Battle Of The Ferries

July 7, 2003
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The Lake Michigan version of the Merrimac vs. the Monitor?

A real duel on the water is shaping up between Lake Express LLC, the Milwaukee outfit launching high-speed ferry service to Muskegon next year, and The Lake Michigan Carferry Service Inc., operators of the S.S. Badger ferry service in Ludington that’s been making daily trips to Manitowoc, Wis., since 1992.

The folks at Lake Michigan Carferry have complained loudly and bitterly about the federal loan guarantee granted to Lake Express to start its high-speed ferry, a complaint echoed by the conservative think-tank Mackinac Center for Public Policy, whose president, LawrenceReed, criticized the loan guarantee in a recent position paper, saying that “bestowing advantages at public expense on particular businesses is bad policy” that endangers Lake Michigan Carferry, a “private, taxpaying, unsubsidized” company.

In returning fire, the folks at Lake Express, in a press kit handed out at the June 26 news conference trumpeting their news, couldn’t help but point out the favor Lake Michigan Carferry receives.

The S.S. Badger, a coal-burning vessel, operates under a “special government exemption to air pollution laws” in Wisconsin “which permits the ferry to burn coal without normal pollution restrictions.”

For what it’s worth, there are many people — including those who run Travel Michigan, the state’s travel bureau — who believe that both ferry services, since Lake Express will appeal to a different clientele than Lake Michigan Carferry, will thrive.

  • Did anyone else find it odd that the Grand Rapids Jaycees apparently neglected to tell the ($1.5 million) title sponsor, Farmers Insurance, that it was asking for Farmers Charity Classic Executive Director LanceHartman’s resignation?

Note to the up-and-coming managerial types who are cutting their teeth with the Jaycees: That’s no way to communicate with higher-ups, especially in the business world. Of course, this will give the Jaycees’ PR hopefuls some real-world experience.

  • Maybe there’s something here for the Jaycees. A new leadership-training program, designed to help people hone their professional and personal leadership skills, kicks off in Grand Haven later this summer.

The Chamber of Commerce of Grand Haven, Spring Lake and Ferrysburg is recruiting applicants in earnest for the inaugural class of Leadership Connect, a nine-month program that brings participants together once a month to network and learn about the community and themselves so they can “better capitalize on leadership opportunities,” said NancyManglos, The Chamber’s training services manager.

The program is structured to help participants examine their own traits and behaviors “so they can have a full understanding as to who they are,” how they can better collaborate with others, and ultimately become better leaders at home, in business and in the community, Manglos said.

“This will help them in all facets of their lives,” she said. “It’s an overall program to kind of create that community trustee. We’re beginning to build the program for the people who are going to take over tomorrow.”

Running from August to April, Leadership Connect has a capacity for 20 participants, at a cost of $1,500 per person. The Chamber hopes to establish scholarships in subsequent years, Manglos said.

Enrollment is open until July 18.

The program was developed over the past year by a committee consisting of representatives from chamber members that looked at similar initiatives operated by chambers of commerce and business groups in other communities around the state.

The Chamber will seek participants from businesses, including a variety of economic sectors, and nonprofit organizations, with an emphasis on creating a diverse class, Manglos said.

Following an initial day of orientation in August, and a day and a half out-of-town retreat in September, each month’s session will focus on a different topic or issue such as community arts and culture, education and youth, local government, health care and human services.

  • Not many firms are coming under more financial fire lately than Spartan Stores Inc., but it looks like the grocery retailer has a solid plan in place going forward.

CraigSturken, who took over as president and CEO late last year, can’t be too happy about a reported quarterly loss of more than $20 million. But he does have reason to be pleased now, as Spartan last week completed the sale of 17 Food Town retail grocery stores in the Toledo and southeast Michigan markets.

In Michigan the sale includes one store in Milan, three in Monroe, one in Dundee and one in Rockwood.

The Kroger Co. purchased 13 of the 17 stores.

Spartan estimates the sales will net $30 million in cash, which the company intends to use to reduce outstanding bank loans.

“The sales are an outcome of our strategic evaluation process announced in February and will help our efforts to restore retail profitability,” said Sturken.

He said the transactions will immediately improve Spartan’s operating cash flow and allow the company to concentrate on its best-performing grocery stores.

Sturken said the company is evaluating the future of the remaining Food Town stores and expects to announce their fate shortly.

  • Higher education lost one of its business leaders last week when DavidMielke, dean of Grand Valley State University’s Seidman School of Business, resigned effective immediately.

“Giving up my administrative duties as dean will allow me to devote more time to specific areas of interest,” said Mielke, who will take a sabbatical and use the time to continue research and his scholarly activities while preparing to return to the classroom and a position on the Seidman School faculty. “My work with the SmartZone projects, particularly the Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center in Muskegon, has spurred increased interest on my part in the renewable energy field.”

An interim dean will be named in the fall while the university searches for a permanent replacement.               

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