Sunday, September 27, 2009

From Michigan's Transition to TRANSFORMATION! (AND YOUR ROLE IN IT)

Michigan’s Transition; Entrepreneurs lead the way as the state reinvents its economy
Sunday, September 27, 2009

Of The Associated Press

FLINT — Sometime next year, Michigan will lose its 1 millionth job since the state’s economy began its downward slide in mid-2000.

With a frenzy born of desperation, the state is trying to rekindle the entrepreneurial spirit that made Dow, Kellogg and Ford household names.

That trio founded the state’s famous chemical, cereal and auto companies a century ago. These days, the state is doing what it can to foster a new generation of innovation.

At universities and community colleges, in downtown office spaces and 15 “SmartZone” technology centers designed to spark collaborations between universities and industry, Michigan is working to encourage the creation of new industries to provide the middle-class jobs that made the state a mecca for generations of workers.

There’s lots of room for improvement. The state ranked just 27th nationally in the 2008 Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity, lagging behind most western states and national leader Georgia in the survey’s measure of adults creating businesses each month.

To boost its standing, the state has awarded millions of dollars to high-tech firms through its 21st Century Jobs Fund, and companies are sponsoring contests that reward new “green” technology ideas. Business incubators are sprouting up from the urban streets of Detroit to the snowy streets of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

“You had Henry Ford, you had (Charles Stewart) Mott, you had Herbert Dow, you had W.K. Kellogg — all entrepreneurs with new ideas that created a new economy for Michigan that lasted us pretty much the last century,” said William Rustem of Public Sector Consultants, a Lansing think tank. “Now, we’ve got the same situation. We need that entrepreneurial spirit.”

Here are some young entrepreneurs who may help make this happen:

Making lemonade

Paul Knific started an arcade business when he was 18, but shut it down to focus on an Internet service provider and software development company he and his then-18-year-old brother, Eric, launched last year in their parents’ basement in Flushing.

Now 23, Knific and his brother, who’s still a student, run Epic Technology Solutions out of a converted bank building in downtown Flint that’s the site of LAUNCH, a program for student and community entrepreneurs run by the University of Michigan-Flint. Epic serves 50 customers in the United States and abroad with 150 servers in Flint, Southfield and Atlanta, Ga.

“The cost of labor is so cheap. The cost of living is less, too,” Paul Knific said of his decision to base the company in Flint. “We’re growing faster than expected.”

That doesn’t mean there haven’t been hurdles. Outstate Michigan doesn’t have the fiber optics infrastructure found in Chicago, Los Angeles or even Detroit, and Eric Knific said the two are having to upgrade in a city that “has the infrastructure of the 1950s.”

But that hasn’t stopped Epic from attracting customers throughout the United States, Europe and Australia, in part because the cost of Epic’s services are “half the price of the U.K. (United Kingdom) and Chicago,” Paul Knific said.

Local spirits

The Grand Traverse Distillery in Traverse City uses rye grown in northern Michigan to produce True North Vodka in handcrafted batches, and taps the area’s cherry crop to make flavored vodka. It also just began selling a wheat-based vodka and has 45 barrels of whiskey aging.

Owner Kent Rabish buys hundreds of pounds of Michigan-grown grain for the micro distillery he opened in 2007, and his vodka won two gold medals last year in blind taste test competitions against hundreds of domestic and foreign brands.

His latest advertising campaign is aimed at getting buyers to pick up his $29.99-a-bottle premium vodka rather than pricey imports: “End your dependence on foreign alcohol.”

“You don’t necessarily have to buy something from France, Poland or Russia,” he said. “We can do world-class distillation right here in Michigan … and support Michigan agriculture.”

Rabish, 52, hasn’t quit his day job as a representative for French pharmaceutical company Sanofi-Aventis SA. But he hopes to eventually make the distillery his full-time job as he gradually ramps up his annual production from 2,000 cases of vodka to 10,000.

