Economic Development

West Michigan businesses are adapting their strategies to help address the unexpected rise of PFAS contamination as an issue, albeit mostly in measured steps as the quickly changing scenario continues to play out. But regardless of how they are reacting to doing business in the era of intense public scrutiny around PFAS, companies involved in everything from analytical testing to litigation expect the issue to remain front and center for the foreseeable future.

Add the contaminant PFAS to the checklist of issues prospective buyers need to consider when acquiring a business. Buyers need to make PFAS part of due diligence in an acquisition, particularly in industries that have a history of products involving the family of chemicals, said attorney Dan Parmeter, a partner at the Grand Rapids office of Mika Meyers PLC.

A new state law preventing environmental regulations from being stricter than the federal government’s could see a test under the Trump administration’s proposal to scale back national water standards. The proposal to redefine the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule would scale back regulations adopted by the Obama administration that set which waters receive protection under the Clean Water Act.

Here is growth report for April 14, 2019.

As PFAS emerged unexpectedly as the latest contamination scare, West Michigan-based companies are stepping up with new services aimed at addressing the problem and helping residents, businesses and regulators find answers.

GRAND RAPIDS — Companies looking to break into the lucrative medical marijuana industry want to ensure their place in line for the city’s lottery process that will determine the order in which their proposals are considered. In an effort to boost their chances of being selected in the lottery, some applicants have submitted multiple proposals — sometimes even for adjacent properties — in concentrated areas where city zoning allows medical marijuana-related businesses.

MUSKEGON — A new travel-friendly schedule at Muskegon County Airport continues to attract new business and leisure travelers, leading to higher overall passenger numbers. Recent spring break travel filled up many flights, and airport officials are even more optimistic as the region gears up for summer travel season.

The latest quarterly economic survey from Business Leaders for Michigan shows continued optimism about the state economy, although few executives expect higher growth through 2019 and into next year.

ADA - Ada Fresh Market by Forest Hills Foods will open on April 14, SpartanNash Co. announced Wednesday.

Members of one organization advocating for small businesses in Lansing left no doubt in their opposition to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s proposal to raise the state gas tax 45 cents per gallon to generate $2.5 billion for fixing roads.

West Michigan’s economy plodded along to start 2019, growing slowly as it has been for a decade, according to economist Brian Long’s monthly survey of industrial purchasing managers. Key indexes for new orders and purchases in Long’s report for March eased from February and the index for production “retreated” but remained positive.

The Michigan Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments this summer on whether the state Legislature could amend laws on paid sick leave and minimum wage increases during the lame-duck session that were passed earlier in the legislative session.

The Michigan Economic Development Corp. has unveiled a new program it says will help communities attract businesses to available properties across the state.

Michigan’s handling of past chemical contamination incidents offers perspective on what it’s going to take to clean up the state’s PFAS problems. Expect it to take decades, billions of dollars and some awkward dances of cooperation. Reporting on PFAS to date has focused mostly on environmental concerns and pointing blame at the companies and organizations that have discharged the emerging contaminant into water supplies. MiBiz's three-part series will go beyond the heated rhetoric to offer a dose of reality about how to handle the complex challenges stemming from the equally complex chemical.

The city of Portage provides municipal water to 95 percent of its 48,500 residents. As such, City Manager Larry Shaffer said clean water is a fundamental aspect of keeping residents safe. Most of the up to 5 million gallons of water produced daily comes from groundwater.

A growing group of Michigan residents are working but not bringing home a paycheck big enough to cover their basic expenses, according to a new study by the Michigan Association of United Ways. The ALICE research project, which released new data last week, found that 14 percent of Michigan’s population lives below the federal poverty level. Another 29 percent are “asset-limited, income-constrained, employed” (ALICE), a measure of the so-called working poor who earn more than the federal poverty level but less than the cost of living.

When Nick Hrnyak looks out from his corporate office on Cascade Road, he can survey a property that is contaminated from decades of electroplating wastes, including nickel, chromium, copper, boron and now PFAS, the persistent and pervasive family of chemicals that is alarming the nation. In his immediate sight are an attractive office and golf course complex that includes a gymnastics center and church. Just down the road on the same contaminated site are neighborhoods with some of the most expensive homes in Kent County, three small lakes and Schoolhouse Creek, a tributary to the Thornapple River.

After stories began to emerge in late 2017 that tannery wastes had contaminated the Rogue River, customers at nearby Rockford Brewing Co. started expressing concern about the safety of drinking the beer. Even though Rockford Brewing was connected to municipal water, which has tested non-detect for the PFAS family contaminants over four rounds of testing, the brewery still faced a possible PR crisis, said co-owner Seth Rivard.

Here is the MiBiz Growth Report for March 31, 2019.

The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce and three other Michigan business groups backed Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s proposal to increase the number of state residents with a college degree and create a scholarship fund to help students go to school after high school.

State laws raising the minimum wage and setting new requirements on employers for paid sick leave go into effect toward at the end of this week, unless Michigan’s attorney general or highest court say otherwise. Laws that legislators first enacted following petition drives and subsequently amended in the lame-duck session at the end of 2018 are the subject of requests to both state Attorney General Dana Nessel and the Michigan Supreme Court. At issue is whether the legislature has the ability under the state Constitution to amend laws in the same legislative session in which they were originated through citizen petition.

E.W. Scripps Co. plans to acquire eight television stations, including Grand Rapids-based WXMI, in the most recent arrangement to come from the mega-merger of a pair the nation’s largest media giants.

