Street Talk

Street Talk: EPIC finalists represent a little bit of everything

Winds of change.

April 12, 2013
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This is gonna be EPIC!

The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce last week announced the 17 finalists for its fourth annual EPIC Awards, which recognize companies for their Entrepreneurial, Progressive, Innovative and Collaborative efforts. Six winners representing businesses and individuals that support the community, demonstrate growth, are innovative, and have worked with others as mentors and collaborators will be selected from among the finalists.

The list of nominees encompasses companies from across the business spectrum, from nonprofits and service providers to manufacturers and construction companies.

The six categories and finalists are:

Small Business of the Year: Baker Holtz, Ryan Holtz; The Charter Group, Kristin Sheline; i3 Business Solutions LLC, Mike Ritsema.

Woman-Owned Business of the Year: Micro Visions Inc., Julie Lough; Symplicity Communications Inc., Catherine Lazarock; Encompass LLC, Alison Brown.

Young Entrepreneur of the Year: Kristian Grant, Sydney’s Boutique; Johnny Brann Jr., Kitchen 67; Kelly LeCoy, Uptown Kitchen.

Minority Business of the Year: Tolman’s Wholesale Meats, Ted Vaughn III; Jim Roberts Enterprises LLC, Jim Roberts.

Excellence in Business: Cascade Engineering Inc., Lauren Rogers; Elzinga & Volkers Inc., Mike Novakoski; Kent District Library, Lance Werner.

Nonprofit of the Year:  Kids’ Food Basket, Bridget Clark Whitney; Heart of West Michigan United Way, Maureen Noe; Habitat for Humanity of Kent County, Mary Buikema.

Award recipients will be revealed Wednesday, May 15, at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park. The dinner celebration will run from 5:30-8 p.m. Tickets are $60 for chamber member companies and $85 for nonmembers.

It’s in the bag

Spring cleaning is underway for highway roadsides in lower Michigan. Volunteers participating in the Michigan Department of Transportation Adopt-A-Highway program are picking up litter along state highways from now through Sunday, the first of three scheduled pickups this year.

“The spirit of Adopt-A-Highway volunteers is Pure Michigan,” said State Transportation Director Kirk T. Steudle, getting in a little plug for the state’s tourism arm. “They keep our roadsides looking great and help MDOT direct its limited resources to fixing our roads.”

In 2012, volunteer groups reported collecting about 65,000 bags of trash, a cost benefit to the state of $5.6 million. Volunteers include members of various civic groups, businesses and families. Crew members have to be at least 12 years old, and each group must number at least three people.

Steudle said sections of highway are still available for adoption. Interested groups should check www.michigan.gov/adoptahighway for more information. Groups are asked to adopt a section of highway for at least two years. There is no fee to participate, and signs bearing a group's name are posted along the adopted highway.

On a more depressing note, due to snow still on the ground the spring Adopt-A-Highway pickup for northern lower Michigan and the Upper Peninsula will be later, April 27-May 5. Statewide, there will be a summer pickup from July 13-21 and a fall pickup Sept. 21-29.

Unhealthy report

One concern businesses have voiced regarding President Barack Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is the health insurance requirement for employees.

Especially troublesome is the section that pertains to employers with fewer than 50 employees, who can opt out of providing coverage for workers after jumping through some hoops. One line of thinking is that employers will lay off workers to get under the numerical threshold.

But if a report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is any indication, it can’t get much worse for Michigan workers. According to the Associated Press, the report, issued last Thursday, indicates that just 62.9 percent of state residents got their health insurance through a job in 2011. That’s down from 78.1 percent in 2000. The 15.2 percent drop represents the biggest decline among all 50 states during that time period.

The report indicates higher costs translate to fewer employers offering insurance coverage. And when it is offered, fewer employees are accepting, presumably based on cost. The mix of a shrinking work force and rising health care premiums is not a prescription for success if Michigan hopes to boost itself up from the bottom of the barrel.

Wind tunnel

With the emphasis on sustainability in the Business Journal’s Focus Section this week, it seems like a good time to check in with the wind watchers at Grand Valley State University’s Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center.

A “boatload of data” will be collected during the third and final research season at MAREC’s offshore wind assessment.

The research buoy that collects the data will be placed about seven miles offshore northwest of the Muskegon Channel within the next two weeks. It will remain in the lake until December, where it will continuously collect data about offshore wind characteristics, along with meteorological, marine and avian data, to help assess the viability of commercial-scale wind energy generation in the Great Lakes.

“Over the last two years, we’ve collected wind data in locations that were previously inaccessible,” said Arn Boezaart, director of MAREC. “This year, we’re keeping the buoy closer to the shore to collect data that we predict will reinforce the data we collected from last year’s season. We’ll end up with a great representation of wind characteristics on Lake Michigan that can contribute to potential wind energy development.”

The three-year study began in 2011, when the buoy went through a validation study on Muskegon Lake for two months, followed by two months of trials on Lake Michigan. During the second year of research in 2012, the buoy was placed 35 miles west of the Muskegon Channel at the mid-lake plateau in Lake Michigan and captured data at elevations between 90 and 175 meters above the lake surface.

Students and faculty in Grand Valley’s Padnos College of Engineering and Computing are analyzing the.

“We literally have boatloads of data because it’s recorded in one-second intervals,” said Boezaart.

Project partners include researchers from Michigan Technological University studying wind turbulence; Michigan Natural Features Inventory, a component of the Michigan State University Extension program, studying bird and bat activity (and confirmed for the first time ever last summer that bats do fly over the Great Lakes); and the University of Michigan, conducting research on large data sets.

Project staff will present findings at the American Wind Energy Association’s Windpower Conference and Exhibition — the largest annual wind energy event in the world — in Chicago in May. Monthly data summaries and other preliminary information are available at scholarworks.gvsu.edu.

While federal grant funds end this year, Boezaart said other opportunities are being explored for the buoy to continue to capture data in various locations throughout the Great Lakes.

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