Street Talk

Street Talk: City cuts parking payments

Screen time.

July 14, 2017
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Metered parking spots may be tougher to find these days, but at least they're getting a little cheaper.

Grand Rapids announced last week it reduced the user fees for its Parkmobile app from 35 cents to 15 cents, or a 57 percent decrease if that's your game. The fee reduction comes courtesy of a new contract between the city's Mobile GR department and Parkmobile LLC.

Parkmobile users can use their iPhone, Android or Windows phone to enter in their vehicle's details and mark the parking zone they leave their car at to pay on-the-go, rather than digging for loose change at a meter or searching for a nearby paystation. Customers also can use the service by calling (800) 280-4146 and providing details over the phone.

Parking enforcement officers can see when a spot is paid for via Parkmobile, and mobile app users can receive push notifications to remind them when their time is about to expire.

In addition to the 15-cent fee, charged once per use, customers are charged the metered rate to their payment choice determined in the app, and charges end when the parking session is ended either at the app, or when the time limit at the spot is met.

Parking meter operations and DASH manager Barbara Singleton said the city is “excited, delighted and eager” to have lowered the fee for Grand Rapids drivers.

"The mobile payment option now provides even greater value and customer service to our residents and visitors, so they can get to and from their destinations more efficiently,” she said.

Global perspective

With this week’s reporting on Mackinac Technology Co.’s entrance into the Chinese market, it seems prudent to recap a trip Business Journal reporter Pat Evans took to China earlier this year.

Evans traveled for the grand opening celebration of Kunshan Production Mold Company (KPMC), a subsidiary of Muskegon-based The Anderson Group of Companies, which also includes Anderson Global and Anderson Express in Muskegon. The Anderson companies produce molds and tooling for international automobile suppliers, including wheel molds for Ford and Chrysler.

Mike Evans, Evans’ father, is the CFO and vice president of China Operations at the Muskegon-based company, which explains why Evans never wrote a full-blown article about this particular West Michigan activity in China. However, it was an eye-opening experience for the Business Journal’s de facto international reporter — remember he ventured to Cuba earlier this year, as well.

The trip took Evans to Beijing, Xi’an and Shanghai — as well as Kunshan, a city outside of Shanghai where the company is located.

“The infrastructure in China is advanced and the roads and rail made me envious,” Evans said. “But more so, the manufacturing isn’t like you’d expect with all the things we hear about Chinese labor.”

Sure, there are likely less-than-humane manufacturing practices in the nation of 1.4 billion people, but it seems the Michigan companies operating across the Pacific aren’t shorting their employees.

Evans said the recently opened multimillion-dollar facility was one of the nicest manufacturing buildings he has ever seen, and for a reporter in the industrial heavy West Michigan business environment, that’s saying something.

As noted in the Mackinac Technology story, China is making a concerted effort to be more sustainable. At KPMC, the multiple buildings are topped with solar arrays, which are subsidized and for which incentives are offered to the company.

Evans also spent time with the more than 140 employees at a celebratory barbecue, where the employees challenged the American and German executive team — KPMC is a 75-25 percent partnership between Anderson’s Shape Dynamics International and the German company Meissner — to beer-chugging competitions. We can’t say for sure whether Evans, who also covers the Grand Rapids beer scene, participated and blew his competition away.

Mike Evans recalled when he first started venturing to China a dozen years ago the employees largely didn’t have cars. Now, most of them do, and the company has a solid retention rate and comfortable living wages due in part to the management of KPMC General Manager Chong Ma.

The dozens of tooling machines run practically around the clock, while a precision laser scanner looks at the quality of each mold.

KPMC also isn’t a work-around for making product cheaper and sending it back to the U.S. Anderson owner and CEO John McIntyre made the decision to move a facility from Phoenix, Arizona, to China when a customer made the move and would switch suppliers unless Anderson followed suit.

Since then, along with the Meissner partnership, KPMC is supplying a growing market of international firms and helping send money back to the U.S., not to mention some of the U.S. production also is exported out of the country.

“The trip definitely changed my perception of manufacturing in China, even with my dad’s experience,” Evans said. “It makes a lot of sense why Michigan is putting forth a lot of effort over there. There are and will be a lot of business opportunities for Michigan companies, here and there, with how its economy continues to advance.”

An app for that

Since children are on their devices more and more, why not build an app that helps with time management for all that screen time?

A Grand Valley State University group decided to do just that.

GVSU’s Applied Medical Devices Institute (aMDI) developed an app for a local entrepreneur; it’s called Test 4 Time (T4T), and it makes children earn screen time on tablets and smartphones. T4T asks math questions for children in kindergarten through sixth grade. If they answer the questions correctly, they get the time.

“The app addresses a difficult challenge all parents have and allows parents to manage their child’s time on a device while making the experience fun, educational and challenging,” said Brent Nowak, executive director of aMDI.

The idea for the app came from its inventor and founder, Tim Smock of Forest Hills, six years ago, when his 7-year-old son asked to play video games every day.

“I would write down 20 math questions and told him if he answered them, he could have one hour on the Wii,” Smock said. “I wondered if this process could be automated and came up with the idea for Test 4 Time.”

He filed for a provisional patent in August 2011 and began exploring development options.

Smock worked in 2016 with students from Grand Valley’s School of Computing and Information Systems to build a prototype of the app. Earlier this year, he came to aMDI to bring the app to market. John Doneth, a computer science major from Ada, was hired by aMDI in February to help write code and design the app.

In six months, aMDI created a full development program for T4T, from market study to product testing to launch.

“The aMDI team, which includes students and staff members, demonstrated that we can work at the pace of industry to launch a product to industry standards,” Nowak said.

Nowak said the next step is to develop a hardware device with the T4T software that requires children to earn time on the TV and video game consoles.

The project was funded in part by the state of Michigan’s Small Company Innovation Program/Technology Commercialization Assistance program. 

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