Calls for national cattle tracking system follow Michigan’s success

Capital News Service

LANSING – Michigan was the first state to implement a mandatory cattle traceability program.

Michigan was prompted in 2007 by an outbreak of bovine tuberculosis to better track beef and dairy cattle from the farm to the consumer.

All Michigan cattle must be identified with radio frequency identification (RFID) ear tags before they are moved. The tags are scanned by readers when they leave a farm or go to a slaughter house. A state database tracks their location.

Cattle tracking should be done nationwide, said Daniel Buskirk, an associate professor of animal science at Michigan State University.

“There are diseases in the live animal that I’d like to be able to track back, things like bovine tuberculosis or foot-and-mouth disease,” Buskirk said. “If it’s found, I want to know what the origin of it is, so that we don’t spread it further and cause losses of livestock.”

Michigan has 1.14 million head of cattle , according to the state Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. Michigan cattle and calves cash receipts totaled $529 million in 2016.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association recently reported that only four states mandate cattle traceback systems. The other three are Texas, South Dakota and Wisconsin, but each of their systems is different. International markets are driving the need for tracking cattle, said Ernie Birchmeier, the livestock and dairy specialist at the Michigan Farm Bureau.

The association estimates that 61 percent of global beef exports come from countries with effective national traceability systems.

“There are a lot of discussions going on across the United States right now regarding implementation of a national animal ID system,” Birchmeier said.

Livestock traceability was the main topic of discussion at a recent meeting of the National Institute for Animal Agriculture in Denver, he said. “And there was broad consensus from the group that we need to move forward and implement a cattle traceability program in the country.

“There will be distractors, and there will be those who don’t want to follow the program, but the international market ultimately is going to dictate traceability in our cattle industry. Our foreign partners want to know where the animals came from, the type of feeding programs,” Birchmeier said.

If Michigan didn’t have a system, it would be extremely difficult for the state to not only export beef, but also export cattle or market cattle outside the state because of bovine TB, Buskirk said.

“Other states would not be interested in buying cattle from Michigan, so that will ultimately hurt our markets,” he said.

The system allowed the state to resume supplying other states that had barred Michigan cattle when the bovine TB problem started, said Monte Bordner, the owner of Bordner Farms in Sturgis.

Bordner was an early supporter of the program.

It didn’t immediately catch on:  “Change terrifies people,” Bordner said. Some people didn’t want to pay $3 for a each tag.

“Some people don’t want any government involvement in anything.”

According to the national association report, 95 percent of Michigan cattle producers comply  with the tracking program.That, Buskirk said, is “pretty good.”

“Regardless, in my opinion, it’s a fairly small price to pay to have export markets that add more value to our products in the long term,” Buskirk said.


Solar power changes cause critics to sizzle

Capital News Service

LANSING — A new order by the Public Service Commission (PSC) will reduce savings for homes deciding to generate electricity from solar energy, according to some lawmakers.

And that means less savings and reduced incentives for anyone hoping to save money by adding solar panels to their home.

The solar power community is upset by the change and some legislators are attempting to reverse the effect of the ruling.

Under the order, utility companies will have to pay solar households only the wholesale cost for the energy they produce. Utilities must pay a household or small business for putting energy into their grid. Consumers Energy and DTE Energy are the two largest servicers of solar households in the state.

Most individuals generating their own energy are still connected to the power grid as a backup source of electricity for cloudy days and at night. During the day, excess electricity flows into the grid and solar system owners are credited for that energy by their utility.

Under the new system, the energy going into a household from a utility company will cost the full rate. Energy from the solar household going into the energy grid will be paid at a lower wholesale rate.

PSC staff estimate that solar households will be paid about 10 cents a kilowatt hour. At that rate it would take solar households an additional two to three years, or about 33 percent longer than with current rates, to cover the cost of installing solar panels.

The new policy begins on June 1 and affects only homes and businesses that install new solar systems. Existing contracts will remain valid and unchanged for up to 10 years.

Legislation in the House Energy Policy Committee would repeal any grid charge and block the changes approved by the PSC.

“They have not taken the time to properly weigh the pros and cons of solar energy and because of that, they have come up with a rate that is lopsided,” said Rep. Yousef Rabhi, D-Ann Arbor, one of the sponsors. “That’s a big reason we introduced the bills.”

The co-sponsors include Reps. Scott Dianda, D-Calumet, and Tom Barrett, R-Potterville.

