Stories indexed with the term ‘local economy’

Grants Approved for Act 88 Tax Revenues

At its Aug. 6, 2014 meeting, the Washtenaw County board of commissioners made allocations to six projects, using funds from an Act 88 millage that the county levies each year. In a separate vote, commissioners took an initial step to levy that tax, with final approval expected in September.

The county’s position is that Act 88 can be levied without voter approval to fund economic development and agricultural activities. This year, the proposal is to levy 0.07 mills in December 2014 – the same rate that was levied in 2013. It’s expected to raise an estimated $1,022,276 in property tax revenues.

In previous years, the resolution setting this millage has outlined how the revenues would be allocated. The largest allocations have gone to … [Full Story]

Talk of a More Collaborative Washtenaw

Washtenaw County board of commissioners working session (March 17, 2011): Leaders of several local governments in Washtenaw County attended a working session earlier this month, where they explored with county commissioners, in a general way, how to collaborate on delivering services to local residents.

Ronnie Peterson, Pete Murdock, Mike Moran

From left: Washtenaw County commissioner Ronnie Peterson, Ypsilanti city councilmember Pete Murdock, and Ann Arbor Township supervisor Mike Moran, at the county board's March 17 working session on intergovernmental collaboration. (Photos by the writer.)

Their discussion comes in the context of declining property values – property taxes are the primary source of revenue for local governments. In Michigan, constraints on how local governments can generate revenues add an additional layer of complexity. For the county, commissioners and staff are weighing how to overcome a projected two-year, $20.9 million deficit – some feel that collaborating with other local governments is part of the solution.

The talk among Washtenaw County leaders about collaboration also reflects a push at the state level to encourage more such efforts. It’s been a mantra of Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, an Ann Arbor area resident, who wants to use state revenue-sharing dollars as a carrot to get communities to work together. More dramatically, his administration is also advocating for legislation that would make it easier for cities and counties to merge.

Local government officials had been invited to the March 17 meeting to participate in the discussion and air their views on the possibilities for collaboration, as well as roadblocks they anticipate, like issues of cost or control. Many cited the need for better communication, and commissioners indicated a desire to get more involved in existing forums, such as the CEO Group – a monthly meeting of township supervisors led by Dexter Township supervisor Pat Kelly – and the Saline Area Sustainability Circle, which also meets monthly.

Representatives from Ann Arbor Township, Salem Township, Saline and Ypsilanti attended the working session. However, no one came from local governments of the county’s largest population centers – Ann Arbor, Pittsfield Township or Ypsilanti Township – though those areas are also represented by county commissioners. Several people at the meeting expressed the hope that similar sessions would be held in the future, with the additional hope that more local officials would get involved. [Full Story]

Building a Sustainable Ann Arbor

About two dozen members of three Ann Arbor commissions gathered last week for a rare joint meeting, a two-hour, wide-ranging discussion focused on the issue of sustainability. Bonnie Bona, chair of the city’s planning commission, said the working session was meant to start a conversation, with the goal of moving the city toward a sustainable future.

David Stead, Jean Carlberg, Fulter Hong

From left: David Stead, Jean Carlberg, and Fulter Hong at an April 13 working session on sustainability. They are members of the environmental, planning and energy commissions, respectively. (Photos by the writer.)

The discussion touched on the conceptual as well as the concrete, with some commissioners urging the group to tackle practical considerations as well. The chairs of each commission – Bona, the energy commission’s Wayne Appleyard, and Steve Bean of the environmental commission – set the stage by talking about the roles of their appointed public bodies, and how sustainability might be incorporated into their work.

Specific ideas discussed during the session included financing energy improvements in households through a special self-assessment on property tax bills, and tapping expertise at the University of Michigan.

More than midway through the meeting they were joined by Terry Alexander, executive director of UM’s Office of Campus Sustainability. He described UM’s efforts at implementing sustainable practices on campus as well as creating a living/learning environment for students, teaching them what it means to be a “green citizen.”

