Street Talk

Street Talk: A competitive game

Birthday month.

December 11, 2015
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Michigan lawmakers plan to scale back tax break legislation designed to land a mega-Internet data center in the state.

The House's Tax Policy Committee chairman said Thursday the chamber will not pass a Senate-approved bill that would fully exempt data centers from Michigan's personal property tax on business equipment.

Legislators and Gov. Rick Snyder continue to negotiate two other bills Las Vegas-based data center developer Switch wants before building a mega-campus near Grand Rapids. The legislation would completely exempt Internet data centers and their co-located clients from sales and use taxes.

The bills under debate, Senate Bills 616-618, would allow the Switch SuperNAP data center to call the former Steelcase Pyramid home.

Birgit Klohs, president and CEO at The Right Place, said from her organization’s perspective, the legislation would level the playing field with 17 other states, and she appreciates the robust discussion in the House and Senate.

“We are making tax policy, not an incentive policy. This is different,” said Klohs. “I can tell you my colleagues from the surrounding states have already offered Switch alternatives to locate in their states and so far they have said no, but we just have a little bit of time to get this to the finish line.”

Klohs noted the situation really revolves around whether Michigan wants to engage in and support a new industry that could help diversify the state, and is not just about West Michigan or the Pyramid building.

“It just so happened that a company called Switch threw a ball onto the field and said, ‘You weren’t even on our radar screen. We want to come here, and here is what we need to be successful in your state,’” said Klohs. “Clearly, it is a major project, but it is also an industry I hope we want to be at the forefront of and not see the taillights.”

She indicated at this point the decision is a “do or die” for the Switch project, and if the state is unable to move policy forward in a way ensuring its competitive edge among other upper Midwestern states, Michigan could lose its place “in the potential lineup in the industry.”

Honor roll

A manufacturer and a law firm are the latest West Michigan organizations to earn national recognition.

Stryker Corp. of Kalamazoo was named 43rd on a list honoring the 50 Best Places to Work by Glassdoor, a jobs and recruiting marketplace. The list, now in its eighth year, is determined by feedback from “those who really know a company best” — employees.

Employees nominate their companies by submitting an anonymous review on the Glassdoor website. Glassdoor said it received more than 1.6 million company reviews this year.

Employees are asked to share their opinion on the best reasons to work for their employer, as well as any downsides, and are encouraged to provide advice to management.

They also are asked to rate how satisfied they are with their employer overall, their CEO, and key workplace attributes such as career opportunities, compensation and benefits, culture and values, senior management and work-life balance.

Employees also are asked whether they would recommend their employer to a friend and their opinion of the employer’s business outlook in the next six months.

A Stryker director who submitted a review to Glassdoor said Stryker is a “big organization that has kept the small company feel. [It] feels like working amongst long-time friends, which builds a culture of employees invested in each other as well as the company's long-term success.”

Warner Norcross was named Law Firm of the Year this month by one of the largest homebuilders in the country. PulteGroup, founded in Michigan but now based in Atlanta, recognized Warner Norcross for its employee benefits work.

The award was presented during Pulte’s recent Legal Summit and highlighted the work of: Mary Jo Larson, client service manager for Pulte who oversees a Warner Norcross team of seven attorneys and staff focused on employee benefits issues for the approximately 4,000-employee firm; Lisa Zimmer, who helped with special projects; Jennifer Watkins, who assisted with compensation and employee benefit issues related to the company’s transition to Atlanta; and Norbert Kugele and April Goff, who focused on health care reform and other welfare issues.

“PulteGroup works with hundreds of outside legal counsel across the country, so it is an incredible honor to be recognized as its Law Firm of the Year,” said Larson, a partner at Warner Norcross.

Rice putting

Why is wild rice so important to the Pottawatomi people? Because, according to a new documentary, “Wild rice is who we are.”

That’s the message of a new documentary that premiered Dec. 9 at Wealthy Theatre in Grand Rapids. The 24-minute film, “Mnomen|Wild Rice,” was produced by the Gun Lake Tribe, which contracted Kalamazoo-based media company Rhino Media to make the film.

The documentary is part of a larger effort to restore wild rice in West Michigan, a reseeding mission funded through a federal grant by the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

The film focuses on the harvesting of “mnomen,” the Pottawatomi word for wild rice. The food is a big part of the tribe’s diet and has been for generations. It is considered one of the four “sacred goods” and has been used in tribal ceremonies.

Wild rice is slowly on the decline because of humans manipulating water levels and putting pesticides in lakes, according to the documentary.

Because the plant has virtually disappeared from West Michigan over the last few decades, much of the documentary was filmed in other areas of Michigan where wild rice is more plentiful.

Bubbly time

’Tis the season to celebrate!

No, not the holidays. It’s time to celebrate brewery anniversaries!

On Sunday, Brewery Vivant’s Kris and Jason Spaulding will celebrate the Belgian and French-inspired brewery’s fifth anniversary with a special menu created by the creative kitchen that won last year’s Grand Rapids Magazine’s Best European Restaurant honors.

Brewery Vivant also will release its first-ever bottled beer, an oak-aged sour beer, which will introduce drinkers to its new, large-scale, sour and wild beer program, which the Business Journal reported about back in September.

“The anniversary ale will be the first offering out of our new wild and sour program where beer is fermented in foeders (large wooden tanks) and vast numbers of wood casks,” Jason Spaulding said. “Brewing in the Belgian tradition, we use multiple wild yeasts and bacteria to create wonderful sour-flavor complexity in these beers. The hardest part is the waiting. Many of these beers will age for a year or more.”

Last month, Chris Andrus and Max Trierweiler celebrated The Mitten Brewing Co.’s third anniversary by throwing a shindig and releasing their first bottled beer: Big Fella Imperial Chocolate Porter.

On Dec. 5, the anniversary of the day Prohibition was repealed, Mark Sellers and BarFly Ventures celebrated as Grand Rapids Brewing Co. also turned three. The party for GRBC was Dec. 12 this year.

Brewery Vivant isn’t alone this weekend, either, as Seth Rivard and Jeff Sheehan celebrate three years for Rockford Brewing Co., which will include a 2015 Anniversary Ale bottle release along with a re-release of the 2014 vintage.

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