Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

Kalamazoo small business prospers despite gloomy economic times

Capital News Service

LANSING – Not many business success stories are hitting the press recently, but a small business in Kalamazoo is bucking the trend.

In 2009, Forensic Fluids Laboratories Inc. qualified as one of the Michigan 50 Companies to Watch.

The Kalamazoo business, founded in 2005, has seen its success skyrocket since winning recognition in the program, said President Bridget Lemberg.

When nominated, the company had five employees and $1.2 million in revenues.  Now, the business has quadrupled its employees and made $3 million last year, she said

Companies that are in interested the program must be privately held, for-profit, have six to 99 full-time employees and take in between $750,000 to $5 million in annual revenue or working capital from investors or grants.

Forensic Fluids is the only lab in the United States that tests oral fluids exclusively.  Laboratories from coast to coast and Canada send samples for the lab to test.

Saliva testing has been around for about eight years and can be used for DNA testing for paternity and criminal cases.

Lemberg said the business has advantages compared to other labs.

“Other forensic fluid labs across the nation will do both oral fluid or ask you to pee in a cup,” said Lemberg.  “We are the only lab that specializes in only oral fluid, which is more convenient for it is quicker, you can’t cheat on it and you can keep your clothes on.”

Small business success stories like that one don’t receive as much media coverage as the big business spiral due to the dark recession cloud hovering over the state, said Rob Fowler, president of the Small Business Association of Michigan (SBAM).

“When you hear on the news that a big corporation laid off hundreds or thousands of employees, that’s a big deal.  But when you hear a small local business hired a handful of employees, it’s not as big of a story as the corporation laying off thousands of employees,” Fowler said.

SBAM along with co-sponsors, U.S. Small Business Administration, Edward Lowe Foundation, Michigan Economic Development Corp. and Michigan Small Business and Technology Development Center at Grand Valley State University, coordinates the Michigan Celebrates Small Business Event.

The annual event has been running for six years and recognizes small businesses and entrepreneurs.  SBAM Vice President of communications Michael Rogers said the event has seen great success.

“It’s important to the economy and shocking for some to see Michigan small businesses being successful in the cloudy economic cloud that been over the state,” Rogers said.

The winners for the 2010 Michigan 50 Companies to Watch will be announced April 29 in Lansing.

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Colleges worry about broken Promise scholarship

Capital News Service

LANSING – Recent state cuts in education have left students and universities wondering where they will receive financial help in the future.

The Legislature eliminated the Promise Scholarship last year to help close the state’s $ 2 billion budget gap.

“The state budget is a mess,” said Michael Boulus, executive director of the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan.

About 96,000 students expected to use the scholarships to pay for college.  The scholarship provided up to $4,000 for high school graduates for postsecondary education.

Boulus said students and their parents are on their own to make up the hundreds to thousands of dollars that the scholarship would have provided.  Students and parents should be outraged at their legislators, he said.

“It was called a Promise Scholarship for a reason,” Boulus said.  “Since they got rid of it, students now are forced to work two to three jobs and longer hours to earn more money.”

Across the state, students have been voicing their anger and disappointment.

Boulus said many students who are unable to pay their full tuition simply dropped out.

Val Meyers, associate director of financial aid at Michigan State University said students in serious financial need would receive a $500 grant for one semester at a time.

“Students will be short $500 this year,” Meyers said.  “We don’t know what next year will look like.”

Students from Kalamazoo will get some relief despite losing the Promise Scholarship.

The city implemented the Kalamazoo Promise Scholarship in 2005 for its public high school graduates.  Students who qualify must go to a public university in Michigan and keep a GPA of at least 2.0.

Mark Delorey, director of financial aid at Western Michigan University, said students who don’t receive the Kalamazoo Promise are in worst shape than those who do.

“It has made a serious impact on the students,” Delorey said.  “Those students who have the Kalamazoo Promise are doing okay without the Promise Scholarship.”

Delorey said the university is not certain whether financial aid applications have increased.  Western hasn’t implemented new aid for affected students, he said.

