Now playing 'The Whipping Boy'

January 12, 2009
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Anger over the Michigan Business Tax has spawned a "whipping boy," according to State Rep. Bill Huizenga of Zeeland — his pet legislation, the Michigan film industry incentives.

Huizenga was at a lunch gathering at the old Park Theater in Holland last week, organized by the Holland Area Chamber of Commerce. Lots of business people were there to hear about the movie industry work now taking place in Michigan due to the incentives, and the growing business opportunities related to film productions.

Scott Brooks of TicTock Studios in Holland said there is some resistance to the film industry incentives, noting that several weeks ago there was an attempt in the Michigan Legislature to put the brakes on the legislation enacted last April to reimburse movie producers for some of the money they spend shooting movies in Michigan. The attempted legislation fizzled, and he said, and allegations that the incentives don't help business in Michigan are "so far from the truth."

Brooks mentioned the Michigan business community's animus toward the MBT as the source of opposition to the film industry incentives.

Huizenga definitely agrees with that analysis. He told the Business Journal after the luncheon that the state's business sector is angry about the MBT and are making the film industry incentives "the whipping boy."

The the actual out-of-pocket cost to the Michigan treasury in film subsidies is "greatly overstated," he said, and the Michigan Treasury's estimates of the cost are "a worst case scenario."

Huizenga estimates that for movies shot here in 2008, the total cost to the state in tax abatements and cash reimbursements will probably be from $30 to $35 million. On the other hand, the movie makers spent "probably a couple hundred million" or more here last year. There were several movie productions, including some major films such as "The Steam Experiment," shot in Grand Rapids, and a Clint Eastwood film, "Grand Torino," which was shot in southeast Michigan.

"We need to give it some time," said Huizenga, to see the benefit of luring Hollywood to Michigan to spend money.

The film industry won't be "a magic bullet" to solve Michigan's economic problems, he said, but it is "a piece of the puzzle" —  and the incentives are "not an iceberg that's going to sink the ship."

Bissell's men-in-tights ready for '09

Bissell is all fired up this year about its pro cycling team.

The company has been the title sponsor of a professional sports cycling team for several years, but in November Bissell chairman/CEO Mark Bissell went further — he acquired ownership of the team.

The team members and managers are cycle racing pros from all over the U.S. and several foreign countries. One rider, Graham Howard, is a local boy. Go Graham!

Some of the other big name riders on the Bissell team include Ben Jacques-Maynes (California) and Tom Zirbel (Colorado).

Apparently cycle racing is a brand-name bonanza for sponsors. Bissell has advised us that their team uses "Pinarello’s top carbon frame, the 'Prince.'" All the team bikes will be fitted with "the new Campagnolo Record 11-speed," plus Easton’s EC and EA range of wheels, Vredestein tires, Speedplay Zero pedals, MOst products (handlebars, stems, cages, posts, saddles and tape), "and Blackburn computers."

Other brands involved include Merrell shoes and clothing, from Wolverine World Wide.

Regional sponsors of the Bissell team in the 2009 racing season are the Kellogg Company, Advantage Benefits, EmploymentGroup, Emerald Spa, and Wynalda Litho.

Kalamazoo Community Foundation’s Gloria Z. Royal announced last week that she plans to leave her position as vice president of marketing communications for a similar job at the Arcus Foundation. While that’s a new post for Arcus, which is also in Kalamazoo, Royal said KCF CEO Juan Olivarez intends to leave the position vacant for the time being “due to the current economic crisis.”

Attorney General Mike Cox and Treasurer Robert J. Kleine revealed last week that Michigan will be the lead plaintiff in a federal lawsuit that accuses defunct investment house Bear Stearns of misleading investors prior to its collapse last year. The State of Michigan Retirement Systems lost $62 million in the fire sale to JPMorgan. Cox claims Bear Stearns didn’t come clean about its exposure to subprime loans, starting in December 2006. Cox is bullish on lawsuits related to state pension fund losses in the economic crisis. In apparent attempts to derive milk from a variety of stones, the state also has filed legal action against AIG, for $109 million, Tyco, for $81 million, and HealthSouth, for $33 million, all for pension fund market losses allegedly because of fraud. If only we could get Cox to sue on behalf of our battered 401(K)s.

Some new old players

Michael Ellis is likely to get his old parking spot back on Tuesday. That’s when city commissioners are expected to appoint the president of the Ellis Parking Co. to the city’s Parking Commission — again. Ellis served a full term on the board until he was term limited a few years back. But he still regularly attends commission meetings to key a close eye on the competition. Ellis will replace David Kammeraad, owner of Preusser Jewelers, and his dry wit will be missed.

Commissioners are also likely to appoint H&H Metal Source President and CEO Brian Harris to the Downtown Development Authority. Harris will jump into the seat seemingly held for nearly forever by Waters Corp. top executive David Cassard. So that chair should be fairly broken-in and plenty warm for Harris.

Mayor George Heartwell will get re-upped Tuesday for another term on the Convention and Arena Authority and the city’s Public Works Director Patrick Bush will get the spot on the Grand Valley Metro Council that retired City Manager Kurt Kimball held since the board began looking at the region’s transportation and infrastructure so long ago.

Commissioners reappointed Kimball to the seat late last year even after he announced he would leave the city. Sometimes it’s just hard to cut those long-term ties.

New Year’s cash drop

Downtown restaurant and tavern owners weren’t the only ones who reportedly raked in the cash on first New Years Eve the city and Citadel Broadcasting dropped a big ball near Rosa Parks Circle. The city’s parking system did quite well, too. Parking Services Director Pam Ritsema said a few downtown ramps and lots filled up for the Grand Rapids Griffins game, emptied after the game, and filled-up again for the countdown to 2009. Ritsema didn’t know the system’s exact take from the night, but she said, “I do know it was a great night for us.”  With Groundhog Day coming up maybe something else could be dropped downtown. And dropped again, and again, and again …

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