He’s the only commercial distiller in Michigan distilling grain-based spirits — others are making fruit-based brandies in small batches — but he thinks the state could support many more micro distilleries. He’s already is looking for a bigger building where he can expand and add a space for customers to sample his vodka and whiskey.

“This is what’s going to put the Michigan economy over ... manufacturing something rather than passing things through,” Rabish said.

Creative thinking

Goeff Horst was out on Lake Erie collecting algae with his father for some biofuels research when they began kicking around the idea of using the fast-spreading aquatic plants to suck up nutrients at wastewater treatment plants.

Now Horst, a 30-year-old doctoral student at Michigan State University, has joined with three current and former University of Michigan graduate students to try and commercialize the process at the company they founded, Algal Scientific Corp.

The company is growing algae and doing research at a lab in a former Pfizer Inc. pharmaceutical plant in Plymouth. Horst hopes to use the plant to soak up nitrogen, phosphorus and other nutrients from wastewater instead of sending the water into lakes and rivers, where the nutrients lead to environmentally damaging algae blooms.

“Our objective is to reduce the amount of pollution that’s going into the waterways,” said Horst, who envisions using the algae twice — once to soak up the nutrients, and then to produce fertilizer or biofuels.

This spring, the fledgling company won the $65,000 Clean Energy Prize awarded by Detroit-based DTE Energy Co. to encourage the commercialization of clean energy technologies.

“Wastewater treatment is a huge market in the U.S., several billion dollars a year, and it’s probably going to become a bigger market in the future,” said Horst. Being an entrepreneur “is a little scary, really. But it’s … so much more exciting than the typical job.”

Diamond in the rough

When Donyale Walton launched her first edition of Liv Lux Mag on Flint’s entertainment and fashion scene in 2007, the teenager found herself writing copy, laying out pages, even selling ads. It was an intense experience for the Mott Community College business management student, and she soon switched publication to the Web.

These days Walton and University of Michigan-Flint student Corey Stokes are publishing from an office provided by the LAUNCH program. The magazine’s Web site is hosted by another company at LAUNCH, the Knific brothers’ Epic Technology Solutions, while another LAUNCH entrepreneur helps with photos and graphics, building his business while aiding theirs. Walton, now 21, likes the collegiality she finds at the student business hatchery.

“It’s much better to walk down the hall and talk to someone than to call customer service,” said Walton, who hopes to soon turn her online magazine into a printed one that comes out every other month before expanding to other cities, such as Pontiac and Detroit.

The magazine, which is aimed at 18- to 25-year-old college students and gets about 300 new hits a day and 400 return visitors, is updated daily with help from a beauty writer in Los Angeles and a music writer in North Carolina.

But Stokes and Walton plan to concentrate most their efforts in Flint, a city struggling with shuttered auto plants, foreclosed homes and a seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate of 28.9 percent.

“I think it will give Flint a boost of confidence to know we can develop something of quality here that can be sold nationally. ... We want people to think differently about our hometown,” Walton said. “One of our main goals is to stay in Michigan.”

Tapping technology

MasTech Manufacturing in Manistee primarily made materials handling equipment for auto factories until it hooked up with Nevada-based Mariah Power to build the Windspire, a vertical wind turbine that can generate an average of 2,000 kilowatt hours of electricity a year.

The two companies recently installed a 30-foot Windspire on the grounds of the governor’s residence in Lansing. Over the next two years, MasTech plans to add about 120 jobs — for a total of 500 — as it ramps up production from 1,800 turbines annually to 12,000.

Although the company went to China to compare prices, John Holcomb of MasTech Wind said it ended up tapping around 40 other Michigan companies for 90 percent of the turbine’s components.

“We can do it just as cheap or cheaper right here in Michigan, and we have a better product,” Holcomb said.

The 56-year-old has spent nearly his entire career catering to the huge auto industry that in 2000 accounted for more than 350,000 manufacturing jobs in the state. But as 250,000 of those jobs have disappeared, Holcomb sees other possibilities for manufacturers.