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Nurture small businesses, create jobs, experts say

Capital News Service

LANSING – Money may not grow on trees, but experts say the best way to foster small business growth is through economic gardening.

“In Michigan, large companies are the news, more than any other state,” said Rob Fowler, president of the Small Business Association of Michigan (SBAM). “Big businesses get the headlines, but jobs come from small businesses.”

Among the beneficiaries of economic gardening are companies in Traverse City, Clare County and Gladwin County.

Michael Rogers, vice president of communications for the association, said the concept of economic gardening is to encourage the growth of the state’s own small businesses.

“Improving access to capital, decreasing regulatory start-up costs and partnering with universities to develop new technology are all part of it,” Rogers said.

Rogers said economic gardening is the opposite of economic “hunting,” which tends to be the focus of state government and attempts to lure out-of-state companies into Michigan. That approach usually aims at big businesses.

“The state needs both,” Rogers said.

Rogers said SBAM’s membership has grown from 5,000 to 9,000 in the past two years, despite the difficult economy.

“We focus the power of small businesses so they can work together to accomplish what they can’t accomplish on their own,” Rogers said.

Rogers said there is a broad and diverse small business economy in Michigan, but owners who are committed to their companies and have successful mentors are key elements to their success.

“It all boils down to having passion, good preparation, lots of support and access to adequate capital,” Rogers said.

Tony Fox, regional director of the Michigan Small Business and Technology Development Center based at Grand Valley State University, said businesses in the state have the potential to grow.

“Small businesses can balance out the ill effects large business has created,” Fox said.

Fox said the center provides no-cost counseling for existing and start-up businesses, as well as workshops and market research through local host Mid Michigan Community College.

The center worked with 214 clients in Clare County and 94 in Gladwin County in 2009.
Fox said he believes success for small businesses comes from becoming more informed about their industry.

“In challenging times, companies have to be fundamentally sound,” Fox said. “There’s no room for inefficiency. It’s about how to implement strategies to grow.”

Jennifer Deamud, marketing manager for the Small Business and Technology Development Center, said 27 of the 50 businesses recognized by the Michigan 50 Companies to Watch program in 2009 were clients of the center.

“This year, 18 of the 50 recipients were involved with our programs,” Deamud said.

Fowler said the awards program is for second-stage companies that have seven to 99 employees, make $1 million to $50 million annually and are growing.

“Some are retailers beginning to franchise. Some are manufacturing stories of turnaround,” Fowler said. “It’s always hopeful when you see what’s really going on out there.”

Alfie – Logo Gear for Work and Play in Traverse City received one of the awards in 2009.

“Small businesses are what drive Michigan’s economy,” said Bonnie Alfonso, Alfie president. “Economic gardening is vital to moving the state forward.”

Alfonso said the award gave her company great exposure and recognition in the community, and she now serves on SBAM’s board of directors.

Small businesses are in a bit of a holding pattern because of the economy, she said, but Alfie used last year to strategize on how to continue its growth.

“Diversifying offerings, staying in front of clients and being effective in communicating your message are really important for small business,” Alfonso said.

Deamud said the center has found one of its niches in providing assistance to second-stage companies to help them grow, diversify and get out of difficult financial situations.

“The awards put a spotlight on companies,” Deamud said. “There’s a lot of pride associated with the awards. There’s a lot of prestige associated with the awards.”

Deamud said the recipient companies often come together to brainstorm and share successful business tactics.

Deamud said there were 114 finalists in the competition this year.

The awards ceremony for the 2010 Michigan 50 Companies to Watch will be held in Lansing on Apr. 29. Deamud said more than 1,000 people are expected to attend.

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Development threatens Great Lakes wetlands, environmental groups say

Capital News Service

LANSING—The Great Lakes face another serious environmental threat besides Asian carp, experts warn: coastal wetlands disturbance.

“The development of coastal wetlands is the biggest problem,” said James Clift, policy director for the Michigan Environmental Council. “People are coming in and they need places for water fun development. As a result, we are losing wetlands.”

