Street Talk

Street Talk: Manufacturing makes a comeback

Search and rescue.

December 29, 2017
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The U.S. manufacturing sector continues to rebound as a result of pent-up demand for goods and, perhaps, the effect of the Trump administration’s “pro-America” rhetoric.

Seth Martindale, managing director with CBRE, attributed the growth in manufacturing to two factors.

First, the U.S. has seen limited manufacturing capacity increases since the end of the recession. Businesses were so negatively impacted by the economic downturn that almost every industry hesitated to invest any kind of capital, but as the economy started to slowly recover, demand for goods over a variety of sectors began to gradually increase, as well. Manufacturers were not prepared for continued slow and steady growth for seven-plus years.

Martindale explained limited spending on expanded manufacturing capacity combined with continued strong consumer demand led to the current position of demand significantly outpacing supply.

The second factor was what Martindale called the “pro-America” effect. The upward trend in manufacturing might have continued regardless of Donald Trump’s 2016 win, but Martindale argued his public comments encouraging investment in the manufacturing sector are likely having an impact.

“Regardless of your political stance or whether you believe the president will be able to pass legislation, his commentary is swaying decision-makers,” he said.

In preparation for the “rebirth” of manufacturing, Martindale said the U.S. must ensure there are adequate sites available in lower-cost U.S. markets to support new operations.

The more critical issue is how to staff the new manufacturing operations. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, manufacturing jobs bottomed out at 11.45 million (less than 10 percent of the country’s workforce) in 2010. The country has an even weaker supply of skilled workers in advanced manufacturing like 3-D printing.

Martindale argued the U.S. will have to shift its educational perspective to meet the demands of a growing sector and re-establish itself as a worldwide leader in manufacturing.

Grain of salt

Winter and icy roads are synonymous in Michigan. More than 1 million tons of road salt are used annually on Michigan roads. A few “salty months” means safer roads and bridges for all Michigan residents.

According to the County Road Association of Michigan, the three common de-icing chemicals used on roads are sodium chloride, magnesium chloride and calcium chloride. Each form can be used as a brine — typically a salt-water solution that is sodium chloride and water. However, magnesium chloride and calcium chloride also are used as liquids. When applied to roads, magnesium and calcium chlorides are more effective in lower temperatures than solid rock salt, the CRA said.

The three de-icing chemicals also can be used as an anti-icing agent that is applied to roads before a storm to prevent ice buildup or as a pre-wetting agent, which speeds up the melting process and reduces bounce effect.

Road salt comes out of the soil three ways: Deep shaft mining, solution mining and solar evaporation. Once the salt is collected and crushed to the proper size, it makes its way to a county road agency.

The full story about road salt on Michigan’s roads is featured in the fall 2017 edition of “Crossroads,” the quarterly journal of the CRA (bit.ly/2yDRFb1).

Purchasing methods for road salt vary among road commissions and departments. Most county road agencies order their winter salt supply through the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget using the MiDeal statewide purchasing program. CRA said it can be a challenge to budget for road salt using MiDeal, as the price often isn’t known until months after the bid is taken.

Others, like the Kent County Road Commission, order road salt directly from a supplier.

“We control our own destiny when the bid is with us. We’re not tied to MiDeal where if something goes wrong and we can’t get the product, there’s nothing we can do about it,” said Gerald Byrne, deputy managing director of operations at KCRC.

Collectively, Michigan’s county road agencies manage 75 percent of all roads in the state, including 90,000 miles of roads and 5,700 bridges. County road agencies also maintain the state’s highway system in 64 counties. Michigan has the nation’s fourth-largest local road system, according to CRA.

Raise your right hand

A handful of city officials were sworn into office just before the holiday.

Grand Rapids City Commissioner Senita Lenear (Third Ward), City Commissioner Joe Jones (Second Ward), Commissioner-Elect Kurt Reppart (First Ward), City Comptroller Sara Vander Werff, and Library Commissioners Rachel Anderson and Ivory Lehnert were sworn into office during an oath of office ceremony Dec. 19.

The ceremony took place in the ninth-floor city commission chambers inside City Hall, 300 Monroe Ave. NW.

The swearing-in proceedings happen in preparation for elected officials assuming their new positions Jan. 1.

Lenear was sworn in after earning re-election in November to her second four-year term.

Jones was sworn in after earning election to a four-year term following his appointment to the unexpired term of the Second Ward commissioner vacancy created after the election of Mayor Rosalynn Bliss

Reppart was sworn into his first four-year term, filling the vacancy created by the exit of Commissioner David Shaffer, who was term-limited from office.

Vander Werff also was re-elected to her second four-year term following an appointment.

Fantastic plastic

A Hope College researcher has some money in his pocket that ultimately could lead to creating new medicines.

Dr. Christopher Turlington, a first-year chemistry faculty member at Hope College, received a $55,000 grant from the American Chemical Society’s Petroleum Research Fund that will help him explore how to develop a “building block” that could be used for new medicines.

Turlington will be studying nitriles, a type of compound generated as a byproduct of plastics made from oil.

Nitriles are used to make a variety of products, including fuel hoses, disposable latex gloves, and drugs used to treat diabetes and cancer. Turlington is using the award to investigate new ways nitriles might be used in the development of pharmaceutical and agricultural products.

“The way I see this technology is as an enabling strategy to build the basic sub-units within larger drug molecules,” Turlington said. “There are established avenues for constructing medicinal compounds, but the route that I’m developing with nitriles could be more expedient and less expensive.”

Turlington is looking forward to starting his research program this spring, but the science itself isn’t what pleases him most. The grant includes funding so that students — three to begin with — can work with him during the school year and next three summers.

“The reason I’m most excited about it is because it lets me work with, train and support more students,” he said. “I was drawn to Hope because of the college’s strong tradition of involving students in collaborative research with faculty. Getting this grant gives me an opportunity to do just that.”

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