Ready to race in Wyoming and employment for everyone!

June 17, 2011
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Wyoming is champing at the bit to get that former GM plant back on the tax rolls, and city officials are chafing at the delay while the ironically named RACER Trust makes sure all of its ducks are in a row.

“We were so far out in front of them,” said City Manager Curtis Holt. “We don’t want to wait. We don’t want to look back. We want to get this thing rolling.”

But wait they must, as RACER works out a deal where the seller, buyer and bankruptcy trustee are all in alignment.

Bruce Rasher, redevelopment manager at RACER Trust, said patience is a virtue in circumstances such as these. “(We are) working in harmony with both the city and the buyer and will continue to do so after the transaction closes.”

He added RACER will “be working in cooperation with the buyer to help him effectuate his redevelopment plan while we are doing our remedial action at the site. That’s how the trust was designed; that’s how the transaction was designed. That’s our mission.”

Rasher said closing on the sale to the Wyoming Brownfield Authority will be soon. “It will be a matter of weeks at the most,” he said.

Holt said the city hopes it is closing in on a completed sale. He said RACER Trust “would prefer for us to wait and be part of RACER Trust,” which would then “serve as our partner to do the work we’ve already done.”

Under Michigan law, a brownfield redevelopment authority can be permitted to capture a portion of the future increase in property taxes on once-blighted land to help pay retroactively for the environmental cleanup and the redevelopment costs. The capture of future tax receipts for projects deemed to create jobs and new development is called tax increment financing, or TIF.

Holt said one of the issues in the redevelopment of the former GM plant is the scrap value of the steel, copper and aluminum that is part of the structure. Those scrap values will be deducted from the cost potential buyer Thunder Venture incurs in the demolition of the building, which will be done by a contractor called Demco.

Holt said no bonds will be floated for the demolition/redevelopment of the GM site and the city has no liability. He said Thunder Ventures and Demco are covering the up-front costs and will be repaid through the scrap metal “recoverables” first, and then through the TIF resources, if the costs exceed the scrap values.

You’re hired!

A survey from the ManpowerGroup ranked River City as the top spot in the nation for summer employment possibilities, according to Forbes. Twenty-four percent of employers in the Grand Rapids-Wyoming region said they will be hiring from July through September.

“This is the strongest outlook we’ve seen in the Grand Rapids-Wyoming market in almost three years,” said Melanie Holmes, a VP with ManpowerGroup. “The market results are considerably more optimistic than last quarter and one year ago. Among our clients, we’ve seen real strength among manufacturing employers as well as a demand for clerical and customer service support.”

Manpower arrived at its highly optimistic hiring outlook by surveying local employers. The results revealed that 30 percent planned to hire, 6 percent felt they would reduce their work forces, and the rest said no changes or didn’t know. Do the math: That leaves 24 percent indicating more jobs are coming.

“This does not come as a surprise,” said Kevin Stotts, vice president of community programs at the GR Area Chamber of Commerce. “The employers I have spoken with, either large or small, have been very optimistic over the past several months. In fact, a persistent challenge with many employers in the area has been finding qualified talent to meet their needs.”

The ManpowerGroup said it surveyed more than 18,000 employers in 100 metro markets. The nationwide results showed that 20 percent of employers planned to add jobs this summer. Most of those were in the leisure and hospitality industry.

Maps, courts, bridges, helmets

Becky Bechler of Public Affairs Associates, Kent County’s Lansing lobbyist, thought state lawmakers would finish redistricting before they go on summer break but court redistricting would be taken up this fall. Gov. Rick Snyder wants to see the state’s appellate court reduced from 28 to 24 judges.

Bechler added that state revenues were up by 26 percent from last year, which means $125 million more for the general fund and $45 million more for the school-aid fund. She also said a bill has been introduced that would require all public employees to pay 20 percent of their health insurance premiums.

