Mystery development at TV8

April 25, 2011
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A local daily newspaper story last week of Susan Geha’s unannounced departure from WOOD TV 8 was bigger than the Business Journal story on the “mystery development” that she famously followed. It riveted attention from shore-to-shore of this peninsula state, including those at her former broadcast employer in Detroit.

The shock of the news was certainly a show of respect for Geha’s long service, both to the station and a myriad of community activities and service. What was actually shocking, however, was WOOD’s handling of her departure, a public relations buzz point at the annual Public Relations Society of America local chapter’s media meet-and-greet late last week.

Rival news station WZZM Channel 13 stepped into that breach with its Sunday newspaper ad saluting Geha’s service and long-time community commitments.

Van Andel Arena ranks with the best

For the first three months of this year, Pollstar magazine rated Van Andel Arena 38th worldwide in ticket sales on its Top 50 Arena Venues listing for arenas of all sizes. The arena sold 61,961 entertainment-type tickets from January through March to grab that spot. Those sales were led by concerts from Kid Rock and Lady Gaga and eight performances from Cirque Du Soleil.

Pollstar also ranked DeVos Performance Hall at No. 40 in its worldwide listing of Top Theater Venues for first-quarter ticket sales. Three runs from Broadway Grand Rapids and a trio of performances during LaughFest helped the building sell 30,176 tickets. Not bad for a building that seats 2,500.

“But the true testament to the support of the venues goes to our customers; the tenants, promoters and, most prominently, those that buy the tickets,” said SMG Regional General Manager Rich MacKeigan. “We will look to grow this success by incorporating additional diverse events in the near future.”

Pollstar doesn’t include tickets sold for sporting events in its rankings, so the strong season the Grand Rapids Griffins had at the box office wasn’t counted. Maybe the folks at Pollstar would change their minds if they came for $1 beer/$1 dog night.

Tourists on the loose

A nationwide consumer survey by Travel Leaders found that 83 percent said they planned to spend the same as or more than they spent last year on leisure trips this year. The survey also revealed that 57 percent would use all or part of their tax refunds to pay for a vacation this year.

“As the economy continues to rebound, it stands to reason that consumers, including those in West Michigan, would feel more confident in spending as much or somewhat more than they did last year,” said Mike Malaney, president of the Grand Rapids Travel Leaders office.

This should be good news to Experience Grand Rapids President Doug Small, who has the city’s first Travel Michigan TV ad starting its run in nearby Midwest markets soon, and in the crème-de-la-crème Chicago market in the fall.

Trash-talking mayor racks up points

Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell recycled some earlier trash talk last week at the launching of the MyGRCityPoints initiative in partnership with Local First. City residents who recycle will collect points that can be used to purchase goods and services from local businesses. The more materials they recycle, the more points they collect and the more they can save. “This fits perfectly with the city’s efforts to transform city government by engaging citizens and supporting local businesses,” said the mayor.

“ promises to be a powerful economic engine that links local residents with local independent businesses,” said Elissa Hillary, executive director of Local First.

To register and get more info, log on to

Public service no oxymoron here

Very much unlike Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Heartwell paid tribute last week to the city’s public employees. Heartwell said Public Services Week was coming up next week and it was a good time to recognize the contributions that municipal workers have made to everyone’s quality of life.

Keeping in line with the day’s apparent theme, the mayor introduced six of the city’s refuse workers and called their work “valuable contributions,” asking that residents also recognize their efforts.

That was regarded as a refreshing change from what has been going on elsewhere in this country.

Parting shot: Merger millions

Those who think that merging Grand Rapids with Kent County might be an easy and fairly inexpensive thing to do might want to reconsider.

Kent County IT Director Craig Paull told the county’s Finance Committee last week that it would cost $4.5 million just to get the county, city and other municipalities on the same digital platform. Paull’s office came up with that figure a year ago when it looked into that cost. Paull said he speaks with his counterpart at the city, Paul Klimas, at least every other week.

Paull also said he has an RFP out for the county’s email system and he expects that both Google and Microsoft will make bids. In 2008, the county’s IT department had a budget of $5.4 million. This year it’s $5.1 million.

“I think we are getting some efficiencies,” said Commissioner Roger Morgan.

Pot training

Here’s the lead to a story produced recently by the student journalists at Michigan State University: “Greener pastures are in sight for medical marijuana growers wanting expert advice on how to raise healthy plants.”

Well done, youngster. The story goes on to articulate assistance that is being asked of the MSU Extension Office by the state’s medical marijuana growers.

An upcoming bulletin from MSU Extension, “Growing Indoor Plants,” will educate readers on techniques for keeping house plants, such as optimal light conditions and basics of nutrition. Jeanne Himmelein, an Extension educator based in Kalamazoo, said the bulletin is not geared toward medical marijuana growers, but it “would be a decent guide for anyone growing any type of indoor plant.”

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (curiously called NORML) said many entrepreneurs starting medical marijuana businesses are senior citizens going into retirement, and they’ve had experience with cannabis.

Steve Thompson, Michigan’s NORML executive director, seemed to agree. “A lot of senior citizens are like myself — they’re hippies. We started this, so it’s time we finish it.”

Don’t hold your breath.

Moving to The Right Place

Karen Benson of Muskegon Area First starts a new job at The Right Place in Grand Rapids May 2. According to an announcement last week by The Right Place, Benson will be the new director of innovation services.

Benson, an experienced economic and business development professional, will lead The Right Place’s Innovation West Michigan initiative, which identifies and connects intellectual property and technologies with area companies, creating new products, services, jobs and investment in the region. She will be responsible for furthering the initiative, building partner collaborations with industry, education and R&D organizations.

“Karen is extremely well connected within the West Michigan community and brings a wealth of experience to The Right Place team,” said Birgit Klohs, president and CEO of The Right Place. “We look forward to leveraging her strengths to further develop the Innovation West Michigan initiative as the central hub for business innovation in the region.”

First launched in 2007, Innovation West Michigan has already assisted more than 500 West Michigan companies and entrepreneurs in the collaboration and commercialization of new products and services.

For the past several years, Benson has provided economic and business development services in the Muskegon area. Prior to her role as business development manager at Muskegon Area First, Muskegon County’s economic development agency, she was vice president of business development for Grand Haven Bank and economic development and small business development director for the Grand Haven/Spring Lake/Ferrysburg Chamber of Commerce.

Benson has been heavily involved in the MAF proposal for a centralized food-processing facility in the Muskegon area. “But the effort will continue,” she said, “because we are all regional people and regional thinkers and we believe it’s good for West Michigan and beyond.”

Muskegon County also happens to be one of the eight counties served by The Right Place.

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