Tag Archives: Michigan

Lessons from Germany’s Ruhr District, Part 1

Rust Wire correspondent Ivy Hughes recently visited Germany’s Ruhr District, a northwestern part of the country recovering from the loss of jobs in of the steel and coal industry. The district includes 53 cites and more than 5.3 million residents. The region is a 2010 European Capital of Culture, an annul EU designation awarded to a city or region for the purpose of showcasing its cultural development. As such, the municipalities within the Ruhr District worked within a €62.5 million budget to create 300 projects and 2,500 events highlighting its cultural assets and efforts to reconstruct an economy devastated by the demise a prominent industrial sector. This three-part series highlights some of the structural, economic and cultural changes a region similar to the Rust Belt in terms of industrial and economic collapse is making to facilitate economic diversification. Her trip was made possible through the Ecologic Institute and sponsored by the German Federal Foreign Office through the Transatlantic Climate Bridge.


Part One: Transforming Industry

Exchanging vows, eating dinner and ice-skating on one of the thousand abandon manufacturing sites in Michigan is an imaginative stretch at best, but it’s an idea and if the Rust Belt needs anything, it’s vision and money.

Michigan has 20,000 abandoned commercial buildings that will remain empty, meet a wrecking ball, or be repurposed for alternative energy, healthcare, film or biotech businesses. Even though some will be repurposed, it’s impractical to suggest emerging industries have the capacity to reinvigorate even one-third of these sites, some of which include millions of acres of contaminated space.

So if industry can’t take it, the wrecking balls are worn out and vacancies red flag potential investors, what else can the state do with the 60,000 square feet to more than 5 million square foot sites?

The state can examine how other regions facing similar challenges have innovated and progressed.

Germany’s Ruhr District is similar to Michigan in that it relied on blue-collar industry for economic stability. In 1960, 670,000 people worked in Ruhr District coalmines. Today, that number sits at about 35,000 but additional job loss is eminent. Three of the remaining six mines are set to close in the next six months, with a final shutdown expected by 2018.

Though Michigan hasn’t been dealing with large-scale job loss for quite as long, the last 10 years have been extremely difficult. According to the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition, from 2000 to 2008, the state lost 315,000 manufacturing jobs.

Both regions are reeling from industry specific job loss, but differ greatly in terms of strategic planning, funding sources, government involvement and political cooperation. However, that doesn’t mean Michigan can’t borrow a few things from Germany, specifically as it relates to rehabilitation of abandoned manufacturing sites.

The City of Essen, Germany, the state of North Rhine-Westphalia and the European Union committed to marrying historical preservation and innovation by turning the Zollverein Coal Mine, a 247-acre site with more than 80-structures, into an extraordinary culture center.

The Zollverein Coal Mine was founded in 1847. When it closed in 1986, the North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) governmental entity, bought the property and memorialized one of the shafts, setting the site up for preservation. In 1993, the cooking plant closed and was slated for sale to China. The deal fell through and rather than demolishing the cooking plant, the NRW pegged it as a future exhibition site.

By 2008, the European Union (36 percent), the City of Essen (2 percent), Germany (6 percent) and the NRW (56 percent) invested approximately €165 million to rehabilitate the site.*

Today, the grisly, iconic structures include a restaurant, museum, outdoor ice rink, café, lecture space, lavish art museum, office space, indoor and outdoor space used for performance art, weddings and other cultural events and outdoor recreational areas, many of which were developed on mine-refuse heaps.

The site is a cultural destination attracting more than one million visitors a year and is listed as a United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Grangerization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site.

The sheer amount of collaboration involved in preserving such a site is mind boggling, but the way in which developers created cultural cohesion without duplication is striking. Though municipal collaboration in Michigan is improving, it is, at this point, fantastical to believe enough units of government would sideline hubris long enough to plan a project of this magnitude.

The closest thing Michigan has to a manufacturing-site-turned-cultural-center is the old General Motors Centerpoint business campus in Pontiac. Raleigh Michigan Studios purchased the property in 2009 after the state passed ambitious film tax credit legislation. Raleigh Michigan Studios plans to create a 200,000 square foot sound stage for TV and movie production on the site, which is good news for Michigan, but far from a cultural center.

Unlike Germany, Michigan isn’t being tapped to carry the economic weight of failing governments and as such, the financial mechanisms needed for a project like the Zollverein Coal Mine are depressed. The feds are throwing some money at Michigan, but environmental contamination, municipal collaboration and vision quickly derail well-intentioned rehabilitation projects.

