Obama puts charge in Hollands economy

August 8, 2011
Text Size:
If there is another “agenda” item for the Obama administration it is about alternative fuels, vehicles and technology transfers. While the West Michigan region anticipates the photo op with President Barack Obama this week in Holland, some of his top tech administrators held court in Detroit last week, where new fuel efficiency standards cause pause.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development John Fernandez was expected late last week to visit Detroit area business leaders involved in creating an IT hub in the region using existing labor force skills.

According to previous reports in Crain’s Detroit Business, Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert this spring planned to purchase the First National building on Woodward Avenue, and Gilbert now refers to that famous stretch at “Webward Avenue.” The IT leaders, including Compuware, also note health care focused work in the region (and throughout Michigan).

Obama’s second visit to Holland can be seen as a boost to Michigan’s skill set, bringing national attention to a state now committed to “reinvention,” as often cited by Gov. Rick Snyder.

West Michigan is the leader in manufacturing of advanced energy storage systems for automobiles in North America — and Obama’s visit this week to Johnson Controls in Holland helps back up that claim, according to Randy Thelen, president of the Lakeshore Advantage economic development agency in Zeeland.

In July last year, Obama was at the groundbreaking in Holland of a Compact Power Inc. plant that is expected to produce 20 million battery cells annually for electric vehicles. Compact Power, which opens its Holland plant this fall, is a division of LG Chem, a Korean firm that is one of the world’s major producers of batteries.

With Johnson Controls up and running and Compact Power/LG Chem poised to start, the electric vehicle battery industry in West Michigan is now well-established. Thelen noted that there are at least nine regional companies supplying the battery factories, including Disher Design, Transmatic, JR Automation, Sybesma Electronic and others. He said another four companies are seriously interested in joining the ranks of suppliers there, too. It all means more jobs for West Michigan.

Obama is a huge supporter of electric vehicle production in the U.S.

“Having the president and leader of the free world come to town twice in a year is pretty exciting,” said Thelen.

And — a presidential visit is very good for business, in general.

“If last time was any indication, we’re going to see virtually every hotel room filled, every car rental taken up, and every restaurant filled” in the Holland/Zeeland area, said Thelen.

“It will be a nice little economic boom for the area. When the president travels, the national media travels with him,” and there is also a large advance group of security staff coming to town.

Not to mention all the gawkers.

Now we’re rockin’ in River City

When Whitecaps co-inventor Denny Baxter first added summer entertainment to baseball, it was an experiment, a two-day event at Fifth Third Ballpark.

Bringing Rock the Rapids into downtown for the first time (behind the Van Andel Arena) is meeting approval with concert-loving fans. In fact, it threatens to eclipse the long-running Summer Celebration in Muskegon.

Rock the Rapids has been extended into a six-day format and includes Jonny Lang opening for Lynyrd Skynyrd tonight.

The organizers have gone to great lengths to cover almost every genre in one week. Headliners hitting the downtown stage this week include Stone Temple Pilots, Willie Nelson, Blake Shelton, Alice Cooper, Bachman Turner and Ludacris.

West Side Beer Distributing is the presenting sponsor.

So, does this kind of reaction create the climate to revisit the discussion of moving Fifth Third Ballpark downtown (as suggested by Rockford Construction founder John Wheeler four years ago)?

Baby rocker tallies up proceeds

It’s not rock your rapids, but WOOD TV 8’s Maranda, aka Lori Cook, rocked the world of children again this summer, hosting free, two-hour Park Parties in June and July. Estimated crowd tally for the parties in Greenville, Wyoming, Allegan, Holland and Battle Creek: 31,000.

Cook is the event organizer, promoter and chief bottle washer, adding related television advertising to the TV-8 revenue stream.

Poor county is moody

During the contentious negotiations Congress had over raising the nation’s debt ceiling, Standard and Poor’s and Moody’s Investors Service gave notice that both were considering downgrading the nation’s triple-A bond rating. At the same time, the ratings agencies were reviewing bond ratings for cities and counties that rely on federal funding for their operational budgets and considering downgrades to those rating.

Kent County Administrator and Controller Daryl Delabbio found out last week that the county’s top rating wasn’t being reviewed. “According to Moody’s, we were not one of the communities that was looked at for reductions,” he said.

And in other county news, Kent County Commissioner Jim Talen took a bit of exception to what One Kent Coalition spokesman Nyal Deems told the Business Journal recently. Deems said that all the recent efforts by local units of government to cut expenses just haven’t worked, even though those were done in earnest.

“I can’t speak for Grand Rapids, but Kent County’s efforts to cut expenses HAVE (his, not our, caps) worked,” wrote Talen in an e-mail. “According to county staff, the following is a five-year history of county budget reductions and eliminations.”

Those cuts were $2.1 million in 2007, $2.6 million in 2008, $1.3 million in 2009, $7.8 million in 2010, and almost $6 million this year, for a five-year total of roughly $19.8 million.

“Kinda makes you wonder where Mr. Deems gets his information,” said Talen.

Recent Articles by Business Journal Staff

Editor's Picks

Comments powered by Disqus