Toward the end of the meeting, Bona noted that the issue extended far beyond the three commissions gathered around the table. Housing, parks and other areas need to be involved as well, she said, if they were truly to tackle the three elements of sustainability: environmental quality, social equity, and economic vitality. Bean said he and the other chairs would be meeting again and come up with some specific examples for what steps might be taken next. “You’ll be hearing from us,” he said. [Full Story]

John Leidy Shop to Close in Late February

The entrance to the John Leidy shop at 601 E. Liberty, adjacent to the Michigan Theater. (Photo by the writer.)

The entrance to the John Leidy shop at 601 E. Liberty, next to the Michigan Theater. (Photo by the writer.)

Just after noon on Sunday, several people had already assembled in the John Leidy gift shop on East Liberty: three generations of the family-owned business, and two self-described “Leidy Ladies” – long-time staff at the 58-year-old store.

A Chronicle reader had contacted us with news that the store planned to close. So we stopped by to talk with the Leidy family, who were gathering there after coming from church: John Leidy’s widow, Ann Leidy, their daughter Liz Arsenault, who manages the store, and son Peter Leidy, who’s acting as spokesman for the family.

Postcards were mailed to their customers over the last few days announcing plans to close at the end of February, when their lease is up. But on Sunday, Peter Leidy told The Chronicle that they weren’t yet ready for an interview. There’s a lot of emotion, he said, and gratitude to customers – but it’s a hard time for them. [Full Story]

Paul Saginaw: We Want to Change the World

Paul Saginaw, co-founder of Zingerman's, spoke about building a local "living economy" at Monday night's Think Local First annual meeting. (Photo by the writer.)

Paul Saginaw, co-founder of Zingerman's, spoke about building a local "living economy" at Monday night's Think Local First annual meeting. (Photo by the writer.)

Paul Saginaw joked that during his senior year of high school, he was voted Least Likely to Have a Positive Impact on Society. The remark drew a laugh from the crowd of more than 100 people attending Think Local First’s annual meeting on Monday night – most of them know the Zingerman’s co-founder is an advocate for socially responsible business, as well as a driving force behind the nonprofit Food Gatherers, which launched 21 years ago this week.

For many years, that high school description was “so true,” Saginaw said. “But for the second half of my life, I’ve been trying to prove them wrong.”

Saginaw, the evening’s featured speaker, talked passionately about the need for local economies built around “human-scale” enterprises, with businesses as a positive force for social change. He described several ways that the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, a national group, is supporting the efforts of small, independent businesses. The goal? “What we want to do is change the world,” he said. [Full Story]

Behind the Counter of a Local Jeweler

Abracadabra is located across from the federal building and post office, between Chelsea Flower and Sams

Abracadabra is located on East Liberty across from the federal building and post office, between Chelsea Flower Shop and Sam's Clothing.

Steven Lesse has some stories to tell – making a necklace out of a gall stone is just one of them.

The co-owner of Abracadabra Jewelry and Gem Gallery has seen a lot since opening his downtown Ann Arbor shop in 1974. Originally located in the building that now houses Herb David Guitar Studio, Abracadabra moved to its current location at 205 E. Liberty in 1976 and has remained there ever since. Lesse, who co-owns the business with his wife Katherine, fell in love with Ann Arbor when he set up a booth at the art fair during the summer of 1973.

“I was tired of the gypsy lifestyle – it was like being in a rock band,” Lesse said. “You were always traveling around city to city, art fair to art fair. It was a fun lifestyle when you’re not attached and you don’t have own a house.” Soon after he visited, Lesse rented his first building in Ann Arbor and opened his first gallery, which also became his apartment. [Full Story]

Column: Nonprofits Need Culture of Learning

Stephen J. Gill

Stephen J. Gill

The current economic crisis is no time for Ann Arbor area nonprofits to hunker down. Whether social services, health care, arts, education or advocacy, nonprofits should use this time to re-examine themselves, ask themselves the tough questions, and develop a culture of learning that will result in long-term effectiveness and sustainability.

Local nonprofits have been hit hard by the economy. Less corporate money is going to United Way of Washtenaw County (the checking account for local nonprofits) and fewer dollars are being generated by endowments at the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation (the savings account for local nonprofits). The money earned by our community’s philanthropies that then goes to nonprofits is off by 30% to 40%. [Full Story]

In the Business Improvement Zone

Ideas generated from a recent meeting of businesses in the Main Street area

A sampling of the questions and ideas generated from a recent meeting of Main Street businesses, who gathered to discuss the concept of a Business Improvement Zone for that area. (Photo by the writer.)