In Michigan as in the rest of the states, private sector funding is critical to substantial economic change. While some developers have looked into creating theme parks and/or wetlands on some of Michigan’s abandoned sites, a collision between ideas and the market haven’t occurred.

Though the Zollverein project has brought international attention to Essen, it’s unrealistic to assume a replication of the Zollverein rehabilitation would be economically viable on a similar site in the Ruhr region. The Zollverein has vacant offices spaces and it’s hard to imagine that the massive rooms set aside for cultural events — art, dance, performance — will ever fill, but it’s an idea.

*These are approximations compiled from multiple sources.

-Ivy Hughes

Top photo: Courtesy Zollverein coal mine, other photos by Ivy Hughes.

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Political round-up: Why did the Rust Belt go red? And what does the election mean for the Great Lakes?

There’s been a lot written about last week’s midterm elections and I’m hesitant to add to it.

But I know I’m not the only person who noticed several of the states that swung from blue to red were in our region: Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. Why is this? High unemployment? Higher turnout of white working class voters dissatisfied with Obama?

What do you think? We’ve got a lot of collective brainpower amongst our readers, I am curious to hear people’s thoughts. Also, what policies enacted by Obama and the Democratic Congress have benefited this region? The auto bailout? Extended unemployment benefits? Funds for the Great Lakes? Also, what does this mean for 2012?

On a related note, this article points out the election marks a major departure of members of Congress who have helped secure funds and protection for the Great Lakes.

“Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., the first member of Congress to introduce legislation banning oil and gas drilling under the Great Lakes, is retiring. So is Rep. Vernon J. Ehlers, R-Mich., a leader in Great Lakes protection. Sen. George V. Voinovich, R-Ohio, a Great Lakes advocate on the other side of the Capitol, is retiring, too,” the story notes.

-KG

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Filed under Great Lakes, Politics, regionalism, the environment, The Media, U.S. Auto Industry

Hatching Incubation in Mid-Michigan

Editor’s note: This piece comes from Michigan correspondent Ivy Hughes. -KG

Mid-Michigan doesn’t need economic indicators to validate the recent surge of entrepreneurial activity. In less than two years, four incubators have popped up giving business, technology, science and creative startups an opportunity to make money doing what they love.

Incubator is a loose term generally used to describe the capture of new talent, economic programs and business support in a physical structure. The greater Lansing area has four: The TIC, the Hatch, ITEC and the NEO Center. Between the four, approximately 45-60 jobs have been created.

Launched in 2008, East Lansing’s Technology Innovation Center (TIC) was the area’s first large scale incubation project. Leveraging an incentive allowing cities to capture local taxes for economic development projects, the City of East Lansing opened the TIC in the heart of the downtown business district across the street from Michigan State University (MSU).

“There’s not a lot of professional office space in the downtown area and we knew the university turned out a lot of intellection property within the area and we wanted them to have a space where they could test out their ideas,” said Jeff Smith, the City of East Lansing’s project manager of new economic initiatives.

The TIC (pictured above) is a 6,500 square foot loft-like space that can accommodate 16 offices an several smaller workstations. Tenants have access to common areas, conference rooms, a kitchen area and internet and phone services. TIC business owners love the low rent (the TIC charges an annual fee of $19.50 a square foot), and flexible lease schedules, but they also benefit from interacting with other entrepreneurs. It isn’t uncommon for TIC businesses to work together, exchange services or refer each other’s services to potential clients.

Of the 20 original TIC companies, 13 remain. Some of them closed and some moved back into home office space but two of them — Enliven Software and Gravity Works — outgrew the TIC, moving their businesses to larger spaces within the community.

“My guess is that between half and three quarters of the businesses will expand into additional space and the remaining portion will probably pull back on the reigns and work from home or existing office,” Smith said about future tenants.

By the beginning of 2011, the HATCH, a new 2,100 square foot student-based incubator, will open right next to the TIC, providing affordable space to undergraduate and graduate students that need a space to flush out business ideas.

The Hatch has room for 25 students that will $75 to $100 a month to use workstations and TIC conference rooms. They’ll also have Internet, a mailing address and, more importantly, access to professionals who will mentor the students and provide them with valuable services. MSU is using the Hatch as a portal for MSU ENet, an entrepreneurship certificate program designed to connect area entrepreneurs to university talent.

