31 October 2009

State Outlook Improving For Office Furniture Industry

from mLive

HOLLAND -- The latest pulse of the office furniture industry shows the climate is improving, according to industry analyst Michael Dunlap.

The October survey average was 51.45, with 50 the neutral point between better and worse; that's the best outlook since July 2008.

On eight of 10 measures, the trend is upbeat, including custom laboratory casework, exam room casework, and ergonomic furniture. A few sectors, though improved, are still below 50, he said, mostly job-related: hours, workforce, and personal outlook.

"More than 42 percent reported they are optimistic about the future. It was only 25 percent in April," said Dunlap, the principal in Michael A. Dunlap & Associates LLC.

As Economy Struggles, So Do Charitable Efforts

from Midland Daily News

United Way of Midland County says just as the economy continues to struggle, so does its community campaign. The community has raised $3,886,990, which represents 81 percent of the overall $4.8 million goal. With just one week remaining, United Way needs to raise just under $1 million more.

“Now is the time for everyone in our community to pull together,” said United Way Executive Director Ann Fillmore. “This is a critical time for so many in our community, as federal and state funding sources continue to diminish.”

Many divisions made significant progress this week. In the Retail Division, Cal Tech announced their employees had come in at nearly 50 percent above goal, with a generous 100 percent match of each employee donation.

Case Systems, part of the Industrial Division conducted their first employee campaign, raising nearly $5,000. This includes two new Young Leader donors as well as a new Leadership Circle donor.

The folks from Deloitte, part of the Professional Division, reported a significant increase over last year. They raised nearly $34,000, adding two new Leadership Circle donors this year, brining their total to eight members.

The Public Service Division, comprised of city and county government, as well as schools and universities, made incredible progress with week. With many donations still to be reported, they are already at 94 percent of their 2009 goal.

“One of the things that make this community so unique is our ability to mobilize to meet the needs,” stated campaign chair Bob Rathbun. “We know that the needs are increasing and I am confident that our community will come together to finish strong.”

United Way strives to be a solutions provider to the Midland community and have identified three strategic focus areas — Education, Health and Self-Sufficiency. These are the building blocks for a good life: Equipping people with the tools to reach their full potential, empowering them to live independently and promoting health and healing.

United Way partners with 28 local agencies to offer targeted programs and services to help improve the conditions of everyone in Midland County. There are also many programs that are offered directly through United Way to help meet those needs.

Lunchbox Learners, a program of United Way, encourages local volunteers to share their love of reading with an elementary age student during the lunch hour once per week. Volunteers are needed to serve in six area elementary schools.

The FamilyWise prescription drug discount program is available to everyone, including those with or without insurance. There is no enrollment, paperwork or fee to use this program. Free discount cards are available behind the counter at most area pharmacies and on the United Way website. Last year, nearly 500 families participated, saving nearly $20 per prescription.

Many in the community need assistance with food. Last year alone, there were nearly 1,000 calls to 2-1-1 from people looking for food, and that number is increasing.

RE/MAX and The Dow Chemical Co. are joining United Way to sponsor a community-wide drive to help “Feed the Need” in Midland County from Nov. 13 through Nov. 3o. Check the United Way website at www.liveunitedmidland.org for drop-off locations.

About Case Systems:
Case Systems, a Michigan Company, is a leading designer and manufacturer of specialized industrial furnishings for such applications as exam rooms, clinical labs, and industrial workbenches.

30 October 2009

Oakland U To Offer Nursing Degree Through St. John Health System

from Crain's Detroit

Oakland University’s School of Nursing will offer accelerated nursing degree programs through a new program with the St. John Health System.

The Riverview Institute of Oakland University officially opens Nov. 18 at the renovated former St. John Riverview Hospital on East Jefferson Avenue in Detroit.

The institute will now offer bachelor’s degree in nursing in 12 months to students who already have a bachelor’s degree, OU said today in a statement. Graduating nurses will also have opportunities to be hired by a St. Johns area hospital.

The Riverview Institute will also offer training programs for patient care technicians and licensed practical nurses, OU said.

29 October 2009

Septage Plant Investigation Proceeds

Traverse City Record-Eagle

TRAVERSE CITY -- A downstate engineering firm will probe questions surrounding design and construction of Grand Traverse County's troubled septage plant, an effort to determine whether its architects committed professional negligence.

The county's Board of Public Works voted 7 to 1 this week to hire Grand Rapids-based engineering firm Prein & Newhof for up to $19,500 to investigate septage plant design firm Gourdie-Fraser Inc. and project manager Michael Houlihan.

The county's septage treatment fund will foot the bill. The decision to tap that account nipped a possible squabble between county and township officials over who should pay for the probe, a fight that could have delayed an investigation for months.

"I didn't think I'd ever see it happen," said BPW chairman Pat Pahl. "Some people didn't want to see the investigation proceed and sometimes I think they used the money issue to try and stop it."

The plant has been beset by problems virtually since it opened in mid-2005. A wall collapsed a month after it opened and spewed thousands of gallons of septage about the plant grounds. But finances pose the biggest worry for local officials.

The $7.8 million plant was overbuilt because septage flow projection numbers submitted by Gourdie-Fraser turned out to be far overblown. The facility is projected to lose up to $2.4 million over the next five years, and some county officials want to institute an annual $40 tax on all septage tank owners to alleviate financial problems.

The BPW in May voted to conduct an investigation, but action stalled until July, when a divided county board agreed to provide $10,000 to help pay for a probe. Costs beyond that amount were to come from Acme, East Bay, Elmwood, Garfield and Peninsula townships.

Monday's BPW vote, however, allows the investigation to proceed even if the county board decides to pull its contribution.

"It's going to move forward regardless of whether the county flip-flops again and takes its $10,000 back," Pahl said.

County Commissioner Larry Inman said he's fine with the BPW decision.

"Let's just get it done. We need to move this thing forward," Inman said.

Prein & Newhof will determine if engineers at Gourdie-Fraser exercised reasonable care when they over-estimated septage flow. It also will review the actions of Houlihan, BPW's former attorney who resigned this year amid calls for the investigation. Other industry leaders may be called upon for professional opinions, including Michigan's leading septage plant construction company HTI Systems.

The engineering firm will investigate if Houlihan properly supervised Gourdie-Fraser's flow estimates and if he used reasonable professional care when he certified in May 2005 that the plant was substantially completed. That act freed Gourdie-Fraser and construction firm The Christman Company from fines of up to $500,000 for failing to complete the project on time.

The probe is expected to take up to 60 days. If the results indicate professional negligence occurred, the next step could involve litigation against Gourdie-Fraser and/or Houlihan.

Garfield Township Supervisor Chuck Korn said some local officials are concerned about suing Houlihan.

"Houlihan ran the Department of Public Works for years," Korn said. "There are people out there who do not want to get involved in any sort of action that would include Mr. Houlihan because they are afraid he is the great and powerful Oz, and if you look behind the curtain he will destroy you. They really are scared of him."

28 October 2009

Hybrid Auto Maker Buys GM Plant For $18M


Fisker Automotive has selected the Wilmington Assembly plant in Wilmington Delaware to build affordable plug-in hybrid cars.

Fisker executives made the announcement inside the dormant facility today, joined by Vice President Joe Biden, Delaware Governor Jack Markell and other state officials.

The plant will support Fisker Automotive's Project NINA, the development and build of an affordable, family-oriented plug-in hybrid sedan costing about $39,900 after federal tax credits.

Production is scheduled to begin in late 2012.  Fisker Automotive anticipates Project NINA will ultimately create or support 2,000 factory jobs and more than 3,000 vendor and supplier jobs by 2014, as production ramps up to full capacity of 75,000-100,000 vehicles per year.  More than half will be exported, the largest percentage of any domestic manufacturer.

