Its up up and away with federal subsidies of course

August 6, 2012
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The numbers at the Muskegon airport have been “soaring” this summer, according to the Muskegon Market Report put out by the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce. June saw 39 percent more passengers than June 2011, and for the first half of 2012, the air passenger count is up 56 percent from last year.

In June, 3,313 commercial passengers used Muskegon airport; that number was 2,391 in June 2011. The increases were impressive in April and May, too.

Muskegon County Airport Manager Marty Piette said two things helped. One is the new schedule implemented in June 2011, offering more consistent flight times to Chicago. The other is a federal grant the airport received last year for marketing.

Muskegon is one of nine small airports in Michigan that are given a federal subsidy to attract a commercial airline. It’s called the Essential Air Service subsidy, from the U.S. Department of Transportation. It began after 1978, when the airlines were deregulated, and it is Washington’s guarantee that small communities that had certified air carrier service before deregulation would still have a minimal level of commercial airline service after deregulation.

The other Michigan airports getting an EAS subsidy are in Alpena, Escanaba, Houghton/Hancock, Ironwood, Iron Mountain, Manistee, Pellston and Sault Ste. Marie.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, Muskegon’s annual EAS subsidy is up to $1,576,067 for this year. Bill Mosley of USDOT told the Business Journal that’s the “maximum amount the carrier could receive for one year, minus any canceled flights for which the carrier would not be paid.”

The Michigan DOT Office of Aeronautics says the Muskegon EAS subsidy provides 14 flights per week by United Airlines to O’Hare, but the aircraft used is actually a SkyWest Airlines 50-passenger jet.

In Michigan, the EAS annual subsidies range from $934,000 at Houghton/Hancock to more than $3 million in Alpena (starting there in September). In Manistee, by the way, Public Charters Inc. makes 19 weekly departures to Chicago for a subsidy of $2,143,294 a year through June 2014, according to MDOT Aeronautics.

In comparison, Gerald R. Ford International Airport is financially self-supporting, requiring no funding from property taxes, general funds or special taxes, according to its 2012 annual report. It has eight airlines (according to its website) reaching 21 cities. In 2011, the Ford airport set a new passenger record: 2,275,332. That surpassed the previous record set in 2010 by 4.1 percent. The increase last year represents 93,288 passengers.

The EAS has been controversial for years, and would seem more than ever to be a target of the folks who want to cut government spending across the land. But that’s not the case. According to a June report by the Associated Press, the House Appropriations Committee — controlled by Republicans — wants to fund EAS with a record $214 million next year.

Last year, the House actually tried to eliminate EAS in all but Alaska, but guess who stopped that? Tea Party members who had been elected to Congress from rural states including North Dakota and South Dakota, according to the AP report.

More than a summer job

Grand Rapids Urban League just wrapped up its eight-week summer youth employment program — which ended up being much more than the typical summer job. A special gathering was held at the Goei Center last week for movers and shakers, including Olga Dazzo, director of the Michigan Department of Community Health.

“This is an effort to showcase the collective work and talent of these young people who embraced the state’s vision, which calls for all Michiganders to be healthy, productive individuals, living in communities that support health and wellness,” said Urban League Interim President and CEO Joe Jones.

Called Urban Fellows, it involved almost two dozen African-American, African and Hispanic males, ages 14 and 15, learning how to practice and promote the Michigan 4x4 concept unveiled by Gov. Rick Snyder last fall. The concept is focused on four healthy behaviors: a healthy diet, regular exercise, annual physical exam and no tobacco. The Urban Fellows were really students involved in hands-on use of digital arts to promote 4x4, plus learning about body mass, blood pressure, cholesterol level and blood sugar/glucose level. They also explored careers in health and business, all while working in teams.

“This was more than just a summer job experience; it was a life-changing experience for these young men,” said Bryan McKissack, GRUL’s youth director. The young men told him they agreed to not only continue to support each other, but also to live by the 4x4 credo all the way through high school. They even created a written contract, signed by each, attesting to their commitment.

Lunch and learn

According to Grand Valley Metro Council Executive Director John Weiss, the quarterly luncheon the council held last month — with Lt. Gov. Brian Calley serving as the main course — was the first such event that turned a profit. Meijer sponsored Calley’s visit, and Weiss said more than 700 showed up for him and the food.

Next up in the luncheon series is state Attorney General Bill Schuette, who will presumably talk about cooperation between law enforcement agencies. It will be interesting to see if that topic outdraws the bridge across the Detroit River that Calley featured.

Consumers Energy is sponsoring Schuette’s visit, which is on the docket for Oct. 8.

Annis Discovery

The Discovery Channel’s Profile Series will feature the GVSU Annis Water Resources Institute, located on Muskegon Lake in downtown Muskegon.

The segment, which airs at 7 a.m., Aug. 15, will focus on the institute’s role in research and preservation of the abundant freshwater resources of the Great Lakes.

Discovery Channel filmed interviews with Alan Steinman, director of AWRI; Mark Murray, former GVSU president and current president of Meijer Corp.; and Roger Andersen and Charles Johnson II, Muskegon business leaders.

AWRI research projects include attempts to restore threatened fish species, identify and control foreign invasive species, provide clean drinking water in disadvantaged regions of the world and restore government-identified “areas of concern” in the Great Lakes basin.

The institute, which has two research vessels, was established by GVSU in 1986 and moved to the university’s new Lake Michigan Center on Muskegon Lake in 2001.

Fresh start

Downtown will have another new tenant next month.

Rick DeVos said last week he will open Start Garden in a 5,000-square-foot, first-floor office at 50 Louis St. at Ionia Avenue NW. DeVos said Start Garden will be a center for entrepreneurial activity in the region.

The center will host a schedule of events, conduct classes and create a common area for mentors and advisors to talk with entrepreneurs about their ideas.

“We conceived Start Garden as two parts of a whole. One part is financial investment, which we launched in the spring,” he said of the $15 million seed-fund project. “The other part is ecosystem building to make this region a really friendly place for new ideas. Without the ecosystem, the investments don’t work. Without the investments, there’s no growth in the ecosystem.”

We can buy that. Look for the two-day Start Garden grand-opening event Sept. 13 and 14, just prior to the beginning of ArtPrize.

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