Amidst Threat of EPA Funding Cuts, Michigan Kids Prove Knowledge is Power

Last month, the Donald Trump administration announced that they plan to cut funding to the Environmental Protection Agency by up to 31% and to essentially eliminate the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Should the president make good on this proposal, both the economy and ecology of the state of Michigan could sustain serious damage.

Every year, around 16,000 chemical spills from trucks, trains, and storage tanks occur, often polluting valuable resources and potentially causing harm to countless animals. Back in 1965, chemical sludge being held by unlined wastewater lagoons spilled into a stream that empties into Muskegon Lake — a body of water very close to Lake Michigan. Millions of dollars in government funding were eventually used to clean up that lake and restore it, but not before fish were poisoned with chemicals and petroleum.

Now, the same funding that saved Muskegon Lake is threatened by Trump’s 2018 “skinny budget” proposal, which would completely slash the funds given to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative from $300 million to nothing.

Kathy Evans has seen the good of the GLRI firsthand. Her father regularly caught fish in Muskegon Lake after the spill, but he would throw them back when the chemical stench was too much to bear. Now, as the environmental program manager for West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission, Evans knows how important it is to protect the planet’s most valuable resources.

“I am grateful that we have the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative,” said Evans to Crain’s Detroit Business. “We are finally able to remove the toxic mud from our lakes and streams and make the needed improvements to the quality of our water, fish and wildlife, communities and economy.”

Of course, it’s not just toxic spills that threaten the earth. It’s estimated that 1 million birds, 100,000 turtles, and countless other sea animals die every year by ingesting plastic and other waste. The average American will actually generate up to four pounds of trash every day, and inevitably some of that waste will end up in the environment.

In the Great Lakes region, it’s often the water, mud, and sediment that’s poisoned by such pollution, threatening lives both wild and human.

A failure to provide federal funding for these efforts could also present a financial crisis for the region.

“The issue isn’t just about the environmental benefits, it’s economic,” said Cameron Davis, vice president of environmental engineering firm GEI Consultants Inc. “[GLRI] is significant for coastal communities that endured a long legacy of pollution; making sure those areas are restored ecologically, but also to make them prime destination spots, increased tourism and a lot of other economic benefits.”

Davis went on to say, “The upper Midwest is so critical in so many ways; having these areas cleaned up is good policy. In this case, what’s good for the environment is good for the tax base. I’ve always told our legislators that [GLRI] is small-case environment and upper-case economy.”

The positive economic impact of cleanup efforts is well-documented, too. Even the smaller portions of Muskegon Lake that were cleaned up before GLRI took effect brought benefits for the region. In 2009, a $10 million grant from the Troubled Asset Relief Program led to an ROI that was 6.6 times that amount. In removing toxic sediment from the shoreline, property values in the area increased by $12 million, which added $600,000 to the annual tax revenue. The efforts also brought 65,000 more tourists to the lake.

If budget cuts took effect, it would be up to state leaders and local residents to clean up the Great Lakes without any federal help. But, already, some local kids are doing their part to make a difference.

In Alpena, two members of a new group called Plastics FLOAT (an acronym for “For the Love of Alpena Today”) recently traveled to local restaurants to warn about the dangers of plastic waste.

Ten-year-old Sylvie Luther said, “We’re trying to inform people about Zero Waste Week. We’re asking the restaurants to not give people straws unless they ask for them.”

Why straws? They’re among the most harmful and most common types of marine debris, says Luther.

Zero Waste Week is intended to show the public how small changes can help improve the state of the planet. Sydney Silver added that she hopes her efforts will help change some minds, especially for the sake of kids in the future.

“I want to protect younger generations from what other people are putting out there for our generation to fix,” she told The Alpena News. “I don’t want my sister to deal with an ocean with a bunch of litter.”

While these small changes might not seem to be as effective as multi-million-dollar cleanup efforts, they are a reminder that it takes a village. Even Michigan residents who are decidedly pro-Trump are uneasy about the proposed cuts to the EPA.

Candace Miller, Macomb County Public Works commissioner and former Republican U.S. representative, said, “I am in support of many of the things Trump is trying to do, but this is a principal advocacy of mine. This is a really small amount of money, really, and it’s of great significance to the states that voted for him. These states can’t absorb [this cut]. This is a time where I hope the president will reconsider.”