The modernized Wilmington Assembly plant was selected for its size, production capacity, world-class paint facilities, access to shipping ports, rail lines and available skilled workforce.

"This is a major step toward establishing America as a leader of advanced vehicle technology," said Henrik Fisker, CEO.  "Wilmington is perfect for high quality, low volume production and will soon be the proud builder of world-class, fuel-efficient Fisker plug-in hybrids."

Fisker Automotive has signed a letter of intent with Motors Liquidation Co. (MLC), formerly known as General Motors Corp. to purchase the Wilmington plant for $18 million after a routine four-month evaluation period. 

An additional $175 million will be spent to refurbish and retool the factory over the next three years. 

Funds will come from a conditional loan of $528.7M the Department of Energy awarded the company in September. 

The loan is part of the $25B Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing loan program (ATVM) appropriated by Congress in 2007 to help the United States lead in the development and manufacturing of advanced technology vehicles.

The company's first car, the Fisker Karma, will be the world's first production plug-in hybrid when it goes on sale this summer at retailers in the U.S. and Europe. 

Fisker plug-in hybrid cars will help remove the country's dependence on foreign energy by eliminating the need for 42 million barrels of oil by 2016. They will also offset 8 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

"With our close-knit business, government, and educational communities and our potential to respond rapidly to new opportunities, today's announcement is a testament to what works best in Delaware.  Fisker is a perfect partner in shaping Delaware's economic future, and we are thrilled that the vehicle that can reshape the automobile industry will be built here in Delaware, by Delaware workers." said Governor Jack Markell (D-Delaware).

Gary Casteel, UAW director responsible for the plant, said, "It gives me great pride to give UAW Local 435 workers the opportunity to partner with Fisker Automotive to create a greener America by building a plug-in hybrid car that will compete globally."

Asian Autos, Ford Top Consumer Reports Lists

from the Wall Street Journal

 Ford Motor Co. has weathered the car industry's downturn better than many competitors. Now some analysts think the company has turned the corner so far it could report break-even results for its core North American operations or even an overall profit when it releases third-quarter earnings Nov. 2.

At the heart of Ford's relative success has been its ability to minimize its year-over-year sales declines while taking advantage of its competitors' weakness and grabbing market share.

According to CNW Marketing Research, Ford gained more than five percentage points of U.S. retail market share in the third quarter compared with the same period of 2008, while Detroit rivals General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC lost ground.

"The Ford story is that they have taken advantage of the fact that they were sole domestic brand not to take a government bailout and not to file for bankruptcy," said Efraim Levy, an auto-industry stock analyst at Standard & Poor's. "But those benefits will fade in 2010 as the weaker competitors distance themselves from the bankruptcy filings and start to introduce some fresh product."

In the past week, several Wall Street analysts expressed optimism that Ford's North American operations could break even in the third quarter—a significant achievement after several years of steep losses—though they still expect the company to post a loss for its operations overall. One analyst, J.P. Morgan's Himanshu Patel, even forecast a quarterly profit overall at Ford.

"Obviously, I'm very pleased with the progress that we're making all around the world, and our market share is going up in every major market," Ford Executive Chairman William Clay Ford Jr. told reporters last week. "And our products are being very well received." He declined to discuss earnings, citing the quiet period before their release.

Ford continues to benefit from stronger prices for both its new and used cars that should boost results at its wholly owned financing arm, Ford Motor Credit. The trend could help the company reverse large losses accounted for in 2008 at the unit based on anticipated declines in the value of its leased vehicles.

Another positive sign could come in a report expected to be released soon by auto guide Kelly Blue Book. Two Ford vehicles will appear on the list of 2010 model-year vehicles projected to retain the greatest amount of their original retail price after five years of ownership, said a person familiar with the matter. Last year, no Ford car or truck held a spot on the 2009 model-year list.

Ford also is expected to perform well in the influential annual auto-reliability survey by Consumer Reports, due out Tuesday.

In the second quarter, the car maker reported a profit of $2.3 billion, though that came mainly from gains it recorded as part of efforts to restructure its debt. Excluding the gains, Ford would have reported a loss of $424 million, still narrower than a comparable loss of $1.03 billion a year earlier and much better than analysts had expected. The company has lost more than $30 billion since 2006.

The improved results have helped build Chief Executive Alan Mulally's image as a turnaround leader. But Ford still carries a massive debt after borrowed $23.5 billion in 2006 to fund its restructuring. Many on Wall Street are waiting to see how Ford will cut its debt load.

Despite an improved outlook, Ford hasn't revised its profitability forecast, stating the company won't break even or make money until 2011.

A person familiar with the matter at Ford said that even if encouraging signs continue to emerge, Ford may stay conservative about how quickly it can return to sustained moneymaking.

Chrysler Dealers Left In The Lurch


John Adamy, sales manager at Phil Spady's Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep car dealership, stands in the bare showroom in Columbus, Neb., Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2009. Dealers have heard little from Chrysler's new Italian management about what they'll be selling in 2011 even as they struggle to unload unpopular 2009s and face 2010 with the same model lineup.

Chrysler has been sending its dealers back to class, reminding them about the importance of courtesy and communication: Always return phone calls. Limit wait times. Open doors for customers.

However, the automaker isn't following its own advice.

New management has said little about plans to revamp Chrysler's ailing lineup and return the once-great company to profitability. Dealers are left to wonder what they'll be selling this time next year, even as they struggle to unload unpopular models from their lots.

The lack of communication is a symptom of an automaker so focused on its grand plan that it may be overlooking the basics of running the business.

That means a tough year for the auto industry has turned into an especially trying one for Jeep, Dodge and Chrysler dealers. Sales are down almost 40 percent versus 27 percent for the industry. Dealers have seen a quarter of their ranks purged since June, when the automaker left bankruptcy protection. They're facing shortages of some current models because Chrysler shut its factories for much of the summer.

For now, Chrysler's fate and the livelihood of its remaining 2,400 dealers hang by a thread of government aid. Taxpayer money, around $15 billion, will have to keep the company afloat until its new management, Italian car company Fiat SpA, finds a winning strategy for Chrysler following two unsuccessful ownerships in the last 11 years.

The lack of information is compounded by frequent shuffling of managers. New CEO Sergio Marchionne just broomed out two brand executives appointed only four months ago. Deputy CEO Jim Press, who to many dealers has been the face of Chrysler, is on his way out.

"It is a bit unsettling after everything that we've been through to see unrest at the top," said Michael Andretta, owner of a Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge dealership in central Pennsylvania.

Dealers are impatient for details about Marchionne's five-year game plan - to be announced on Nov. 4. Many say calls to headquarters have gone unreturned or they're told to wait as the CEO tries to keep his plans secret until next month.

Chrysler spokeswoman Kathy Graham says the company couldn't provide details because the product plan just received board approval. Chrysler will present its strategy in eight meetings with dealers around the country after Nov. 4.

The silence, though, is troubling and a sign that Fiat was unprepared to take over Chrysler, said Aaron Bragman, an auto industry analyst with the consulting firm IHS Global Insight.

"This is a company that has been given a lot of taxpayer money and hasn't said a thing," Bragman said.

By contrast, General Motors Co., which left bankruptcy court a month after Chrysler and is also receiving government aid, is "shouting from the rooftops" that it's here to stay and has new vehicles on the way, he said.

"GM understands that their public image has been seriously damaged, and they need to do a lot of damage control. Chrysler has just shut itself away."

GM has run a new ad campaign that touts quality and offers a 60-day money-back guarantee. It has even held online "town hall" meetings to update customers on its progress.

