Retailers Air Concerns

June 1, 2008
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More Michigan retailers rang up better sales in April, but not enough to keep the industry's short-term sales projections from falling, according to the Michigan Retail Index, a joint project of Michigan Retailers Association and the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.

The number of retailers posting year-over-year gains rose in April after a significant drop in March. But gainers were outnumbered — for the sixth consecutive month — by those whose sales declined. Looking ahead, fewer retailers predict improved sales for the next three months.

"Retailers have been looking forward to the economic stimulus program that has started putting $3.8 billion into Michigan," said James P. Hallan, MRA president and CEO. "But not even that injection of money is pushing up expectations weighted down by skyrocketing gasoline prices, real estate woes and other dismal economic news. April was a reversal of March — when sales were down but expectations rose because of the stimulus checks."

  • The World Affairs Council of Western Michigan is bringing in the top Army official in the country on June 17: Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the Chief of Staff, U.S. Army, Washington, D.C. He will talk to council members and guests about "Meeting the Challenges of Persistent Conflict in the 21st Century" at 6:30 p.m. in the Ambassador Ballroom of the Grand Plaza Hotel.

And according to council Executive Director Dixie Anderson, here's the "Say Yes" or "Pure Michigan" part: The Defense Contract Coordination Center (DC3) of the MEDC is the evening's lead sponsor and will host a dinner after Casey's talk for Michigan companies so they can network with government and prime contractors who might need their products and services. Each table will have a program manager, either representing a sponsor or another high-level agency, seated with a facilitator and Michigan businesses.

World Affairs Council Board Member Deanna Richeson is the assistant director of the DC3 office and couldn't get to the phone fast enough to talk to Anderson when she saw the notice that Casey was scheduled for a visit. She's responsible for bringing the state in, and building the evening into a "blockbuster" for Michigan companies that hope to do more federal defense contract business. 

Richeson's boss, Mark Lott, Major General, U.S. Marine Corps (retired) said, "Michigan has the skilled  work force, engineering talent and manufacturing capabilities to provide technology, quality ground vehicles and other equipment to safeguard the lives of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines."

Hired in July 2007, Lott heads the DC3, the first time the state of Michigan has had an office solely dedicated to increasing the number of the state's companies as suppliers of defense and homeland security-related hardware. He wants to bring more federal military spending to Michigan. Anderson said Lott brings an insider's perspective. "He commanded the Marine Corps Logistics Command with responsibility for its world-wide supply chain management and he brings real-world expertise: He's a veteran of five combat tours."

Anderson expects Gov. Jennifer Granholm and MEDC head Jim Epolito to attend. Local defense contractors already on board are L-3 Communications, Magna Donnelly, Patriot Antenna, Spartan Motors and GE Aviation (formerly Smiths Industries).

"The Council's mission is to inform and educate about American foreign policy issues, but if one of our events can trigger more business for Michigan companies and help the state of Michigan, we're there," Anderson said.

For information about the event, call the World Affairs Council office at (616) 776-1721 or e-mail

  • "Skeletons in the Closet: Stories From the County Morgue," written by true-crime author Tobin T. Buhk and Dr. Stephen D. Cohle, is available on local bookshelves.

For more than two decades, Cohle has been solving vexing forensic mysteries as the medical examiner for Kent County. As a whole, the cases he considers represent a cross-section of crime in mid-America, often committed by a macabre cast of characters: "Jekyll and Hyde" alcoholics who turned homicidal; killers who resorted to the most bizarre methods in concealing their crimes; and the rarest species in the zoo of criminology, a two-woman team of serial killers.

Based on his work with Dr. Cohle, Buhk recounts 21 real-life stories, each with a unique forensic twist. Offering a glimpse into the strange sights, sounds and smells of the county morgue, these tales of intrigue, deception and murder will fascinate true-crime buffs, fans of CSI and readers of mystery and detective stories.

  • The YMCA of Greater Grand Rapids, for the second consecutive year, is the recipient of a charitable donation from Fifth Third's River Bank Run. The $20,000 record-setting contribution is the end result of a record-breaking number of participants in this year's Fifth Third River Bank Run.

Fifth Third Bank donated $1 from each 25K, 10K, 5K Run and 5K Walk registration, as well as additional donations received from participants. This contribution will go directly toward YMCA Healthy U programs in part to service the Harrison Park Elementary School in Grand Rapids.

  • The Economic Club of Grand Rapids' 21st annual dinner was held Wednesday at DeVos Place. More than 1,600 people gathered to hear a keynote speech by  NBC newsman and author Tom Brokaw and to honor the evening's award recipients. Former President Gerald R. Ford was awarded the Slykhouse Lifetime Achievement Award posthumously, and Spartan Stores CEO Craig Sturken was presented with the Business Person of the Year Award.

Attendance for the 2008 annual dinner is the club's third largest; the only bigger draws were former President Bill Clinton (2007) with about 2,100, and humanitarian rock star Bono (2006), with just more than 2,000.

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