More education is good but not duplication of services

January 29, 2012
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Michigan House Bill 4496, debated last week by the Senate Education Committee, would allow community colleges to grant four-year baccalaureate degrees in nursing, cement technology, maritime technology, energy production technology and culinary arts.

The state universities beg to differ.

“We believe it is unnecessary and that it will create costly duplication of service that can only be paid for by taxpayers and students,” said Matt McLogan, spokesperson for GVSU.

It would amount to “government-sponsored duplication,” he added.

McLogan said the 15 public universities in Michigan “have pledged that the degree programs envisioned in HB 4496” would be offered by the public universities in any community where the local community college wants that program to be made available — “and that we will do that in partnership with the community colleges.”

There is a 30-year history of collaboration between Michigan’s universities and community colleges, he added.

“There are presently 15,000 students taking baccalaureate degree programs at community colleges all over the state, and that’s the model we ought to be following,” said McLogan.

Steven Ender, president of GRCC, said that venerable Grand Rapids institution is not considering offering four-year degrees at this time. “However, we would remain open to the option if the legislation passes,” he said.

Leonard Wolfe of the Dykema law firm told the Senate committee the Michigan Constitution lays out different roles for two- and four-year institutions, funding them differently and with different structures. He believes the proposed legislation would conflict with the constitution.

Goodwill eating

The YMCA of Greater Grand Rapids has signed an exclusive deal with Goodwill to operate the Y’s food and beverage cafes at both the David D. Hunting and the Spartan Stores YMCA.

The move gets more Goodwill clients into the work force and has resulted in some positive feedback from Y users.

“This is a great fit for the YMCA to have Goodwill operate our cafes, the Elderkin Café at Spartan Stores Y and GW2 at the David D. Hunting Y,” said Bev Thiel, executive director of the Spartan Stores Y. “The feedback from our members has been all positive, and so far the ‘hot’ menu item is the power protein shake.”

Thiel said the two organizations have totally revamped the menu, which now offers more healthy options, including wraps, kids’ meals, smoothies, healthy snacks, sports drinks and the aforementioned protein shakes.

She said the concession stands’ slogan says it all: “Good eats, good cause, Goodwill.”

Help wanted

The Michigan Business and Professional Association, along with its sister association, the Michigan Food and Beverage Association, has a simple message after hearing President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address: Send us the business!

“I would strongly encourage the president and his administration to help steer more entrepreneurial and technology-related businesses to Michigan, where we have the creativity, the talent and the will to compete with any other state in the country,” said Jennifer Kluge, MBPA president and CEO.

Kluge said the associations, which represent more than 20,000 businesses employing upward of 160,000 people, were encouraged that Obama’s third State of the Union address focused on critical domestic issues, with the nation’s economy at the forefront, and urged the administration to look to Michigan as a smart choice for broadening the nation’s economic diversity and job creation.

“We share the president’s vision, as outlined in the address, to build an economy that works for everyone,” said Kluge. “There were a number of initiatives in the speech, including proposals to spur manufacturing, incentives to ‘in-source’ jobs in the U.S., and clean energy development and job training that, if brought to reality, would do a great deal to boost our economy.”

Kluge added that the MBPA is supportive of the other initiatives outlined in the State of the Union address, including business regulatory reform and much-needed investment in repairs to the nation’s infrastructure.

Added Bonnie Bochinak, MBPA vice president of government affairs: “Representing more than 20,000 small businesses in Michigan, we yearn for optimism expressed in the president’s address, and the promise to improve our business and employment climate.”

On the issue of health care reform, Bochniak noted, “Although MBPA did not support the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, we do support lower health care costs for all Americans. We urge the president and the Supreme Court to do their diligence when debating the constitutionality of our federal health care law. It is our hope that a verdict is made so that states may move forward with their health care exchange implementation.”

Calling for the Obama administration to look to Michigan as a source for innovation and job talent, Kluge pointed to a number of state-based companies helping to grow an ever-more diverse economy. “In the alternative fuels/clean energy sector, we have successful companies like Roush CleanTech in Livonia, EarthTronics in Muskegon and Relume Technologies in Oxford, and the very successful Hemlock Semiconductor division of Dow Corning.

“Small business is leading the way here in Michigan with such companies like Avalon International Breads in Detroit, which started out in 1997 on a $6,000 ‘bread dough’ investment and now sells its products all across southeast Michigan. There are many positive stories here — more positive than negative.”

A life well lived

Rotary Club of Grand Rapids often hosts entertaining speakers, but one of its most enlightening guests appeared Thursday to recount a life filled with historical significance and intestinal fortitude.

Virgil Westdale, 94, the author of “Blue Skies & Thunder,” which is basically his life story, spoke to a rapt Rotary gathering on subjects ranging from his service as a Japanese-American during World War II, where he was present during the emancipation of prisoners from the Dachau concentration camp, to his most recent job working for TSA at Gerald R. Ford International Airport and retiring as the agency’s oldest employee at 91.

“He actually brought tears to people’s eyes,” said Business Journal Publisher John Zwarensteyn, a Rotary member who attended the presentation. “His story was amazing. He told of finally sailing into New York harbor and seeing the Statue of Liberty, and said, ‘I saluted the Statue of Liberty. She was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen.’”

Westdale, a Congressional Gold Medal winner for his efforts with the U.S. Army’s 442nd Regimental Combat Team — an outfit whose officers were all Caucasian and whose soldiers, called Nisei, were Japanese-American — was present during many pivotal moments of the war, including an effort to rescue the Lost Battalion that was trapped behind heavily fortified German lines.

“Probably even more amazing,” Zwarensteyn said, “is that he appeared in his World War II uniform. And he still fits into it!”

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