While the TIC tends to attract technology-based businesses, the Lansing-based NEO Center seeks to help creatives, those interested in starting marketing media, media technology and art-based businesses. The NEO Center is in its infancy. It’s located behind Art Alley, an new art gallery that could be a portal for NEO Center artists.

The actual center isn’t quite ready for tenants. When it is, it will include six to 10 studios and several workspaces for 25 to 30 “hobby artists,” individuals that don’t need a studio, but want access to equipment and a creative community. Before that happens, NEO Center founders need to raise $50,000 to $60,000 to build out the studio space, a goal NEO Center President Thomas Stewart hopes to achieve in six-to-nine months.

“The idea, in part, is to build accessibility and space for artists so they can showcase their art,” Stewart said. “The more opportunity artists have in Lansing to showcase their art, the more diverse our culture becomes.”

Funding is always a challenge for start-ups fostering start-ups. Not only do these incubators need funding, they need tenants, which means keeping rents low. Despite the tax capture, the City of East Lansing had to used a bond to help fund the TIC. All in, the TIC cost about $400,000 to launch.

“I would recommend having a virtual tenant program as well,” Smith said. “It’s added revenue for the program without necessarily losing space to standard tenants. Virtual tenants pay a flat monthly fee for a mailing address, access to the conference rooms and other things not traditionally found in an office space.”

From a fiscal standpoint the community warmed to the Hatch more quickly than the TIC, partially because the TIC’s success assuaged some concern among investing and partially because the Hatch is directly linked to MSU. The university offered $90,000 for the build out and an area economic development group, LEAP, contributed $12,000.

“There’s a couple of reasons for added investment,” said Eric Jorgenson, an MSU senior, member of the Hatch team and owner of GoBoo Clothing. “There’s an element of youth to it and there’s a lot of potential in student entrepreneurs. It’s not more innovation, but a different kind of innovation that comes out of people who are 18 to 23-years old.”

The NEO Center approached funding differently, leveraging aspects of the non-profit and for profit world by filing as a low-profit limited liability company (L3C). Designed to encourage socially beneficial enterprises, L3Cs generate moderate revenue but can receive grant funding from non-profits.

Incubators need funding to get off the ground and flexibility to survive. The City of Lansing listened to entrepreneurs and tweaked the proposed 9 to 5 operating hours for the TIC and the Hatch, opting to give tenants 24-hour access to the building. The city also changed its leaves requirements. Initially TIC, tenants were required to sign a year lease with the understanding that after three years, they would move into another space. Now tenants can lease space beyond the initial three-year threshold. Smith said the new agreement is more accommodating to TIC tenants and will hopefully help the businesses stay in the area.

Smith suggests that other cities interested in creating incubators include a provision in the lease to protect against broken commitments. Before the TIC opened, the anchor tenant backed out, sticking the city with a substantial lease agreement. If the lease had required the potential tenant to pay a year’s rent upon signing, the city wouldn’t have had to scramble for a new anchor.

Despite the challenge, the city opened the TIC and soon signed a more fitting anchor tenant — MSU Technologies.

“It turned out well,” Smith said. “The worst absolute fiasco turned out to be the best absolute fiasco for everything.”

Mid-Michigan’s incubator culture is expanding. The City of East Lansing is working on creating a restaurant incubator and several entities are trying to launch wet labs.

The existing incubators are for college students and professionals but the region certainly isn’t ignoring young talent. ITEC is a Lansing-based incubator for middle schoolers. It started as a physical space, but like other Mid-Michigan incubators, ITEC changed to accommodate its demographic.

“We found that even though we were in a neighborhood in an old school, we needed to be in the schools,” said itec Executive Director Kirk Riley. “The transportation cost for the kids was just too great.”

ITEC organizers spend roughly three days a week in Lansing schools where the enhance the students’ STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) skills by engaging them in fun STEM projects that include robots and video games. ITEC recently received $600,000 in program funding, a huge boost for the organization.

“We are a talent incubator for the next generation,” Riley said. “We are creating the next generation of entrepreneurs because a lot of entrepreneurs come out of the science, engineering and technology areas. What itec is really about is academic success and career success.”

-Ivy Hughes

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Granholm to D.C.: Use Jobs — Not the Environment — To Push Clean Energy

granholm20better

Editor’s note: this piece comes from our reporter in Washington, DC, Alex M. Parker. -KG

For years, environmentalists have pushed for the development of green and energy-efficient technologies as a way to curb climate change and prevent a future ecological catastrophe.

