The It List: Your guide to the people, products and places of 2010

Skilled Manufacturing

The automotive supplier closed 2009 with a huge bang, nabbing nearly $650,000 in exemptions from Traverse City and Michigan over the next 12 years, which will allow it to expand into the aerospace industry without ever leaving TC. Coming down Skilled Manufacturing's assembly line in 2010: 73 new positions, and with them, a much-needed boost-of money and optimism-in the local economy.

Tom Menzel

He might have switched out cherries for buses, but Tom Menzel has been busy making calls for change as BATA's new executive director in much the same way he did during his three-year tenure at the National Cherry Festival.

He most recently made news for his negotiations with the public transit's union bargaining groups. This year, look for Menzel to make some sweeping service changes as a result of a community survey conducted last fall, watch for news on a wind project that would generate energy for BATA's hybrid buses, and keep an eye on an idea he has to partner with area schools to address the high cost of student bussing.

Asian Carp

It sounds like something out of a bad science fiction story: A giant, 40-pound fish that's been cultivated in China for more than a thousand years-nickname: "bighead"-is imported to the United States, escapes its pond, and is poised to go on a feeding rampage in the unsuspecting Midwest. Thing is, the story is true.

After a series of floods in the south in the 1970s, Asian Carp made its way into the Mississippi River and headed toward the Great Lakes. In 2002 and 2004 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built two electric fish barriers outside Chicago to keep the fish from swimming their way into Lake Michigan and endangering our $7 billion commercial and sport fishing industry-which seemed to work until "bighead" DNA was found outside Lake Michigan but beyond the barriers.

Following a recent fish kill-the dumping 2,200 gallons of toxin into the canal leading up to the barrier-in which one carp was revealed six miles past the barrier (but not yet in Lake Michigan), Gov. Jennifer Granholm threatened to sue the Army Corp. of Engineers if they didn't shut down the waterway. She has asked Attorney General Mike Cox to draw up papers for such a lawsuit.

Bubbling up in 2010: Expect lots of meetings between federal, state, and local government agencies, along with business, environmental and fishing groups early in the new year. Long-term solutions such as building a third electric barrier to sever the aquatic link between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River basic will be discussed.

RV Marquees

High-end RV resorts are gearing up to be the travel trend of the North's future. Two to watch: Indigo Bluffs, near Empire, and Wild Cherry Resort, near Lake Leelanau, both of whom followed the trail blazed by the region's first posh park-Traverse Bay RV Park in Williamsburg-and are pulling out all the stops to cater to their clientele.

At Indigo Bluffs, guests find a fitness center, a business center with Wi-Fi, and a spa. Not to mention pet facilities for your, "no more than two non-aggressive type dogs," and an activities director to plan on- and off-site fun. At Wild Cherry Resort, outside Lake Leelanau, there's a golf course, driving range, and demonstration cherry farm-not to mention poker night, wine tasting, and even a YouTube video to detail it all.

Indigo Bluffs opened in October, and Wild Cherry is an existing park currently pre-selling its larger RV sites. Sites at all three area parks range from $59,000 to $100,000 or more, plus maintenance fees.


According to administrators, our local community college is expecting a record enrollment for its Spring 2010 semester. More than 5,000 students will be roaming the campus beginning January 11, a startling double-digit increase in just a year. The biggest reason for the jump? The economy. More graduating seniors are choosing to begin their college studies at a community college with plans to transfer to a four-year school later. And, out-of-work adults are going back to school to learn new skills and change careers.

Two new education options to watch for this year: becoming a Coastal Brownfield Technician (the first such associate degree program in the nation) and/or a Great Lakes Marine Technician. NMC is hoping to fund and add both programs sometime in 2010.

Says NMC's Paul Heaton, "Many new opportunities will develop as part of the new half-a-billion-dollar Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the development of offshore wind industry in the Great Lakes." Though the added enrollment is expected to put pressure on the staff and the facility, Heaton said the college continues to be committed to serving the community.

Benzie Planning & Zoning

In the third quarter of 2009, Benzie County commissioners decided to stop funding the entire $200,000 planning and zoning department, which had been providing those services free to its townships. Without the county or a means to fund planning and zoning themselves, the townships have no means to rule on or enforce things like how big subdivision lots can be, whether or not a gas station can be built in a farmer's field, or whether a new summer home can block an abutting property-owner's views.