U.S. Manufacturing Business on the Rise

manufacturing
There has been a gross and steady increase in the American manufacturing market since last fall. A survey of executives reports employment is its highest it has been in six years.

Since February, the manufacturing index has fallen slightly from 57.7% to 57.2%. However, the number has stayed above positive 50% and, out of 18 industries tracked by ISM, 17 of those are looking to expand. In 2012, alone, machine manufacturing shipments totaled around $407.4 billion.

Gus Faucher, deputy chief economist at PNC Financial Services, has noted, ““The industry is benefitting from continued consumer demand, a turnaround in energy production, and an end to the strengthening of the U.S. dollar.”

The investment of new energy programs, like the forward momentum of recycling tungsten carbide whose hardness falls only slightly behind diamonds on the Moh’s hardness scale, has certainly contributed it’s fair share to the influx of industry jobs. And other countries are starting to take notice.

Nowhere is this more clear than in the up and coming Italian Siliconature Corporation putting some roots down in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Upon it’s completion, it will create 26 highly technical manufacturing jobs, bringing in a performance-grant of $286,000 from the Michigan Business Development program.

David Arado, president of Siliconature, has said, “The West Michigan area offers a
great base of talent for manufacturing & technical jobs that are critical to our success. As well, the area offers the urban infrastructure of a larger city with natural and rural areas very nearby.”

This marks Siliconature Corporation first factory investment into America. It holds factories in both Italy and Asia, but Grand Rapids marks it’s first American manufacturing branch. It is estimated America’s growing manufacturing market may very well contribute to the successful partnership with Siliconature Corporation, which may lead to more factories throughout the rest of the country, should America’s upward climb continue. Until then, the future of the American manufacturing industry appears very promising.

Michigan Furniture Competitors Join Forces For Huge Holland Showroom

Typically, furniture is the third-most expensive thing people buy, after their homes and cars. But being able to find affordable furniture isn’t always an easy task. Fortunately for Michigan residents, two local furniture giants have come together to provide a wider range of options.

Klingman’s Furniture and Design and Hegg’s Gallery of Fine Furniture have joined forces to open a 50,000-square-foot showroom in Holland. While both businesses will maintain their other separate locations in Grand Rapids and Hart, they’re eager to serve the community with their combined location.

“We are thrilled about this new opportunity,” said Jason Israels, president of Klingman’s. “Hegg’s Furniture has served the lakeshore for decades by providing quality home furnishings and accents. We at Klingman’s Furniture and Design are excited to continue their practice while tying in our tradition of offering our customers a large selection of home furnishings at the very best value with superior service.”

Stacie Hegg, who owns Hegg’s Gallery of Fine Furniture, felt the companies had two choices: they could either continue to compete against each other, or they could merge on this venture and capitalize on a formerly inaccessible market.

While Hegg says her company currently caters to the mid-to-upper levels of the furniture market, Klingman’s specializes in higher-end pieces and clients. By working together, each company can reach customers they previously were unable to target.

Both businesses have a long history in the West Michigan area. Klingman’s has served local residents since 1896, and Hegg’s is now in its fourth generation of ownership since opening in 1946. At the new showroom, staff members from each company will work together, creating a new chapter for both brands.

West Michigan seems to be experiencing a bit of an interior decorating boom. Storage manufacturer California Closets recently announced that they’ll be building a manufacturing facility in Grand Rapids. Its construction will cost over $5.7 million and the facility is expected to create over 60 new jobs for area residents.

President of California Closets, Eric Wollf, said, “West Michigan is attractive to us due to many factors. The location offers proximity to our customers and supply base, but more importantly a strong talent base in manufacturing and design. The West Michigan area has been a leader in forward-thinking and furniture-related industries, which fits our direction and future.”

Up-and-Coming Michigan Chefs Earning High Praise From Popular TV Chef

Michigan’s culinary professionals have been gaining popularity recently thanks to the help of a popular television show and an even more popular television personality.

Hell’s Kitchen Chef Gordon Ramsay — who has also been awarded a legendary 16 Michelin stars in his culinary career — recently gave praise to two of Michigan’s most prominent up-and-coming chefs.

Kimberly Ann Ryan and Aaron Smock were featured on the show’s Season 16 Premiere titled, “When the Wall Comes Tumbling Down.” Ryan represented the red women’s team while Smock was part of the blue (losing) men’s team.