But Thursday morning, speaking to the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning D.C.-based think tank, Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm said that focusing on global warming is the wrong message — if you really want to grab Americans’ attention, focus on the economic opportunities in a greener economy — especially for auto-dependent areas.

“The bottom line is, that if we’re not talking about jobs, then it’s not going to resonate across the country,” Granholm said, speaking to about 100 people in the CAP’s downtown office. “Maybe that’s just my view as a governor from the industrial Midwest.”

Granholm was in D.C. to celebrate the one-year anniversary of a $1.35 billion grant towards Michigan’s burgeoning advanced energy storage industry. According to Granholm, 16 new lithium battery plants — these are the batteries that go into hybrids and electric cars — will create 62,000 in the next ten years. Last week, President Obama traveled to Holland, Mich., to tout one of these new plants as a “symbol of where America is going.” (You can read more about the investment, and Obama’s visit, in this New York Times story, as well as this page from Michigan Advantage.

Perhaps buoyed by the lack of an election in her future — term limits prevented her from running for a third term as governor — Granholm was energetic, jovial, and emotional during the hour-long presentation Thursday morning. Wearing a red and black suit with open, high-heeled sandals and a large BlackBerry strapped to her belt — (the BlackBerry eventually became a prop when she discussed lithium batteries) — Granholm ignored the podium and paced dramatically back and forth while touting the battery industry and describing the challenges she faced during her first few years in office.

“Thank God I don’t have to run again,” Granholm joked after accidentally stumbling onto an eyebrow-raising double entendre. (It involved the word “member.”)

Occassionally, her voice cracked — such as when she recalled when Electrolux closed its refrigerator plant in Greenville, the tiny central Michigan town which was once known as the “Refrigerator Capital of the World.” She said that experience — as well as other massive job losses which occurred this decade — made her realize that Michigan must take advantage of its skilled professional workforce to retool its economy, and focus on clean energy as the world looks for alternatives to carbon-based machinery.

“Every single state has seen this shift in manufacturing jobs,” Granholm said. ‘We need all kinds of jobs, for all kinds of people. We are completely turning our back on this manufacturing opportunity and heritage.”

When asked by an audience member about recent Congressional efforts to pass stricter carbon standards and other environmental efforts, Granholm’s responded that we need to “get off the debate about whether global warming is occurring.” That provoked laughter and some applause–although it’s not clear that the audience realized what she meant.

Granholm also added that no matter who wins the election to succeed her, she feels that the state will move forward on this issue.

On Tuesday, Republican businessman Rick Snyder and Democrat Virg Bernero — the mayor of Lansing — won their parties’ nomination for the governor’s race.

Without mentioning either by name, Granholm praised their “strong” positions on clean energy development, and claimed that both would move the state forward.

“There’s a sense that we cannot turn back,” Granholm said. “In fact, in Michigan, there’s nowhere to turn back to.”
For years, environmentalists have pushed for the development of green and energy-efficient technologies as a way to curb climate change and prevent a future ecological catastrophe.

But Thursday morning, speaking to the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning D.C.-based think tank, Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm said that focusing on global warming is the wrong message if you really want to grab Americans’ attention, focus on the economic opportunities in a greener economy especially for auto-dependent areas.

“The bottom line is, that if we’re not talking about jobs, then it’s not going to resonate across the country,” Granholm said, speaking to about 100 people in the CAP’s downtown office. “Maybe that’s just my view as a governor from the industrial Midwest.”

Granholm was in D.C. to celebrate the one-year anniversary of a $1.35 billion grant towards Michigan’s burgeoning advanced energy storage industry. According to Granholm, 16 new lithium battery plants these are the batteries that go into hybrids and electric cars will create 62,000 in the next ten years. Last week, President Obama traveled to Holland, Mich., to tout one of these new plants as a “symbol of where America is going.” (You can read more about the investment, and Obama’s visit, in this New York Times story, as well as this page from Michigan Advantage.)

Perhaps buoyed by the lack of an election in her future term limits prevented her from running for a third term as governor Granholm was energetic, jovial, and emotional during the hour-long presentation Thursday morning. Wearing a red and black suit with open, high-heeled sandals and a large BlackBerry strapped to her belt (the BlackBerry eventually became a prop when she discussed lithium batteries) Granholm ignored the podium and paced dramatically back and forth while touting the battery industry and describing the challenges she faced during her first few years in office.

“Thank God I don’t have to run again,” Granholm joked after accidentally stumbling onto an eyebrow-raising double entendre. (It involved the word “member.”)