For Chrysler dealers there are only vague assurances of seeing a redesigned Jeep Grand Cherokee in the spring and a new Chrysler 300 large sedan sometime next year.

Chrysler's existing lineup is weak. Flops like the Sebring midsize sedan and Aspen large SUV dragged down sales in recent years. Because the Sebring and its Dodge counterpart, the Avenger, have sold so poorly, dealers have been unable to compete in a sedan segment that made up nearly half of U.S. car sales this year. Both cars have been criticized for noisy rides and poor quality.

And this summer, the Cash for Clunkers windfall all but bypassed Chrysler because it lacked enough fuel-efficient models on lots to meet demand. With factories shut, shipments to dealers ceased. As a result, Chrysler sold just over 7,000 Dodge Calibers, its smallest and most fuel-efficient car. By contrast, Toyota sold 29,000 Corollas.

Although Chrysler's product plan hasn't been formally announced, people with knowledge of it have told The Associated Press that models with Fiat frames and engines will replace Chrysler's current small and midsize cars, and the Fiat 500 subcompact will be added to the lineup.

While the car maker has withheld its strategy from dealers, it's made other details very clear recently. In mandatory customer service classes across the nation, dealers have been told which tiles to line their showrooms with and to make follow-up calls a day after cars are serviced.

Chuck Eddy, a Chrysler dealer near Youngstown, Ohio, serves on the national dealers' council. He understands the dealers' frustration because the council hasn't been told details of the plan either. But he's one of the few who have met Marchionne. He's seen Fiat vehicles, and that's made him optimistic.

"(Marchionne) feels much better about Chrysler than he did about Fiat," when he took it over in 2004, Eddy says.

Eddy said Marchionne's reticence reminded him of former Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca, who kept details close and made a big splash with product announcements.

"I think he wants to get the Wow! factor back."

But it's been mostly woes for dealers. In early October, Chrysler temporarily closed some factories, due to parts shortages. There's also been problems with financing.

Phil Spady, who owns Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep dealerships in Columbus, Neb., and Yankton, S.D., said each dealership normally has 50 to 60 vehicles, but now their supplies are "in the teens."

Spady's supply of Calibers was quickly depleted by clunkers sales in July and August.

The automaker stopped building 2009 Calibers and won't ship 2010 models with improved interiors until November.

"We get fed last," Spady said of smaller dealerships.

Marchionne recently urged patience and said the company aims to reverse its sliding share of the U.S. market. September sales fell 42 percent and market shares has dropped to 8.3 percent from 11.1 percent, according to Autodata Corp.

Patience, like Calibers, is scarce.

"If I were running Chrysler corporation, I would have communicated with my dealers before now," said Wes Lutz, who runs a Dodge dealership in Jackson, Mich..

27 October 2009

Flat Rock Mustang Plant Rejects Concessions

from Bloomberg

Ford Motor Co.’s Mustang plant in Flat Rock, Michigan, became the fifth factory to reject contract concessions the automaker is seeking to match those the United Auto Workers granted its U.S. rivals.

The vote at UAW Local 3000 was 73 percent against the concessions, said Tom Spears, the local’s president. The factory has about 2,200 employees, is jointly owned with Mazda Motor Corp. and also builds the Mazda6.

“There are concerns about our plant’s future because we have no product beyond 2011,” Spears, who backed the contract changes, said in an interview. “The membership did not have a warm reception to additional contract modifications. We did this in ‘05, ‘07 and in February and now they’re back at us again.”

Ford, the only major U.S. automaker to avoid bankruptcy, won support from UAW local leaders Oct. 13 on an agreement to grant concessions similar to those given to General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC. The changes include a six-year ban on some strikes and a freeze on wages of new hires until 2015.

Labor costs at Ford aren’t uncompetitive with its U.S. rivals in the “near term,” Mark Fields, the company’s president of the Americas, said on Bloomberg Television. The automaker is concerned about the longer term, he said.

‘Open’ Relations

Ford’s relations with the UAW “are very open and transparent,” said Fields, who declined to comment on the ratification vote. “We share with them the challenges of the business and we focus the majority of our discussions on keeping Ford competitive.”

Since Dearborn, Michigan-based Ford’s 41,000 U.S. hourly workers began voting Oct. 22, five plants representing about 10,170 workers have turned down the givebacks. An axle factory in Sterling Heights, Michigan, rejected it yesterday by 71 percent, said Brian Pannebecker, a production worker who voted for the revisions.

“People don’t understand the relationship between job security and competition in our labor costs,” Pannebecker said in an interview. “People are starting to want to buy a Ford product because we’re making it on our own without government help. Now we’re turning back the clock and making ourselves less competitive than GM and Chrysler.”

Workers at a Ford Escape factory near Kansas City, Missouri, voted 92 percent against the concessions on Oct. 25. A transmission plant in Livonia, Michigan, and a parts factory in Plymouth, Michigan, also rejected the contract revisions, union officials said. Factories in Cleveland and Wayne, Michigan, representing about 4,770 workers, have approved the changes, union officials said.

Voting concludes Oct. 31.

Bonus Offer

The automaker is offering workers a $1,000 bonus tied to quality and productivity targets and pledges of new production at some factories to help win approval of the deal. The Flat Rock plant was promised continued Mustang production only “through the current life cycle,” which ends in 2011, according to UAW highlights of the agreement.

UAW spokesman Roger Kerson didn’t immediately respond to a telephone call and e-mail seeking comment.

The concessions are the second round of givebacks sought by the automaker this year. In March, 59 percent of production workers and 58 percent of skilled-trades employees approved concessions that included giving up annual bonuses and cost-of- living increases and some layoff benefits.

Ford fell 4 cents to $7.43 at 3:03 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. The shares have more than tripled this year.

26 October 2009

State Cuts Program For Disabled Seniors

From Interlochen Public Radio

Older people with mental illnesses and disabilities no longer have a place to socialize together in Traverse City, thanks to state budget cuts. Friday was the last day of the Senior Support Program at Northern Lakes Community Mental Health, ending a 30-year tradition.

During the program's last days, 62-year-old William Combs talked about what he would miss.

"It gives me something to do two days out of the week," he said. "And every other Monday I have art class and we do art,drawing and stuff. I do my drawings with pencils and pastels and maybe sometimes ink pens. And I just don't want to see everything end abruptly. That would be hard."

Combs lives in Kingsley, at an adult foster care home. Since he can't drive, he spends a lot of time on his own. He often likes to walk, sometimes miles in a day. But a couple days a week he would hop the bus into Traverse City, and the senior program gave him a place to meet friends.

"It'll be hard on a lot of people, and me too," he said. "I've been so used to coming to it and I don't want it to go. There ain't too much else going on."

But as of Friday, the Senior Program - not supported by Michigan Priority medicare -  is no more.

Typically more than 20 people would show up to spend some time with their peers.

"A lot of them they have no place else to go for socialization and connecting with others, so that's why we had this program," says Marybeth Kyro. She was the lead worker for the Northern Lakes' Senior Support.

Kyro is being reassigned within the community mental health agency.

She says activities in the Senior Program were fun, but they also had a larger purpose. They were designed to help with daily living skills, and they focused on specific issues that older adults often face such as mobility, and keeping the mind sharp.

"We were getting some funding from the state to do older adult services," she says. "Now we're getting nothing. So now we had to make some really tough decisions, and this was part of it, cutting this program. So it's extremely sad, we're very, very sad."

The state ended funding for senior services back in July, cutting the Northern Lake's budget mid-year by $118,000. The community mental health agency's chief executive officer, Greg Paffhouse, says he shifted money around to keep the day program afloat as long as he could. But, already into Fiscal Year 2010, Paffhouse has no idea what his budget will be for this year. Looming cuts could be as high as 12, or even 20, percent. And he can't keep taking the risk.

