Michigan Business, Economy & Tourism

From classic cars to travel, energy and food, we bring you the stories of the people who fuel our economy and the policies that shape it.

Morgan Springer

The family-owned restaurant Hofbrau Steakhouse and American Grill in Interlochen is changing its name after being asked to do so by a German company. The German beer maker Staaliches Hofbräuhaus says the Hofbrau is violating its trademark.

The restaurant owners considered fighting it, but decided the best thing to do was to pick something new. So they're holding a public naming contest. People can propose names for the restaurant, and the winner gets a prize.

Peter Payette

Jerry Coyne was bored with classic rock on the radio. As a teenager in the 1970s, he saw bands like Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones when they were in their prime and he listened to WABX, a rock station in Detroit that introduced a lot of the music that came to define his generation.

Jerry says it changed the entire culture in the U.S.

“Rock ’n’ roll was revolutionary,” he says. “It stopped the Vietnam War.”

So often we hear people say, "Our immigration system is broken." But what exactly does that mean? 

In this State of Opportunity special, we hear answers to that question from various angles.

Bill Marsh Automotive Group

Bill Marsh Sr., the founder of Bill Marsh Automotive Group in Traverse City, has died. He was 80. His family confirmed that he died in Leelanau County on Wednesday from Alzheimer’s disease.

Marsh Sr. built a single dealership with 12 employees into an automotive group with multiple dealerships and 250 employees in northern Michigan. He sold the company to three of his sons when he retired in 2006.

A proposal to reduce salmon stocking in Lake Michigan has upset some sport fishermen. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is polling members of an advisory committee to see how strong opposition is to the plan.


Peter Payette

Tom Doak thinks most new golf courses are “way too hard.” He says designers are driven to match the abilities of players you see on TV.

“Nobody who pays to play golf plays anything like that," he says, "but that’s where all the attention goes.”

Doak’s firm, Renaissance Golf in Traverse City, has built courses around the world, and he says they strive to make them enjoyable for all players. If his team gets carried away creating obstacles like sand bunkers, Doak says it’s only to make the course pretty.

Peter Payette

Fruit growers have a new problem: they can’t buy enough young trees to plant in their orchards.

This is especially true for cherry farmers in Michigan who depend on nurseries in the Pacific Northwest. It could get worse, and some farmers are preparing for a day when they can’t buy any trees.

Ben LaCross was supposed to be planting 6,000 sweet cherry trees this spring at his farm near Maple City. He ordered the trees from a nursery in Oregon three years ago, but there was some unusual weather there that fall.

Aaron Selbig

Costco is coming to Traverse City, but even before ground is broken for the big box store, city officials are worried Costco might try to get a so-called “dark store” tax assessment.

That’s when big retailers argue that the value of their stores is only equal to an empty – or “dark” – store. They’ve been winning these disputes all over Michigan.

Opponents are fighting back, saying dark store assessments are hurting communities.

Wikipedia

Officials in Traverse City are concerned that if Costco comes to town, it will take advantage of so-called “dark store” tax assessments. That’s when businesses argue for lower tax rates based on what their stores would be worth empty – or “dark.”

Retailers like Target, Meijer and Costco have appealed their assessments in Michigan, hoping to pay less money in taxes. They say if they turned around and tried to sell their stores, not many companies would want to buy them. The Michigan Tax Tribunal, which decides tax appeals, has been ruling in favor of retailers.

Morgan Springer

The German company, Staaliches Hofbäuhaus or HB, says the Hofbrau Steak House and American Grille in Interlochen has to change its name.

This week Hofbrau’s owners, Brian McAllister and Laurie Bouwman, got a letter from the German company saying HB has a trademark on the name.

"HB, therefore, demands that you change the name of your establishment by removing the word HOFBRAU from the name of your restaurant," reads the letter signed by company officials.

The Next Idea

Michigan is all too familiar with the sight of abandoned buildings. Detroit is one of the most significant examples, where hundreds of millions of dollars are being spend on demolition.

Rex LaMore wonders whether we can’t save taxpayers the cost of abandonment by planning for the end of a building’s life from the very beginning. LaMore is director of Michigan State University’s Center for Community and Economic Development, and he’s looking at ways to address Michigan’s glut of abandoned buildings.

Starting a business on your own brings plenty of challenges, but it takes a special kind of courage and vision – and a little bit of help – to set up shop in a struggling neighborhood.

Katrina Watkins stood on her front porch in Detroit’s McDougall-Hunt neighborhood staring at the vacant, overgrown stretch of land across the street.

“I have been trying to get the city out here to cut this for years,” she said.

Eighty years ago, Franklin Delano Roosevelt paid a visit to the city of Hamtramck, an enclave within the city of Detroit. There, the 32nd president cut the ribbon on a new sports stadium, one of the many construction projects being carried out across the country to help the United States dig out of the Great Depression.

Eight decades later, the Detroit City Football Club (DCFC), a minor league soccer team with one of the biggest followings in the country, is looking to turn Keyworth Stadium into its new home.