“I did this for my 4-year-old daughter,” said Ryan, who studied at the Culinary Institute of Michigan. “I want to show her you don’t have to work at a job that you hate. You can find something you love to do.”

Ryan’s signature dish that brought her so much praise from the famous Chef Ramsay was her seared scallops with mango jalapeno salsa and spicy toasted rice crispies.

Although Atlantic sea scallops can have large shells (up to 9 inches in length), and Bay scallops grow to about 4 inches, it’s not too often one of the most famous (or infamous, depending on who you ask) chefs in the world tastes, enjoys, and praises a scallop dish.

“It’s delicious,” said Ramsay. “5 out of 5.”

Another chef who actually got his start on the Hell’s Kitchen program is on his way to Michigan and other states in hopes of bringing his dishes to the masses.

According to Times Leader, Chef Michael Langdon appeared on the Season 11 of the Fox reality program and cooked alongside Ramsay as well.

Langdon graduated from Coughlin High School and the Le Cordon Bleu Institute of Culinary Arts in Pittsburgh, and has since traveled the U.S. as a professional chef. He began his career working for Cameron Mitchell Restaurants and helped create new restaurants in Kentucky, Ohio, and Michigan.

“It’s been amazing so far,” said the 37-year-old chef. “My mom can come here and eat my food now.”

After Langdon’s travels, he plans on running his own place in Pittston, Pennsylvania.

Michigan Study Finds Wooden Cutting Boards Are More Sanitary Than Plastic

In your home, hardwood and bamboo flooring options are popular due to their attractive appearance and overall durability. In fact, Strand bamboo floors are even stronger than traditional hardwoods, with a very high Janka rating of at least 3646 to 3780.

But while we love wooden floors in our living rooms and even in our kitchens, they weren’t always our first choice when cooking in those kitchens. For a long time, plastic cutting boards were thought to be more hygienic than traditional wooden cutting boards, but a study conducted by the University of Michigan suggests that we’re actually much better off with wood and bamboo cutting boards to match those gorgeous hardwood floors.

The popular belief is that porous wooden surfaces allow for more bacterial absorption, making them more hazardous to our health than plastic options. But what this theory doesn’t consider is the fact that when we use plastic cutting boards, our sharp knives will create cuts and grooves in the material where bacteria like to hang out.

It is true that bacteria will be absorbed into wooden surfaces, but they will not multiply and will eventually die off. In addition, manual cleaning tends to be quite effective for wooden cutting boards. However, the study found that “more bacteria are recovered from a used plastic surface than from a used wood surface.”

Another study out of the University of Wisconsin showed that wooden cutting boards outperformed plastic ones when they came into contact with dangerous bacteria like Salmonella, E.coli, and Listeria.

And while a brand new plastic cutting board can easily be disinfected, one that’s covered in knife cuts is practically impossible to disinfect completely, either by hand or with help from a dishwasher. That means that many home cooks are unknowingly using contaminated surfaces over and over again.

The good news is that with an increased focus on sustainability and natural materials, wooden cutting boards are making a comeback. They last longer, keep knives sharper, and are often produced by small, craft-oriented businesses. If you’ve been loyal to the plastic kind, it might be a good time to invest in some high-quality wooden cutting boards to ensure the health of your family.

Lead #LikeAGirl Program Receives Award at Grand Rapids Trade Show

Back in 2015, Canton Leisure Services launched a new program inspired by a popular Super Bowl ad. The ad, produced by Always, was created to turn an old-fashioned gendered insult on its head, making viewers rethink what it really means to do things #LikeAGirl. The phrase “You throw like a girl!” has historically been used to shame both girls and boys, and it’s especially damaging to pubescent young women. The commercial shows how pivotal it is to change the connotation of the phrase “like a girl” and highlights just how strong and amazing girls are.

Encouraged by the cultural importance of the advertisement, the Lead #LikeAGirl program was born. Directed towards at-risk, diverse women between the ages of 11 and 15, Lead #LikeAGirl is meant to change the way both the community and the program participants think about female leadership, relationships, self-confidence, and struggles.

Now, the program has been recognized for its impact with an award. In February 2017, Lead #LikeAGirl received an “Innovative Recreation Programming Award” at the mParks Michigan Recreation and Park Association’s annual Conference and Trade Show.

The expo, which is held in Grand Rapids, covers all kinds of topics, from sustainability and overall health to gender identity and tech. And while the top three goals for trade show exhibitors are brand awareness, lead generation, and relationship building, the Lead #LikeAGirl program was recognized for other achievements: namely, their dedication to informing and inspiring young women throughout their monthly workshops.