Paffhouse does say he hopes the hard decision to shutter the senior program will actually mean those who were once in the program will be less segregated from the rest of the community. He hopes his staff and other area caregivers will help disabled seniors join in on more activities open to all seniors and all people.

 "At the same time, we recognize there are friendships within this group," he says. "Some of these folks have attended the programs a long time together and we're still trying to sort out how we might be able to retain at least some periodic social activity to allow persons to maintain those relationships."

Programs for seniors with mental illness started 30 years ago, as the Regional Psychiatric Hospital in Traverse City closed. Funding has dwindled over the years. This was once a robust five-day program, with more than 50 participants, designed for elderly former hospital patients, all of whom have all since passed away.

Northern Michigan Broadcast Legend Retires

From Morningstar Publishing

TRAVERSE CITY - They say all good things must come to an end. For Merlin (Zeke) Dumbrille, that time comes Friday, Oct. 30 That’s when he will broadcast his last “Farm & Orchard Time,” heard weekdays at 11:45 a.m. on WTCM AM.

A special reception in his honor has been planned for Friday, from noon to 2 p.m. at Crema, downtown Traverse City. The public is invited to share in the festivities.

Dumbrille, 76, has been working at the station since he was 17. And yes, there have been more than a few changes in the 58 years since he started working there.

“When I started, everything was done live: commercials, music, everything. Now it’s all on a computer,” he said. Editing is now just a couple mouse clicks. “It’s a revolution. We used to have to take the tape and splice it with a razor blade,” he said with a laugh.

“We used to communicate with people miles away, as far away as 50 or 75 miles. Now we go from Big Rapids to Sault Ste. Marie.”

Dumbrille has won numerous local and state honors for his coverage of farm related news and information. He has also covered activities for the National Cherry Festival and produced the broadcast of the entire National Cherry Festival Grand Cherry Royale Parade until this past year.

“I loved doing the Cherry Festival, I did it for 48 years,” he said.

Dumbrille said his most thrilling times were when he covered stories with regional or national impact.

“When President Kennedy was shot, it came over the AP newswire that shots had been fired in the plaza in Dallas,” Dumbrille recalled. “We got it on the air right away. We actually scooped the networks.

“It was a momentous occasion. It was a privilege to be a part of that. We were able to go right on the air. Your adrenaline starts flowing.

“It’s instantaneous knowledge.”

Farmers’ friend

Dumbrille is most appreciative of those with whom he’s worked. He said he still gets a thrill from broadcasting, and that shows in his voice.

On his show, Merlin talks with MSU Extension Directors from the five county area about current problems growers face, and offers solutions to keep them operating at a good profit margin. He also talks with Soil Conservation Officers from the area county conservation districts, Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council members in Petoskey and area Foresters, all on a regular weekly basis.

“I’ve been so fortunate to deal with so many great people,” he said of the growers, extension agents and others he has worked with over the years as host of the show. “They’re the giants of agriculture,” he said.

Though he’d likely deny it, much the same could be said of him. The unassuming Dumbrille has weathered the technological and sociological changes of the last half-century, and emerged with his interest and enthusiasm intact.

“It’s a better operation than we had before. The microphones are better. We thought we had it all when we got tape cartridges. It’s just a revolution.” Like Traverse City SEO.

Now it’s all coming to an end - but not because he doesn’t still enjoy it.

“It was never work,” Dumbrille said. “I loved to go to work. My avocation became my vocation.”

Dumbrille is a life member of the Kiwanis Club of Grand Traverse Bay, and previously served as president. He is currently president of the Traverse City Masonic Building Association, and is a corporate member of Munson Medical Center. He is a relief motion picture projectionist at the State Theatre, and has - for the past 33 years - served as the audio technician for the Sunday broadcast of Central United Methodist Church services each week.

Dumbrille and his wife of 55 years, June, have lived in Traverse City their entire lives. They've raised three children and have three grandchildren.

24 October 2009

Michigan: The State Of Joblessness

from the Wall Street Journal

State lawmakers will soon face large budget deficits again, perhaps as much as $100 billion across the U.S. Here's some free budget-balancing advice: Steer clear of the Michigan model. The Wolverine state is once again set to run out of money, and it is once again poised to raise taxes even as jobs and businesses disappear.

In 2007 Governor Jennifer Granholm signed the biggest tax increase in Michigan history, with most of the $1.4 billion coming from business. The personal income tax—which hits nonincorporated small businesses—was raised to 4.2% from 3.95%, and the Michigan business tax levied a surcharge of 22%. The tax money was dedicated to the likes of education, public works, job retraining and corporate subsidies. Ms. Granholm and her union allies called these "investments," and the exercise was widely applauded as a prototype of "progressive" budgeting.

Government is the largest employer in the state, but the number of taxpayers to support these government workers is shrinking.
Some prototype. Every state has seen a big jump in joblessness since 2007, but with a 15.2% unemployment rate Michigan's jobs picture is by far the worst. Some 750,000 private-sector payroll jobs have vanished since the start of the decade. For every family that has moved into Michigan since 2007, two have sold their homes and left.

Meanwhile, the new business taxes didn't balance the budget. Instead, thanks to business closures and relocations, tax receipts are running nearly $1 billion below projections and the deficit has climbed back to $2.8 billion. As the Detroit News put it, Michigan businesses are continually asked "to pay more in taxes to erase a budget deficit that, despite their contributions, never goes away." And this is despite the flood of federal stimulus and auto bailout cash over the last year.

Following her 2007 misadventure, Ms. Granholm promised: "I'm not ever going to raise taxes again." That pledge lasted about 18 months. Now she wants $600 million more. Among the ideas under consideration: an income tax increase with a higher top rate, a sales tax on services, a freeze on the personal income tax exemption (which would be a stealth inflation tax on all Michigan families), a 3% surtax on doctors, and fees on bottled water and cigarettes. To their credit, Republicans who control the Michigan Senate are holding out for a repeal of the 22% business tax surcharge.

As for Ms. Granholm, she and House speaker Andy Dillon continue to bow to public-sector unions. There are now 637,000 public employees in Michigan compared to fewer than 500,000 workers left in manufacturing. Government is the largest employer in the state, but the number of taxpayers to support these government workers is shrinking. The budget deadline is November 1, and Ms. Granholm is holding out for tax increases rather than paring back state government.

The decline in auto sales has hurt Michigan more than other states, but the state's economy would have been better equipped to cope without Ms. Granholm's policy mix of higher taxes in order to spend more money on favored political and corporate interests. If any larger good can come of the experience, it is that Michigan is teaching other states how not to govern.