Occassionally, her voice cracked such as when she recalled when Electrolux closed its refrigerator plant in Greenville, the tiny central Michigan town which was once known as the “Refrigerator Capital of the World.” She said that experience as well as other massive job losses which occurred this decade made her realize that Michigan must take advantage of its skilled professional workforce to retool its economy, and focus on clean energy as the world looks for alternatives to carbon-based machinery.

“Every single state has seen this shift in manufacturing jobs,” Granholm said. ‘We need all kinds of jobs, for all kinds of people. We are completely turning our back on this manufacturing opportunity and heritage.”

When asked by an audience member about recent Congressional efforts to pass stricter carbon standards and other environmental efforts, Granholm’s responded that we need to “get off the debate about whether global warming is occurring.” That provoked laughter and some applause although it’s not clear that the audience realized what she meant.

Granholm also added that no matter who wins the election to succeed her, she feels that the state will move forward on this issue.

On Tuesday, Republican businessman Rick Snyder and Democrat Virg Bernero the mayor of Lansing won their parties’ nomination for the governor’s race.

Without mentioning either by name, Granholm praised their “strong” positions on clean energy development, and claimed that both would move the state forward.

“There’s a sense that we cannot turn back,” Granholm said. “In fact, in Michigan, there’s nowhere to turn back to.”

-Alex M. Parker

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Filed under Economic Development, Good Ideas, Green Jobs, Headline, U.S. Auto Industry

Community Events 2.0

Best wishes to anyone trying to coral a community around bake sales, bingo tournaments,
scavenger hunts and silent auctions. Urbanites don’t want sticky bingo cards and scented
gift baskets. They want innovation and entertainment, which is why cities and non-
profits all over the country are embracing new events they hope will reinvigorate the
community, support local causes and grab national attention.

This shift has communities sending people over skyscrapers (safely, of course),
festooning trash into art and shooting objects from trebuchets. Hustling through mud and
geocaching are also favorites.

East Lansing/Lansing, Mich. is one region that’s been particularly aggressive in pursing
this new generation of community involvement. As a result, new audiences and new
dollars are slowly infiltrating the region.

Before defaulting to grandma’s block sale, consider jumping down a building, playing
with trash, or building medieval artillery. These sundry events engage the community,
attract dollars and introduce long-time residents to forgotten community assets.

Go ahead, steel a little something from the Lansing region playbook and reinvigorate
your community.

Over the Edge

http://www.overtheedgeusa.com/

When a rope and belt are the only things protecting community leaders from a road kill
afterlife, people pay attention. On June 5, 2010, nearly 100 people in the greater Lansing
region participated in the Over the Edge fundraiser by voluntarily repelling down the Boji
Tower. Standing at 23-stories, the Boji Tower is the region’s tallest building.

“A lot of people saw Lansing doing something different and unique and that really
just draws attention to our community in a new way,” says Julie Pingston, senior vice
president of the Team Lansing Foundation, the organization that benefited from the
proceeds. “It’s one more great opportunity of something to do here.”

The event took about two years and $22,000 to get off the ground, but netted $38,000 for
the Team Lansing Foundation and grabbed the attention of more than 20 media outlets.
Each participant had a hand in the fundraising, raising at least $500 before taking the
plunge.

Communities lacking repelling professionals can still go Over the Edge. Over the Edge is
actually a national company that works with non-profits to make adventurous fundraisers
more accessible to smaller crowds and yes, they do train participants before they go over.

Dirty Feat

“Ball ‘n’ Chain,” “Slower Than We Look,” “Trust Us, We’re Lawyers” and “It’s Called
a Satchel,” finished the East Lansing/Lansing Dirty Feat Adventure race in less than six
hours. So did team “Where’s the Beer,” though the time sheet doesn’t indicate whether
they found what they were looking for.

http://www.dirtyfeat.org/about.html

The inaugural June 12, 2010 Dirty Feat urban adventure race included 80 two-person
teams. The teams were required to canoe, bike orienteer, and navigate their way to the
finish line while circumventing trees, stairs and mud. Yes, this is as crazy as it sounds.
Rather than following the mindless ebb and flow of traditional race routes, participants
had to find their own way, relying on their own sense of adventure and direction to get
from point a to b to c.

Dirty Feat certainly encouraged physical activity and creativity, but it also forced
participants to navigate through unfamiliar areas, introducing them to new areas of the
cities, parks and businesses.

