection between us and Kent County as a result of the commuter patterns.”

So where is the latest census data about commuters from Ottawa County to Kent County?

The Business Journal called the Census Bureau in Washington and was told that questions should be put to OMB, because OMB determines MSA boundaries. (Says so right on the Census website.)

A call went out to OMB. Julie Siegel of OMB asked the Business Journal to send the question in writing, which was done. Seventeen minutes later, back came an e-mail from Ms. Siegel.

“I think your best bet is to start with the Commerce Department, which houses the Census. Apologies for referring you elsewhere. Thanks — Julie.”

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