21 October 2009

Fortune: Best Michigan Companies To Work For


When Fortune Magazine published its annual list of the 100 Best Companies To Work For, there were a handful of Michigan companies listed in the 2009 edition. Here are the Fortune 'snapshots' of those companies:

Herman Miller (furniture) -- Headquartered in Zeeland, with additional locations in Spring Lake, and Holland, Michigan

4,292 U.S. Employees
Rank: 89 (Previous rank: 96)
What makes it so great?
Layoffs at the furniture maker were minimized by generous voluntary separation packages: 3 weeks pay for every year of service.
Headquarters: 855 East Main Avenue
Zeeland, MI 49464
2007 revenue ($ millions): 20,120


Plante and Moran (accounting) --
Headquartered in Southfield, with additional locations in Auburn Hills, and Grand Rapids, Michigan

820 U.S. Employees
Rank: 42 (Previous rank: 44)
What makes it so great?
Who said accountants don't have any fun? ­Employees from all 17 offices gather one day every year to hear updates on the firm and mingle. Latest event was attended by more than 1,200 staff members.
Headquarters: 27400 Northwestern Highway
Southfield, MI 48033
2007 revenue ($ millions): 286

Quicken Loans -- Headquartered in Livonia, with additional locations in Southfield, and Farmington Hills, Michigan

2,099 U.S. Employees
Rank: 29 (Previous rank: 2)
What makes it so great?
The industry took a huge hit, but mortgage lender Quicken still offers perks (like short days once a week) that many companies in thriving industries don't.
Headquarters: 20555 Victor Parkway
Livonia, MI 48152
2007 revenue ($ millions): 626

S.C. Johnson & Son (household products) -- Headquartered in Racine, Wisconsin, additional location in Bay City, Michigan

440 U.S. Employees
Rank: 81 (Previous rank: 27)
What makes it so great?
In the midst of the financial crisis CEO Fisk Johnson sent a cheer-up card to every employee announcing a two-day extension of the annual holiday break.
Headquarters: 1525 Howe Street
Racine, WI 53403
2007 revenue ($ millions): 8,000

Coalition of Top Michigan Executives Has 5-Point Plan For State

From mLive

In light of the state’s fiscal and political turmoil, the leaders of Michigan’s largest companies are not going to remain quiet any more.

The top chief executive officers from around the state are ready to pump up the volume on their displeasure with the direction Michigan is headed. They have a five-point program to bring the state through its current crisis and set the stage for reform after the 2010 election.

And Lakeshore communities like Muskegon will play a key role in setting the stage for a new Michigan. The state’s future identity must be tied closely to the Great Lakes, the group’s chief executive says.

Expanding the Detroit Renaissance statewide, the CEO group has formed Business Leaders for Michigan, which includes company heads from Detroit to Grand Rapids, and St. Joseph to Midland.

Former Michigan Economic Development Corp. head Doug Rothwell is president of the new group. The business group is represented by the heads of the automakers and other major manufacturers, utilities and top universities.

“We are getting some push back in Lansing,” Rothwell said of the business group. “I think (the politicians) are nervous with the ground swell of frustration.”

The CEO group’s plan is similar to what is being called for by two independent think tanks — the right-of-center Center for Michigan and left-of-center Michigan’s Future.

Meijer Inc., Steelcase Inc., Haworth Inc., Amway Corp., Whirlpool Corp. and Herman Miller Inc. are some of the West Michigan companies represented through Business Leaders for Michigan.

“Business Leaders for Michigan cares deeply about this state,” Meijer CEO Mark Murray said. “Without robust job and business creation, we cannot ensure growth and prosperity for our residents.

“I am particularly concerned about the generation that is early in their careers. They are making what might be lifelong decisions about where they will live and use their talents. Without a return to growth, I fear we will lose too many of them.”

Business Leaders for Michigan has a “turn-around” plan for the state. The goal is to return Michigan to a “Top 10” state in terms of job creation and economic growth. Currently, the state has been the leading the nation in the unemployment rate.

The plan calls for:

• Changing state financial management with a two-year budgeting process.

• Right-sizing state government and providing budget reforms of state employee wages and benefits.

• Getting Michigan competitive for business growth through fixing the Michigan business tax.

• Making investments to provide a pro-jobs environment in infrastructure, higher education and urban development.

• Boost the state’s economy through innovation and entrepreneurship.

This fall, the group will push for a balanced budget, government reforms and tax reform, Rothwell said. The group’s solution on taxes is to shift which business sectors are contributing but not reduce state revenues.

Business Leaders for Michigan will then become involved in the 2010 election, Rothwell said. The group wants its plans embraced by the candidates.

“We recognize the need to get politically engaged,” Rothwell said. “We need to get the public’s attention and provide some deep research. We don’t need to (financially) buy access because of who this group is.”

After the election, the group will provide the resources needed to enact reforms and to keep elected official accountable, Rothwell said. Moving Michigan’s image from Detroit automotive companies to the Great Lakes is a key component in the future, he said.

“Places like Muskegon should define more what Michigan is all about,” Rothwell said. “The Great Lakes need to represent this state even more than we have. It’s who we are.”

20 October 2009

Hollywood Jobs Come To Michigan


As employment prospects in the area dwindle, a new industry offers hope for job seekers like Neal Garron.

Getting a job in this economy is tough everywhere, but some local job markets are faring worse than others. And nowhere is it harder to find a job than in Michigan.

Michigan leads the nation in unemployment, with a statewide rate of 15.2%. Joblessness is even higher in cities like Detroit where the local unemployment rate is 17%.

For a long time Neal Garron was one of Michigan's many unemployed. A husband and father of four, Garron, 40, had worked as an assistant in a recording studio making $9 an hour until he was laid off nearly two years ago.

Garron struggled to find another job and even considered starting his own business. "I thought I would start a small little studio in my house but nothing really came of it," he said.

In the meantime, his wife Shelly worked two jobs to make ends meet. Then Garron heard a few advertisements on the radio for opportunities in the emerging film and entertainment industry in his area.

Thanks to generous tax incentives, many filmmakers have been encouraged to come to Michigan, bringing lot of film and television jobs with them. Programs like the ones at the Center for Film Studies and Film Industry Training help local job seekers learn the skills they need to be competitive for those jobs.

Using a loan from his wife's 401(k), Garron signed up for a two-week course. It was a big gamble, but one that Garron was confident would pay off. His program led to a series of internships and also valuable contacts.

"It's not like getting a job at a factory or something like that," Garron explained. "It's a who-you-know business."

After the producer of an upcoming television show contacted him, Garron landed a job as a boom operator on set. Now he makes $31 an hour working full-time filming the show's first season. Plans are in the works to shoot a second season after that.

Garron is working toward getting into the sound union, which could lead to more on-location audio jobs, and his wife has scaled back her hours somewhat. She still puts in overtime, but now it's to get ahead rather than stay afloat.

"We've never gotten anywhere with our bills and now we're paying bills off," Garron said. "It's wonderful, stuff that we've dreamed about doing, we're doing."

Assignment Detroit

According to career experts in Michigan, there are budding opportunities in the area, thanks to an increasing number of film projects there.

"Michigan has been gaining a lot of film projects based on tax breaks that have been offered" explained Janet Beckstrom, owner of Word Crafter, a résumé service in Flint, Mich. And with that have come job opportunities, she added.

For job seekers interested in pursuing that path, Career Coach Deborah Schuster, who owns The Lettersmith in Troy, Mich., recommends identifying transferable skills for starters. For example, construction workers could have many skills related to set building.

Schuster says applicants interested in switching industries should streamline their résumé to keep it relevant to their goal. "Leave out things that are irrelevant and focus on things that are," she said.

Before trying to obtain additional skills, Schuster cautions job seekers about signing up for a training course and paying a fee. She encourages doing the research to ensure it is legitimate and worthwhile.

19 October 2009

Study Finds Too Few Female Executives In Michigan

Crain's Detroit Business

Detroit-based Compuware Corp. is among the Inforum study's “most valuable players” in Michigan based on women holding trustee or top executive positions, including (from left) Lisa Elkin, vice president, marketing and communications; Tanya Heidelberg-Yopp, senior vice president, sales operations; Denise Starr, chief administrative officer; Laura Fournier, executive vice president and CFO; Janette Lollo, senior vice president, customer care; Kimberly King, vice president, channels and alliances; and Missy Root, senior vice president, recruiting, training and career development.

Michigan's top 100 public companies aren't tapping women as directors on their boards and top executives any more than they were six years ago, and that could be hurting the state's competitiveness, according to a new study.