“I saw people in and out of every place that sold food and drink in Lansing all day,”
says Tim Schmitt, City of East Lansing Community Development analyst and race
organizer. “I don’t know the specifics in terms of economic impact (of the race), but the
bigger issue for us is that we got to take these people to at least three places that most of
them didn’t know existed.”

The City of East Lansing is still crunching race numbers, but Schmitt says organizers
worked within an $8,000 budget and all proceeds will go to the Team Lansing
Foundation.

VIDEO:

Trebuchet Day
Physics from a textbook — boring. Physics from an eight-foot catapult — awesome!

In May, Michigan State University (MSU) and Impression 5 Science Center, among
others, hosted the city’s first Trebuchet Day, a public event showcasing the trajectory
efforts of area 7th-12th graders.

www.msu.edu

www.impression5.org/

Eight weeks before the launch date, the students divided into seven teams and attended
workshops about the history, math, physics and engineering behind the medieval artillery.

On May 8, 2010, they unveiled their trebuchets to the community by launching water-
filled milk jugs into a field, measuring the landing points and making small adjustments
in hopes of pushing those points back with every shot.

Trebuchet Day definitely fostered community involvement, but more importantly, it
spotlighted STEM-related (science, technology, engineering, math) projects. Launching
anything from an eight-foot trebuchet gets community attention, but this event elevated
local efforts to get kids interested in STEM activities.

Chalk of the Town
Chalk of the Town involves a lot of creativity and bending. For the second consecutive
year, the Lansing Old Town Commercial Association (OTCA) opened its sidewalks to all
artists. Stick figure to professional.

During Chalk of the Town, the OTCA gives artists six hours and a pack of chalk to
transform a piece of sidewalk into a masterpiece. The winners receive gifts and services
from Old Town businesses, which boosts the visibility of OTCA businesses. It also
attracts residents from all over the region and beautifies OTCA streets — for free.

“We will absolutely continue doing this,” says OTCA Executive Director Brittney
Hoszkiw. “This really has a high level of visibility.”

Scrapfest
Pretty is easy but what about dirty? The OTCA does pretty with chalk, but it’s also the
first neighborhood organization (that we know of) to unite a community around trash.

http://www.iloveoldtown.org/

“Not a lot of urban boutiquey downtowns would build off the fact that they have a scrap
yard in the middle of downtown, which is why it took a while to launch Scrapfest,” says
OTCA Executive Director Brittney Hoszkiw.

http://www.oldtownscrapfest.com/Old_Town_Scrap_fest/Old_Town_Scrapfest.html

Scrapfest is a two-week competition in which artists repurpose thousands of pounds
of scrap from Friedland Industries into art. At the start of the competition, teams have
an hour to collect up to 500 pounds of scrap. When they’re done, they start designing,
welding and fabricating.

At the end of the two weeks, a judges panel awards cash prizes to the top artists. The

pieces are then auctioned at annual summer festival with proceeds going to both the
artists and the OTCA. This year, sales from the second annual Scrapfest produced more
than $4,000 for OTCA public art programs.

“The most immediate gratification we have from Chalk of the Town and Scrapfest is
having new faces coming to Old Town and realizing the aesthetics of the area,” she
says. “We’re really an art-based community and we like to reinforce that with art based
events that are pretty out of the box.

http://www.oldtownscrapfest.com/Old_Town_Scrap_fest/Old_Town_Scrapfest.html

Best wishes to anyone trying to corral a community around bake sales, bingo tournaments, scavenger hunts and silent auctions. Urbanites don’t want sticky bingo cards and scented gift baskets. They want innovation and entertainment, which is why cities and non-profits all over the country are embracing new events they hope will reinvigorate the community, support local causes and grab national attention.

This shift has communities sending people over skyscrapers (safely, of course), festooning trash into art and shooting objects from trebuchets. Hustling through mud and geocaching are also favorites.

East Lansing/Lansing, Mich. is one region that’s been particularly aggressive in pursing this new generation of community involvement. As a result, new audiences and new dollars are slowly infiltrating the region.

Before defaulting to grandma’s block sale, consider jumping down a building, playing with trash, or building medieval artillery. These sundry events engage the community, attract dollars and introduce long-time residents to forgotten community assets.

Over the Edge

When a rope and belt are the only things protecting community leaders from a road kill afterlife, people pay attention. On June 5, 2010, nearly 100 people in the greater Lansing region participated in the Over the Edge fundraiser by voluntarily rappelling down the Boji Tower. Standing at 23-stories, the Boji Tower is the region’s tallest building.