About a dozen business owners, managers and others from the Main Street area gathered last Thursday morning at Conor O’Neill’s to talk about an idea being floated for that district – a self-taxing entity called a business improvement zone, or BIZ. It’s a way to pay for services – things like snow or litter removal, or flowerbeds – to make the district more attractive and bring more shoppers downtown.

This isn’t the first time we’ve encountered the Main Street BIZ. In April, the Downtown Development Authority awarded $83,270 to the group – spearheaded by Ellie Serras and Ed Shaffran – to help get it going. Since then, Main Street BIZ has hired a consultant – Betsy Jackson of The Urban Agenda – and is holding meetings with stakeholders to pitch the idea and get feedback.

That’s what was happening on Thursday. The meeting was one of three planned so far: Earlier in the week, organizers met with property owners of buildings along a three-block stretch of Main Street, where the district is proposed. And on Tuesday, June 30, they’ve scheduled a similar presentation for residents and others who patronize Main Street area businesses. That meeting starts at 6 p.m., also at Conor O’Neill’s. [Full Story]

The Economics of Entertainment

David Babcock and Ed Koster act out a scene from Hellcab at the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre auditions.

David Babcock and Ed Koster act out a scene from the play "Hellcab" at Ann Arbor Civic Theatre auditions earlier this month. The show will be performed Aug. 21-23. (Photo by the writer.)

The woman is swaying in her seat, inhaling in a drunken hiss and dragging her feet along the floor. The driver stares straight ahead, looking mildly uncomfortable.

Grinning, her head wobbling slightly on her neck, she leans as far forward as possible and whispers loudly to the cabbie, “I looove you!”
The other people in the room – and the director, Paul Bianchi – laugh.

The woman and the man acting as the cabbie are seated in two chairs in the middle of the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre studio in downtown Ann Arbor – a high-ceilinged, mostly empty room with a wood-paneled floor and a piano at one end. It’s an evening in early June, and they’re auditioning for “Hellcab,” a play depicting a day in the life of a Chicago cab driver.

A day in the life of AACT itself is challenging in a different way. Like virtually all nonprofits, including those in the performing arts, the local theater faces some less-than-entertaining concerns this season. Although leaders of the theater say it isn’t in crisis, the nonprofit has made some cuts to save money, and is trying to get creative about ways to bring in revenue. [Full Story]

Innovating out of an Economic Hole

Maria Thompson, General Manager, A123Systems Advanced Research

Maria Thompson, general manager of the advanced research and government solutions group for A123Systems in Ann Arbor. She was one of several panelists from the local business community at Monday's UM economic development forum.

More than 250 people from academia, business, government and nonprofits packed the auditorium Monday afternoon at the Partnership for an Innovation Economy forum, hosted by the University of Michigan at its newly renovated art museum.

Throughout the two-hour event, The Chronicle learned, among other things: 1) which former Pfizer executive is a rugby referee, 2) which local power couples have relied on each other for advice, 3) who hosts one of the best holiday parties in Ann Arbor.

Of course, there was also much talk of UM’s role in economic development. [Full Story]

Washtenaw News Wins NY Times Contract

As part of the change in delivery of the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press, which began today, Washtenaw News Co. has gotten a boost – the first good news this local business has seen in several years, according to its CEO, Nick Genova.

Starting today, Washtenaw News – an Ann Arbor-based distributor of newspapers and magazines – will be delivering the New York Times to home subscribers throughout most of Washtenaw County, Genova said. The papers were previously delivered under an agreement with the Detroit Media Partnership, which manages the Detroit papers.

The three-year contract with Washtenaw News also includes delivery of USA Today and Investor’s Business Daily. In addition, Washtenaw News is a distributor locally for the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times and the Ann Arbor News, among other publications. The deal means that Washtenaw News now uses about 20 independent contractors to deliver the papers, Genova said – about double the number they used before.

The Chronicle heard about this news on Sunday morning, when the following note slipped out of the New York Times delivered to Chronicle Central: [Full Story]