The 2009 Women's Leadership Index, released by Inforum Center for Leadership, reports that women represent just 9.4 percent of the five highest-compensated officer positions at the state's largest public companies.

That's slightly higher than the 7.1 percent reported in 2003, the first year of the biennial index.

Of the total executive officers at Michigan's public companies, 10.5 percent are women, trailing the 2008 national average of 15.7 percent.

Likewise, just 9.6 percent of the trustees at those companies are women, according to the report, trailing the national average of 15.1 percent and ranking even with the first year of the study, issued six years ago.

Yet women represent 46.5 percent of the U.S. workforce and more than half of all management, professional or related occupations in the labor force as a whole, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's 2007 American Community Survey.

“This is a moment for Michigan and Southeast Michigan,” said Inforum CEO and President Terry Barclay. “What better time is there going to be to build our next economy the way it should be built? There are talented women, and now is the time.”

The newly released index, which was researched by the College of Business at Eastern Michigan University, is available at www.inforummichigan.org.

“Michigan's low percentage of women in key roles at its largest public companies does not bode well for the state's work to attract and retain talent,” Barclay said.

The National Center for Educational Statistics projects that during the 2008-09 academic year, women will earn 58 percent of all bachelor's degrees in the U.S., 60 percent of all master's degrees and 50 percent of advanced degrees in areas such as law and medicine. “What message does it send to the talented young women graduating from our institutions when they see few role models at the top of the companies that are their chosen industries?” Barclay asked. “Young people make those kinds of judgments when they look at companies.”

The prevalence of women of color in top positions at Michigan's largest public companies is even lower. Just 11 women of color, or 1.3 percent, are directors, and only four, or less than 1 percent, hold executive positions, according to the study.

Yet there is much research to support that there are business advantages to having more women in key roles, according to a September 2008 study by Minneapolis-based McKinsey & Co. Inc., a global research and consulting firm that counts among its clients more than 70 percent of the companies on Fortune magazine's most-admired list.

Research in Europe and the U.S. suggests that companies with several senior-level women tend to perform better financially, McKinsey said in the report, while hiring and retaining women at all levels also enlarges a company's pool of talent at a time when shortages are appearing throughout industries.

Having more women and more diversity among key decision makers helps companies avoid “group think” patterns that lead to bad decisions, Barclay said.

Interestingly, having more women in key roles also improves workplace conditions not just for women, but for men, Barclay sad.

“One of the common concerns companies have is (that) women will drop out for child-care reasons, but it turns out work/life balance issues are important to men, too.”

The Women's Leadership Index did have a few bright spots. For the first time, there are three female CEOs among the 100 largest companies, up from just one — Kathleen Ligocki, formerly at Tower Automotive — in past years.

Those women are: Cathleen Nash at Flint-based Citizens Republic Bancorp Inc.; Susan Eno at CNB Corp., Cheboygan; and Karen Clark at Green Energy Live Inc., Wyoming. CNB and Green Energy are among seven of the study's “most valuable players” in Michigan, as is Detroit-based Compuware Corp., based on the number of women holding trustee or top executive positions.

Compuware has two women on its board — former Marygrove College President Glenda Price and Faye Nelson, president of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy — plus Laura Fournier serving as executive vice president and CFO, and Denise Starr serving as chief administrative officer.

It also has five women heading up various operational units: Lisa Elkin, vice president, marketing and communications; Tanya Heidelberg-Yopp, senior vice president, sales operations; Kimberly King, vice president, channels and alliances; Janette Lollo, senior vice president, customer care; and Missy Root, senior vice president, recruiting, training and career development.

A diversity committee of Compuware's board of directors does a lot of education with key executives in the company “to make sure we're aware of the strengths of a diverse group — both gender and ethnicity — because our employees and customers are diverse,” said COO and President Bob Paul.

“The leadership team here is a very strong reflection of the type of people we have employed and the type we try to deliver value to: customers,” he said.

Additionally, “when you have women in leadership positions ... across your organization, it also helps drive hiring that's reflective of that leadership team.”

Women are responsible for 83 percent of household purchases and are forming new businesses nationally and in Michigan at two times the rate of men, Barclay said.

“They are your future supplier, clients and partners,” she said.

Now more than ever, “it's important to get beyond tokenism and to have more than one woman on the board or in the executive ranks.”

18 October 2009

Detroit To Play Host To World Stem Cell Summit In 2010

From NBC 25

Governor Jennifer M. Granholm today announced that Detroit will host the 2010 World Stem Cell Summit organized by the Genetics Policy Institute.

The conference will take place October 4-6, 2010, at the Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center.  It will be co-hosted by Michigan State University, the University of Michigan, Wayne State University, and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

“We have been working to grow Michigan’s life sciences sector as part of our strategy to diversify the state’s economy and create jobs,” Granholm said.  “The World Stem Cell Summit is one of the most important life sciences conferences in the world.  The selection of Detroit to host the 2010 summit is positive recognition and support of our efforts here in Michigan in this emerging economic sector.”

“Hosting the 2010 World Stem Cell Summit will allow us to showcase the innovative research that is occurring in the city of Detroit and at Michigan universities,” said Detroit Mayor Dave Bing.  “Scientists, researchers, government officials and industry representatives from around the world will see firsthand the great minds and facilities we have in Detroit.”

The summit will attract more than 1,200 of the most influential stem cell stakeholders from more than 30 countries, representing the fields of science, business, policy, law, ethics and advocacy.  There will be 150 internationally-renowned speakers, producing a unique international network designed to foster collaborations, economic development, technology transfer, commercialization, private investment and philanthropy.

“We are delighted to bring the 2010 World Stem Cell Summit to Detroit,” said Bernard Siegel, executive director of the Genetics Policy Institute.  “Michigan is fast becoming a biotechnology hub.  Michigan State University, the University of Michigan and Wayne State University all have world-class researchers and outstanding facilities dedicated not only to fundamental stem cell research but also to translating lab work into effective treatments and cures.”

Presidents of all three universities expressed enthusiasm about the summit.

“Michigan State University has a long history of working in a number of areas in the stem cell field such as bio-engineering, cancer biology, and toxicology,” said MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon.  “The 2010 World Stem Cell Summit will be an opportunity to showcase our work as well as continue, and establish new, collaborations with our University Research Corridor colleagues.”

“Stem cell research and discovery are of tremendous importance not only to scientists, patients and families but also to transforming our state’s economy,” said University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman.  “The University of Michigan is excited to welcome the 2010 World Stem Cell Summit to Michigan.”

“As a leader in life sciences research, Wayne State University is pleased to sponsor the 2010 World Stem Cell Summit with our University Research Corridor partners,” said Wayne State University President Jay Noren.  “With the planned opening of the Stem Cell Commercialization Center at TechTown, Wayne State’s technology park and business incubator, Detroit and Michigan are poised to assume leadership in research in this field of increasing importance to both the biomedical industry and pioneering clinical care.”

Covered at the summit will be all areas of stem cell science, disease models, drug discovery, tissue engineering, bioreactors and nanotechnology.  There will be progress reports on treatment for cancer, diabetes, spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, ALS, neurological disorders and cardiovascular disease.  Panels will discuss commercialization, funding, economic development, regulatory agency perspectives, law and ethics.

The summit also will feature the 2010 Stem Cell Action Awards Dinner where the Genetics Policy Institute will recognize organizations and individuals who have most positively impacted the stem cell community.  At the 2009 summit dinner in Baltimore, two Michigan stem cell organizations won awards:  Michigan Citizens for Stem Cell Research and Cures won the Education Award, while Cure Michigan won the Grassroots Advocacy Award.