Coastal wetlands provide habitat for rare species, wildlife and more than 90 percent of Great Lakes fish. Extensive wetlands once flourished along the shorelines, especially along Lake Erie, Lake St. Clair and Saginaw Bay.

Prior to the mid-1970s, the destruction of wetlands through dredging, draining and filling were permitted practices.

As a result, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Michigan has lost approximately one-half of its wetland resources since European settlement.

That means wildlife is losing its place to live.

“Human activity is the most direct cause. People fill in wetlands which changes the water level of them,” said Alan Steinman, director of the Annis Water Resources Institute (AWRI) in Muskegon.

AWRI is working on Great Lakes water level around the Upper Peninsula with the International Joint Commission in Traverse City and on regulations for Lake Superior.

Environmental organizations, including the council, are making efforts to protect wetlands.

Erin McDonough, executive director of Michigan United Conservation Clubs pointed to a $475 million Obama administration proposal to preserve and improve the ecosystem of Great Lakes communities.

Also, the council is cooperating with Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council in Petoskey to purify water, control flood and protect wildlife.

“We made a great effort last year to keep Michigan’s landmark wetland protection law run by the state instead of the federal government. We are really happy to see that program remains this year,” Clift said.

“The environmental community believes having the state continue administration of the program is the best way to protect the Great Lakes and eliminates barriers to the recovery of Michigan’s economy,” he said.

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Health groups fear more Medicaid cuts

Capital News Service

LANSING – After an 8 percent reduction in Medicaid reimbursement for 2010, state health organizations say additional cuts for 2011could be overwhelming.

“To cut significantly more on top of last year would be devastating to the health care community and access for patients to health and physician services,” said David Finkbeiner, Michigan Health & Hospital Association senior vice president for advocacy.

“So we would say having already receiving an 8 percent reduction, that we cannot sustain any significant cuts,” he said.
To help resolve the state deficit, Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, has said he wants to reduce Medicaid spending by anywhere from $160 million to $500 million by dropping either optional services or the number of people eligible.

Bishop hasn’t offered details on where he would make reductions. The state’s optional Medicaid coverage pays for some of the costs of residents in nursing homes and prescription drugs.

“The state is facing a $2 billion budget deficit. We’re not insensitive to that, but it comes down to the state prioritizing what services they’re going to fund,” Finkbeiner said.

“Gov. (Jennifer Granholm) said early last year that the state was going to have to stop funding important services in order to fund essential services, and we would argue that health care is an essential service,” Finkbeiner said.

In 1996, about 1 million people in the state were covered under Medicaid. Today 1.7 million people, one in six, rely on the program.

“That number is growing because of Michigan’s economically distressed environment,” Finkbeiner said. “People are losing their health coverage and fall onto Medicaid.”

Michigan State Medical Society said that rural counties have the highest percentages of children receiving Medicaid. In 2007 the top three counties were Wexford, Ogemaw and Wexford.

About 70 percent of residents in nursing facilities are covered, while another 17 percent are covered under the federal Medicare program, which has also been significantly reduced in recent years.

“We are always concerned when the state may be cutting Medicaid reimbursement to nursing facilities,” said Elizabeth Thomas, director of public relations and communications for the Health Care Association of Michigan. Her organization represents the nursing home industry.

“Seventy percent of our reimbursements are used directly for employee wages, so there really aren’t a lot of places for nursing facilities to cut costs other than staff, and reducing our staff obviously impacts the quality of care we provide,” Thomas said.

Through Medicaid, hospitals are reimbursed 74 cents on the dollar for the cost of providing services while physicians are reimbursed 50 cents on the dollar.

MSMS said that in 1999, 88 percent of physicians accepted Medicaid patients. However, the number of physicians accepting Medicaid patients has steadily declined due to reductions in reimbursements.

Finkbeiner said, “The state doesn’t pay hospitals and physicians the total cost of delivering care, and hospitals are like any other business, if your revenue doesn’t cover your expenses, then you have to make adjustments.”

The University of Michigan Health Systems which has an annual operating budget of nearly $2 billion and a large base of Medicaid patients said it has made adjustments due to recent reimbursement cuts.

