Street Talk

Street Talk: Tech room service

Even more tech.

October 4, 2019
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The Embassy Suites by Hilton in downtown Grand Rapids is the first in Michigan to offer a new technology that controls room functions from phones.

“Connected Room” technology, developed by Hilton, allows guests to control their room’s television, including streaming their own content. This is the next step to the hotel’s mobile key, which allows a guest’s phone to be used as a room key and enables checking in remotely, submitting requests to the front desk and pre-selecting rooms.

The hotel, which opened in April at 710 Monroe Ave. NW, was the first Embassy and the 22nd Hilton to offer the technology about a month ago to guests enrolled in the Hilton Honors program.

Next year, guests will be able to set their Hilton Honors profile preferences and have their rooms updated to those preferences at check-in, including control of the heating and cooling, lighting and window coverings.

Brian Behler, the hotel’s general manager, said adding the technology better helps guests feel at home.

“We want to be at the forefront of technological advancement at our properties and feel this is another way to improve our guests’ experience,” said Peter Beukema, CEO of Suburban Inns, the hotel’s owner.

Bah, humbug

The times, they are a-changin'.

With current economic conditions and consumer spending trends, global outplacement and executive and business coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas predicts seasonal hiring will stagnate or fall slightly from 2018.

Despite a record number of hiring announcements for the holiday season last year, retailers added the lowest number of jobs since 2009: 625,600 in the final quarter of 2018, according to an analysis of nonseasonally adjusted data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics by Challenger.

Seasonal jobs added in retail in the final quarter of last year were 6.4% lower than during the same period in 2017 when 668,400 jobs were added. This is the lowest number of jobs added since 2009 when retailers added 495,800 seasonal jobs.

Last year, Challenger tracked 431,000 large-scale hiring announcements by retailers, the highest number since Challenger began tracking the category in 2012. That was 37% higher than the 314,950 retail hiring announcements in 2017. Overall, 714,000 seasonal positions were announced last year, from companies in retail, transportation and warehousing, 16.3% higher than the 614,129 announced in 2017.

“The shift to online shopping in retail means traditional retailers will likely not hire the numbers they once did. However, these holiday jobs seem to be appearing in transportation and warehousing, as retailers rely more and more on fulfillment centers,” said Andrew Challenger, vice president of Challenger.

According to nonseasonally adjusted figures from the BLS, companies in transportation and warehousing added 259,000 jobs in the final quarter of 2018. That is down 2% from the 265,200 jobs added during the same period in 2017, but up 57% from the 165,100 jobs added in 2013, the last time the industry added less than 200,000 seasonal jobs.

Already this year, Target, which last year announced the highest number of seasonal jobs from a brick-and-mortar retailer according to Challenger tracking, announced it plans to add even more jobs this year: 125,000 in-store workers, as well as another 8,000 in fulfillment. UPS announced it would add 100,000 jobs for the holidays, and 1-800-Flowers will add 8,000 jobs.

A number of retailers, including Lowe’s and Kohl’s, announced seasonal hiring plans over the summer, and it remains to be seen whether they will make large-scale announcements for the holiday season.

“Seasonal hiring is driven primarily by current consumer spending habits. Consumers, at the moment, are spending, with the latest figures suggesting consumers are going further into credit card debt. Unless this changes significantly this month, retailers will likely hire at similar levels to last year,” Challenger said.

“Perceptions of the current economy, which is not as strong as last year or in 2017, could curtail seasonal hiring plans, as well. Although new tariffs likely won’t go into effect at the moment, retailers will keep a close eye on trade negotiations in October, as they will impact consumers going into the holidays.”

Staying connected

Comcast is increasing download speeds for some of its most popular Xfinity internet packages for customers in Michigan.

Download speeds for the company’s Performance tier will jump from 60 Mbps to 100 Mbps, while Blast! speeds will increase from 150 to 200 Mbps, Extreme will move from 250 to 300 Mbps, and Extreme Pro will be upgraded from 400 to 600 Mbps. About 85% of Comcast's internet customers in Michigan subscribe to one of these tiers and will have their download speeds upgraded, whether they purchase Xfinity Internet on a standalone basis or as part of a package.

Last year, Comcast boosted download speeds for Blast! and Extreme customers in Michigan. Over the past two years, Michigan Comcast subscribers on average have seen their speed increased by more than 50%.

Today’s speed increases are the latest in a series of moves by Comcast to support growing consumer demand for super-fast, high-capacity internet connections that can not only handle the explosion of connected devices that are powering the smart home but also offer a single platform to manage and protect them.

Nationally, over the past four years and across Comcast's service area, the company said it has quadrupled its overall network capacity and doubled its fiber miles, deployed gigabit speeds to more homes than any other ISP, upgraded all of its speed tiers and rolled out a new class of gateways — the xFi Gateway and the xFi Advanced Gateway — that are designed for higher speeds and blanket most homes with enhanced Wi-Fi coverage.

“Modern homes require fast internet, wall-to-wall Wi-Fi and a way to manage the connectivity needs of the entire household,” said Tim Collins, regional senior vice president for Comcast in Michigan. “To keep up with our customers’ needs, we are giving them increased speed, coverage and control to support the growing number of connected devices, apps and tech in their homes.”

Xfinity xFi is Comcast’s differentiated internet experience, which gives customers more speed, better in-home Wi-Fi coverage and easy-to-use controls over their home Wi-Fi networks. With xFi, customers also can manage their children’s screen time and pause internet access, as well as protect all their IoT and home automation devices from security threats. XFi customers receive powerful all-in-one modems and Wi-Fi routers that, when combined with xFi pods, can extend Wi-Fi coverage to hard-to-reach rooms of virtually any home, according to the company.

Over the next several weeks, Collins said customers who lease a gateway will automatically receive the new speeds without having to reset their modems. Other customers who purchased their own modems should check online to see if they need a new device that can handle these faster speeds (

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