The 2010 World Stem Cell Summit will be the sixth annual conference organized by the Genetics Policy Institute.  Previous summits have taken place in Houston, Palo Alto, Boston, Baltimore, and Madison, Wisconsin

17 October 2009

Toughening Competition Means Honda Motor May Need To Innovate Faster

From Forbes

NOVI, Michigan -- Honda Motor Co.'s top U.S. auto executive says the company may have to update its models faster because the competition is getting so tough in segments where the Japanese automaker has strong sales.

John Mendel said Honda ( HMC - news - people ) will stay ahead of the pack with new technology and by introducing models in new market sectors, but he concedes it may have to update its cars more frequently as competitors keep getting better in quality, reliability and fuel economy.

"We don't have the gap that we had years ago," he said Friday just before unveiling a new Accord crossover vehicle in suburban Detroit. "There's nobody out there building junk any more."

The Accord, Honda's top-selling car and traditionally among the best sellers in the U.S., Honda's largest market, is under serious assault from prime competitors Toyota Motor Corp. ( TM - news - people ), Nissan Motor Co. ( NSANY - news - people ), Ford Motor Co. ( F - news - people ) and General Motors Co.

All four competitors have four-cylinder midsize models that have passed the Accord in highway gas mileage, and most have received good marks from independent reviewers.

Mendel, speaking before he introduced the new Accord Crosstour, said in some hotly contested market segments, Honda may have to speed up its normal two-year cycle of refreshing vehicles and roughly five-year cycles of total redesign.

Honda is scheduled to update the Accord next year and redesign the car by 2013. But Mendel says the redesign could take place before then as Honda introduces new technologies to raise fuel economy.

New four-cylinder versions of GM's Chevrolet Malibu (33 mpg highway) and Ford's Fusion (34 mpg highway) have passed the Accord's 31 mpg in highway gas mileage, even though Honda usually leads the pack. Toyota Motor Corp. updated its top-selling midsize Camry for 2010 by adding a six-speed manual transmission, boosting highway mileage to 33, and Nissan's Altima gets 32 mpg.

Both GM and Ford used six-speed automatic transmissions to raise highway mileage with taller gearing that makes engines more efficient by working less. The Accord, though, still has a five-speed automatic.

Honda, Toyota and Nissan have dominated the critical midsize car market for years as Detroit automakers spent most of their research dollars on larger vehicles, said Joe Barker, senior manager of North American vehicle sales forecasting for the CSM Worldwide consulting firm in Northville, Michigan.

But in the past two years, Ford, GM and Korean automaker Hyundai Motor Co. have invested heavily in midsize cars and improved fuel efficiency, safety, ride and performance, pulling even or ahead of Honda and Toyota, Barker said.

"The competition, especially in Honda's sweet spot, is only going to intensify in the coming years," Barker said.

Honda, Mendel said, normally waits for the redesign cycle to introduce new technologies that would boost fuel economy, but he wouldn't say specifically what the company might do with the Accord.

Honda already has developed six-speed automatic transmissions for two new models in its Acura luxury brand, the ZDX sport coupe and the MDX sport utility vehicle.

So far this year, Honda's U.S. sales are down 25 percent compared with the first nine months of last year, but its market share has grown from 11 to 11.3 percent. Overall, U.S. auto sales are down 27 percent, according to Autodata Corp.

Mendel says he is constantly thinking about how to balance keeping the company's products fresh against the cost of more frequent updates. On some models, like the Accord, leasing patterns have grown longer, so people don't trade vehicles as often. But that has to be balanced against the competition, as well as how much the company is able to do in the two or three-year refresh, he said.

A lot can be done in mid-cycle updates with new engines or transmissions and a new body style that can change a car's looks as opposed to redesigning the whole vehicle, Mendel said.

"So you get new for less than the cost of new, at least in the customer's eyes," he said.

The redesigned Accord certainly will get new engine and transmission technology as well as aerodynamic improvements, Mendel said. Stricter government fuel economy standards also may force Honda to update vehicles more frequently, he said.

The current Accord, Barker said, is still among the best cars on the road. He says Honda will catch up in fuel economy when it does the updates, but staying on top won't be as easy as in the past.

"I think that even though Honda will continue to invest in technology and continue to strive to be a segment benchmark, it has its work cut out for it," Barker said. "The competition from General Motors and from Ford and Hyundai is only getting better."

Business Climate Focus Of Michigan Chaldean Conference

From Oakland Press

The Chaldean Chamber of Commerce has moved into new quarters on a busy stretch of Northwestern Highway as its steps up its activity in both the business world and the community.

Several hundred guests turned out for the Chaldean Chamber’s fourth annual Business Luncheon Thursday for discussion on “The Future of Michigan’s Economy,” featuring an influential panel that included Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox, Speaker of The House Andy Dillon, Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano and Dominos Pizza Chief Executive Officer David Brandon.

Cox, who also is pursuing the Republican nomination for governor, said he favored cutting the Michigan Business Tax in half, which would benefit small benefit business owners across the board. “I don’t believe government can pick winners or losers,” he said.

Brandon said Michigan needs to change its overall business climate to make it more attractive to businesses already based in Michigan.

Right now, the business climate makes it difficult to justify building a new plant in Michigan.

The current climate costs the average business in Michigan up to four points of profit, which can spell the difference between success and failure.

Ficano stressed that cooperation across traditional political boundaries is one of the keys to helping revive the regional economy.

Detroit Metropolitan Airport now has more than 4,000 employees, half of whom live in Wayne County.

Promoting Metro Airport as a logistics hub, as Wayne County is attempting to do, takes nothing away from surrounding communities but could create thousands of new jobs by making it an alternative destination to freight forwarders, which now use Chicago by default, Ficano said.

The airport could be a genuine engine for growth in the area just like airports in Europe and in places such as China and Dubai.

Dillon said a way has to be found to put the state on a sound financial footings. Business wants certainty but “for the last six years there has been no certainty” because of the recurring budget crisis in Lansing.

“We need more Chaldeans in this state,” said Dillon, who Michigan’s new economy will depend more than ever on entrepreneurs. “The Chaldean community has real entrepreneurial spirit,” he said.

Martin Manna, the Chaldean Chamber’s executive director, said the chamber now has close to 1,000 members and is very active in the community.

“We get all kinds of requests that don’t have anything to do with business, but have to do with the community,” Manna said.

Most of the community revolves around the fallout from the war in Iraq, which has forced thousands of Chaldeans, who are Catholic, not Muslim, out of their traditional homes and forced them into refugee camps in the Middle East.

The U.S. government is slowly letting refugees re-settle in the United States and more are expected.

So far, more than 20,000 Chaldeans have come to the Detroit area, he said.

“Usually, what happens is the government puts them somewhere else but there is a secondary migration to the Detroit area because that is where their relatives are and their support system is here,” Manna said.

14 October 2009

Lights Out At The Penitentiary

Story from the Wall Street Journal

KINCHELOE, Mich. -- Jeffrey Woods, warden of the Hiawatha Correctional Facility here at the eastern end of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, was vacationing on Lake Huron when his cellphone rang on July 1.

The message from his boss: Hiawatha, which had been slated to shut down in October as part of a sweeping downsizing of the state's prison system, would now have to close by Aug. 7. That meant he had just five weeks to ship out 1,100 inmates and 207 staff.

"I stopped sleeping" after that, says Mr. Woods, who kept a to-do list by his bed and wrote down new tasks when he was jolted awake in the middle of the night.

The scramble to empty Hiawatha prison is part of a rapid shift in thinking about how many people should be locked up in the U.S., and for what crimes.

For three decades, state and local governments built and filled jails to make good on promises to get tough on crime. Now, the recession and collapsing budgets are forcing an about face.

