Street Talk

Street Talk: North American Union? Dixie wants to know

Economic development’s shifting sands.

June 28, 2013
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When former Mexican president Vicente Fox spoke at the World Affairs Council of Western Michigan annual dinner last fall, he dove right in to the rough waters of repairing the country’s economy, noting the North American continent as a whole is far wealthier and more stable than any other. 

“This is the only one,” he said as a pretext for discussion on trade and economic improvements to build on that foundation. He is bringing to international discussion the concept of an economic union of North America, such as exists in the European Union.

World Affairs Council Executive Director Dixie Anderson is headed to Fox’s ranch in Mexico late this week with the intent of picking up those threads of discussion. 

“Imagine a proposal to have one here!” she wrote in an email to the Business Journal. “An economic union arrangement between Canada, Mexico and the U.S.: It deserves a thoughtful discussion.” You can bet Anderson, who also serves as vice chairman of the national World Affairs Council, will be back with a full notebook and likely another dinner date.

Maybe now they’ll call

The announcement of Amy Proos’ significant accomplishment as Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of Year winner in the Michigan/Northwest Ohio region may open a door she has been unable to unlock.

The Proos Manufacturing CEO is a multi-time winner of the Grand Rapids Business Journal’s Top Woman Owned Business award. In a side conversation before the recognition event in March, Proos noted her manufacturing business is “pretty much” landlocked at its current location at 1037 Michigan St. NE in Grand Rapids. Asked whether she might consider working with Michigan Economic Development Corp. for site assistance for a new facility, she responded, “They won’t even return my calls.”

MEDC shouldn’t wait until November to make contact; she’ll be competing for the national award and will be among the honored guests during the Ernst & Young banquet in California. By then plenty of economic development types will have her number.

Off to the ’burbs

City of Grand Rapids Economic Development Director Kara Wood noted during a recent interview on PBS-affiliate WGVU-GVK’s “West Michigan Week” that the city may be refocusing its economic development efforts.

Wood mentioned the successful launch of several new businesses from the Michigan Street incubator space within the Grand Valley State University Center for Health Sciences. She noted a great many of the new businesses within the city are “less and less” manufacturing and more often technology or medical related. Wood commented that, down the road, her time may be spent assisting manufacturers to move into the near suburbs for full growth potential.

It’s not free to be green

Holland Board of Public Works electricity customers are being asked to pitch in, in support of energy that isn’t produced by burning coal — which is actually the utility’s primary source of electricity.

Starting today, HBPW customers who like the idea of “green” energy from renewable sources can opt to buy some — and it won’t be a painless gesture: They’ll have to pay more for it.

Renewable energy costs more to produce, so customers will be charged a premium for it: 1.5 cents per kilowatt hour above and beyond the average general rate of 11.35 cents per kWh for a household using about 650 kWh per month. They can buy it in blocks of 100 kWh, or as a percentage of their monthly usage.

“Offering this Elective Renewable Energy option responds to our overall strategy to develop a diversified portfolio of energy sources and meet customer interest in renewable energy,” says Dave Koster, general manager. 

Michigan law requires utilities to have at least 10 percent of their electricity come from renewable resources by 2015. Renewable includes wind, solar, heat from the earth’s interior (geothermal), biomass, landfill gas and others.

In 2012, nearly 5 percent of the electricity sold by HBPW came from renewable resources. Renewable energy credits were acquired through purchase agreements with Grayling Generating Station for biomass, and North American Natural Resources and Granger for landfill-based generation. HBPW recently negotiated agreements for 32 megawatts of wind energy from E.ON Wildcat 1 wind farm in Elwood, Ind., and Beebe Wind near Ithaca. 

The Holland municipal-owned utility figures its purchases will bring its renewable energy supply to more than 16 percent by 2015. 

Demo day in D.C.

Grand Rapids entrepreneur Keith Brophy was called to testify before Congress last week — but he wasn’t a hostile witness and it wasn’t the usual grilling congressmen sometimes use to make the evening news. It was about how mobile medical app entrepreneurs are changing the face of health care.

Brophy is the CEO of Ideomed, an independent corporation launched by Spectrum Health and an award-winning provider of innovative web- and mobile-based “engagement solutions,” as they put it, for the management of chronic illness.

Brophy and several other health care industry entrepreneurs testified before the U.S. House Committee on Small Business’ Subcommittee on Health and Technology. Actually, it was declared “demo day,” with the entrepreneurs demonstrating their apps that use smartphone technology to reduce health care costs and improve care for patients with chronic diseases. 

Brophy also was representing the Association for Competitive Technology, a trade association that supports mobile app developers worldwide to navigate the laws and government regulations associated with app development. 

With offices in Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor, Ideomed is the creator of Abriiz, an award-winning web- and mobile-based health management platform focused on helping people manage chronic conditions. Abriiz applications address asthma, heart failure and diabetes, among others, and are sold to insurers, managed Medicaid providers and health systems for delivery to their patients.

Brophy showed the committee how Abriiz helps young people remember to manage their asthma medications and even allows them to record data throughout the day that can help the physician pinpoint situations that may trigger an asthma attack.

They called it Abriiz because it helps make management of a chronic disease “a breeze.” Chronic diseases have a trillion-dollar-a-year impact on our economy, Brophy said, but small group trials have shown that through the use of the Abriiz app, emergency room visits noticeably declined.

Apps like Abriiz are good for the economy, too. Ideomed started three years ago with seed funding by Spectrum Health, Brophy testified, and has since gone from “a start-up with a couple of team members and no office to a booming business with 32 expert team members … and a national product line.”

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