Will the Saint's come marching in with buy

July 6, 2009
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Is there really a Ford in our future?

Is Saint Mary’s Health Care about to bring the money-losing Metro Health Hospital into the big Catholic family of Trinity Health?

The official word is “nyet,” but privately, sources say there have been discussions that could lead to détente and some higher level of cooperation. Two signs of progress, the wags say, are Trinity Health’s support of Metro Health’s request to the Certificate of Need Commission to re-open heart program standards, and that a corner of the Cancer Center at Metro Health Village has been given over to an extension of the Warren Reynolds Library of Saint Mary’s Lacks Center after much negotiation.

Metro Health spokeswoman Ellen Bristol and Trinity Health’s Stephen Shivinsky, vice president for corporate communications and public relations, both pooh-poohed merger rumors.

“Not true,” Shivinsky said. “We’re supporting their quest to open the CON standards review and nothing beyond that. We do partnerships with hospitals all around the state. It is just one of many ways we collaborate with somebody in one of our markets. There’s nothing more or less to it than that.”

“We are not for sale,” Bristol added. “We are not merging with them.”

Even though Metro and Saints have a history of sometimes thorny relations, the rumors have become widespread, perhaps fanned by last month’s WWMT channel 3 story that aired the denials.

High-level sources have acknowledged to Street Talk that talks are ongoing as Metro Health and Trinity attempt to set aside any past differences to look for ways to survive the bad economy and Spectrum Health’s continued assault on their market shares.

Down on the farm

They went back to the farm, for the second time in three months. This time Kent County Commissioners Carol Hennessy, Brandon Dillon, Sandi Frost Parrish and Keith Courtade made the weekend trip to Lancaster County, Pa., late last month to learn how that county has preserved farmland and used that action to boost its economy. They were joined by Dennis Heffron, chairman of the county’s agricultural preservation board and a trustee in Grattan Township.

“The issue of expanding the agricultural economy is very important right now. Land-use planning saves money and creates jobs. The only way to completely understand effective land-use planning is to take a first-hand look, and that’s what we’re going to do,” said Heffron before the group departed.

The first trip to Lancaster County took place in April, led by County Commissioner Bill Hirsch. “Our number one issue today is how we get our economy back on track. Lancaster is a place where county officials have done some very innovative things to diversify their economy through land-use planning, and it has worked,” he said.

The Kent County Farm Bureau, the Frey Foundation and the Grand Rapids Community Foundation paid for the trip.

Dirty deed, not so cheap

Some Kent County residents may receive an unsolicited letter from a company urging them to obtain an “official” or certified copy of the deed to their home, according to Kent County Clerk/Register of Deeds Mary Hollinrake.

The letter from National Deed Service Inc. wants to make county residents $59.50 poorer by ordering a copy of their deed through them, rather than the official keeper of real property records for $3 or less.

County residents who want copies of their deeds need to know they can obtain them directly from the Register of Deeds office. This can be done by either visiting the office at 300 Monroe Ave. NW, or by going online at www.accesskent.com

Auto suppliers on shaky ground

Most of the attention lately has been focused on the General Motors bankruptcy, with many people in West Michigan worrying — and rightly so — about the future of local companies that supply the once-mighty GM.

There seem to be fewer worries in the air regarding Ford Motor Co. because it has managed to dodge bankruptcy, unlike Chrysler and GM. But that doesn't mean Ford's suppliers are out of the woods. In fact, they are out on a limb, too, according to Erich Merkle of Autoconomy.com, an auto industry analyst based in Grand Rapids.

"Ford just recently announced they are going to stop doing business by the end of this year with 750 of their suppliers," said Merkle, adding that will leave about 850 companies still working with Ford.

Ford simply has too many suppliers and wants to "consolidate that number tremendously between now and the end of the year," he said.

"As it relates to Ford, you're going to find out between now and the end of the year if you're in or out," he said.

Ford's production has fallen in 2009 along with the other automakers. While not as bad as the decline at GM and Chrysler, it's still bad for business at Ford.

"I'm expecting Ford production for this year to be down about 19 or 20 percent, compared to last year," said Merkle. "That’s nowhere near what GM and Chrysler have fallen."

Sales trends in June indicated that GM was down about 33 percent and Chrysler down 42 percent, according to news out of Detroit, while Ford sales in June were better than expected, indicating a decline of only 11 percent compared to a year ago.

Even the Japanese car companies are suffering sales declines, with Merkle expecting them to finish the year about 30 percent below 2008.

"In this downturn, there's not too many places to hide," said Merkle.

Sales by the Korean carmaker Hyundai/Kia are flat.

"To be flat or just slightly down is quite an achievement in a market that’s down about 37 percent" overall, noted Merkle.

Applause, applause

As might be expected, the Small Business Association of Michigan applauded Senate action in June that cuts $1.2 billion from Michigan’s proposed 2009-2010 state government budget, according to Rob Fowler, president and CEO of SBAM.

Michigan faces a $1.7 billion budget deficit for the 2009-2010 fiscal year, according to SBAM. Compared to the Senate’s $1.2 billion in cuts, Democrats in the state House have proposed $525 million in cuts with more of the budget deficit to be made up with federal stimulus money.

Fowler praised Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester and his Republican caucus for their budget decisions. “These are not easy decisions, but the reality of our current economic position demands that our leaders come up with budgets that are reflective of the actual revenues that are currently available,” says Fowler.

And more cheers

The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce also complimented the Michigan Senate, which voted to enact cost-saving reforms within the current unemployment system. The Senate mixed one-time dollars from the federal government in exchange for what it called a massive, permanent expansion of the state’s 100 percent employer-financed unemployment system. This would have meant increased taxes on employers to pay for it.

The Chamber says that based on U.S. Department of Labor data, Michigan’s Unemployment Insurance Agency paid approximately $98 million in 2007 to claimants who were working while fraudulently collecting unemployment. Under the new legislation, the state, through software integration, can reduce overpayments by $67 million to $100 million or more per year if the state expended a one-time investment in the software.

“The Senate passed a package of bills that favors both workers and job providers,” said Jeanne Englehart, president and CEO of the GRACC. “We are happy they chose to strengthen the unemployment system long term, rather than take one-time stimulus money with strings attached that would permanently hurt Michigan job providers.”

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