BALLE conference features some key headliners

May 7, 2012
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When the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies brings its 10th annual conference to Grand Rapids next week, those who attend will find dozens of seminars to choose from over the meeting’s five-day timeframe.

All of the seminars will focus on sustainable business practices in one way or another. Most will involve a panel of experts from all parts of the country who will share their experiences, but a few will feature a single speaker, and David Levine is one of those.

Levine is the co-founder and executive director of the American Sustainable Business Council, a network of 50 business organizations that represents more than 100,000 companies and more than 200,000 business leaders on public policy issues from its home base in Washington, D.C.

Levine will speak Thursday, May 17, at 3:45 p.m. in the Ryerson Auditorium in the downtown Grand Rapids Public Library. His topic is how to build policy and political power for a sustainable economy. His talk is described by BALLE as a crash course in how to communicate better with elected officials and government agencies in order to effectively advocate on behalf of sustainable agendas.

Much of Levine’s knowledge comes from personal experiences, but some comes from keeping in touch with others in the field. ASBC surveys small-business owners to find out where they stand on certain economic issues as credit, business regulations and taxes. Not surprisingly, more than a few of their responses have contradicted what politicians have been telling the media.

ASBC, which conducted its latest survey with the Main Street Alliance and the Small Business Majority, completed its most recent one in February. The survey reached 500 small-business owners; here are some of the findings:

**Credit: 90 percent of the owners said the availability of small-business loans is a problem, and 60 percent said they faced difficulty in getting a loan that would have grown their business. Another 90 percent said regulations should be softened to make it easier for community banks and credit unions to make loans. By a 2-to-1 ratio, they favored raising the lending cap for credit unions from 12.25 percent to 27.5 percent.

About three-quarters felt their businesses had been damaged by the sub-prime mortgage fiasco that collapsed the housing market, as it greatly reduced consumer spending.

**Regulations: Only 14 percent said government regulations were their biggest problem, while 34 percent said it was weak consumer demand. More than eight of 10 small-business owners supported tighter regulations on credit cards, while nearly half strongly favored much tougher rules.

Another 86 percent agreed that some form of business regulation was necessary to have a modern economy, and 93 percent said they could live with some regulation if it was fair, reasonable and manageable. Clean energy policies were favored by 79 percent.

**Taxes: 90 percent of small-business owners said large domestic and multi-international corporations use loopholes to avoid taxes that their businesses have to pay. They also reported this situation was a problem for them; 55 percent said it was a major problem.

Two-thirds said big corporations don’t pay a fair share of taxes and 73 percent felt the same for multi-international corporations. Nearly six in 10 felt households with more than $1 million in annual income don’t pay their fair share of taxes and should pay a higher tax rate. Only one of the 500 small-business owners surveyed reported having an annual income of more than $1 million.

Four out of the five owners disapproved of the “carried-interest” loophole that gives hedge fund managers and others in the financial market a personal tax rate of 15 percent; 51 percent said Congress should let the tax cuts for those who annually earn $250,000 and more expire at the end of this year.

In addition to Levine, another conference headliner is Art Weinzweig. The co-founder of Zingerman’s Community of Businesses in Ann Arbor will talk about why a sustainable economy calls for new types of leadership. He will speak May 17 at 1:30 p.m. in the Grand Rapids Community College Student Center, Room 234.

Weinzweig is well known for his unique approach to doing business through what he calls Zing Training. Zingerman’s Community of Businesses consists of seven entities that range from a bake house to a creamery to a coffee company.

The BALLE Conference, which is being hosted by Local First of Grand Rapids, begins Wednesday, May 16, at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel with an 8 a.m. breakfast and runs through Saturday, May 19. A closing reception will be held Friday, May 18, at Rosa Parks Circle starting at 5:45 p.m. A day-long trip to Detroit is on Saturday’s agenda.

BALLE Executive Director Michelle Long told the Business Journal why her organization chose Grand Rapids for its biggest annual event.

“The city was picked because of the innovation that is happening in Grand Rapids to grow the economy from the inside out. The real Local First mentality there and the fact that Grand Rapids has been named one of America’s greenest cities (by Fast Co. magazine) are reasons we want to come and learn from that place,” said Long.

Complete information, which includes the meeting’s 11-page agenda, can be found at

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