Street Talk

Street Talk: Commerce route still afloat

New gizmo.

November 24, 2017
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The cross-lake shipping initiative the Business Journal reported on earlier this year has been delayed but still is en route, officials say.

The privately funded marine freight route from Muskegon to Milwaukee will launch in early 2018, cutting down on the amount of semi-truck traffic from West Michigan down to the Chicago area and north to Wisconsin and increasing the import-export capabilities of West Michigan manufacturers and farmers.

According to Les Brand, CEO of Grand Rapids-based logistics and transportation facilitator Supply Chain Solutions, and Jon Van Wylen, co-founder of Newaygo-based Eco Ships, the water-based highway was scheduled to debut at the end of summer 2017.

The two companies are the principal players in getting the initiative off the ground. SCS will provide logistical support, and Eco Ships will be the vessel operator that transports the cargo containers.

Roger Morgenstern, senior public information director of Consumers Energy — which previously owned the B.C. Cobb power plant at the deep-water terminal that now will house the cross-lake shipping port — sent a memo to the Business Journal on Nov. 15 explaining the launch of the pilot service was delayed by “factors outside of their control.”

The memo originated with the core group behind the recently announced West Michigan Shoreline Food Processing Initiative, including Marty Gerencer, principal of Morse Marketing Connections and project manager, and Dennis Marvin, principal of Okemos-based Community Engagement Services.

The West Michigan Shoreline Food Processing Initiative, announced Oct. 30, aims to connect agribusiness and food processors to talent and grow the region’s capacity for exports. One of the key parts of its plan is to use the cross-lake shipping hub as a catalyst.

They hope that ship will sail soon.

Visit from the Grinch

According to the Michigan Department of Treasury, Michiganders purchasing holiday gifts from online retailers can “conveniently” pay their outstanding use tax when filing their annual individual income tax return.

How nice of them to send a reminder.

Michigan’s use tax generally applies to purchases made when a retailer does not collect sales tax. This often happens when individuals purchase items through online or mail-order retailers or television shopping networks without physical locations inside the state of Michigan.

“With the kickoff of the holiday shopping season happening after Thanksgiving Day, be sure to check if you are being charged sales tax when you purchase items online,” said Deputy State Treasurer Glenn White, head of Treasury’s Tax Administration Group. “If the online retailer doesn’t charge sales tax, state law requires you to keep a running total and pay your outstanding use tax when you file your annual state income tax return.”

Taxpayers paid millions of dollars in use tax through their state income tax return this filing year, helping fund schools and local police and fire departments. Most of the dollars collected from taxpayers through the use tax go to the School Aid Fund, General Fund and to the Local Community Stabilization Authority, according to White.

The use tax is calculated at the rate of 6 percent of the total purchase. Items subject to use tax include appliances, books, clothing, computers, DVDs, CDs, electronics, furniture, prewritten computer software and tobacco products.

Taxpayers can report their total outstanding use tax annually when filing their Michigan individual income tax return between January and April, according to the Treasury.

Same language

In Chinese, it is called “sùdù yuēhuì.” In Korean, it is called “seupideu deiteu.” But in English, it’s called speed dating.

That is how Jamie Clover Adams, the director of Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, described her recent trade mission trip to Asia.

Adams and nine Michigan-based agricultural companies visited China and South Korea to market their products to prospective buyers.

Two days were spent in Seoul, South Korea. The first day was a retail tour. The second day was when four Michigan companies began their “seupideu deiteu" with 50 South Korea companies.

In a bit of a whirlwind, the Michigan companies had 20 minutes to convince each of the 50 South Korean buyers why they should purchase their Michigan-made products.

In some cases, companies such as Graceland Fruit and King Orchards had to convince buyers to continue purchasing their fruits. Trade between Michigan and South Korea increased by approximately 125 percent since the advent of the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement in 2012, according to MDARD officials, so the competition is getting tougher.

Michigan representatives also had to spend part of their time educating potential new Korean buyers about the benefits of fruits like tart cherries, including using cherries to make concentrated cherry juice and using tart cherries in baked goods. Before you knew it, the bell sounded, and it was on to the next table.

In China, it was much of the same but over three days. The first day was similar to Korea, where Michigan’s agricultural companies toured supermarkets and other retailers, including breweries.

On the second and third days, eight Michigan companies spent time with 75 of their Chinese counterparts in two cities, Shanghai and Hangzhou.

One of those Michigan companies was different from the rest, however. United Hops Brokerage, based in Greenville, was represented by Pam Miller. UHB is a processing center for Michigan hops, and Miller did her homework on the popularity of beer in China.

So, instead of speed dating owners of grocery stores, she said she interviewed with 12 brewery-related businesses.

Miller said she loves China and has visited on several occasions, but now she hopes to begin doing business there.

If the venture becomes successful, maybe she’ll go “sùdù yuēhuì” all over again.

Parkinson’s path

A Van Andel Research Institute scientist is collaborating with Kentucky-based Gismo Therapeutics Inc. to investigate therapeutics for a newly identified disease pathway in Parkinson’s that may lead to better treatment.

Funding comes in the form of a $384,000 SBIR grant awarded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and a $150,000 Kentucky SBIR Matching Funds grant from the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development.

Patrik Brundin, M.D., Ph.D., the Jay Van Andel endowed chair in Parkinson’s research and director of the Center for Neurodegenerative Science at VARI, along with his team, will collaborate in the research.

“We are pleased to have been awarded this grant, as it will allow us to significantly advance the isolation of stem cells that are crucially necessary for the treatment of a variety of acute diseases,” he said. “This is a critical step toward improving health care and advancing cell therapies.”

Gismo Therapeutics aims to mitigate Parkinson’s disease progression by using small-molecule compounds to intervene with glycosaminoglycans, which promote the internalization of amyloid peptides into nerve cells and spread through the nervous system, advancing the disease.

Paul Gregor, Ph.D., company founder and Gismo technology inventor, said the grants will help move their program along.

“We are pleased to have been awarded these two grants to identify new therapeutics for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease,” he said. “These funds will allow the company to advance its program from the drug discovery phase to preclinical development, with the aim of initiating IND-enabling studies in 2018.”

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