“A sizeable percentage of our patients are covered by Medicaid because we serve a lot of people from around the state that don’t have certain services in their communities and it’s been a challenge with the recent cuts,” said Kara Gavin, its director of public relations.

The Legislature has already eliminated such optional services as adult dental care, chiropractic care, hearing aids, eyeglasses and podiatry.

The only optional services still covered for hospitals are mental health, prescription drugs, orthotics and prosthetics.
Finkbeiner said hospitals have experienced problems with patients with dental, feet and hearing ailments because Medicaid no longer covers those treatments.

“When we ignore paying the cost of routine checkups and preventive care, we pay for it on the back end when someone gets really sick,” Finkbeiner said. “We are hopeful that the Legislature won’t eliminate prescription drug coverage because that helps a lot of people on Medicaid stay out of the hospital.”

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Experts predict more Great Lakes invaders ahead

Capital News Service

LANSING – Amid concern and confusion over Asian carp possibly finding their way into the Great Lakes, many experts involved in the controversy agree that other invasive species are likely to show up too.

Non-native wildlife are common in the Great Lakes, with more than 140 species living in them.
For example, sea lampreys were first found in Lake Ontario in the 1830s. Other invaders followed, with construction of locks and canals increasing the frequency with which new species arrived.

“I don’t think anyone could tell you which species are going to be in the Great Lakes next,” said Brian Roth, a fisheries and wildlife assistant professor at Michigan State University.

“Asian carp may have already traversed the electric barriers connecting the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River,” he said.

Roth is referring to an electric barrier in the Chicago Canal designed to keep the carp out of Lake Michigan. The canal connects Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River.
“It’s possible that other species could do the same,” he said.

“In addition, there are other connections in the eastern part of the country, through the St. Lawrence Seaway. We know that this is a potential place for species to get in because things like sea lamprey and alewife have already gotten in through that mechanism,” Roth said

There’s also the risk that non-native species that are currently present could either grow in population or expand their territories . Roth says that a cousin to an already established non-native species could be the next to expand.

“This is all just speculation, but there are a few invasive species that are in relatively low abundance.

One is the tube-nosed goby. The round goby is fairly common throughout the Great Lakes. The tube -nosed goby is not real common throughout the Great Lakes. It’s in lakes Huron and Eerie right now, and that leaves three others.”

Northern Michigan University biology Professor Jill Leonard says that the temperature needs of some aquatic life could cause them to move further north if the lakes get warmer.

“A lot of what really determines how far a species can go is this temperature gradient that you find across the Great Lakes,” Leonard said. “Up here in Lake Superior, a lot of these species may or may not be present, but they really haven’t blossomed yet.

“One of the predictions for climate change affecting the Great Lakes is that the lakes will warm. That has the potential to shift available habitat for some of these invasive species that we have that are being limited by temperature,” she said.

Leonard says that zebra mussels, which are currently limited to water that has been somewhat warmed – such as around power plants and harbors – could see their habitat expand if lake temperatures rise.

Non-native species are a concern because of the adverse impact they can have on the Great Lakes ecosystem.
Roth says that in an undisturbed ecosystem, “energy flows in an expected manner.

“Large fish prey on small fish. Small fish prey on small crustaceans called zooplankton. Those plankton feed on phytoplankton or algae,” Roth said. “Usually, without any other large disturbances, such as really intense fishing or lots of pollution, those fish communities will sustain themselves.”

Because of the history of pollution and fishing, Roth says the Great Lakes are already a disturbed system.
Zebra mussel infestation that began in the 1960s shows the damage a new animal can bring.

“Zebra mussels are filter feeders and feed on the algae that are normally for the small crustaceans,” he said. “There’s enough algae in the Great Lakes generally to allow the fish food webs to be okay.

We’re still trying to determine exactly how zebra mussels affect the lakes. But the role that any new species could have is disrupting the food web.”

Those disruptions get harder to deal with as the number of invasive species increases, according to Robert McCann, the Department of Natural Resources and Environment press secretary.