Local groups, and county and township representatives have met to discuss the issue, but at the time of press, no solution has been reached. Our prediction? The townships and country will wrangle but, before the year is out, they'll find a way to fund and maintain a much-pared down means of planning and zoning-long before a Wal-Mart moves in on the banks of the Platte.

The Grand Vision

Got vision? Yes. But last fall the Leelanau County Board of Commissioners was the first public body to refuse to endorse the "vision" for future land use and transportation, and there have been other rumblings of concern about the fate of this million-dollar plus study. But organizers and supporters are full steam ahead on beginning the implementation phase of this citizen-driven 50-year look into the future. Next up? An expo this May when the goals and objectives of the six "value area" working groups (i.e. housing, food and farming) will be revealed. And a little PR never hurt anything, either. The GV team recently brought in three volunteers through the VISTA program to help with communications and community engagement.


Outcomes of numerous lawsuits will determine what's next for LochenHeath, the 600-acre housing and golf development in Acme Township that went through a public auction process in mid-December and now sits in a redemption period. Local contractors are suing the owners of the development, Arizona-based Pinnacle Development Partners, for unpaid bills. A group of property owners also have pending lawsuits. Pinnacle has said it remains committed to the development. That commitment should become clearer in the coming months.

The Barns property

A master plan that approves the future use of this property is in place. Now, the attention is focused on the money that will be needed for updates to the historic barns and surrounding property on the grounds of the former State Hospital. The joint recreational authority for Traverse City and Garfield Township is in the "formative stages of establishing a capital campaign," says executive director Benjamin Marentette. One of the first stages, however, is making a case for one. The feasibility study will determine a timeframe, potential cabinet members and the likelihood of success for the $2 million fundraising effort. Keep an eye on for the latest developments.

TC Light & Power

Currently, 99 percent of TCLP's electricity is generated from coal plants downstate. Many of those contracts will expire at the end of this year. Large numbers of the utility's ratepayers are demanding local generation from renewable sources. And the utility itself has commit to an ambitious plan of generating 30 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by the year 2020. Add to that two factors that are putting even more pressure on the utility: an increase in demand as the area grows, and an increase in the costs of supplying that electricity. Whadya got? A heck of a year in store for TCLP.

As of press time, some three-year contracts with coal plants were in the final stages of negotiation, though even if signed, they will not solve the utility's long-term problem of providing power by affordable and desirable means for it 11,000 ratepayers in Traverse City and parts of Blair, East Bay, Elmwood, Garfield, Peninsula and Paradise townships.

The most visible proof of its efforts to provide renewable energy is the giant white windmill in Elmwood Township on the north side of M-72. But for all its size, hope, innovation and controversy, it still only generates about 1 percent of the utility's needs. Less when it's broken. Sometime in the fall of 2009, a generator bearing failed, and the turbine stopped spinning. Repair estimates ranged from $15,000 to $20,000 and could take as long as three months. Nevertheless, we expect the daunting setbacks won't hamper the utility's determination. It has commit to getting 30 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by the year 2020; 2010 is undoubtedly the time to start.


This month, Munson will reveal the start of a major redo in its operating rooms.

The $13 million, two-year expansion and remodel is the hospital's "single most complicated project ever."

"This is even more complicated than our seven-story tower because we're dealing with operating rooms," said Steve Tongue, vice president for Facilities and Plant Engineering.

Starting Jan. 11, each surgical floor will have its own waiting room, pre-op room, operating room and recovery room. Right now, patients are moved from the ground floor to the second floor and back down again.

When work is done next January, there will be three brand new operating rooms and three remodeled rooms-all with the absolute latest in technology-and the pre-op, recovery and waiting rooms will all be renovated, as well.

This year, Munson also hopes to relocate its Non-Invasive Cardiology unit to the Heart Center at the opposite side of the hospital, enabling Munson to cluster activities, staff and equipment in one place. A recent $1 million donation from Dan and Debbie Edson of Traverse City will help foot the tab. But Munson still needs $500,000 more to make it happen.

The Inn at the Commons

When we talked to developer John Weeman last month he was hoping for some critical news about the boutique hotel he still plans to build at The Village at Grand Traverse Commons. Weeman says $8 million in "recovery zone facility bonds" allocated to the county brownfield redevelopment authority would jumpstart the project, and he was waiting to hear the good word from coordinator Jean Derenzy. If that money comes through, the developers have an interested party downstate that would provide "credit enhancement to the bonds" (necessary for them to appeal to buyers), as well as the remaining debt financing as a mezzanine loan.

