Politicos line up for business friendly backing

April 26, 2010
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Perhaps the biggest challenge for organizers of last week’s Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce PAC-sponsored gathering of 2010 candidates at the B.0.B was quieting the din of the networking buzz in the crowd of about 200 folks long enough for a couple of the more high-profile candidates for state office to espouse a portion of their well-rehearsed stump speeches.

Among those attending the “ImPACt (emphasis on PAC) 2010: Pro-Business, Pro-Michigan” reception that cost attendees $100 for the VIP reception or 50 bucks for the main event were

candidates for governor, Attorney General Mike Cox, State Sen. Tom George and Rick Snyder.

Secretary of State candidate Anne Norlander also addressed the crowd.

A host of Second and Third Congressional District candidates attended along with state House and Senate hopefuls.

Former chamber board chair and The Rapid CEO Peter Varga cornered Snyder long enough to determine the east-side of the state resident knew a good deal about The Rapid’s Silver Line project, a response that obviously helps Varga determine where to throw his support down the road.

But that weeding-out process is often difficult for people in positions such as Varga’s.

“I’ve had candidates in the past be quite upset with me because I supported someone else,” Varga recalled. “What they wouldn’t accept is that I will support people who I have been friends with and had relationships with for quite some time. That doesn’t always go over well.”

Varga said he is keeping an eye on potential shifts in philosophies that could be created by newly-elected legislators on both the state and federal level.

“When I saw that (U.S.) Rep.Vern Ehlers wasn’t going to run, I thought ‘oh no,’ ” said Varga of a person responsible, along with U.S. Sen. Carl Levin for helping in a bi-partisan way to boost public transportation interests in the state.

Varga isn’t sure (thus, he’s doing his homework) that support will continue with new legislators being put in place.

Also among the attendees were State Rep. Arlan Meekhof, Hudsonville City Commissioner John O’Brien and Holland businessman Brett VanderKamp who are squaring off in the Republican primary for the 30th District seat held by Wayne Kuipers. Kuipers has jumped into the crowded field to replace gubernatorial candidate Pete Hoekstra in the Second congressional district.

VanderKamp isn’t shy about verbalizing the advantages of his experience in the brewery business he co-founded in 1997, and that now has more than 80 employees, but his campaign literature might not fully convey the type of “consumer brand” operation he runs. It’s safe to say the conservative nature of his potential constituency doesn’t dictate a slogan harking: “Vote for the Beer Man.”

Among his campaign crew is long-time Holland communication specialist Jim Storey, who, along with restaurant operator VanderKamp and many others, helped lead a successful effort to lift the long-time ban of Sunday beer sales in Holland.

Storey also has been involved in defending the frequently controversial growth and expansion of the Tulip City Airport in Holland. He believes the planned location of a pair of electric car battery production facilities in the vicinity of the airport could help efforts to secure a full-fledged terminal at the location despite a lack of public financing support. LG Chem and the Johnson Controls-Saft corporate officials were likely attracted in part to the convenient air transport facility now in their backyard, and might be willing to pony up for some additional support to keep the airport expansion on track.

CNBC has local story

Cathy Raevsky, administrative health officer for the Kent County Health Department, will appear on an episode of CNBC’s television series American Greed. The show airs at 9 p.m. on April 28.

The upcoming episode centers on the fall of East Grand Rapids dermatologist Dr. Robert W. Stokes. Readers may recall the time and attention Stokes received in December 2007 following the revelation that he may have used medical instruments designed for a single use, on multiple patients.  Raevsky says KCHD staff spent countless hours informing thousands of Stokes' former patients of his medical practices and providing many of them with free testing for blood-borne pathogens. Stokes ultimately was sentenced to 10 years in prison for his crimes.

Supporting the zoo

Kent County Commissioner James Vaughn made good on a promise last week. Last year, he pledged that he would donate 14.5 percent of his salary as a commissioner to the John Ball Zoological Society and at last Thursday’s commission meeting he gave the society a check for $3,200. “People can’t afford to go to Disney World,” he said, “But they can go to the zoo.”

She said, he said

The war of words over Michigan’s movie industry incentives continues. Last week Republican Sen. Nancy Cassis issued a press release asserting that the state has “lost nearly 10 percent of its movie industry jobs,” based on a new analysis by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

“As a job creator, film subsidies have failed in Michigan and in other states as well,” said Cassis. “Despite giving away $117 million of taxpayer money in film credits, Michigan’s movie industry has lost a higher percentage of jobs than the state as a whole. With the budget problems we face, we cannot afford this generous subsidy.”

The Mackinac Center studied Bureau of Labor Statistics data and concluded that from April 2008, when the incentive was enacted, through last September, the number of people employed in Michigan’s “motion picture and sound recording industries” fell from 5,867 to 5,290 — a 9.8 percent decline.

The Mackinac Center analyst, James Hohman, said the film industry subsidy will total an estimated $155 million in fiscal year 2011.

Cassis, adamantly opposed to “handing out subsidies to millionaire Hollywood producers,” has introduced legislation to remove the refundability of the tax credit, but would still give producers a credit to eliminate their total Michigan business tax liability.

The refundable aspect means Michigan actually ends up sending a check to movie producers to cover a significant portion of their expenses in Michigan.

Cassis, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, is from Novi — which is where Rick Hert picked up some ammunition last week to fend off this latest attack on the movie industry subsidy.

Hert, executive director of the West Michigan Tourist Association and also Film Commissioner at the WMTA’s West Michigan Film Office, said he was at a meeting where the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau reported that 150,000 rooms were rented by movie production people in southeast Michigan last year.

“Don’t tell me its job loss,” said Hert, regarding the movie industry.

“We went from having two million dollars worth of films before the incentives were passed, to 125 million in ‘08, 224 million in spending in ’09. This year, it’s my prediction we will do 400 million. Explain to me how we had a job loss — it makes no sense.”

The Mackinac Center is “a biased source,” he added.

Hert said shooting on three feature films “wrapped” in Grand Rapids already this year, and “we should have at least four more. My prediction is we’ll do in excess of 15,000 room nights in Grand Rapids alone.”

“I’ve got projects all over the place. When I say 15,000 room nights, I mean that’s for Grand Rapids. We should do another ten or fifteen thousand throughout West Michigan.”

Art on the screen

On May 6, the B.O.B. will roll out the red carpet for the film premiere “The Prize in Disguise.” Filmmaker Tom Avolio presents an introspective documentary of the world’s largest cash prize

art event ArtPrize. The international art competition brought thousands of artists from around the globe to Grand Rapids for a chance to compete for part of the $449,000 cash prize.

Filmed through the eyes of four primary artists, John Sauve, Jacqueline Gilmore, Kurt Perschke and Joel Schoon-Tanis, “The Prize in Disguise” creates a perspective of ArtPrize and “perhaps its true reward,” according to the producers. Seating is limited.

Focus on food

A Calvin College communication arts and sciences class teamed up with the Grand Rapids Area Council for the Humanities to produce a one-hour documentary exploring the local food movement in West Michigan. The film premiered Friday on Calvin's campus.  Communication arts and sciences professor Jake Bosmeijer's Calvin Media Company class functions as a production house, a place for students to get real-world, hands-on experience in filmmaking.

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