27 April 2011

Adoption supporters battle Michigan officials on second-parent adoptions

Just weeks after the Arkansas Supreme Court overturned a same-sex adoption ban, the dispute over two-parent adoptions is becoming a growing concern for Michigan adoption agencies. Advocates for children in the foster care system argue that thousands of children are being denied permanent homes as a result.

Under a law established in 1935, only one person in state government can sign off on every adoption in the state. However there are some children who have two loving adult caretakers. Among some of those caretakers are a grand parent and aunt, or same-sex partners. Those cases of co-parenting are called “second parent adoptions” and the struggle to get them approved has been a rocky process for years.

The Michigan Department of Human Services is responsible for oversight over domestic infant adoptions and foster care programming in the state. The current director is a long-standing opponent of same-sex partners adopting children. The director asked MDHS spokesperson Gisgie Gendrau if the department had any plans to allow for second parent adoption.

“Michigan statute requires that, when there is a two-parent adoption, the parents must be married. Michigan does not recognize same-sex marriages. Single parent adoptions do not take into account the sexual orientation of the parent. This is a legislative issue, not a court nor a DHS issue,” Gendrau wrote in an e-mail.

The battle of two-parent adoptions have become a cause for concern for state adoption agencies. Adoption Associates Inc., an adoption agency in Grand Rapids, is one organization keeping a close eye on the topic.

26 April 2011

Supporters work to sustain best of brownfield tax credits

Expert urban developers and local officials throughout Michigan are quietly working to maintain key aspects of what they believe to be the most significant economic program for rebuilding struggling Michigan cities, a tax credit for the redevelopment of areas that at one time were home to deserted factories or old industrial complexes.

Anxiety grips developers of projects, such as Presbyterian Villages of Michigan, as they wait to see what lawmakers will do. Parties supporting the Presbyterian Villages are trying to finalize the finances needed to build the $38 million redevelopment project in a Detroit neighborhood. The Villages would provide housing, health care and other community services for the elderly.

While the project's closing date nears, Michigan's governor, Rick Snyder, has spiked concerns after proposing to omit such tax credits for brownfield redevelopment, historic renovation and other improvements.

"Everyone's kind of standing and waiting," said Brian Carnaghi, Presbyterian Villages' senior vice president of finance and business development. "This one is a little bit out of our control."

The proposed changes Snyder put forward are still being debated in the budget process. He added that businesses, whether they are in the building industry or auto transport industry, will be better off if the state takes on a 6 percent corporate income tax on corporations with shareholders rather than hosting several incentive programs that don't always yield jobs and can be quite costly.

State officials advise that current commitments to projects will be honored with credit. They plan to work with project applicants during the transition phase.

However urban development experts and supports argue that the brownfield redevelopment credit must be kept if economically challenged cities are to be revived.

"If you want to see... revitalization of some of our core urban areas, where you have existing infrastructure and old, unused buildings, you have to continue to use tools like this," said John Byl, chair of the Michigan chapter of National Brownfield Association and a Grand Rapids lawyer. "If they simply eliminated the program or minimized it so drastically . . . we would see downtown urban development come to a screeching halt."

Byl, who is currently working with the Snyder administration on creating a new brownfield program, said he's "cautiously optimistic" that the state can "continue some of the great achievements with the current program."

He said brownfield credits have been crucial to the success of several statewide projects, including the restoration of Detroit's Book-Cadillac hotel, reviving a vacant, century-old high school in Grand Rapids now the Union Square Condominiums, and redeveloping the lawn care and long abandoned complex of the Traverse City State Hospital into a residential and retail community called The Village at Grand Traverse Commons.

One concern now being addressed is how much of a budget should be allocated to such redevelopment credits. Initially, Snyder proposed a $50 million appropriation that would include Michigan Economic Growth Authority incentives, however he has noted that amount could see an increase of as much as $100 million. Some growth incentives could indirectly help companies ranging from the car shipping business to real estate agencies.

"He understands the feedback" from economic development leaders throughout the state, said Michael Finney, president and CEO of the Michigan Economic Development Corp. "It's unclear whether we'll be able to do as many projects as we did in the past, but we're willing to make some movement in the amount of money available."

One critical component, Finney claimed, is straying away from unlimited tax credits in a budget-sensitive state and setting aside certain sums of money.

"There are projects that have been incentivized as high as 80 percent," Finney said. "When it takes that level and there's very little private investment, there's something that's fundamentally wrong."

Finney added that the governor's proposed 6 percent corporate income tax could also aid many would-be Apex homes developers. If lawmakers approve replacing the Michigan Business Tax with the new tax, an estimated 95,000 businesses would not be required to file a state business tax return, even if they're constructing Raleigh homes.

"We now have a lower starting point for companies so the need to incentivize them at a really high level is reduced," Finney said.

But Detroit Economic Growth Corp.'s vice president of board administration, Art Papapanos, is worried that several projects in the city's works will not earn state approval for brownfield credits, hindering progressive efforts to redevelop Detroit, one of the state's largest and economically challenged cities.

