Street Talk: So, two mayors walk into a bar …


Stop us if you’ve heard this one. And, if you’re from West Michigan, you surely have.

With all the hoopla surrounding the BeerCity USA competition/title, it’s almost impossible to ignore the travel and tourism — not to mention economic — benefits of the craft beer industry throughout the area.

So how is West Michigan celebrating the new revenue stream? Just a couple of beers with the boys.

Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell has invited Kalamazoo Mayor Bobby Hopewell to toast BeerCity USA and the celebration of beer in West Michigan as a whole.

Grand Rapids captured’s BeerCity USA poll with more than 50 percent of the vote — more than 11,000 votes ahead of second-place finisher Kalamazoo. 

In celebration of both cities’ success and recognizing July as Michigan Craft Beer Month, Hopewell will come to Grand Rapids to buy Heartwell a Founders Brewing Co. beer. The mayors have jointly decided to call the area “BeerRegion USA.”

Dave Engbers, co-founder, vice president and director of brand education, and Gabe Rains, Founders’ education ambassador, will take the mayors through a tour of the production facility at 4 p.m. Tuesday. The mayors will commence happy hour at 5 p.m.

Gentex buys employees

Johnson Controls, the giant auto industry supplier based in Milwaukee, has agreed to sell its HomeLink business to Gentex, which has been incorporating the electronic remote controller for garage doors and other home devices in specialized Gentex rearview mirrors for years.

It’s a very interesting deal. 

Under the terms of the agreement — and we are quoting the Gentex news release verbatim — “Gentex will acquire all of Johnson Controls’ HomeLink assets, intellectual property, testing facilities, and the talented employees who manage and support the business, for a purchase price of $700 million.”

And you thought trades were limited only to sports teams.

Oh, the irony

Take a closer look at the photograph on page 3 that goes along with the GR Press auction story. See anything amiss with the auction banner? Mike Lloyd would have caught that one!

Rough road?

Nearly one year ago, the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners summoned teams to evaluate the takeover of the county roads and of public utilities. After nearly 300 pages of data and research, the task force presented reports to county leaders that left no stone unturned.

On Aug. 13, commissioners will vote on one of three options proposed in the report.

Option one maintains the status quo. Option two dissolves the Road Commission and transfers the duties to the county board. Option three preserves the Road Commission with a “memorandum of understanding” advising the commission to perform certain tasks laid out in the task force report.

So which way will it go?

“The task force report shows that the Ottawa County Road Commission does a great job of maintaining roads. They can do a better job of reining in their benefit and legacy costs,” commented Al Vanderberg, Ottawa County administrator. “The decision is not to be taken lightly. It needs to be one that allocates the most financial resources toward the roads.”

He said Pavement Surface Evaluation and Rating scores indicate 56 percent of Ottawa County roads are in very good or good condition, 38 percent are in fair condition and 6 percent are rated poor. Despite PASER scores, Vanderberg said the perception of road conditions among citizens is negative.

As a point of reference, Michigan is the only state to still operate road commissions (there are 81 of them here). In Ottawa, the five-member panel is responsible for 2,200 miles of road, 4,200 culverts, 320 drain systems and 136 bridges. Collectively, the state’s road commissions manage the fourth largest network of roads in the country.

An app for that

With more farms going high-tech, it was only a matter of time before software applications were used to address the comfort of farm animals.

A new product that can help animal farmers reduce a billion-dollar problem in heat-related losses was recently released by the University of Missouri.

ThermalAid is a smartphone app that monitors heat-related stresses on beef and dairy cattle and alerts farmers when there is a health problem. The app also recommends which intervention strategy will be most effective.

“Cows are like the rest of us,” said Don Spiers, professor of animal science at Mizzou’s College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, and who led the team that developed the app. “They slow down in hot and humid weather. When stressed by too much heat, they stop eating and thus fail to gain weight or produce milk.”

Hot weather means big losses for farmers. “Each summer, the dairy industry loses $900 million nationally in productivity and the beef industry $400 million. And that’s data from 2003 when the industry was smaller and summers less intense,” Spiers said.

The 99-cent app receives temperature and humidity data from the weather service according to the GPS location of the user. The farmer tells the app if it is a beef or dairy cow, if it is in the barn or outside, if it is on the pasture or feed lot, its health status, etc.

With that info, the app calculates the animal’s Temperature Humidity Index. If the THI is not stressful, the app shows green for that cow. If heat stress is an issue, the color goes to yellow and then orange. Red indicates a life-threatening condition. When farmers know their animals are stressed, they can intervene with additional shade, fans or water misters. 

The app is tied to an MU database called ThermalNet, which provides additional climate and weather data, as well as tips to manage heat stress.

“Ideally, we need temperature modules placed in different locations on the farm site that provide real-time readings and inputs — but that development is costly at present,” Spiers said.

Spiers and the ThermalAid team hope to attract potential business partners to develop and market the new app, and produce reasonably priced sensors.

Fair weather

Despite extensive flood damage sustained by the Lowell fairgrounds in April, the annual Kent County Youth Fair is still on for Aug. 5-10.

Flood damage to horse barns and administrative offices has been largely repaired, thanks to community volunteers and successful fundraising.

“Over the past year we have faced some obstacles. However, thanks to the tremendous generosity of many companies and the hard work of so many people, we look forward to one of the best fairs on record,” said Kent County Youth Fair President Jon Bieneman.

The fair annually draws visitors from all over Kent County and features family entertainment, carnival rides, animals and a variety of events, including sand sculpting, swing dancing, bingo, bluegrass music, tractor pulls, auctions and a youth talent show.

“Fair week is all about the kids. Our young people are outstanding and it is incredible to watch them throughout the week as they display their hard work from the year,” said Bieneman. 

“We are very excited about what we have planned for this year’s fair. It is an event that should not be missed in West Michigan. We have something for the whole family, and the whole week is truly something special.”

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