“A lot of people saw Lansing doing something different and unique and that really just draws attention to our community in a new way,” says Julie Pingston, senior vice president of the Team Lansing Foundation, the organization that benefited from the proceeds. “It’s one more great opportunity of something to do here.”

The event took about two years and $22,000 to get off the ground, but netted $38,000 for the Team Lansing Foundation and grabbed the attention of more than 20 media outlets. Each participant had a hand in the fundraising, raising at least $500 before taking the plunge.

Dirty Feat

“Ball ‘n’ Chain,” “Slower Than We Look,” “Trust Us, We’re Lawyers” and “It’s Called a Satchel,” finished the East Lansing/Lansing Dirty Feat Adventure race in less than six hours. So did team “Where’s the Beer,” though the time sheet doesn’t indicate whether they found what they were looking for.

The inaugural June 12, 2010 Dirty Feat urban adventure race included 80 two-person teams. The teams were required to canoe, bike orienteer, and navigate their way to the finish line while circumventing trees, stairs and mud. Yes, this is as crazy as it sounds. Rather than following the mindless ebb and flow of traditional race routes, participants had to find their own way, relying on their own sense of adventure and direction to get from point a to b to c.

Dirty Feat certainly encouraged physical activity and creativity, but it also forced participants to navigate through unfamiliar areas, introducing them to new areas of the cities, parks and businesses.

“I saw people in and out of every place that sold food and drink in Lansing all day,” says Tim Schmitt, City of East Lansing Community Development analyst and race organizer. “I don’t know the specifics in terms of economic impact (of the race), but the bigger issue for us is that we got to take these people to at least three places that most of them didn’t know existed.”

The City of East Lansing is still crunching race numbers, but Schmitt says organizers worked within an $8,000 budget and all proceeds will go to the Team Lansing Foundation.

Trebuchet Day

In May, Michigan State University (MSU) and Impression 5 Science Center, among others, hosted the city’s first Trebuchet Day, a public event showcasing the trajectory efforts of area 7th-12th graders.

Eight weeks before the launch date, the students divided into seven teams and attended workshops about the history, math, physics and engineering behind the medieval artillery.

On May 8, 2010, they unveiled their trebuchets to the community by launching water-filled milk jugs into a field, measuring the landing points and making small adjustments in hopes of pushing those points back with every shot.

Trebuchet Day definitely fostered community involvement, but more importantly, it spotlighted STEM-related (science, technology, engineering, math) projects. Launching anything from an eight-foot trebuchet gets community attention, but this event elevated local efforts to get kids interested in STEM activities.

Chalk of the Town

Chalk of the Town involves a lot of creativity and bending. For the second consecutive year, the Lansing Old Town Commercial Association (OTCA) opened its sidewalks to all artists. Stick figure to professional.

During Chalk of the Town, the OTCA gives artists six hours and a pack of chalk to transform a piece of sidewalk into a masterpiece. The winners receive gifts and services from Old Town businesses, which boosts the visibility of OTCA businesses. It also attracts residents from all over the region and beautifies OTCA streets — for free.

“We will absolutely continue doing this,” says OTCA Executive Director Brittney Hoszkiw. “This really has a high level of visibility.”

Scrapfest

Pretty is easy but what about dirty? The OTCA does pretty with chalk, but it’s also the first neighborhood organization (that we know of) to unite a community around trash.

“Not a lot of urban boutiquey downtowns would build off the fact that they have a scrap yard in the middle of downtown, which is why it took a while to launch Scrapfest,” says OTCA Executive Director Brittney Hoszkiw.

Scrapfest is a two-week competition in which artists repurpose thousands of pounds of scrap from Friedland Industries into art. At the start of the competition, teams have an hour to collect up to 500 pounds of scrap. When they’re done, they start designing, welding and fabricating.

At the end of the two weeks, a judges panel awards cash prizes to the top artists. The pieces are then auctioned at annual summer festival with proceeds going to both the artists and the OTCA. This year, sales from the second annual Scrapfest produced more than $4,000 for OTCA public art programs.

“The most immediate gratification we have from Chalk of the Town and Scrapfest is having new faces coming to Old Town and realizing the aesthetics of the area,” she says. “We’re really an art-based community and we like to reinforce that with art based events that are pretty out of the box.

-Ivy Hughes

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Blog Spotlight: For All Things Legal and Great Lakes-Related

Check out the Great Lakes Law blog from The Great Lakes Environmental Law Center in Detroit.

