Street Talk

Street Talk: The SBA road show

Baby makes 4.

May 5, 2017
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The new leader of the Small Business Administration’s Michigan district is getting down to business quickly.

Constance Logan, who was promoted in January to the position of SBA Michigan district director, based in Detroit, had been working for five years in the deputy district director role, which she compares to the role of chief operating officer.

When she was promoted to director, Teri Billups stepped into the deputy position.

Now that Logan is leading the charge, she has been traveling around the state meeting with SBA stakeholders via what she calls “listen and learn roundtables.”

Locally, she has met with leaders such as Keith Brophy, state director of the Michigan Small Business Development Center, and Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women CEO Bonnie Nawara about strengthening and developing initiatives that are good for small businesses and female entrepreneurs.

The Business Journal spoke with Logan when she was in town recently to attend a GROW open house honoring volunteers and celebrating the nonprofit’s recent office renovation.

Logan said she is proud of Nawara’s work with GROW.

“GROW is serving the community well,” she said. “Bonnie is very involved with the community and is open to taking on new initiatives.”

One such program Logan and Nawara hope to expand to Grand Rapids is the SBA’s Emerging Leaders Initiative, a seven-month training course that helps businesses reaching their growth ceiling — especially in challenged communities — blossom and expand with the help of new resource networks and innovative thinking.

“It’s for helping business owners start working on their business instead of in it,” Logan said.

Loosen the belt

Ron Koehler thinks Kent County school districts have done enough belt-tightening since the recession, and now it’s time to start investing in programs and teachers.

It seems a few voters agreed with him.

The Kent Intermediate School District regional enhancement millage, also known as Strong Schools, Strong Communities, passed by less than 6,000 votes in a May 2 special election.

For many of the cities and townships throughout Kent County, the millage was the only proposal on the ballot.

Perhaps that explains why voter turnout was so low. Only 16.44 percent of Kent County’s 462,654 registered voters went to the polls. Just more than 74,000 voters decided on funding for an ISD that serves 95,000 students.

The millage will add $19.9 million in funding to the 20 districts in the Kent ISD, or $211 per pupil for a 10-year period. It will cost the average homeowner $6.70 per month, or about $80 per year.

Koehler, assistant superintendent of organizational and community initiatives and legislative affairs at Kent ISD, told the Business Journal in April the funds will maintain existing programs and improve other services.

“Each district would use those funds for their own priorities,” he said. “All would like to provide greater connection to business and early college programs for their students. They all have different needs.”

Although Kent ISD recognizes that a $211-per-pupil increase will not cover all the needs that exist, since the districts are operating at $1,200 per pupil below the rate of inflation, Superintendent Ron Caniff said before the election that the ISD felt asking for more would be too risky.

“It was a harsh political reality that we would probably not be able to pass a higher millage because the concept of a regional enhancement millage is new to Kent County voters, since we have not done it before,” Caniff said.

Walk in the park

Wyoming voters overwhelmingly gave city officials the opportunity to make capital improvements in Wyoming parks.

More than 57 percent of voters who cast ballots in the May 2 special election approved the flexible funding initiative, which will allow the city to spend dollars collected under the dedicated Library Maintenance millage for the city’s park system. The request was not an increase in the amount of millage collected and will not reduce the city’s ability to maintain the Kent District Library branch at 3350 Michael Ave. SW.

“We are very pleased that the citizens of Wyoming have given us the flexibility to invest in our park system,” said Rebecca Rynbrandt, director of community services. “By allowing us to change the way we spend our dedicated Library Maintenance millage, we can make significant capital improvements in four parks: Ferrand, Gezon, Ideal and Jackson.

“This work will enable us to maintain the quality, caliber and safety of our park system, which residents continue to affirm is important to them. We are eager to begin work on these projects, which range from tornado restoration to improved infrastructure.”

According to the five-year plan on file with the state of Michigan, the Wyoming parks system needs an estimated $23 million in capital improvements. The current Parks and Recreation millage of 1.5 mills annually captures $2.9 million, which is used to fund recreation programs, maintenance services and basic facility upkeep.

MEDC downfall?

A piece of legislation introduced in the state House of Representatives would strip the Michigan Economic Development Corp. of one of its major tools for spurring job growth.

Introduced by Rep. Steven Johnson, a Republican from Wayland, HB 4544 would repeal the Michigan Strategic Fund Act which, in 1984, created a budget for the MEDC’s economic development initiatives. MSF programs were allotted $251 million in the 2016-17 state budget.

Johnson said the role of the MSF has changed drastically since its creation and its oversight crosses the boundaries for a governmental agency. The fund recently has come under fire from legislators for the MSF board’s handling of tax credits awarded to AK Steel.

The MSF board voted last month to transfer $20.3 million in tax credits originally awarded to Severstal Dearborn, which was acquired by the Ohio-based steel maker in 2014. The credits had discontinued, and state lawmakers rejected legislation that would allow AK Steel to collect. Instead, the MSF board approved inheritance of those credits, and in response, the House Appropriations Committee voted for an amendment that would take $3 million out of the MEDC’s operating budget.

In a statement, Johnson cited the AK Steel deal as an example of government overstep.

“Programs, such as art and cultural grants as well as business and tourism attraction, can be more efficiently run by private sector coalitions than by state government,” he said. “Repealing the Michigan Strategic Fund Act would free up money for projects, such as road funding, or a well-deserved income tax reduction for Michigan residents.”

HB 4544 has been co-sponsored by Republicans Peter Lucido and John Reilly. The bill has been referred to the Committee on Tax Policy for consideration.

No fake news here

Windquest Group Inc. President Dick DeVos was the featured keynote speaker during festivities honoring the 101 Best and Brightest Companies to Work For in West Michigan, sponsored by the Michigan Business and Professional Association last week, and provided more than 30 minutes of quotable, notable comment for those in attendance (See page 8). That included an unexpected compliment to GR Business Journal for its reporting on West Michigan businesses and the area economy, fostering continued growth, “even in editorial (comment); believe me, I have a few scars … but it’s been fair, and (it’s) because the Business Journal cares about this community.”

Just after his introduction, DeVos noted that following the birth of three granddaughters, the family is now celebrating the birth of the first grandson. “There are now four Richard De Voses in the world,” the beaming grandpa announced.

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