Food inspectors used a warrant signed by a judge to visit a farm near Cadillac last week. State police troopers were also on hand for the inspection of Bakers Green Acres last Thursday.

A spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, Jennifer Holton, called the inspection “routine.”

But the farmer, Mark Baker, characterized it on his YouTube channel as a “raid.”

“They pulled in like it was a raid,” he says. “Like we were going to run the other way or flush drugs down the toilet.”

David Cassleman


Throughout this series, we’ve heard from a number of listeners concerned about the cost of housing in northwest lower Michigan.

 

Almost nothing is happening that would improve the situation for people struggling to find an affordable place to live.

 

Builders and developers are building new homes in the region. But they’re more expensive homes, and they’re being built in or near Traverse City, where land is the most costly.

But a developer named Bryce Gibbs has a new house on the market for $89,000, and his future plans include building historic replica homes that are affordable.

Paul Maritinez/Flickr

Last week Governor Rick Snyder signed off on a long-awaited roads funding deal. The laws will raise more than $1 billion a year by 2021. The money will go towards repairing the roads and bridges in Michigan that have been neglected for years.

"This is the largest investment in transportation in Michigan in the last 50 years," Snyder said this month.

But many in the state are not happy with the final product, which includes a gas tax hike and higher car registration fees.

Michigan Public Radio's Rick Pluta explains the mechanics of the deal:


Aaron Selbig

Soon it will cost more to go to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. In January the entrance fee will go from $10 to $15, and the annual entrance pass will increase from $20 to $30. Camping fees will also increase. 

Merrith Baughman, ​park ranger and chief of interpretation and visitor services, says the National Park Service wants more consistent fees across the country. 

Fiat Chrysler Automotive's UAW members vote this week on whether to ratify the second contract put before them. The first tentative contract agreement went down to resounding defeat, forcing the union and FCA to try again.

Much of the opposition to the first deal was fired up on social media. At the same time, the union was widely viewed as having stumbled badly on its social media presence defending the deal.

They're not letting that happen this time.

David Cassleman

There aren’t many businesses left in Thompsonville, and one of the few that remains is closing.

Paul’s Party Store is a place to grab a gallon of milk or buy a pack of cigarettes. But you can also find a more hard-to-find item, like balsamic vinegar.

The store is a small, blue pole barn. It used to be a fishing shop — you can still find fishing gear for purchase — and it’s retained the feel of a tackle shop, dark with a concrete floor.

Wine grape harvest may be at all-time low this year

Sep 30, 2015
Peter Payette

It’s harvest time for wine grapes. But after one of the worst growing seasons in northern Michigan, there aren’t many grapes to make into wine.

Duke Elsner, the small fruit educator for Michigan State University extension, says, "It’s really the worst season we’ve ever seen since the mid-70’s when they started growing wine grapes in northern Michigan."

He says the extreme cold winter wiped out about 50 percent of the grape buds. Then roughly 50 percent of remaining buds were damaged in a late spring frost in May.

Peter Payette

One of the phrases sometimes used to describe what is great about life Up North is “small town character.” What that means is a little vague, but the real estate market generally proves it is valuable: homes in many villages and cities up here are worth more every year.

Acme Township is a rural community that has no village. In fact, it is not much of a destination at all, unless you are going to the Grand Traverse Resort. Acme is mostly farmland with a few businesses along US-31 and M-72 and, of course, that glass tower reaching 17 stories into the sky.

Jeff Henley says it’s too bad people think of Acme as a gateway to Traverse City.

“Why can’t we make Acme a place to stop?” he wonders. “Instead of having to go through a gateway to get to something. Maybe you’re already there. Just look around.”

The Next Idea

All it takes is one new innovation or successful company to change the economic fortunes of an entire city or region.

More often though, it’s the cumulative effect of many new innovations and successful companies that create lasting economic change.

Regardless if it’s one or 1000, new tech companies have an arduous path to success. Yet because of their potentially huge payoffs, competition to host them and their talented workforce is fierce.

Which Way to Paradise: Goodbye Mexico (and leisure)

Sep 23, 2015
Peter Payette

Not many people move to northern Michigan so they can work more. But Adolfo Mendez did, and he works all the time. He has started three businesses in Traverse City.

When he arrived six years ago from Mexico, his friends told him he had a problem: he was a workaholic, they said. But he had no idea what that was.

“So I scared” he recalls. “What is that? That’s cancer? That some problem? I check. I go to my computer. What that? That one is the people they only work, work, work.”

Community Newspaper Holdings

The executive editor of northern Michigan’s largest newspaper has been ousted. The publisher of the Traverse City Record-Eagle, Paul Heidbreder, confirmed that Mike Tyree is no longer with the paper. Heidbreder would not discuss the situation further.

Last year, the Record-Eagle’s owner, Community Newspaper Holdings, had honored Tyree by naming him to its President’s Circle.

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