"You cannot expect (developers) to spend money to on a what-if basis," he said. "I don't know where we'll be in line."

The Detroit project of Presbyterian Villages, which was among eight projects this month to receive approval from the Detroit Brownfield Redevelopment Authority, now waits for state economic development officials to give the green light to begin the car hauling.

13 April 2011

New Video Podcast is Promoting Michigan Businesses, Communities and People

Photo: Duane Weed and Frank Krywicki on the set recording the upcoming Buy Local TV episode.

Welcome to Buy-Local TV, a video netcast where hosts Duane Weed and Frank Krywicki, have teamed up to promote Michigan businesses, communities and its people.

“The goal is to show the importance of buying local in your community,” states Frank. “We are producing county spotlights, promoting businesses and events, as well as, providing marketing and technical tips that will help the consumer and business professional.”

The duo has video episodes highlighting the new format. Topics recently covered in these Michigan video profiles include: Spotlight on Montcalm County, Mecosta County and even a road trip for the “Up North Adventure.” “The ‘Up North Adventure’ is style we want the show to have,” Frank commented. “That is going on-site to communities, events, meeting with the people and showing off what Michigan has to offer. Duane has even interviewed Detroit Red Wing legend Ted Lindsay which is on episode #56.”

“What started out one year ago as a simple one minute internet marketing video podcast entitled the ‘Buy-Local Minute’ has grown into spotlighting businesses, communities, and events that inform and promote Michigan. They are now 10 to 20 minute video production segments entitled ‘Buy Local TV,’” comments Duane. “The show is an extension of what we are doing with the Buy Local Video Profiles - that is ‘Everyone has a story to tell and we are telling it.’”

According to Frank, “Since the format is new it will take awhile to reach the desired audience. That is ok, as our main goal is to promote Michigan by showing off what great people and businesses we have here. In addition if we can bring tourist and businesses to Michigan and show off the importance of buying local that will be a bonus.”

“Just like the seasons in Michigan, the show will change and evolve as we grow”, Duane continues. “We invite everyone to check out the show at www.buylocaltv.us, on Facebook, Twitter and through our Buy Local Video blog.”

Buy Local TV is a division of DW Video & Multimedia, LLC (www.dwvideo.com). Have a show idea or need some internet video marketing or technical advice? To learn more about promoting your Michigan business contact Duane at 231-937-5420. The Buy Local TV team will be happy to air your ideas on an upcoming episode.

Duane Weed
5510 Maple Hill Rd
Howard City, MI 49329
(231) 937-5420

04 April 2011

High Gas Prices Affect Car Sales

Take high gas prices and the crisis in Japan in an already struggling economy and you get lower automobile sales.

March light-vehicle deliveries may have run at a 12.9 million annual rate. While higher than a year ago, it’s less than the seasonally adjusted rate of 13.4 million in February.

The conflict in Libya helped push gas prices to the highest since September 2008, slowing truck, sport-utility vehicle sales and car shipping. Confidence among U.S. consumers fell more than forecast to a three- month low this month. 3.6 percent of Americans plan to buy a new auto in the next six months, down from 3.9 percent in February.

A lot of uncertainty in the geopolitical environment, with the crisis in Japan and Middle East unrest, affects consumers’ tendency to make big-ticket item purchases.

A 12.9 million rate this month would be an increase from the 11.7 million pace in March 2010, and all major automakers except Toyota Motor Corp. may report gains in deliveries from a year earlier.

Light-vehicle sales in 2010 rose to 11.6 million from a 27- year low in 2009. Deliveries still were 31 percent fewer than the 16.8 million annual average from 2000 to 2007.

Deliveries at Toyota may have slipped 3.6 percent from a year earlier as the world’s largest automaker offered smaller discounts. Toyota City, Japan-based Toyota boosted sales incentives 46 percent in March 2010 after it began record recalls earlier that year.

Sales may have gained 24 percent at Honda Motor Co., and Nissan Motor Co. deliveries may have increased 16 percent.

Global automakers may lose production of 585,000 vehicles this month after the March 11 Japan earthquake and tsunami damaged factories of manufacturers and their suppliers.

Toyota said last week it has lost output of more than 140,000 vehicles. Honda, based in Tokyo, said it had lost 46,600 vehicles, while Yokohama, Japan-based Nissan said it lost 42,000 units of production from March 14 to March 27.

GM, which closed its Shreveport Assembly plant in Louisiana the week of March 21 because of a Japan-related parts shortage, may report a 20 percent gain in March deliveries.

Ford Motor Co. may report a 13 percent increase for March. Ford’s increased sales of small cars such as the Fiesta and Focus may help the second-largest U.S. automaker outsell GM, which offered smaller discounts during the month.

The GM and Ford race will be really tight. GM came out really strong in the beginning of the year with incentives. When you do that, you’re going to pull ahead sales from later months.