“This is where the technology base is, and we really just have to learn to leverage that technology base into new products other than automotive,” he said.

The company just unveiled a new hydraulic fruit cart that helps Michigan growers get their fruit to the ground without damage after it has been picked.

Much of Michigan’s fruit used to be grown primarily for juice, so appearance didn’t matter. But foreign competitors have undercut U.S. growers with juice concentrates, so Michigan growers are switching to selling their fruit whole in grocery stores and farmers markets.

“This fruit cart works for apples and pears and peaches and plums and apricots and grapes,” Holcomb said. He added the potential for Michigan manufacturers to get back on their feet with new products is good since “there is no greater technology storehouse in the United States than there is in Michigan.”

Moving on

When Rolf Kletzien and Jerry Colca walked out of Pfizer’s St. Louis operations for good in 2005, the two scientists decided it was time to head back to Kalamazoo to start their own company.

Pharmaceuticals and Kalamazoo have been synonymous since 1886, when physician W. E. Upjohn and his brothers began making easily digestible pills after founding The Upjohn Co. Both Kletzien and Colca worked for Upjohn and the companies it later became, including Pfizer, eventually moving from the southwestern Michigan city to Pfizer’s St. Louis labs.

When Colca lost his job as a senior research scientist and Kletzien stepped down as vice president of genomics and biotechnology, heading back to Kalamazoo to pursue their own diabetes research seemed like a no-brainer. Pooling about $250,000 in severance payments, they started Metabolic Solutions Development Co. in 2006 in the spare bedroom in Colca’s downtown Kalamazoo condominium.

“We did have two conference rooms — they both were in Irving’s Deli,” joked Kletzien, 63, who still had a home in nearby Richland.

In 2007, the pair opened a business office and later a lab in downtown Kalamazoo. They’re also among the former Pfizer and Pharmacia employees involved in the more than two dozen life-sciences businesses at the Southwest Michigan Innovation Center, a business incubator at Western Michigan University’s Bioscience Research and Technology Park.

Colca and Kletzien are working on a drug they think will treat Type 2 diabetes without the side effects of some existing diabetes drugs. They hope the compound eventually could be used to also treat metabolic syndrome, so that people with the syndrome don’t develop diabetes in the first place.

The pair have fueled their research with the help of $22 million from investors such as Hopen Therapeutics, a private investment and management firm in Grand Rapids, and the state of Michigan, which gave the company $2.4 million through its 21st Century Jobs Fund.

They’re now rounding up $20 million to begin a new phase of patient testing with the goal of selling their product in four to five years.

The two men say they’re thriving in the life sciences research corridor that runs through Michigan from Grand Rapids to Kalamazoo, East Lansing and Ann Arbor. Colca, 59, wouldn’t be anywhere else.

“Within this area of the world there is more concentration of the expertise you need to take a small molecule from the bench to being a drug than anywhere else in the world,” he said. “Whether you came from a pharma company or whether you’re sitting in a university some place, if you have an idea and you believe you can turn it into a drug, our message is, ‘This is the place to be.”’

Saturday, September 26, 2009


For Release:
1:00 pm

September 24, 2008Contact:
Gary G. Naeyaert


Change agents urge legislature to pass bills to close the achievement gap and secure “Race to the Top” funds

Lansing, MI – More than 2,500 students, parents, teachers and education activists held a rally on the lawn of State Capitol Building this morning.

Education reform priorities pushed during the rally included the need to fix failing schools, provide alternative routes to teacher certification, and expand quality public school options, especially in underperforming areas.

“It is a moral imperative that we close the academic achievement gap in Michigan,” said Michael Tenbusch, Vice President for Education Preparedness at the United Way of Southeastern Michigan.

“These reforms are not only the right approach for our students – they could bring millions in federal education funds to the state,” he continued.

Most observers believe passing these types of bills are necessary before Michigan will be competitive in $4.35 billion “Race to the Top” federal incentive program.

