Street Talk

Street Talk: Rotarians quiz Kent County Commission chair

Money talks.

January 23, 2015
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Dan Koorndyk, chair of the Kent County Board of Commissioners, was a guest of the Rotary Club of Grand Rapids last week to give a short presentation on Kent County government.

District 16 County Commissioner David Bulkowski, who is a member of the downtown Rotary chapter, was present, too, and a couple of pointed comments by Koorndyk showed he was well aware of that. Bulkowski is one of just four Democrats on the 19-member commission. All the others are Republicans.

Koorndyk talked about what a successful year 2014 turned out to be for the county, which again got its Triple A bond rating from both Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s Investor Service, the highest possible. It allows the county to save a lot of money by issuing bonds at the lowest interest rate.

In his Q&A session, someone asked Koorndyk if there is any talk about merging Kent County government with Grand Rapids city government. Consolidation of local governments to avoid duplication of services has been promoted around the nation as more efficient. The idea was kicked around here in 2011 as the One Kent proposal put forth by business leaders.

Koorndyk replied that, no, there hasn’t been any talk about that. He said the city and county governments each deal with different issues.

“I don’t see that happening in the future,” he said, adding he is not sure it really works where it is being tried.

The successful transition from county management and operation of Gerald R. Ford International Airport — which the county owns — to a more independent airport authority, is one of the three big things Koorndyk thinks will happen in 2015. He noted the county successfully spun off John Ball Zoo in 2013, and “hopefully, the airport can go down the same path.”

Another question dealt with the issue of adding judges in Kent County courthouses to ease the load on existing judges. Will the county revisit that goal?

“Yes,” answered Koorndyk quickly, which drew chuckles from some of the Rotarians. He said he sees an opportunity coming in 2016 to push for the addition of another judge in Kent County.

On the issue of the county’s Triple A bond rating, Koorndyk mentioned the county used that rating to help the city of Grand Rapids get a better interest rate on its bonds to pay for new flood walls along the Grand River, a requirement by FEMA.

That prompted another question: Will the expensive new flood walls be torn down if the city tries to restore the rapids to the Grand River to spark more tourism?

Koorndyk said he wasn’t sure what the city was going to do, but he said the county would benefit from higher revenue collected through the hotel/motel use taxes.

One Rotarian asked Koorndyk to mention a county problem — anything, but “not solid waste” — for which he might have a solution. After a few moments of thought, Koorndyk said, “Make sure people running for public office are vetted better.” While the Rotarians laughed at that comment, he added, “We had a few problems last year.”

He was referring to the resignation of two county commissioners, Gary Rolls and Michael Wawee, both facing felony criminal charges in unrelated situations.

Beer is here

As you might have noticed, this week’s Business Journal is packed with stories about breweries. The Journal Focus section is largely written by our craft beer reporter, Pat Evans (with Charlsie Dewey sneaking in a law-related story).

Three years ago we didn’t have a craft beer reporter, much less a Focus section on the industry. Times have changed. Craft brewing is one of the fastest-growing industries in West Michigan and is responsible for introducing a whole new batch of people to River City.

So we’re proud that Evans is at the forefront of that movement. He has followed the industry’s growth in countless stories for the Business Journal, and along the way has become acquainted with many of the area’s movers and shakers.

Now, he gets a little of that moving and shaking for himself. His book, “Grand Rapids Beer: An Intoxicating History of River City Brewing,” is officially released today. It’s part of the American Palate series from The History Press and is available at Schuler Books and Barnes and Noble.

The 176-page book chronicles the brewing industry in Grand Rapids, starting with the pre-Prohibition era right up to the present day. There are plenty of historical photographs to complement the copy, but the story’s real hook is that it gives you insight into the people behind the industry.

It’s a historical account that is anything but dry.

“Most people know the story of today’s Beer City, but I’ve done my best to include as much as I could about the amazing pre-Prohibition days,” Evans said. “So many people know Grand Rapids as Furniture City or the city of churches, but for a majority of its existence, Grand Rapids has held a thriving beer community.”

It took Evans more than a year of diligent research and lengthy interviews to put the book together, but he said he’s pleased with the finished product and hopeful that even the most accomplished craft beer aficionados will learn something new.

“My hope is that within a year or two, this book will be out of date because the legacy of brand-new and still-to-come breweries will have grown so much that I will need to do this all over again.”

Under water

Several economies across the pond seem to be faltering, and local economist Robert Genetski thinks he knows why.

Genetski, who writes a blog at and frequently contributes to, said European leaders seem to believe the main problem with their area’s anemic growth is a lack of money and credit. But that’s not how he sees it.

“While monetary issues are part of Europe’s ongoing turmoil, the real problem is a preoccupation with the ghost of Keynes,” he said,

In the Keynesian world, he explained, monetary policy is all about manipulating interest rates to alter people’s psychology and expectations. Rather than focus on their primary role of providing liquidity, central banks focus on influencing expectations about policies by setting alternative interest rate targets.

“As for the real economy, policies promoting private wealth creation are seldom on top of the Keynesian agenda,” Genetski said. “Europe’s most recent policy fiasco involves a plan to borrow 500 billion euros to help finance government infrastructure projects. In Keynes’ quixotic world, borrowing half a trillion euros leads to a multiple expansion of spending decisions which kickstarts the economy.”

At least that’s the theory. Unfortunately for Europe, the Keynesian world is not the real world, he said. In the real world, the funds governments borrow are funds that would have been available to support the private production of goods and services. The loss of these funds to private businesses creates a multiple contraction of private spending, which offsets the increase in government spending.

“The net effect of this massive borrowing saps the economy’s strength since government tends to spend money less productively than private businesses,” he said. “So long as Europeans operate within their Keynesian world, they will continue to suffer from subpar economic performance and ongoing financial crises.”

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