Consumer shows reflect improving economy

February 14, 2012
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“If consumer shows are evidence of gathering steam in the economic engine, then we’re coming back in Michigan and the Midwest,” said Tom Huggler, publicist for ShowSpan Inc. in Grand Rapids.

Huggler is able to spout a few statistics to back his claim.

  • The Ultimate Fishing Show in Detroit had record attendance on Jan. 14 and 15.

  • The Milwaukee Boat Show in late January was up 15 percent.

  • The Auto Show here in late January was up 30 percent over a three-year average.

  • The Camper, Travel & RV Show here in early February was up 18 percent over last year.

“The uptick is more than attendance,” said Huggler. “People are buying boats, RVs and autos again. They're booking travel adventure and vacations.”

Henri Boucher and Mike Wilbraham are two executives at ShowSpan, which produces these shows plus about 12 others. Huggler said they think the public mood and spending habits have changed for several reasons:

  • American car makers are paying bonuses to employees, and there is pent-up demand for new cars, with the average car on the road now being 10 years old.

  • Technological advances in cars, boats and RVs are like those of cell phones and computers — people want the newest bells and whistles.

  • The mild winter weather has curtailed winter hobbies, so people are shopping instead.

  • Families want to plan vacations and outside activities because the economy is improving.

“More evidence yet,” said Huggler: “Outdoorama — the next big show in Novi, Feb. 23-26 — is already sold out for space. The Grand Rapids Boat Show Feb. 15-19 is also filling.”

A couple of things are for sure this winter: Snowmobilers around here aren’t spending as much on that activity as they usually do, and motorists aren’t spending as much on fender-bender repairs, either.

Long on the short of it

While the local and regional economies seem a bit more rosy, some are worried that rose-colored glasses can’t mask the unrest in Europe.

Brian Long, Ph.D., the director of supply chain management research at GVSU, is one of those.

“I think we would have a pretty good 2012 if it were not for Europe. If things go bad in Europe, they could suck us and the rest of the world into another recession.”

Unfortunately, Long does not believe there is anyone who can get an accurate grasp of what’s happening across the pond and predict the economic ramifications here.

“We know that we have European countries in financial trouble both in and out of the Euro Zone, and that every one of them has a slightly different problem. The main problem that they all have in common is that they have over-promised their retirees more benefits than they can possibly deliver, and now they are all looking for someone to bail them out.”

He said the Germans, who hold most of the continent’s spare cash, are insisting present and future retirees need to be told they will have to make do with less.

“This is the so-called austerity program. The Germans also want to take over the Greek checkbook in exchange for badly needed cash. As you can imagine, this went over with the Greek people like the proverbial lead zeppelin,” Long said. “They are acting kind of like the American cities that have spent themselves into bankruptcy and then want their state governments to bail them out — without the state appointing a financial manager.”

And, Long is quick to point out, Greece is just one country in trouble. “Portugal is up next on the list, and we still have Italy, Ireland, Spain and possibly France to go. There are so many countries, so many players, so many political parties, so many egos — and so little time to figure this all out.”

So, will cooler heads prevail and avert global financial ruin? “This is why no one can predict what is going to happen,” he said.

Heart of the matter

Valentine's Day is right around the corner, and while you might be tempted to show your affection to colleagues with candy, flowers or thoughtful cards, labor attorney Steve Palazzolo has one suggestion: Don't.

“What may be intended as a thoughtful gesture on one employee's part can be perceived as sexual harassment on another's,” said Palazzolo, an attorney at Warner Norcross & Judd LLP. “What worked for us in elementary school does not translate successfully to the office. To avoid conflict — or, even worse, violate discrimination laws — tread very carefully in this area.”

Palazzolo offers some common-sense do’s and don’ts to ensure Valentine's Day causes no heartburn:

  • Remember, it's not Christmas or New Year’s. Be careful about wishing your employees a Happy Valentine's Day. Palazzolo suggests leaving that to spouses, children and close friends.

  • No naughty cards, suggestive e-mails or fun postings around the water fountain. While you might find them funny, colleagues could see the gesture as sexual harassment. He suggests cards should never be shared within the workplace — even if you bring one for everyone in your office.

  • No gifts. The nature of the holiday implies love and romance, so flowers or jewelry could be easily misconstrued by someone you supervise. If you'd like to do something nice, Palazzolo suggests buying a box of candy and sharing it with the entire office, or taking your whole team out to lunch.

Forward pass

The top story in today’s Focus section, “Training the creative class,” by Alissa Lane, shows how colleges and universities are striving to keep the talent they’ve educated in town.

Here’s another, though less academic, example: More than 200 GRCC students will converge on the college’s student center the morning of Feb. 24 to participate in the annual community service event known as Pass it Forward.

GRCC's Department of Experiential Learning Center has again partnered with ePIFanyNow to offer this event, which sends students out into the community to perform charitable acts in the hope that each recipient will do the same for someone else.

Last year’s event brought out nearly 200 students, who gave out blankets and coffee, surprised people by paying for gas and laundry expenses, visited the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans and more. Tiffany Falcon-Ewigleben, coordinator of Pass it Forward 2012, said the goal is to not only retain the amount of participants but to increase their awareness of community organizations in the area.

“Pass it Forward is a great event for both the students and the community," Falcon-Ewigleben said. “This year we have organized activities for groups of students to participate in. The more exposure students have to the organizations that provide services for our community, the greater chance of creating and retaining long-term volunteers, and the greater impact it will have on the students as life-long learners."

Founder of ePIFanyNow Bob Hoffman said, "I am thrilled GRCC is holding another ePIFanyNow event. The last two have been very successful, actually drawing the largest crowd of any ePIFanyNow event anywhere. I am so proud of the Grand Rapids community for embracing our mission to just be kind to others. My hope is everyone, whatever their circumstance, has an epiphany that we are all in this world together and the nicer we can be to one another, the better it is for all of us."

Registration is required for the event. Volunteers can register online at

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