Ninety applicants must now await a lottery drawing to see when the city of Grand Rapids will consider their plans for medical marijuana-based businesses.

MUSKEGON — The city of Muskegon has bolstered its economic development office amid a wave of major redevelopment projects, and while a local support organization continues to define its future and transition to private-sector support. The city reorganized and expanded the office from a half-time economic development position shared through a contract with Muskegon County, to two new full-time, in-house staffers.

Michigan’s handling of past chemical contamination incidents offers perspective on what it’s going to take to clean up the state’s PFAS problems. Expect it to take decades, billions of dollars and some awkward dances of cooperation. Reporting on PFAS to date has focused mostly on environmental concerns and pointing blame at the companies and organizations that have discharged the emerging contaminant into water supplies. MiBiz's three-part series will go beyond the heated rhetoric to offer a dose of reality about how to handle the complex challenges stemming from the equally complex chemical.

The path to cleaning up man-made chemical contamination is expensive, complex and can take generations. That’s according to Richard Rediske, senior program manager and professor of environmental chemistry at Grand Valley State University’s Robert B. Annis Water Resources Institute. Rediske, an expert on PFAS, has worked with the Concerned Citizens for Responsible Remediation, the group that for years has been chronicling contamination at the former Wolverine World Wide Inc. tannery site in Rockford.

As the scope of PFAS contamination continues to grow nationwide, lawmakers in other states increasingly are taking note of how the situation is being handled in Michigan. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint, recruited about 30 members of Congress “from virtually every part of the county” to join a bipartisan “PFAS taskforce” he formed with Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, a Republican from Pennsylvania.

The practice of environmental law in the United States has evolved to better define who is liable for contamination cleanups. That’s according to veteran environmental lawyer Alan Schwartz, a member of Grand Rapids-based Miller, Johnson, Snell & Cummiskey PLC.

Michigan needs to buckle up for a long, long ride on the PFAS rollercoaster. If history is any guide, coming up with workable solutions to PFAS contamination around the state is going to take decades of painstaking work, billions of dollars and many awkward dances of cooperation between companies, government agencies and citizens groups.

Key aspects of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s first budget proposal involving education and road funding have drawn mixed reactions from the business community, but advocates are aligned in opposition of leveling the tax rate among Michigan companies. Whitmer has proposed reinstating a tax exemption on pensions that was eliminated by former Gov. Rick Snyder, and offsetting the decreased revenue with higher taxes on smaller businesses.

Here is the MiBiz Growth Report for March 17, 2019.

GRAND RAPIDS — The Kent County Department of Public Works and The Right Place Inc. have announced a development partnership for the Kent County Sustainable Business Park. The Department of Public Works announced last year it was issuing a request for information to seek potential tenants for the proposed business park on about 200 acres that it owns in Byron Township and Allegan County, adjacent to its South Kent Landfill.

Business advocates in Lansing panned Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s proposal to implement what she called “tax parity” by having small businesses pay the same 6-percent state income tax now levied on corporations in Michigan.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s first budget proposal would raise Michigan’s gas and diesel fuel tax by 45 cents per gallon over 12 months to generate $2.5 billion annually to repair state and local roads.

After three decades of running tribal gaming operations, Michigan-based Native American tribes have started to leverage their casino revenues to launch economic development corporations and diversify their economies. 

On a recent night in February, around 50 people attended a private dinner in Muskegon Heights featuring a 10-course tasting meal. The fine-dining plates included mussels and crab cakes made with fresh crab sourced from Fish Lads of Grand Rapids Inc. Michigan Cannabis Chefs LLC hosted the $35-per-person event, offering dishes infused with marijuana throughout the night.

With the acquisition this year of a Charlevoix-based defense contractor, Grand Traverse Economic Development is executing on the initial steps of its investment strategy to diversify revenues for the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians away from gaming. If all goes to plan for Traverse City-based GTED, the sovereign tribe’s non-gaming commercial investment arm intends over the next decade to build a $1 billion portfolio of companies, almost entirely focused in some way on government contracting.

When the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians replaced the former Victories Casino with the new Odawa Casino in 2007, the tribe was left with a 22-acre site and a vacant building at the southern end of Petoskey.

Dowagiac-based Mno-Bmadsen, the non-gaming investment arm of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians, takes a familiar portfolio-based approach to its economic development enterprise. But rather than drive overall top-line revenue for its family of companies, Mno-Bmadsen is focusing on growing the combined earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) of its holdings.

Over the next five years, CEO Tom Wilbur plans to build Grand Traverse Economic Development into a $100 million diversified portfolio of eight to 10 firms capable of capturing federal and state contracts.

Business entities owned by West Michigan-based Native American tribes face a surprising roadblock in gaining access to programs used to grow minority-owned businesses. While tribally-owned businesses often receive the Small Business Administration’s 8(a) disadvantaged business certification, they have not found similar success when it comes to getting “minority business enterprise” (MBE) certification through the Michigan Minority Supplier Development Council (MMSDC).

West Michigan tribes may be relatively new to implementing economic development and diversification plans, but they’ve quickly established themselves as strategic partners for the local business community because of their focus on investing in companies and real estate. Moreover, many of the federally-recognized sovereign tribes are looking to engage with non-tribal businesses, spreading the opportunity beyond just tribal members into potentially powerful economic opportunities across the region.

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