The Canton Leisure Services staff worked tirelessly to form collaborations with other local organizations, including the Canton Public Library, Canton Public Safety, Plymouth-Canton Community Schools, and even Michigan State Representative Kristy Pagan.

During its first year, 15 young women had graduated from the program as of June 2016. Not only do those ladies now understand what it means to Lead #LikeAGirl, but so do their friends, family, and community members.

Popular Ann Arbor Restaurant Opening New Location in Grand Rapids

palioPalio Ristorante — a longtime Ann Arbor favorite — has announced that it will be expanding to Grand Rapids. The new location is set to open on Medical Mile sometime in the spring.

Mainstreet Ventures owns Palio Ristorante in addition to the Chop House in Ann Arbor and in downtown Grand Rapids. Other restaurants owned by the company include Gratzi, Carson’s, Real Seafood Company, La Dolce Vita, and several others in 12 cities across five different states.

The new Palio location will be where El Barrio Mexican Grill on Michigan Street NE was operating previously. Before opening their new location, Mainstreet will completely renovate the old space.

The company has put forth a budget of $400,000 for a complete floor-to-ceiling remodel of the building’s interior. Some of the new additions will include a pizza oven in full view of the restaurant and a brand new bar. Mainstreet prides itself on creating venues in which patrons can watch their food being made, and that’s their goal in the new location as well.

The menu will be filled with Tuscan-inspired dishes such as fettuccine, carbonara, pizza, and lasagna. For the 10% of U.S. adults who largely follow a vegetarian-inclined diet, this might not be a go-to dining establishment. But in addition to all of those dishes, the menu will offer craft beer, cocktails, and an extensive wine list.

The original Palio location in Ann Arbor opened in 1991 and was named for the famous horse race that occurs in Italy twice annually. The original location actually features a wall covered in pictures of the race’s victors over the years.

The new Grand Rapids location will be open for lunch and dinner, seating approximately 150 people indoors and another 50 on an outdoor patio during warmer months. The new location will begin accepting applications on March 19.

The new restaurant is certainly a welcome change for many residents in Grand Rapids, as well as something to look forward to in the coming spring.

West Michigan Home and Garden Show Offers Focus on Smart Veggie Gardening

It may be February, but that doesn’t mean you can’t cultivate a garden or have to wait to improve your green thumb. The annual West Michigan Home and Garden Show will be back next month for its 37th season, and this year, there’s a big focus on vegetables.

Among the 350 exhibitors at this year’s show is an entire series on smart vegetable gardening. Whether you’re a total gardening novice, want to determine whether your soil is healthy, or would like information on how to start a garden in a small space, these sessions — hosted by The Michigan State University Extension’s Smart Gardening team — will tell you everything you need to know.

Other seminars offered on March 2 and 3 will focus on community gardens, beekeeping, and selecting the right type of vegetables that provide the biggest boost to your health.

While gardening may be thought of as a niche hobby, it’s become extremely popular. In spring of 2014, 113.5 million people said they gardened within the last 12 months. But it’s also been shown to have a wide variety of surprising health benefits — and not just due to the types of fresh veggies gardeners grow.

Studies have shown that gardeners tend to have a lower BMI and a decreased likelihood of being overweight or obese. Those who garden often find it easier to lose weight because it’s an enjoyable activity that allows you to accomplish more than just a good workout. In addition, gardening may reduce your risk of heart disease, help you develop better coordination and strength, and even boost your immune system.

Gardening may provide physical advantages, but it can also help with your mental and emotional state, too. NASA researchers found that working with plants in space provided stress relief and positive mental stimulation. And other studies have shown that being surrounded by nature can have amazing effects on our emotional well-being.

No matter your reasons for wanting to garden, the seminars at the Home and Garden Show can help you get started on a fulfilling and healthy hobby. Those who register by February 16 can receive a 20% discount, and all registrants will receive a free pass to the Home and Garden Show. More information about the smart veggie gardening sessions is available on the show’s website. You’ll learn how to improve your health with a vegetable garden at home or in your community just in time for spring planting.

Kent Country Recycling Fees to Increase in 2017

Environmentally responsible practices may be trendier than ever, but they’re generally worth the effort. If just 20% of American households switched to electronic billing in lieu of paper invoices, we’d save 151 million pounds of paper every year. But for households that still utilize paper products, recycling programs are often a great option to offset the waste.