Here, you can read information about how invasive species (Asian Carp), global climate change and more can impact the Great Lakes.

-KG

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From Colorado to Michigan

Editor’s note: This piece was contributed by Ivy Hughes, a Lansing, Mich.- based journalist. Read more about her on our contributors page. -KG

Five years ago my husband and I moved from Colorado to Michigan — by choice — for a job in the mortgage industry. We knew we were taking a huge risk, but at the time we had no idea we were venturing into a storm of opportunity we would have missed had we stayed in an economically thriving state.

Michigan is the underdog the media loves and the public, for varying reasons, hates. But how can a state most distinguished by its unemployment rate change course if its residents accuse new people, such as my husband and myself, and new ideas, of unforgivable naivety? Nearly every time I tell someone about my decision to swap states, they say, with unparalleled indignation and hopelessness: “Why would you ever move to Michigan?”

Moving to a state written off by everyone, including its residents, is wearing. My excitement about the move quickly dissipated and I feel into a rut of complaint and disaffection. But then I saw what many Michiganders no longer have the capacity or the desire to acknowledge: a tremendous undercurrent of energy. Outside of government, outside of the state’s old and dying entitlement structures lies a phenomenal strength in innovation and entrepreneurship.

During the last five years three technology incubators opened within five miles of my house; one of the most advanced superconducting cyclotron facilities in the world invested $550 million in Michigan State University (MSU); and Lansing became home to the world’s first building project to achieve double platinum Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) designation. That’s to say nothing of the region’s existing successes, none of which are tied to the auto industry. Neogen, a publicly traded company that develops food safety and animal products, that produces more than $50 million in goods in Lansing every year, continues to add employees and increase both its regional and international presence. Liquid Web, a web hosting provider started years ago by a 17-year-old entrepreneur, made Inc. magazine’s 5,000 fastest growing companies in 2007 and recently opened a 90,000 square foot cloud computing center in Delta Township.

Lansing residents are well aware of these larger successes, but hundreds of small business owners from varying industries are fervently kicking down Michigan’s dilapidated wall of self-pity with successes of their own. Not one of these entrepreneurial endeavors is tied to the auto industry. Every single one of them is wrapped tightly in determination and held together by a sense of responsibility to create something cataclysmically transformative for Michigan. All of these ventures were started by entrepreneurs who saw potential in nothingness.

Some tag this energy Young Smart Global, a loose moniker that’s provided a networking resource for some of Lansing’s most innovative thinkers, but it’s more than a label, it’s a movement.

In less than a year, this movement has helped launch the Hatch, which provides enterprising MSU students incubation space and access to established local talent. Three Hatch graduates recently launched Spartanicity, a company that delivers food, books and other goods to dorm rooms. These same entrepreneurs also created Spartan Solutions, a non-profit offering $1,000 tuition scholarships and $500 books scholarships to college and university students throughout the state. This energy has also created mentorship programs, connecting students to local entrepreneurs and their networks, an invaluable resource for those looking to launch after graduation.

So what?

Because the students are connecting with entrepreneurs, they’re graduating and starting businesses HERE instead of in Colorado, California or New York and in turn, these young entrepreneurs are revitalizing the old ones, shooting a cocktail of desire, rejuvenation and hunger into successful veins unconsciously nearing collapse. They’re changing minds.

I was excited to move to Michigan, but that feeling quickly drained. Not because the mortgage industry collapsed — we were surprising calm when it happened — but because the people here made me feel as if I’d moved to the last place on earth, the one scorpions flick their tails upon.

At first we failed. We started and abandoned business ventures that didn’t work. After having a thriving career in Colorado, I worked as a waitress at a sports bar where I played the roll of old, objectified hag (I was in my early 20s). My husband was unemployed for several months. We failed again and again and so has Michigan. But it’s not that we have failed; it’s what we’ve done with those failures. I own a company and have more opportunities, I believe, than I would have had in Colorado. There’s less of a market to penetrate and in an environment where journalism jobs are as contagious as polio, I’m a successful working freelance journalist. My husband has created a niche within his own industry that he likely wouldn’t have been able to create in Colorado.

We created these opportunities ourselves and other young, enterprising people are doing the same.

Yeah, failure sucks. Michigan winters suck. Coming from Colorado, the lack of sunshine here is debilitating. It’s challenging, but so is life.

My question to Michigan natives is, “If you hate this state so much, why don’t you leave? And if you stay, why wait for a door to open when you have the opportunity to build the house?”

-Ivy Hughes

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