Street Talk

Street Talk: And not a penny from the millage

Still sharp.

March 27, 2015
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Kent County commissioners were at the dedication last week of the new Kent County Veterans Services office, formerly called the Kent County Department of Veterans Affairs.

Located at 836 Fuller Ave. NE in a building the county already owned, the new facility has signage making it more visible than the previous office at 82 Ionia Ave. NW in downtown Grand Rapids. It has much more parking and the building is easier to navigate for the elderly and disabled. Being close to the I-196 expressway, getting to it should be faster for many living outside Grand Rapids.

Chair of the Kent County Board Dan Koorndyk said it is “an exceptional location for our veterans to attain services they’ve earned in a far more comfortable environment.”

The renovation of the facility cost the county about $90,000. It is the result of the approval by voters in November of a new millage for veterans services. It adds 0.050 mills to the county tax bill, which will generate slightly more than $1 million for veterans services each year through 2021. It is the equivalent of $5 per year additional tax on a $200,000 home.

In recent years, the Kent County’s veterans services office had been budgeted $300,000 annually, and that appropriation will continue along with the new millage revenue. The purpose of the Veterans Millage is to increase the number of staff members who can help veterans identify and apply for state and federal programs for veterans.

Gov. Rick Snyder’s recommended FY 2015 budget includes $15.4 million for the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency. That does not include the cost of operating the two veterans homes in Michigan, which are budgeted for $67.1 million.

Meanwhile, in Washington, President Barack Obama is proposing a 2016 budget of $168 billion for the Department of Veterans Affairs. He said on Feb. 2 the goal is to ensure high-quality and timely health care for veterans, “getting veterans their earned benefits quickly and efficiently, ending veteran homelessness and helping veterans and their families get good jobs, education and access to affordable housing.”

After the millage passed, the county’s plans for spending the money came under close scrutiny. One commissioner didn’t think county officials needed to hire more employees so quickly for the veterans office, and a veteran who worked for passage of the millage objected to some administrative costs coming out of the tax revenue.

When announcing the impending dedication ceremony for the new Veterans Services facility, Koorndyk emphasized the $90,000 spent renovating it came out of the county’s Capital Improvement Program.

“Absolutely no millage dollars were used for these renovations,” said Koorndyk.

Sisu later?

Sisu Global Health, a Grand Rapids startup developing the Hemafuse, a manual autotransfusion device for quickly and efficiently returning the pooling blood into a patient in surgery in less developed parts of the world, gave us a start when it said last week it had a “new spot: Charm City.”

What? Leaving the Beer City for Baltimore?

In her blog posting March 17, Sisu Global Health CEO Carolyn Yarina said that, six weeks ago, “we moved to the Charm City for the DreamIt Health Accelerator program from our medical device manufacturing home in Grand Rapids, Michigan. We were looking for other resources and mentors in both the blood transfusion and global health community to take our company to the next level, and we’ve found them.”

There were a couple of clues indicating it’s not quite as permanent as it sounds. An update email headlined “Sisu’s New Spot: Charm City,” indicated the company’s mailing address is still 234 N. Division Ave. — the GR Current facility where Sisu has been located practically since the company was formed in March 2014.

That same email announcement also has a subhead stating the company “is taking a break from Michigan winters.”

Some might remember that in January, Sisu Global Health took home the top Business Journal Newsmaker honors in the startup category. So the Business Journal emailed co-founder and marketing officer Katie Kirsch, asking if Sisu was totally gone from GR.

“We are still based out of GR Current — we are just undergoing a business program in Baltimore. We’ll let you know if anything changes,” she replied.

Well, OK, then.

About the so-called “Charm City”: The nickname was created and promoted by a team of advertising execs in Baltimore in 1975, when the city fathers were desperate for a better public image of a city fraught with urban decay. OK, so it’s doing better now.

But we’ll take Beer City any day.

Lions and gazelles

More than 400 people attended the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce celebration Thursday honoring the businesses and individuals that strengthen West Michigan’s culture on a daily basis.

One of those in attendance, Tony Castillo, president of Milagro 6 LLC (McDonalds), used the opportunity to pass along a favorite quote from author Christopher McDougall.

“Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must outrun the fastest lion, or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn't matter whether you're the lion or a gazelle — when the sun comes up, you'd better be running.”

Some of those running at the head of the Hispanic community’s pack include Lindo Mexico Restaurant, winner of the Business of the Year award, and Sport Latino Magazine, honoree as the Most Promising Hispanic Business.

On the individual side, Herman Miller’s Abe Carrillo was named Businessperson of the Year; Arturo Gonzalez of Kids’ Food Basket earned Young Professional of the Year honors; Alan Headbloom, of Headbloom Cross-Cultural Communication, took home the Building Bridges Award; and Carlos Sanchez, of the Ferris State University Latino Business & Economic Development Center, was recognized with the Nonprofit Champion Award.

While the winners might disagree on the lion or gazelle designation, they can all agree that running is a daily part of business.

Diamond in the rough

The Hispanic community isn’t the only one adding to West Michigan’s diversity. There is a significant presence of German business leaders here, too, thanks to Birgit Klohs and The Right Place.

One of those leaders, Horst Lach of Lach Diamond Inc. is marking a milestone birthday April 3, and his employees dropped us a note to let us know how much they appreciate his efforts. Might not be the best 75th birthday present Lach receives, but it’s probably close.

“(We are) proud of him that he settled in Grand Rapids over 30 years ago,” said Wilgard Henkey, one of those employees. “All of his employees are wishing him a wonderful birthday.”

Lach Diamond is a manufacturer in the diamond tool industry, and Horst Lach has earned the nickname “Hidden Champion” for his brilliant ideas and developments that were greatly responsible for the rethinking of the industry’s tooling sector.

Lach said he has no regrets regarding the business and is pleased his son Robert and daughters Annabelle, Denise and Iris all are involved with the company.

His golf game, however, could use some work. “I started too late; never enough time,” he said. “Otherwise, I would have had a better handicap!”

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