“The more of these invasive species that come into the Great Lakes system, the harder it is for us to deal with them,” McCann said. “Some of them just constitute more of a nuisance, while others cause actual damage to the lakes and the streams and the wildlife that live in them.

“That has been ongoing, and it’s only going to get more difficult to deal with if we don’t take action to really close off the doorway that they use to get in here,’ he said.

That increasing difficulty is why Joel Brammeier, the president of the Alliance for the Great Lakes based in Chicago, said that decisive action is necessary.

“That’s exactly why the solutions we look for can’t be temporary,” he said. “If we spend too much time dithering about what to do in the short term, we’re risking our chance to implement a long – term solution that protects the Great Lakes.”

An Asian carp summit is planned for Feb. 8 at the White House. Gov. Jennifer Granholm plans to attend.

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Ex-lawmaker turns business lobbyist in era of term limits

Capital News Service

LANSING – David Palsrok’s current office is located only a few blocks away from his old one, a physical reminder of the similar issues both jobs deal with.

Palsrok, 40, is vice president of government relations at the Small Business Association of Michigan (SBAM) but he used to be the Republican representative for a four-county slice of the Northwest Lower Peninsula.

He left office, Dec. 31 2008 after serving the maximum six years allowed of time allotted by term limits and is an example of the effect they have on government.

At SBAM, he’s responsible for lobbying the Legislature on policy related to small business and economic issues.

“This is a great spot to continue to work on trying to turn the economy around, bringing really the perspective of the small business person,” Palsrok said.

Palsrok, who is from Manistee, graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in political science.

“When I was graduating from Michigan State, I didn’t really appreciate the type of opportunities state government would provide,” Palsrok said.  “I never really focused on it.  My eyes were always on the federal side.”

He worked as a legislative aide and a chief of staff before making an unsuccessful attempt for the House.

After that race, he spent four years in the private sector working for the Michigan Association of Realtors and then Connect Michigan.

He then ran again and won a seat in the House, representing the Manistee, Mason, Benzie and Leelanau counties

He served on the Energy and Technology Committee, where he worked on environmental issues related to alternative energy and on the Commerce Committee.

“When I was on the Commerce Committee, we were constantly, as policymakers, trying to look at what the state could do differently to turn the economy around,” Palsrok said.

Palsrok served the limit of three house terms.  From the perspective of an ex-lawmaker. he says term limits have positive and negative aspects.

On one hand,  term limits created an opening for him as a representative because his predecessor most likely would still be in that seat without them  He also said the influx of new people is good for the Legislature.

On the other hand, he sees several drawbacks, one of which is political polarization.

“That had a difficult effect as far as trying to get legislators to work in the middle, down the center aisle, trying to come up with solutions,” Palsrok said.  “ You put that over a $1.8 billion deficit and solutions become very hard to find.”

Another downside, according to Craig Ruff, a senior policy fellow at Public Sector Consultants, is that they deny legislators the opportunity to fully use the knowledge they gain.

“The biggest drawback is that we deny experienced people the right to inform public policy, to write the best public policy,” Ruff said.

Term limits took effect in 1992 to bring in new blood, according to Bill Ballenger, editor of Inside Michigan Politics newsletter.  Ballenger said voters felt the Legislature was too complacent and lazy and needed to be reinvigorated.

Ballenger said support for term limits seems to be at the same level as when they were implemented, with roughly 60 percent of the public supporting them.

He also said that people seemed open to the idea of lengthening the limits so legislators aren’t forced out as quickly.  Michigan has one of the shortest term limits for legislators in the country, according to Ballenger.

The amendment to the constitution restricts service to six years or three terms, in the House and eight years or two terms, in the Senate.

Palsrok could run for a Senate seat and considered doing so when he left the House, but ultimately decided not to.

He has two young children and having a job in the private sphere allows him to spend more time with them.

He isn’t sure if he will run for office again someday, but says “You never say never.”