Prisons are one of the biggest single line items in many state budgets, in part because nearly five times as many people are now behind bars as in the 1970s. From California to New York, officials are now closing penitentiaries and releasing inmates early. At least 26 states have cut corrections spending in fiscal year 2010, and at least 17 are closing prisons or reducing their inmate populations, according to the Vera Institute on Justice, a criminal-justice reform organization in New York.

The problem is especially acute in Michigan. Inmates here on average serve 127% of their court-ordered minimum sentences, well beyond the sentences of inmates in other states that offer parole, according to the Council of State Governments Justice Center. The state last year spent $2 billion on prisons, and one third of all state employees work for the department of corrections, which is among the highest percentage in the nation. With the collapse of the auto industry, the pressure to pare these costs is high.

Earlier this year, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm expanded the parole and clemency board from 10 members to 15 and announced the state's prison population of 48,000 would be cut by 4,000 inmates. Seven correctional facilities have closed so far this year, including Hiawatha; the state has announced it will shutter another four. At least one of those four might remain open as Michigan considers accepting detainees from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and prisoners from other states. Officials from the federal government recently toured a maximum-security state prison in Standish, Mich., as a possible new home for prisoners held at Guantanamo.

But Hiawatha didn't get such a reprieve. That is why on the morning of July 28, Warden Woods was in his office at 7 a.m. poring over closure plans. Hiawatha, a so-called secure level-one prison, held everyone from burglars to second-degree murderers. Outside Mr. Woods's office, 40 inmates, each wearing arm and leg restraints, boarded a bus with dark-tinted windows headed 200 miles away to another prison where they would serve out the rest of their sentences. More buses and vans would be rolling later in the day, some carrying inmates as far away as Marquette Branch Prison, more than four hours west of here.

Before inmates could be moved, staff had to consider details like where their co-defendants were located. In some cases, prisoners had testified against co-defendants, or vice versa, and there was bad blood. Gang affiliations also had to be taken into account; wardens didn't want rival gang members ending up in the same place, or worse, cell block. Medical needs and escape histories were factored in, too.

In his office, behind the heavy, sliding security bars that mark the entrance to the inside of the facility, deputy warden Duncan MacLaren was fielding calls for linens, desks and floor fans from the facilities that were taking Hiawatha's inmates. Some of the 16 facilities were also asking that beds, mattresses and lockers be sent before the inmates.

Between calls, Mr. MacLaren played the role of therapist to Hiawatha's staff. He counseled employees who were worried about making it on reduced pay since several of them were being demoted as a result of job transfers. He was in the same boat, demoted to an assistant deputy warden at another prison.

In the center of the prison yard Officer Al Pennell and several other officers scanned the grounds, waiting for prisoners who had not been transferred yet to filter through, unit by unit, for lunch. The huge garden that inmates had grown over the years was beginning to show signs of neglect as staff and prisoners got too busy to weed it.

The president of the local chapter of the union representing the officers, Mr. Pennell had also been inundated with calls and inquiries from guards being transferred. Nine officers from Hiawatha would lose their jobs once the prison closed. Although many were transferring to other prisons located on the same 7,200-acre site, there were still concerns over a lack of familiarity with those prisons -- their operations, layouts, schedules. Some questioned whether they would be able to take vacations they had put in for before the news broke that Hiawatha was closing.

There was little talk among the inmates as they walked past, many of them glowering at the officers. Mr. Pennell says he tells friends to keep a close watch over their kids. "We know what we're letting go. We see all the files," he says, referring to the inmates throughout the system who are being released early.

The decisions about whom to parole are made 250 miles away in Lansing, where the Michigan Parole Board occupies the third floor of the Department of Corrections headquarters. Without a quick reduction in the prison population, prisons and camps can't be shut down. Of Hiawatha's 1,100 inmates, 25 were paroled under the recent push to get prisoners out of the system faster.

Parole board member Miguel Berrios was one of the people responsible for thinning the prison's ranks. On the afternoon of July 29, he sat in his office eating microwaveable soup. He had just finished interviewing an inmate at another prison, one with mental issues who sexually assaulted a small child. It was Mr. Berrios's 20th hearing of the day. Once, parole board officials had to visit prisons in person before deciding to release an inmate. Now, hearings are done via video conference. Most interviews last 15 to 20 minutes, although some end quickly because inmates figure it is no use.

His questions for inmates are geared towards getting them to take responsibility for their crimes. He also wants to know if a prisoner has availed himself of the various programs inside. For people who have been turned down for parole before, he asks questions like, "You've been inside 10 years beyond your early release date. Why is that?"

One person Mr. Berrios recently recommended for parole was a man he arrested in the 1970s when Mr. Berrios was a police officer in Grand Rapids. He was also the man's probation officer at one point; at another time, he pursued him when the defendant absconded and became a fugitive. The crimes were never violent, but "he doesn't respect other people's property," Mr. Berrios said. "This guy had been with me 30 years. During the interview I told him we both need to retire." Mr. Berrios said he asked the inmate, who had served 20 years on his last offense, if he'd learned anything. "He said, 'Yeah, don't do this in Michigan.' "

Michigan officials had been reluctant to parole inmates after a 1992 case in which a paroled sex offender, Leslie Allen Williams, killed four young women in Oakland County. The budget crunch has changed that. At the end of 2008, there were 12,000 prisoners in the Michigan prison system who were eligible for parole, but hadn't been released. In recent months, 3,000 of them have been paroled.

The volume of parole interviews has climbed from a rate of about 400 to 500 a week last year to as many as 1,200 a week this year, says Charles Sinclair, the parole board administrator. Parole approvals in July were up 36% over the same time in 2008.

Critics say the rush to parole prisoners could lead to mistakes. It is "a risky strategy, no question. I don't think it's a very good plan," says Michigan State Sen. Wayne Kuipers, who chairs the state's Senate Judiciary Committee.

Mr. Kuipers says Michigan historically has struggled with a poor recidivism rate, and that within 18 to 24 months of their release, 62% of parolees reoffend. He says the state has been testing some new re-entry programs for released inmates and he would rather see how successful those are before increasing paroles.

Mr. Sinclair of the parole board says new risk assessments, including one which can predict the likelihood that sex offender will re-offend, give board members more confidence.

"I am 100% positive we're doing the right thing," says Patricia Caruso, director of Michigan's Department of Corrections, of both the push for parole and the reentry programs. "Every dollar spent on corrections is a dollar not spent on education."

But, she says, she also lives in fear that a parolee will victimize someone and commit a new crime. "I can guarantee something bad will happen. Parolees, like you and I, are human beings and have free will," she says. "I know something bad will happen and I'm going to own it when it does. I say the rosary several times a day."

Back at Hiawatha on July 30, the furniture breakdown and turnstile departures continued as beds were disassembled, lockers moved and living areas emptied. The 10 open bays in each housing unit were initially built to house four men each in a dormitory style setting, meaning no doors and no privacy. That number had climbed as high as eight per bay over the years.

With just a few days to have the prison clear of inmates, there were still 420 prisoners left to be transferred. The night shift was rousting the mornings' travelers out of bed at 3:45 a.m. Another group of 40 men showered, ate breakfast, then headed back to their unit for the last head count they would have at Hiawatha. By 6 a.m. they'd be on a bus. When everyone was gone, only the buildings would remain: The state hasn't yet decided on Hiawatha's future.

Standing in the unit where he began as an officer on the night shift in 1989, Warden Woods said the closure was bittersweet. "I'm here at the end. I was here at the beginning," he said.

By Aug. 7, all the prisoners were gone and the warden faced the reports and requests on his desk, several of them from other wardens seeking equipment. Among the nearly 300 requests: the ladles from the dining hall.