Bechler noted that the Senate will begin hearings shortly on the new bridge to Canada. Snyder wants legislators to craft a bridge bill before July 4, but lawmakers seem to be running on empty from putting together a budget and tax plan in record time.

“You’re starting to see them tire of the timeframe, and they are starting to push back,” she said.

Bechler also told the county’s Legislative Committee last week that lawmakers were working on a bill that would make wearing a helmet optional for those who ride motorcycles, and a few members of the committee chimed in on the idea. Commission Vice Chairman Ted Vonk was strongly against such a bill. Vonk is recovering nicely from a horrible accident when a car cut in front of him when he rode his bike a few years ago. “I wouldn’t be here today if I hadn’t worn my helmet,” he said.

Commissioner Dan Koorndyk didn’t like the idea either and pointed out that auto drivers are subsidizing motorcycle insurance rates through the premiums they pay for their vehicles. Besides, Koorndyk said a survey of Michigan residents revealed that 81 percent want biker riders to put a helmet on before they start their machines and keep it on until they dismount.

“They think it’s going to hurt tourism here,” he said of the bill’s backers.

Riders might vacation elsewhere if they’re forced to wear helmets? Heck, the condition of our highways probably has out-of-state bikers thinking twice about coming to Michigan anyway.

Commissioner Michael Wawee has a different take on the issue. “I would personally wear a helmet. But we have more important issues here.” No kidding.

Water over the bridge

Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell slipped out of the country last week for Niagara Falls, Ontario, where he reportedly did not rent a barrel to take the plunge. Instead, he was there for the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative to join other mayors in calling for both the Canadian and U.S. governments to continue funding the restoration of the Great Lakes.

“Today, the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence mayors call for the renewed bi-national commitment for protection and restoration of the greatest source of freshwater on earth by our federal and state governments. The city of Grand Rapids is proud to be a part of the great group charged with advocating for water quality in the Great Lakes,” his honor said.

The Brookings Institution found that a $26 billion investment in the Great Lakes would lead to more than a $50 billion return in economy benefits. The National Association of Clean Water Agencies estimated that 47,000 jobs are created for every billion dollars invested in clean-water infrastructure.

Who jumped what gun?

Ryan J. Van Solkema, dealer development manager at Amneon, sent an e-mail to the Business Journal last week announcing that the small office furniture maker “has partnered with Sam’s Club to offer affordable office solutions to its members. American-made in Allendale, Michigan, with many West Michigan suppliers being utilized!!!”

That is very good news, indeed. But when contacted, Van Solkema said Sam’s Club wasn’t ready to issue a press release yet.

“We kind of jumped the gun a little bit,” he said, sheepishly, and referred the reporter to the president of the company, Reggie Vanden Bosch. Vanden Bosch had not returned a call by the time this went to press.

But Google “Sam’s Club AND Amneon” and there it is, on the Sam’s Club website: “Amneon SNAP!office (sic) 4-Person Basic Workstation” for $1,874, online to Sam’s Club members.

“This workstation addresses needs for call stations, study carrels and drop in (sic) office requirements.” Assembled in the USA, from components sourced in the USA, it says.

Amneon began life in 1991 as JD Tackit Inc., formed by Doug Huesdash and James Bird and supplying tackboards, markerboards and panels to some of the big boys in the office furniture industry, according to a published report in 2003. In 1996, JD Tackit built a new factory off Lake Michigan Drive in Allendale. When things really got rough for the office furniture industry in the new millennium, the partners formed a new entity called Amneon, to produce a line of systems furniture.

Congratulations to Amneon. And don’t worry about any alleged gun-jumping — good news needs to be shared these days.

Sticks and stones

Ever wonder how the DeVos and Van Andel families got along all those years as Amway turned into a global power with $9.2 billion in sales in 2010?

The question was posed to Steve Van Andel at Grand Rapids Rotary last week, in the context of the relationship between the family patriarchs, Jay Van Andel and Rich DeVos. His dad told Steve the answer was simple: “Never say I told you so.”

Seems to have worked pretty well for them.

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