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Privatizing liquor distribution surfaces as issue

Capital News Service

LANSING – Three of the 19 states with state-controlled liquor sales are considering handing the industry over to the private sector in an effort to save money.

Michigan isn’t one of them – not yet anyway.

North Carolina, Virginia and Washington have taken serious looks into privatizing their liquor distribution systems.  Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell even made privatization one of the major issues of his 2009 campaign, saying it would save about $500 million.

Might that same strategy be effective in Michigan?

“Maybe it’s something we need to take a look at,” said Rep. Matt Lori, R-Constantine.  “If they’re preparing a change like that in Virginia, it’s probably something we should take a look at.”

Nida Samona, chair of the Liquor Control Commission (LCC), said the privatization of liquor distribution would have negative effects throughout the state’s economy.

If Michigan is “looking for a quick buck now, yeah it could bring in that kind of money,” she said.  “But I don’t think it would.”

In Michigan, the state owns the distribution of liquor but excludes beer and wine.  The state orders and stores the liquor, then takes orders from its licensees and distributes it.

Unlike some other controlled states, Michigan does not operate any liquor stores.

Samona cited long-term effects of the possible policy change as reasons against pursuing privatization.

“What about two, four, five years from now?” she said.  “You’ve lost all that revenue that comes in.”

At nearly $1 billion a year, Michigan ranks No. 1 in liquor sales among the 19 states with state-controlled sales, according to Samona.

Beyond that, the LCC’s revenues help fund other state agencies, according to Steve Robinson, the LCC’s director of financial management.

They include the departments of Community Health, Agriculture, Treasury and Education, the State Police and the Attorney General, he said.

Samona said that last year, after paying other state agencies, the LCC generated a $334 million profit for the state.
Of the fees collected by the LCC, 55 percent goes to local governments to fund the investigation of potential licensees.
It’s also used to make sure licensees are following the law.

Samona said that the short-term cost savings from privatization would be negligible in light of the large amount of money the state would lose.

“Our numbers are really staggering,” she said.  “We sold over 6.6 million cases of spirits over the last year.  That’s almost $930 million that came in at the end of last year.”

The loss Michigan would incur under privatization of liquor distribution wouldn’t be limited to just state dollars, Samona said.

“If you look at it as the businesses we create across the state of Michigan, we’re a multibillion-dollar industry,” Samona said.  “For all the new licenses we grant to new restaurants, that means new employees and economic development in that area.

“We understand that we have a very strong involvement in local businesses, local government, state agencies and state businesses.  Our fingerprints are really throughout the state in what we do and how we do it,” she said.

Samona said privatizing distribution would also invite independent distribution agencies in from outside the state, further harming Michigan’s economy.

Lance Binoniemi, executive director of the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association, sees pros and cons with the idea of privatization.

He said that the state does a good job preventing minors from accessing alcohol, as well as efficiently enforcing drunken-driving laws.  Under privatization, he said those areas might suffer.

“But there also could be some cost savings,” he said.  “We are one of the highest-taxed states in the country for distilled spirits.  Under a private system, certainly that tax burden would lessen.”

Binoniemi said he thinks the large amount of revenue generated by the state’s control of liquor sales would be hard to replace, though.

“Because of our high tax burden, it would have to be a very significant proposal in order for the state to save money,” he said.

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U.P. tourism push defies economic downturn

Capital News Service

LANSING — The tourism industry in the Upper Peninsula is staying afloat, despite funding cuts in the Pure Michigan campaign.

Pure Michigan is the marketing initiative of Travel Michigan aimed at drawing tourists to the state and encouraging travel within the state.

Last year, Pure Michigan launched a nationwide advertising effort with a budget of $30 million.
Now, however, that budget has shrunk to $5.4 million.

“It’s really a shame,” said Kirsten Borgstrom, the media relations manager at Travel Michigan, the state’s official travel promotion arm. “For every dollar spent on the campaign, two to three came back to the state.”

According to a study of the campaign by Longwoods International, a company that specializes in advertising research, a five-year investment of $2.3 million resulted in more than $1 billion in  visitor spending. In other words, every dollar spent generated $40.81 in tourist spending and $2.86 in tax revenue to the state.

