Street Talk: Local idea gets national exposure


Delegates from Michigan Farm Bureau were successful in their efforts to advance several Michigan policy recommendations during the American Farm Bureau Federation’s 2018 Annual Meeting in Nashville, including revisions to AFBF dairy and farm program policy.

Approximately 350 state delegates, including 11 MFB board members, concluded national policy debate and voting Jan. 9 on more than 180 policies recommendations at the AFBF’s 99th business session. Several of those recommendations originated from Michigan’s extensive grassroots policy network of county Farm Bureau annual meetings, district meetings, advisory committees, the farm bill task force and the 2017 MFB annual meeting this past November, according to MFB President Carl Bednarski.

One of those Michigan recommendations, an amendment to AFBF’s policy on Inspection and Grading of Meat, Poultry and Seafood Products, dealing with injured livestock, started at the grassroots level in Kent County and was supported and approved without debate.

“That language would allow physically injured but otherwise healthy livestock to be harvested under the Food Safety and Inspection Service oversight,” Bednarski said. “We’re proud of the fact that this local idea that originated from farmers in Kent County, Michigan, is now in the policy book of the American Farm Bureau.”

Language from Michigan dealing with flexibility in duty time commercial truck drivers can operate also was added to the policy to address compliance concerns with hours of service requirements and electronic logging disclosure, according to MFB National Legislative Counsel John Kran.

“While we have some exceptions for agriculture, there’s been a big concern about hauling livestock and other perishable products, and the ability to get back and forth in a timely manner with the hours of service restriction,” Kran said. “We were able to get language from Michigan included to give drivers across the country some flexibility in getting their perishable goods to market.”

Talk time

The city of Grand Rapids recently hired an acting managing director of communications. The public might be thinking, “What communications office is she leading?”

Amy Snow-Buckner, previously assistant to Mayor Rosalynn Bliss, was tapped for the role, which was announced Jan. 11.

“This positions our organization well as we work to improve transparency and strengthen relationships with the community,” Snow-Buckner said.

The first step in that plan is getting transparent about the plan.

Current City Manager Greg Sundstrom said Snow-Buckner currently is a supervisor of one employee, Steve Guitar, who coordinates media relations — but the role will be expanded.

“The idea is that we create a communications office,” Sundstrom said. “It’s somewhere between four or five to seven people, someplace in there. When we look at our peers, that’s the kind of staffing they have.”

He said Snow-Buckner’s oversight will go beyond writing press releases and answering calls from the media.

“It’s also social media, digital media and our web page, those modes we’re greatly expanding into,” he said.

After Sundstrom retires Feb. 3, Assistant City Manager Eric DeLong will fill the city manager role until a permanent leader is hired. That leader will then have the opportunity to shape the direction city communications will take, Sundstrom said.

“It’s multifaceted, and more than creating a new department with new people, it will be a reorganization,” he said. “What I want to do is take people currently doing these jobs, but not change their work, and move them from where they are to a communications office — in many cases physically moving them, but in some cases not.”

He cited the city’s Office of Cable Television as one possible example, which is currently led by administrator Travis Scott.

“I’d like to put the cable TV station under the communications office,” he said. “I will not ask our cable TV administrator to physically relocate because he should stay near his TV studio.

“I am really just beginning to unfold my plan. Amy was the first step, and I think there will be more steps to come in the near future.”

He described the plan as creating a “communications machine” — and the machine is just getting wound up.

Southwest’s best

The annual forecast from Colliers International West Michigan predicted a continuation of the momentum Kent County’s real estate market saw in 2017, and similar trends are apparent in Southwest Michigan.

The average rental rates for office space in Kalamazoo’s central business district were around $19 per square foot at the end of 2017, and like in Grand Rapids’ metro area, are expected to level off, with slight growth, in 2018.

In 2017, many large office vacancies were filled, mostly by existing tenants looking to expand. A 385,000-square-foot office building in Portage became fully occupied when Bronson Hospital signed a 12-year lease for 42,750 square feet. The same building also extended its lease with Stryker’s instruments division, which occupies 75,462 square feet. Office lease rates may rise slightly in 2018 as inventory becomes scarcer.

One noteworthy mixed-use project in downtown Kalamazoo broke ground in 2017 and promises new inventory for the residential market. The Exchange Building, located at the southeast corner of Michigan Avenue and Rose Street, is expected to bring 133 market-rate apartments, as well as ground floor commercial space and two full floors of office. The project is slated for completion in spring 2019.

In manufacturing, Bowers Aluminum is helping boost the Battle Creek workforce. The company invested about $7.5 million to acquire 27 acres in the Fort Custer Industrial Park. Bowers will complete a new 68,850-square-foot facility and possibly bring 94 new jobs to the area in 2018.

The Southwest’s retail climate runs parallel with West Michigan and the rest of the nation. In 2017, Battle Creek’s Lakeview Square Mall lost big-box retailers JC Penney, Macy’s and Sears. Many retail developers are leaving closed-in malls and entering open-air strip centers to avoid higher operating costs and increase their visibility.

The Colliers report hinted at the possibility of “de-malling” Lakeview Square in 2018 and repurposing the space. With the high cost of new construction, businesses may continue to reinvest into existing, unused space.

Read ahead

The Literacy Center of West Michigan will hold its sixth annual Community Literacy Summit this week.

The event, with a theme of “Reading by Third Grade: Our Shared Opportunity and Our Shared Responsibility,” takes place 7:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Jan. 25, at the Eberhard Center, 301 W. Fulton St., Grand Rapids.

“Reading proficiently by the end of third grade is the most important predictor of high school graduation and career success,” said Wendy Falb, executive director of the Literacy Center of West Michigan. “Children who are not reading proficiently by the end of third grade are four times less likely to graduate from high school on time than proficient readers.”

The keynote speaker is NPR education correspondent Claudio Sanchez, whose reports air regularly on NPR’s Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Weekend Edition.

In addition to Sanchez’s keynote presentation, the Community Literacy Summit will include breakout sessions with topics including a look at leading educational states, tutoring and early childhood education, as well as understanding the third-grade reading law and how art can advance literacy.

Tickets, which include lunch and a light breakfast, are $25 for general admission and $15 for students and are available at

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