Most citizens know that recycling regularly can help protect the planet. After all, recycling one ton of cardboard saves over nine cubic yards of landfill space. However, ecological sustainability doesn’t automatically translate to financial sustainability. One recycling plant in Kent County has found that its practices are no longer economically viable, resulting in an increase of their recycling rates. If Kent County businesses want to go green, they may have to fork over more green to do so.

When the county first opened the recycling facility in 2010, it was able to actually turn a profit by selling the commodities it produced, such as plastic, aluminum, and tin. Profits continued to rise until 2011, when the prices of those commodities started to drop due to changes in the marketplace, like the lowered price of oil. In 2011, Kent County was able to get around $152 a ton for those commodities, but by 2015, they could fetch only about half that price. Last year, their losses totaled $1.6 million.

The facility has been in the red for the last four years. Darwin Baas, the director of Kent County Public Works, says that the losses simply weren’t sustainable. As of January 1, 2017, the county implemented a new fee schedule with a goal of making recycling a sustainable undertaking once more.

For local waste haulers, the recycling fees will come to $35 a ton. If you’re bringing loads from outside Kent County, those fees increase to $40 a ton. “That allows us to operate at a break-even point, which is what we need,” said Baas.

Last year, the county put a $10/ton fee in place as an attempt to replace lost revenue, but that clearly wasn’t enough to bridge the gap. Annual operating expenses total around $4 million, so the facility needed much more than the anticipated revenue of less than $2.5 million in 2015. These new increased fees will provide nearly 38% of the facility’s overall budget; the remainder still comes from the sales of commodities.

Adding to the financial crisis are the costs tied to contamination of the materials they receive at the facility. Baas estimates that around 15% of the materials they get can be labeled as non-recyclables or contamination. They regularly receive Styrofoam, tarps, and brake rotors at the facility, all of which have to be removed and disposed of. The county budgets $150,000 a year for this sole purpose.

One incident was even more catastrophic. A partially full cylinder of propane was unknowingly brought to the facility and caused an explosion, resulting in tens of thousands of dollars worth of damage.

And while businesses are expected to bear the burden of these increased costs, the Director of Public Services, James Hurt, noted that individual residents shouldn’t be concerned about increasing bills.

“We are not intending to pass that cost on to our residents, to our customers as an additional cost,” he said. “Our community recycles enormously; it’s a very strong recycling community. We certainly don’t want to deter recycling from occurring.”

Hurt went on to say that the increased fees are built into the city’s current budget, and that he anticipates the city will continue to absorb those fees throughout the year.

“Recycling is important,” he said. “It’s one of our core values. We want to continue to promote that.”

Grand Rapids Parks Department Plans Major Upgrades for 2017

The new calendar year promises to be a big one for Grand Rapids City Parks, with new upgrades, renovations, and additional features planned for more than half a dozen of the area’s green spaces.

Construction plans for 2017 are in the works for Bike Park and Clemente Park in the southwest; Alexander Park in the southeast; and Huff Park, Aberdeen Park, and Ball Perkins Park in the northeast.

The Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation Department has also announced plans to bring four concrete ping-pong tables to area parks, though their locations are being largely left up to the public to decide.

Earlier this month, the department put up a call for comments on its Facebook page, asking users where they would like to see an outdoor ping-pong table installed. So far, the post has received hundreds of suggestions, with Cherry Park, Riverside, and Wilcox Park leading the pack so far. The top six suggestions will become finalists for a full public vote.

“As a part of the master plan we’ve been floating ideas like this,” said David Marquardt, director of the parks and recreation department. “The feedback we’ve been getting has been positive, and we see this as a ‘quick win’ as a part of the master plan process.”

The park plans for 2017 come in the wake of a highly successful year for park renovations in Grand Rapids. A recent poll of urban residents around the globe found that 52% of people chose green spaces as the feature they’d most like to see more of in their cities. To that end, more than $2.5 million of federal grant money was spent in 2016 upgrading community parks, including a new walking path in Camelot Park and a picnic shelter at Mary Waters Park. A new playground, splash pad, and picnic area with restroom facilities is set to open at Campau Park at Delaware and Commons in spring 2017.

Many of the proposed upgrades for 2017 will be discussed in neighborhood meetings this month and next, to hear community input on the projects and developments.