Pure Michigan has benefited tourism in the Upper Peninsula by increasing awareness through national television ads and information on the program’s Web site. Unless that advertising continues, said Tom Nemacheck, executive director of the U.P. Travel and Recreation Association in Iron Mountain, its impact will be lost.

“Anybody who knows anything about marketing knows that you don’t go out one time and then pull back,” he said. “That would be a horrible thing to do just as we start to get recognition. We think that the return on the investment would be even greater in future years if they continue.”

Pat Black, director of the Marquette Country Convention and Visitors Bureau, agreed. He said that Pure Michigan is important because it draws valuable tourists from other states, not just from the Lower Peninsula.

“We saw a noticeable increase in visitors from the East Coast and Kentucky, Tennessee and Florida,” he said. “The people in Michigan have long supported us, but the economy in the Lower Peninsula is so bad that it directly affects us here in the U.P. It is therefore even more important to attract out-of-state visitors.”

Although funding has dropped for Pure Michigan, U.P. recreation and hospitality businesses haven’t given up.

One organization doing its own marketing is the Great Waters group, a branch of the Eastern Upper Peninsula Nature Tourism Alliance.

Great Waters has partnered with Pure Michigan to focus advertising on its area.

“There was a definite advantage of buying into the program,” said Janet Peterson, director of the Chamber of Commerce in St. Ignace. “However, it’s a fairly good chunk of money. In the Great Waters group, each of our counties raised money to get listed.”

Great Waters serves five counties: Chippewa, Mackinac, Luce, Alger and Schoolcraft. The group formed in 1999.

“Great Waters came together because they wanted to build their tourism industry back,” said Carol Eavou, the vice president of hotel operations for Kewadin Casinos based in Sault Ste. Marie. “Today, you see that the Great Waters campaign has 10 to 12 years of building that.

“It’s rather interesting trying to get five counties together for a promotion, but we were successful in making that happen,” she said.

Businesses benefit from the support and funding that Great Waters offers.

“We’re building brand awareness,” Eavou said. “We’re getting a strong working relationship with the Great Waters organization, and we’re benefiting. Kewadin is on the Web site, so we get indirect traffic from them.”

Nemacheck said that the U.P. Travel and Recreation Association has always done its own advertising and will continue to do so.

Peterson said that her chamber and the St. Ignace visitors bureau have a committee to prepare events that draw tourists.

“We’ve been able to be successful because as the economy started to drop, this committee really took steps toward making the best of a bad situation,” she said. “Somehow we’re going to make sure these events happen and, hopefully, by the time the economy turns back positively, then we’ll be in place. We won’t be inventing them at the time.”

Other communities are planning for the summer tourism season.

“We are doing a lot more partnering with everybody else,” including hospitals and a grocery chain, Eavou said. “It’s becoming more community-driven. It’s not just Kewadin putting on an event. It’s the community putting on an event.”

Summer promotions in St. Ignace last year included 10 weeks of fireworks on Saturdays, Peterson said.

“That’s on the docket again for this year,” she said. “We may even be able to expand that a couple of more weeks.”

Nemacheck said his organization has advertised the U.P. for about six or seven years as a “five-star wilderness.”

“It’s important that people know we’re still very much an outdoor recreational product,” he said. “Through the last 20 years we’ve added a tremendous amount of amenity and dining opportunities.”

But there’s still the possibility of more tourism promotion funding by the state.

The House passed a bill in December to permanently fund Pure Michigan from sales and tax collections on tourism-related businesses. The bill is pending in the Senate Finance Committee.

Sponsors include Reps. Gary McDowell, D-Rudyard; Dan Scripps, D-Leland; and David Nathan, D-Detroit.

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Auction proposed for prized bear, elk licenses

Source: Michigan Department of Natural Resources & Environment

Capital News Service

LANSING – A new bill would increase hunting opportunities by annually auctioning off five bear and elk licenses.