Automakers may cut incentives and sales to fleet customers to conserve inventories as parts shortages threaten the loss of as much as 100,000 units of production in North America in the near term.

It feels like it’s going to be a little bit more of an impact than just a few vehicle shortages, however it is expected the lost output to be made up by the end of the year. The depletion of inventory of some key imported models could happen a lot faster than expected entering this month.

Chrysler Group LLC, based in Auburn Hills, Michigan, say sales rose 20 percent. Chrysler and Ford said last week they are restricting dealers’ orders on some vehicle colors after Merck KGaA, a producer of a paint pigment for automakers, lost access to its Japanese factory near a crippled nuclear reactor.

Higher gas prices may drive a shift in market share to cars from trucks and SUVs, according to J.D. Power. The average price of regular unleaded gasoline in the U.S. was $3.54 a gallon this month through March 29, according to AAA.

GM’s Chevrolet brand has doubled the share of sales it gets from vehicles with four-cylinder engines since 2007, to 46 percent of its retail deliveries this year. Ford, which set monthly records in February for sales of its Fiesta and Fusion cars, sees consumers changing buying patterns due to gas prices. There is a line that if a gallon of gas goes over, that may shift the market mentality.

For every $1 a gallon increase in U.S. gas prices, the more-profitable light-truck segment may lose 5 percentage points of market share to lower-margin cars. That would translate to a 56-cent decrease in annual earnings per share at GM, and a 15-cent drop at Ford.

GM has fallen 14 percent since Feb. 18, before intensifying violence in Libya sent crude oil prices to the highest in more than two years, to close at $31.55 yesterday in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. Ford has dropped 5.8 percent in that span and closed at $14.86 yesterday.

Estimates for car and light-truck sales in the U.S. Estimates for companies are a percentage change from March 2010, unadjusted for the difference in selling days. Forecasts for the seasonally adjusted annual rate, or SAAR, are in millions of vehicles.

Although estimates for car sales are trending down with the recent increase in gas prices and the effects of the crisis in Japan, automakers and car transport companies are preparing to make adjustments to keep themselves competitive.


Detroit homeowners purchased homes before the recession and of course took out loans to finance based on the value of the home. As years and recession have gone by the homes values have dropped as much as 50% leaving those trying to relocate trapped. If the home does sell it may be for less than what the original homeowner has financed on it. This results in the homeowner coming up with a lump sum of money at closing, and they just don’t have that. Their options are to rent, which does not usually cover the mortgage, or stay where they are at and wait for home values to rise.
The last time home prices in metro Detroit were this low, it was the summer of 1994, and Wayne Fontes was the Detroit Lions coach.
Southeast Michigan is far from alone in having depressed home prices, but its descent has been more dramatic. Home prices in metro Detroit have dropped an average of 48% from their December 2005 peak. They're down 34% from 2000.
Those in the market to sell their homes know that all too well. Many realize they will have to take a loss on their home.
Home prices nationwide were down in January for the sixth consecutive month, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Prices Indices released Tuesday.
Metro Detroit home prices remain the most depressed in America, according to data released Tuesday.
The S&P/Case-Shiller Home Prices Indices through January were down 3.1% compared with January 2010 in the nation's 20 largest cities, marking the sixth consecutive month of price declines. In metro Detroit, the drop was more substantial -- an 8.1% decline in home prices in the past year through January as the market weans itself off homebuyer tax incentives that ended last year.
In metro Detroit, the decline is 34% from its 2000 level, while the other cities' home prices are less than 1% below their 2000 levels. Detroit was joined by Atlanta, Cleveland and Las Vegas as markets where home prices are now below their January 2000 levels.
The weakened state of home prices could last for some time. The housing market recession is not yet over, and none of the statistics are indicating any form of sustained recovery.
The bank foreclosure with attributes such as three bedrooms, 2.5 baths, two-car attached garage, hardwood floors, vaulted ceilings, a master suite with walk-in closet and 1,926 square feet once sold for $268,000. Now, it's listed for $124,900.
Foreclosures are appearing to be decreasing compared to 2009. Because sales are down, there are often times when a property won't sell for what a buyer wants to pay because there are no comparable sales available, and that further depresses prices.
Home prices won't rise until people who owe more on their mortgage than their home's market value are able to refinance. It is also noted that more job creation would boost demand.
The S&P/Case-Shiller composites of the top 10 and top 20 cities have posted monthly declines for the past six months. San Diego and Washington, D.C., are the only metro areas that have seen price appreciation in the past year.
A continuing supply of foreclosures, weak demand and an oversupply of homes for sale will likely mean another 5% drop in home prices before they start improving in the second half of the year, said Patrick Newport, U.S. economist with IHS Global Insight.
Metro Detroit had the second-largest drop in home prices in January behind Phoenix, where home prices fell by 9.1%.
Many residents in the Detroit area are putting up their homes on the market for the third time or more in hopes to sell for at least what they owe. Unfortunately, some will take substantial losses and be forced to owe a large sum of money at closing if their homes.