"We have had an extremely difficult time with national lenders even considering a Michigan project," says Weeman of Dallas-based Partners In Development and long-time northern Michigan summer resident. "But we hope this may be the key to the project moving forward." The project was first announced in late 2006 and originally scheduled to open in 2008.

Skilled Manufacturing

The automotive supplier closed 2009 with a huge bang, nabbing nearly $650,000 in exemptions from Traverse City and Michigan over the next 12 years, which will allow it to expand into the aerospace industry without ever leaving TC. Coming down Skilled Manufacturing's assembly line in 2010: 73 new positions, and with them, a much-needed boost-of money and optimism-in the local economy.

TC's west end parking deck?

Old Town finally got its deck, but your guess is as good as ours on whether plans will move forward on a $10 million public parking deck on West Front Street downtown. Local developer Jerry Snowden has a $14 million mixed-use project at the corner of Front and Pine streets that he wants to move forward with, but he's in a holding pattern waiting to see what the city decides to do with this latest parking proposal. And how might a West End parking deck spur other activity along this stretch of Front Street, including "Hole West" across the street? Expect some kind of action on this soon.

Suzanne Allen

It won't be politics as usual this year. For only the second time since just after WWII, all four constitutional officers (governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and secretary of state) will be on the ballot as open seats -no incumbents are running. And the 38 Senate seats and 110 House seats are all up for grabs-many because of term limits.

So, who will run for the coveted 37th District Senate seat, currently held by Sen. Jason Allen (R-Traverse City), who's term-limited at the end of 2010? The buzz is that Allen's wife, Suzanne-arguably one of the most influential women in Lansing-is planning a run.

It makes sense on paper; Suzanne has served as chief of staff to both the Senate Majority Leader and Speaker of the House, a distinction not held by any other person in Michigan history.

But the mother of two, who is currently serving as chief of staff for Michigan House Republican Leader Rep. Kevin Elsenheimer, recently put the rumors to rest when she told the TCBN: "Although I have had much encouragement and support, I am not planning on running for the 37th District at this time."

At this time? Well, time will tell. May is the filing deadline for the August primary. Stay tuned.

Chris Bzdok

Perhaps Chris Bzdok's most visible action so far as Traverse City's new mayor is his constant solicitation of feedback through his website, Bzdok's fresh idea is this: Returning government to the people. Ok, maybe that has been said before, but it's always a good reminder. There are a lot of big ideas in this town. And rather than the city commission having to be in a reactionary mode after a proposal is presented, he wants to get direction at the beginning stages of these projects for a more efficient and effective government. So, he's asking for your thoughts, opinions, suggestions and criticisms about everything from the city's Bayfront Plan to biomass. If you care, your mayor is listening.

IKON Construction Inc.

With the blessing-and the promise of a hefty capital investment-from the Bank of Northern Michigan in late December, IKON Construction, Inc., is ready to roll out its underground copper cable and fiber cable installation services into Ohio.

The company, which started in Glen Arbor in 2004 and expanded to service areas around the state in 2009, recently won a bid to service CenturyTel's Ohio lines, newly acquired following CenturyTel's June takeover of telecom giant Embarq. IKON has opened two new offices to accommodate the expansion and will hire 35 additional employees, essentially quadrupling the size of its company in the new year.

Now, with financing locked, and a promising partnership with CenturyTel-operating as CenturyLink since acquiring Embarq, a move that made it the 5th largest telecom company in the nation, with service in 33 states-IKON is looking poised to tackle telecom's big time. Our prediction: Ohio, 2010. And in 2011…? We're thinking nation.

Keller Williams

With Grand Rapids-based Greenridge Realty gone, and the lean, mean Keller Williams Realty International in its place, we expect to see some moving and shaking in the North's real estate market. Keller Williams is the third largest real estate franchise in the United States, is entirely debt-free, and maintains an unconventional m.o. that draws some of the best agents in the biz by offering its agents profit sharing and encouraging them to work remotely to reduce their and the agency's overhead costs. Doug Meteyer, broker and owner of the new Keller Williams offices (located at the Grand Traverse Resort and at 534 Front St. in Traverse City) predicts the agency will be doubling in size by June. We're counting on it.