“Each and every American citizen is entitled to have equal access to a high quality education,” said Kevin Chavous, one of the nation’s leading education reform activists, during his stirring keynote address at the rally.

Students released over 1,000 “Kids Need Great Schools” balloons after Chavous’ remarks, and each balloon represented hundreds of minority and at-risk students behind grade level and stuck in failing schools.

“Every child can learn, and all kids deserve great schools. The status quo isn’t getting it done, so we need to work together and find new ways to help kids achieve,” said Rachele Downs, Vice President, CB Richard Ellis Detroit and member of the Leadership Detroit Education Support Committee.

“We agree with President Obama that students must take responsibility for their own education, and empowering parents as true partners in public education should be a much higher priority,” said Sharlonda Buckman, Executive Director of the Detroit Parent Network.

Monday, September 21, 2009

21st Century Digital Learning Environments (OVERVIEW)

MMSTC 2nd Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony Wednesday, September 23, 2009 8:00AM

Renewable Energy Institute Ribbon Cutting Ceremony

Date: Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Location: Butcher Educational Center

27500 Cosgrove

Warren, MI 48092

Time: 8:30 a.m. – 9:30 a.m.


Room 103

A. Welcome – David Walsh, Administrative Consultant for Special Programs

B. Introduction and R.E.I. Overview – Dr. Robert Livernois, Superintendent

a. Board Policy

b. Energy Management Plan

c. Partnerships

C. K12 Curriculum – Brian Walmsley, Chief Academic Officer

a. Career Prep Center Teacher – Chris Mazzola

D. Energy/Facility Management – Casey Sobczak, Director of Facilities & Property Services


Windspire Courtyard

A. Brief Windspire Overview – David Walsh, Administrative Consultant for Special Programs

B. Windspire Installation Testimonies and Ribbon Cutting – Students

C. Tour/Questions from Community Members and Press

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

RING! Consequences of the PERFECT STORM!

September 8, 2009
Schools Aided by Stimulus Money Still Facing Cuts

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Children are returning to classrooms across the nation during one of the most tumultuous periods in American education, in which many thousands of teachers and other school workers — no one yet knows how many — were laid off in dozens of states because of plummeting state and local revenue. Many were hired back, thanks in part to $100 billion in federal stimulus money.

How much the federal money has succeeded in stabilizing schools depends on the state. In those where budget deficits have been manageable, stimulus money largely replaced plunging taxpayer revenues for schools. But in Arizona, California, Georgia and a dozen other states with overwhelming deficits, the federal money has failed to prevent the most extensive school layoffs in several decades, experts said.

When Lori Smallwood welcomed her third-grade students back to school here, it was a new beginning after a searing summer in which she lost her job, agonized over bills, got rehired and, along with all school employees here, saw her salary cut.

“I’m just glad to be teaching,” Ms. Smallwood said. “After the misery of losing your job, a pay cut is a piece of cake.”

In the hard-hit states, the shuffling of teachers out of their previous classrooms and into new ones, often in new districts or at unfamiliar grade levels — or onto unemployment — continues to disrupt instruction at thousands of schools. Experts said that seniority and dysfunctional teacher evaluation systems were forcing many districts to trim strong teachers rather than the least effective.

And in some places, teacher layoffs have pushed up class sizes. In Arizona, which is suffering one of the nation’s worst fiscal crises, some classrooms were jammed with nearly 50 students when schools reopened last month, and the norm for Los Angeles high schools this fall is 42.5 students per teacher.

“I’ve been in public education north of three decades, and these are the most sweeping cutbacks I’ve seen,” said Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools. “But it would have been worse without the stimulus.”

Los Angeles Unified, the nation’s second-largest district, sent layoff notices to 8,850 teachers, counselors and administrators last spring. Bolstered by stimulus money, it recently rehired some 6,700 of them, leaving about 2,150 demoted to substitute teaching or out of work. Hundreds of districts across California laid off a total of more than 20,000 teachers, according to the California Teachers Association.

