Street Talk

Street Talk: Tapping the brakes

Credit check.

August 12, 2016
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A little barometric pressure in the small business community could portend a storm front.

A slight slowdown in sales, profits and hiring indicate some pullback in the small business economy, according to the latest Small Business Association of Michigan Barometer survey.

“We’re not hearing any serious worries expressed yet, but after a couple years of strong economic performance, entrepreneurs seem to be tapping the brakes a bit,” said SBAM Vice President of Communications Michael Rogers. “One of the biggest issues they continue to face is access to qualified talent — and it’s a problem that’s not going to be resolved quickly.”

SBAM surveyed 636 business executives in late spring and a note of pessimism seeped into some of the responses.

For example, of the small business owners surveyed, 40 percent said they had sales increases over the previous six months, down from 50 percent in the previous survey.

Likewise, 30 percent reported a profit increase in the most recent survey as compared to 37 percent in the previous one. There was a 5 percent swing in owners saying they’ve hired more workers (to 27 percent from 32 percent).

Rogers said the survey’s “forward looking” statements also were tinged with caution. Sixty percent said they expected sales to increase over the next six months, compared to 63 percent in the previous survey; 54 percent anticipate increased profits, which is the same for as the previous six months; and 34 percent expect to hire, which is down from 40 percent in the previous survey.

Eye in the sky

Sometimes, Business Journal reporters go to great lengths — and heights — to get a story.

Today’s Page 1 story about construction cranes wouldn’t be complete without a bird’s-eye view, so last week reporter Pat Evans found himself nearly 200 feet above terra firma on a construction crane.

Evans, Celebration! Cinemas President J.D. Loeks and Jeff Olsen, director of development at 616 Development, accepted an invitation from Pioneer Construction’s Chris Beckering to get a unique perspective on downtown Grand Rapids.

The group climbed more than 150 feet of ladders just to get into position.

It took 42 trucks to carry the crane and three days and multiple other cranes to put together, but Evans reported it “seemed fairly stable.”

Now that it’s constructed at 20 E. Fulton St., the crane won’t stop moving until the building’s 12 stories are finished, meaning a crane operator will work many days from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

When Rockford Construction President of Construction Shane Napper was looking for a crane operator for the Grand Rapids Art Museum construction, there were only four qualified individuals, and two already were involved in long-term projects. There are different certifications for the various heights of tower cranes, he said.

Napper said most of the cranes in West Michigan are leased from companies in Chicago or Detroit, where cranes are much more common on construction projects.

“There’s a construction firm in Chicago that does enough business that they own their own tower cranes,” Napper said. “They do a majority of their business in downtown Chicago, with super-high buildings and not super-heavy supplies. There’s no way to get a conventional crane to work downtown Chicago.”

Policy purpose

The West Michigan Policy Forum is back for its biennial engagement.

Every two years, the conference brings together more than 500 Michigan business leaders, professionals and policy makers to discuss economic issues and set WMPF’s agenda.

This year’s event will be Monday, Sept. 26, at the JW Marriott in downtown Grand Rapids.

The WMPF already has announced its lineup of speakers. David Walker, senior strategic adviser for PricewaterhouseCoopers and former head of the U.S. Government Accountability Office, will talk about why Michigan cities are going broke. Star Parker, founder and president of the Center for Urban Renewal and Education, will explore market-based policies that are successful in fighting poverty and connecting people to jobs.

Alec Ross, distinguished visiting fellow at Johns Hopkins University and author of “The Industries of the Future,” will serve as the luncheon keynote speaker.

Former Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich and Bill Richardson, former governor of New Mexico, also will preview the first 2016 national presidential debate.

Leadership gathering

West Michigan’s female leaders might want to reserve a few days at the end of September.

The Athena International Leadership Conference is coming to the Lansing Center, Sept. 25-27, and will feature actor and humanitarian Ashley Judd as keynote speaker. Florine Mark, CEO of The Weight Watchers Group, will receive the organization’s top award.

“The WW Group Inc. is an outstanding representation of Athena values,” said Sarah Jennings, conference chair and past president of Athena WIN, Lansing’s local affiliate and event host. “We could not be more honored to recognize the WW Group for its commitment to a diverse leadership team and the empowerment of women leaders. Florine Mark is a phenomenal trailblazer who has always shown a passion for supporting other women and has earned respect from that work and commitment across the globe.”

Registration for the Lansing leadership event is available at athenaignite.com.

Shelley Irwin, producer and host of WGVU’s “Morning Show” and several local PBS shows, is the 27th winner of the Grand Rapids Athena Award.

Rick Baker, president and CEO of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, said Irwin has “relentlessly” given back to West Michigan, making her an “exemplary model” of Athena Leadership.

Irwin and other West Michigan finalists will be honored Sept. 15 during a luncheon at the JW Marriott in downtown Grand Rapids.

“She has a sincere passion to make a difference in our community by elevating those around her,” Baker said.

Fresh start

The Start Garden show is hitting the road.

The seed fund’s monthly 5X5 Night will stop in at LINC Community Revitalization Inc.’s gallery space, 1167 Madison Ave. SE, Grand Rapids, at 5 p.m., Aug. 24.

LINC representative Montel Pierre said five idea creators will pitch their ideas before a panel of judges for a chance to win $5,000 to move the idea forward. Ideas can be submitted at 5x5.com.

Trust bust

Next month, the first major update to the Michigan Credit Union Act in 13 years will go into effect. A new provision allows credit unions to offer trust services through a credit union service organization.

However, that update likely won’t make many ripples in the trust services industry as a whole, Legacy Trust CEO Bill Walker said.

“It’s been allowed by prior commissioners in the regulatory world; it’s just never been in the statute,” Walker said.

Previously, a state-chartered credit union had to partner with an out-of-state CUSO if it wanted to offer trust services. The new statute authorizes the creation of a CUSO without that restriction.

The updates, which go into effect Sept. 7, also create the Credit Union Regulatory Fund, which protects state exam fees, reduces required board meetings to six times a year and authorizes credit unions to offer loan promotions and prize incentives for refinancing loans.

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