Fireworks the economy and tales of nude beaches

May 27, 2011
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Comerica Bank, now the 20th largest in the U.S., accumulated vast experience in the manufacturing sector since its founding in Detroit in 1849, and was one of few to survive the Great Depression (no, that wasn’t in 2008). Readers of the Business Journal are most likely to think of it for its 2007 move to Dallas, leaving its name on the new baseball park in Detroit in memory of the last of Michigan-based banking institutions.

Still, Michigan and Grand Rapids was an honored location last week, drawing all the local, regional and national presidents for a little face-time with successful clients in West Michigan. Comerica’s luncheon at Cascade Country Club also marked the last week of work for the featured speaker: retiring Senior Vice President and Chief Economist Dana Johnson.

Johnson’s remarks for the assembled bank clients ended on a high note in an overview of the national and Michigan economy, but he left unstated remarks he made in an interview with Business Journal reporter David Czurak in regard to the next bounce (see story, page 1). Perhaps the most invigorating news for the group was displayed in chart form showing nonfarm payroll growth between April 2010 and April 2011 indicating Grand Rapids (at 2 percent growth) outranked the U.S., the entire state of Michigan and each of the other urban area markets. The nearest percent gain in payroll growth was 1.5 percent overall for Michigan, followed by 1 percent for Ann Arbor and the U.S. overall. Lansing and Detroit followed in declining order.

The group gathered primarily represented the manufacturing sector of West Michigan, which may have summed up recent experiences in the same manner Johnson provided. While the group wholly indicated improved business revenues, they were, to a person, concerned in regard to continued large fluctuations in commodity prices, a roller-coaster of orders and, in the words of one, a “daily fight” to claim receivables … slow pay. It’s not hard to guess how the next purchasing manager’s report from Brian Long will read. Long is director of supply chain management research at the Seidman College of Business, GVSU.

Touching tales from the tent

Rich DeVos and family (and a hundred or so VIPs) stayed loyal to the dedication ceremonies planned for the new Seidman Center at GVSU’s downtown campus in the cold, wind-whipped rain last Wednesday. The ceremony marked the legacy of William “Bill” Seidman, who led his father’s accounting firm to become BDO Seidman, which remains headquartered in Grand Rapids. He was an American economist, head of the U.S. Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., an economic advisor to presidents Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, as well as a financial commentator for national networks through the end of his life. In this recession recovery time, it is important to note he also headed the Resolution Trust Corp., which worked to correct the savings and loan crisis between 1988 and 1991.

Even with all that material, the story Rich DeVos told of “fun time” with Bill Seidman was the best remembered of the evening. DeVos recalled going to the “nudie beach in Saugatuck” with Seidman and friends, and tattled that Seidman would throw the football near the top of the dunes to run up and have a peek at those unburdened by swimwear. Son Doug DeVos’ elaboration of those times was even funnier.

Kara Wood tilts at windmills

Over the last eight years, Grand Rapids city commissioners have approved 306 tax abatements and brownfield redevelopment requests. They ratified 51 last year. But with the Michigan Business Tax about to be bid a fond adieu, the brownfield tax credit is also on a sayonara track. Under the current tax plan, no new credits will be issued after this year. “Brownfield tax credits are so important and they are going away,” said Mayor George Heartwell, a bit disappointedly last week.

But City Economic Development Director Kara Wood said a proposal has been sent to Gov. Rick Snyder requesting that some of the credits be made available. Wood, who sits on the board of the Michigan Economic Developers Association, said the proposal is a statewide request and she expects to receive a response from the governor’s office soon. Wood also said that Ohio is taking the opposite approach to business incentives as lawmakers in the Buckeye State recently agreed to commit $1 billion to economic development, clearly a figure Michigan can’t match.

West-side wizard

Ed Kettle, chief of staff to State Rep. Roy Schmidt and a big fan of citywide parties, gleefully announced last week that Amway has agreed to be the lead sponsor for the city’s 4th of July Family Fireworks for the next three years. Kettle has struggled to find financial support for the event ever since the city decided it couldn’t afford to fund it.

But Kettle, who willingly took on the task, has always come through. “Ed has been the wizard behind the 4th of July Fireworks for the last four years now,” said Heartwell.

This year’s event adds a 5 p.m. parade to salute those in the military. Rosa Parks Circle will join A-Nab-Awen Park as an entertainment site, both with 6 p.m. start times. The fireworks go kablooey at 10:30. “This gets bigger and better and it’s due to your tenacity,” Heartwell said to Kettle.

Kettle also wants to organize a citywide singing of the National Anthem — on front porches, in backyards, Meijer parking lots, wherever anyone is — shortly after 6 p.m. And he said no mouthing the words will be allowed, so bone up on the lyrics. (Just don’t ask Christina Aguilera.)

Not skating on thin ice

The mayor also singled out Joseph Tomaselli. The president of the Amway Hotel Group has made sure his company has supported the ice skating on the Rosa Parks Circle rink each winter.

“He has a passion for the city and a passion for downtown,” said Heartwell, who added the hotel is already on board for the next skating season.

“In some cases, this may be the first time some families and their children come downtown. It’s becoming our version of Rockefeller Center,” said Tomaselli of the downtown rink.

Rock on

Dennis Baxter and Dan McCrath of Bluecap Entertainment revealed last week that Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Stone Temple Pilots, Willie Nelson, Alice Cooper, Blake Shelton and Ludacris will headline the first Rock the Rapids concert week to be held downtown, from Aug. 8-13. Advanced single-day tickets go for $29, but a two-concert pass is $39 and a pass for all six shows is only $79. “We want to provide national entertainers at a price point that is very affordable, and with our weeklong pass, the cost is only $13.17 per show,” said Baxter. “With the artists that we are providing, that is an incredible value.” Tickets go on sale Friday through Star Tickets and at Meijer locations.

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