In Michigan, the Detroit schools’ emergency financial manager closed 29 schools and laid off 1,700 employees, including 1,000 teachers. Arizona school districts laid off 7,000 teachers in the spring, but stimulus money helped them rehire several thousand. Tucson Unified, for instance, laid off 560 teachers, but rehired 400.

Florida’s second-largest system, Broward County Schools, laid off 400 teachers, but aided by stimulus money, rehired more than 100. In Washington State, many districts let employees go; Seattle laid off about 50 teachers.

Lauren Stokes, who taught high school English last year in North Carolina’s Charlotte-Mecklenburg district, was laid off with about 650 of her colleagues. She sought other jobs, but stimulus money sent to the state helped her district hire her and many others back. One disappointment: her classroom this year is a portable trailer.

“But I’m rehired, thank goodness,” said Ms. Stokes, who is 23. “I’m looking forward to trying new things out on this year’s batch of students.”

Catherine Vidal, a language teacher laid off in May from a high school in Moorpark, Calif., is still out of work. Fifty-nine years old, Ms. Vidal has given up her apartment and is living, for now, on a friend’s boat. Teaching has become too iffy, and she will change professions, she said.

Not only school staff members are feeling the pain, of course.

“I struggled this year getting my three boys everything they needed,” said Mary Lou Johnson, an unemployed office worker who went back-to-school shopping last month at a Wal-Mart in Chamblee, Ga. “Buying their backpacks, sneakers, all the stuff for their classes — it nearly cleaned me out.”

In Ohio, students in the South-Western City district south of Columbus returned to schools with no sports, cheerleading or band, all cut after residents voted down a property tax increase. Stimulus money allowed the district to expand services for disabled students, but it could not save extracurricular programs, said Hugh Garside, the district’s treasurer.

Driving the layoffs was a precipitous decline in tax revenues that left states with a cumulative budget shortfall of $165 billion for this fiscal year, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a research institute. About half of the 160 school superintendents from 37 states surveyed by the American Association of School Administrators said that despite receiving stimulus money, they were forced to cut teachers in core subjects. Eight out of 10 said they had cut librarians, nurses, cooks and bus drivers.

Districts unable to avoid layoffs should seek to do minimum damage by retaining outstanding teachers and culling ineffective ones, said Timothy Daly, president of the New Teacher Project, a nonprofit group. But most districts are simply dismissing teachers hired most recently, because union contracts or state laws protect tenured teachers in most states and because few districts have systems to accurately evaluate teacher performance, he said.

“Districts tend to make their problems worse by laying off good teachers and keeping bad ones,” Mr. Daly said.

The Hall County district northeast of Atlanta, which has 35 schools, dismissed 100 of its 2,000 teachers, said William Schofield, the superintendent. John Stape, who taught high school Spanish, and his wife, Janie, who taught third grade, were among them.

Ms. Stape, 50, is still out of work. Mr. Stape, who is 65 and has a Ph.D., found a job teaching this school year, for less pay, in a rural high school southeast of Atlanta. He said that no administrator had ever observed his teaching before the day he was laid off.

“They didn’t know whether I was a good teacher or not,” Mr. Stape said. Mr. Schofield said the district used student achievement data and professional judgment to identify mediocre teachers for dismissal, but he acknowledged that Hall County had to cut so many teachers that strong ones were let go, too.

“We downsized about 50 pretty good folks,” Mr. Schofield said. The district also trimmed salaries of all district employees by 2.4 percent. Mr. Schofield said he cut his own by 3.4 percent, bringing it to $183,000 this year, and relinquished $23,000 in bonuses.

The Hall County schools received more than $18 million in stimulus money, and without it, “those 100 layoffs could easily have gone to 150,” he said.

Among the Hall County educators helped by the stimulus was Ms. Smallwood, who is 25. After she lost her job teaching kindergarten, she went to her mother’s home to cry, then regained her composure and circulated her résumé. A principal eventually hired her to teach third grade.

“I feel like I’m starting over again,” she said.