Rep. Jim Stamas, R-Midland, the primary sponsor and vice chair of the House Tourism, Outdoor Recreation and Natural Resources Committee, said the aim is two-fold.

“We’re trying to find a way to help lower the licensing fees for those in state,” Stamas said. “We’re also trying to promote the state and the hunting aspect of Michigan.”

Money raised from the auction would go into the state’s game and fish protection account.

Other sponsors include Reps. Tim Moore, R-Farwell; Richard Ball, R-Bennington Township; James Bolger, R-Marshall; and Dave Hildenbrand, R-Lowell.

Stamas said the auction would be open to both state and out-of-state hunters. Currently, elk hunting licenses are available only to Michigan residents.

However, Stamas said the proposed bill wouldn’t take anything away from Michigan hunters.

“More hunters apply for bear and elk than there are licenses available each year,” Stamas said, and he would like to keep in-state fees low.

Stamas said he didn’t know how much money the state could raise from the auctions, but a similar auction in New Hampshire for five moose permits raised more than $32,000 for its Wildlife Heritage Foundation in 2009.

Rep. Joel Sheltrown, D-West Branch, chair of the committee, said he doesn’t believe there will be sufficient support for the bill.

“The vast majority of the hunting crowd don’t like the idea of auctioning off licenses to the highest bidder with the most money,” Sheltrown said, “especially in Michigan where there are lots of struggling families.”

Richard Smith, a member of the Michigan Bear Hunters Association from Marquette, said bear hunters don’t support the bill, either.

“The current bear licensing system is excellent,” Smith said. “Everyone who applies can get a license in a reasonable amount of time without having to put a price tag on it.”

Smith said the association favors the current licensing system, and he opposes elk licenses being auctioned to out-of-state hunters.

“Michigan bear and elk belong to residents of the state and are supposed to be managed for residents of the state,” Smith said. “I hope the bill does not pass because it would be poor management of our wildlife resources.”

Dave Nyberg, government and public relations manager for the Michigan United Conservation Clubs, said the MUCC supports creative efforts to promote hunting and increase revenue for game and fishing protection. However, the organization opposes the auction of big game species hunting licenses.

“Selling permits to the highest bidder is an issue MUCC does not support,” Nyberg said.

The DNRE uses a lottery system to issue elk licenses. For every year that hunters unsuccessfully apply for a license, they receive an additional “chance” for the following years. Applicants who win a license have their chances reduced to zero and aren’t allowed to apply for another elk license for at least 10 years. Bear license applicants also get a preference point for each year they fail to draw a kill tag.

Still, Nyberg said the state should market its hunting opportunities to people in other states, and he likes the bill’s intent to increase participation in Michigan hunting.

Nyberg said MUCC has asked government officials to promote hunting and fishing more heavily in the Pure Michigan advertising campaign.

“The billboards you see for Pure Michigan are mostly focused on golfing or laying at the beach, which are great activities as well,” Nyberg said. “But Michigan has one of the highest amounts of hunting and fishing licenses in the country.”

The proposed bear and elk license auction would not be the first time Michigan has used a raffle to promote hunting.

The former Department of Natural Resources launched the Pure Michigan Hunt last year, in which the winners of a drawing can purchase a hunting license for every restricted hunt in the state, including an elk, bear, spring turkey, fall turkey and antlerless deer license.

Any hunter can buy one or more $4 applications to enter the contest annually.

“It’s a great promotion of Michigan hunting and fishing and quite successful,” Nyberg said.

Mary Dettloff, public information officer for the DNRE, said the department doesn’t support the bill.

“The way we provide opportunities now for hunters gives everyone a fair shot,” Dettloff said.

Dettloff said the department appreciates Stamas’s efforts in finding creative ways to generate more revenue, but prefers opportunities like the Pure Michigan Hunt because it’s a lottery system.

According to the DNRE, bear licenses cost $15 for residents and $150 for non-residents. In the 2009 bear drawing, 39,169 eligible applicants applied for 11,473 bear licenses.

Elk licenses cost $100 and were much more limited, with a quota of 110 in 2009.

The bill is pending in the committee.

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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