Street Talk: The old switcheroo


What a change four years and a shift in political power can make.

In late 2015 when West Michigan was fighting to attract Switch’s major data center campus, local lawmakers were behind bills that would exempt such centers from use and sales taxes, to essentially “level the playing field” with nearby states like Ohio and Indiana.

Lawmakers said the bills also included modifications ensuring the School Aid Fund wouldn’t be affected and K-12 schools wouldn’t lose funding because of lost tax revenue from data centers.

The Republican governor at the time, Rick Snyder, signed those bills into law in December 2015 and Switch opened a massive data center in Gaines Township just a couple years later. Everyone was happy.

In fact, in a Dec. 16, 2015, Business Journal story (“Legislature approves tax breaks for data center campus”), Rep. Winnie Brinks, D-Grand Rapids, appears to applaud the decision.

“For years, our state has been working hard to attract high-tech innovators and skilled workers to Michigan,” she said then. “With the passage of this package of bills, Michigan is taking a leap forward into a future where Michigan is known as a technology leader. I look forward to Switch becoming a part of West Michigan’s business landscape and to the jobs and opportunities they will provide.”

Brinks also mentioned that passage of the bills wouldn’t impact the area’s schools and would have long-term economic impact on the region.

“These bills strike a careful balance, opening the door to economic growth in West Michigan while ensuring that our kids and their schools won’t pay the price,” she said in 2015. “These bills will bring opportunities for our kids to work in a rapidly growing, high-tech industry right here in West Michigan.”

Fast-forward to 2019 and not everyone is happy, including Brinks. The Business Journal is reporting in the Oct. 15 edition (“Switch, school districts at odds over taxes”) that there is confusion regarding the tax structure that passed four years ago, and the tech firm is asking for legislative clarification. At issue seems to be the payment of personal property tax.

Oddly, a Midland-based Republican lawmaker, Sen. Jim Stamas, is championing a bill (SB455) that would clear up the mess, but in Switch’s favor.

“Once the state makes a commitment, in order to stay viable as a state in trying to bring more businesses to Michigan, I believe that we have to live up to the commitment,” he said. “That was my key focus, to try to clarify the tax law. I don’t want to expand it. I am not trying to change the original intent. I just want to clarify the law.”

West Michigan lawmakers aren’t so sure now.

Brinks said in the Oct. 15 story schools in her district would be heavily impacted by the bill.

“This bill would extend additional tax relief to only one company and it would require our schools to pay back hundreds of thousands of dollars from their budget that goes to support students,” she said. “This really, in a nutshell, is the problem. It is clear from the beginning that they signed an agreement with the state in which it is clear that they should have been paying these taxes, and ultimately, it is important that our schools are not harmed when we as a state decide to give tax relief to certain businesses or industries.”

So, the tax battle is renewed on the political front, but this time West Michigan has an advantage: Switch’s multimillion-dollar data center already is here.

Don’t lose your head

A local craft brewer is tapping into its Halloween spirit with a yearly fall release.

New Holland Brewing Company’s Ichabod sets the mood for the fall season with a blend of malted barley, pumpkin and notes of cinnamon and nutmeg.

“We released Ichabod for the first time more than 20 years ago, and it was one of the first beers we ever brewed,” said Joel Petersen, New Holland vice president of beer sales. “The anticipation of this limited-batch ale remains one of our most anticipated releases every fall.”

To celebrate the Halloween season, New Holland Brewing will host two screenings of Tim Burton's film, "Sleepy Hollow,” while tapping Ichabod at the following events: Oct. 12, The Park Theatre, 248 S. River Ave., Holland; and Oct. 30, The Wealthy Street Theatre, 1130 Wealthy St. SE, Grand Rapids.

The seasonal brew is available on tap at pubs across the Midwest and sold in six-pack cans at major and specialty retailers.

Call a friend

With the number of reported data breaches and other cybersecurity issues higher than ever right now, it might be nice to develop a few cyber allies.

One such ally could be the law firm Foster Swift Collins & Smith, which has a Grand Rapids office.

As part of October’s national Cybersecurity Awareness Month, the firm has established a hotline, (517) 371-8275, to help organizations with controlling potential threats.

“We are launching this hotline to serve as a resource for organizations that are experiencing or suspect a cybersecurity incident or breach and need immediate assistance,” said Foster Swift attorney John Mashni, who along with fellow attorney Taylor Gast will be the primary contact on the hotline. "Hackers are becoming more advanced than ever before, and it is often not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’ an incident will occur."

Mashni said cybersecurity and data protection are issues of increasing concern that are not limited to corporations, financial institutions, health care organizations and other large entities. Cybersecurity incidents and data breaches frequently cause significant expense and reputational harm to organizations, involve legal obligations, and can result in costly lawsuits and regulatory investigations, he said.

Foster Swift’s plans include working with firms on technology risks, communication and public relations strategies.

Fries prize

Grand Rapids-based HopCat restaurants have crowned Shakshuka Spiced Fries as the winner of its “Decide the Fries” contest.

HopCat’s Cosmik Fry fans voted on three new flavors throughout September to decide which would become a permanent menu feature in January 2020.

“After researching 150 seasonings, we wanted to introduce a flavor that people might not be familiar with and shakshuka does just that,” said Shawn Blonk, HopCat senior director of food and beverage. “The side of cheese sauce complements the seasoning perfectly. We are excited to bring this popular Libyan spiced fry to the menu permanently.”

Shakshuka is a dish popular in the Maghreb region of North Africa — Mauritania, Libya, Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia — consisting of eggs poached in a sauce of tomatoes, chili, peppers and garlic, and commonly spiced with cumin, paprika, cayenne pepper and nutmeg.

HopCat’s shakshuka fries are beer-battered fries tossed in Pilpelchuma, a Libyan spice, and served with HopCat’s signature cheese sauce.

The entry won the contest with 42% of votes across 17 markets against two other flavors, funnel cake and taco flavored. The three competitors will remain on the menu through the month of October.

Cosmik Fries are HopCat’s award-winning cracked-pepper French fries. The side item was rebranded from “Crack Fries” to avoid making light of Michigan’s opioid epidemic, according to a previous Business Journal report.

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