Icy Cold Message

September 5, 2003
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If what Zelenka Nursery Inc. President RobertBrolick says is true — that the firm has not missed an interest or principal payment to a consortium of four banks financing one of the region's largest ag operations — then manufacturers in West Michigan are hearing a message that's just about as cold as dry ice.

The Journal's broadcast TV partner, WXMI-FOX 17, reported Thursday night that the notice of liquidation from the banks to Zelenka was based at least in part on the nursery not reaching its "stated goals" for 2001-03. When called by the Journal, a spokesperson for Fifth Third in Grand Rapids said he could not comment on the situation.

So if the banks are getting their agreed-upon payments yet still pulled the plug based on goals, what's the tool-and-die industry to think?

Manufacturers in West Michigan have faced their own uphill struggles since 2001, too. Yet manufacturing in Kent County, like the ag business in Ottawa County, plays a vital role in the region's economic development.

Would The Right Place Inc.'s BirgitKlohs be able to attract businesses to West Michigan without a favorable lending environment? Probably not.

It's too early to say for sure what the banks were thinking, especially when they are unable to offer comment for print. The four banks involved, Bank One, Comerica, Fifth Third, and Standard Federal, have a good track record in West Michigan. But if the 58-year-old Ottawa nursery did make payments and had other investors waiting in the wings, it's hard to see how this decision can be good for West Michigan's business community — especially manufacturing.

  • Grand Rapids mayoral candidate BarbaraSueDamore raised more than a few eyebrows during the city's Labor Day Parade when she made the trip in a shiny Rolls Royce while layoffs continued to plague GR and after she lambasted mayoral contender George Heartwell with her "silver spoon" description. If Damore should win the election, she should keep in mind that the mayor's wheels are always a sore spot with commissioners and the public.

In fact, once he leaves office, GRMAYOR JohnLogie is going to have some decisions to make. First, of course, is the issue of false advertising on his personalized license plates. That's easy: FMRMYR. Second, however, is that for the first time in a dozen years he will be free to choose his own mode of transportation. Maybe the city will give him one of those shiny yellow trucks as a going-away present. You know, like the one he almost crashed during the opening of a parking ramp a few years ago.

  • Apparently, the city of Grand Rapids is getting the upper hand in its war against mosquitoes and the West Nile Virus.

DaveKraker, director of environmental health for the Kent County Health Department, said that, so far, no West Nile cases have shown up locally.

He said there could be several factors contributing to this. "There's more immunity out there this year in birds, in animals and in humans. The weather could play a part. Then there's a lot of larvicide being used in the metropolitan area. And there's greater public awareness about things like reducing mosquito habitat."

One West Michigan business at the forefront of the effort, Sierra Consultants, has had "Skeeter Beater" crews working diligently since late July to apply an environmentally friendly larvicide to catch basins across the city. President DaveVerSluis said a recent sampling has shown a 75 percent reduction of mosquitoes in city catch basins, compared to a sampling done prior to the treatments.

VerSluis said citizens have been helpful by not parking over catch basin grates and by cleaning off the grates so Skeeter Beater crews could reach them.

And there's another payoff for the company, too. He said when the Skeeter Beater motors down city streets, many residents wave and give drivers a "thumbs up" sign.

"It's a great feeling to see how much they appreciate our efforts," said VerSluis.

But those efforts need to be maintained. The county's Kraker said that in 2002, the incidence of West Nile peaked from mid-August into early October, and even now the disease is spreading rapidly throughout the country.

"We can't let our guard down now," he said.

  • For Grand Rapids to have impressed somebody from Lawrence, Kan., (see story on Page B4) is no great shakes.

Make no mistake, Lawrence is a clean, quaint town and a river runs through it — or, at least, a shallow stream kind of meanders around it. A prominent figure from the South, William Quantrill, did a massive urban renewal project on Lawrence in 1863, and it's been uphill ever since.

During its broiling summers Lawrence has 80,000 residents. Come autumn, classes start up at the University of Kansas and the population swells by about 50 percent.

The prime source of entertainment in Lawrence is not the championship basketball program, but the injured disbelief of architecture students from New York City. They attend KU because they can't afford NYU or Columbia and they can't believe life in a fly-over town — no seaport, no hookers, no Hudson River, restaurants without booze, no Bronx, no Fifth Avenue, no Broadway, no stolen Rolexes on sale.

On the other hand, for someone from Kansas City to be impressed with Grand Rapids is a high compliment.

Greater Kansas City is a town of 2 million with riverfront bluffs that make ours look like a molehill.

Kansas City has tremendous economic and cultural diversity, scientific research centers on a par with the VAI, plus high limestone ridges from which one can seem to see forever. Just as in Kent County, KC's political leaders for decades have set aside large swaths of parkland for posterity.

Like Lawrence, Kansas City broils in the summer. In winter, it has little snow but a hardy continental climate that often drops temps to  minus 20, moved along with knifing prairie breezes.

Still, having visitors from a thriving area such as Kansas City impressed with West Michigan is a feather in the region's cap.    

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