The PSC was directed to create the new system by a state energy law in 2016. The commission  was told to develop a new metering program that allows energy companies to make money on their services and that reflects a customer’s fair and equitable use of the grid, said Sally Talberg, the chair of the PSC.

“The commission looks forward to working with stakeholders who may propose refinements or new data and with the Legislature if it seeks to pursue a different approach,” she said.

Rabhi said the proposed metering program fails to accomplish what the Legislature ordered.

“In the legislation that created the grid tariff, it was pretty clear that the Public Service Commission had to take into account the benefits that solar brings to the grid,” such as economic and environmental benefits, Rabhi said.

“Then there are the more tangible things such as providing energy to the grid during the daytime when energy is needed most.”

“The real problem is that they have put into place an interim rate. They have changed the rate in such a way that the benefits of solar are not factored in,” Rahbi said.

Utility companies say that solar households should be paid for the electricity they produce at an equal price to large-scale utilities.

Brian Wheeler, the senior public information director for Consumers Energy, said, “If you want to look at a home with a solar array like a power plant, they both serve as power generators and both will receive the wholesale rate moving forward.”

Like a home in this example, a power plant draws energy from the grid to operate, he said. And just like a solar home, it generates more energy to put back in the grid.

“Just like a power plant, anyone’s home or a customer of ours, they’re paying the price that represents the cost of generating and then distributing energy throughout the grid,” Wheeler said.

John Sarver, a board member at the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association, said, “Right now the rate is around 15 cents a kilowatt hour. We believe that metering, as it’s structured now, is fair.”

“There are benefits to when homeowners invest their own money in a solar system and put their excess production on the grid,” Sarver said.

One such benefit is that household solar arrays produce the most energy during the summer and can assist with increased demand on the energy grid by air conditioning units.

Sarver said he doesn’t believe that the smaller payments will have an extensive negative impact on new solar power users. “People will still buy systems even if the return on their investment is lower.”

An alternative to working with utility companies is to purchase batteries to store the generated power.

“If we’re not careful with new policies, we may be encouraging people to take a serious look at batteries and store the power on site, and that doesn’t help anybody,” Sarver said.

“The economics of going off the grid is debatable, but the technology is certainly there.”

European wine shortage might not affect price of Michigan wine

Capital News Service

LANSING – While poor weather in Europe appears poised to raise wine prices worldwide, Michigan’s own grapes might grow unhindered.

According to the International Organisation of Vine and Wine, wine production hit a historic low in 2017, spurred by poor weather in the European Union and other important producers.  

However, Michigan vineyards might not raise their prices just to fall in line, according to Chateau Grand Traverse Winery President Eddie O’Keefe.

Most smaller wineries depend on direct-to-consumer business, such as in-person tastings or mail order sales, rather than retail stores, where they compete side by side with higher-priced European wines, O’Keefe said. That’s why many Michigan wineries won’t see price spikes from market forces.

Most U.S. wineries are “mom ‘n pop” operations, O’Keefe said: Global issues indirectly affect them, but in a way a lot of the small wineries are oblivious to them. There’s always competition, but smaller wineries have easier ways to determine their own destinies, he said.

“If it doesn’t affect you directly, most of the time people don’t care,” O’Keefe said.

Chateau Grand Traverse Winery, located near Traverse City, has been in business for 44 years, O’Keefe said, and was the first commercial winery and vineyard in Northern Michigan. Now, a large number of wineries cluster the Leelanau and Old Mission peninsulas north of Traverse City, and can be found scattered throughout the state.

Northern Michigan wineries had devastating production years in 2014 and 2015, but had good years in 2016 and 2017, O’Keefe said.

Every winery is impacted differently by a different year’s success, O’Keefe said. On average a really bad year where costs are high could take one and a half years to recover from, while two bad years in a row can really adversely affect business.

Most Michigan wineries are now stocked with product in their inventories, so he doesn’t see any reason for prices of local wines to rise. A bad year for Europe weather-wise might not mean a bad year for Michigan.

“That’s agriculture — you take the good with the bad. Some years you have bumper crops, other years you have to suck it up,” O’Keefe said.

Wineries that compete for shelf space might be a different situation.

Potential tariffs could also impact wine prices, O’Keefe said.

China tacked on an additional 15 percent tariff on U.S. wine exports in early April in response to escalating trade tensions. American wine exports might be priced out of Chinese markets, and larger U.S. wineries would have to repurpose those exports, potentially flooding U.S. markets with cheap wine and lowering domestic prices, O’Keefe said.

This year’s wine production hasn’t started because there’s still snow on the ground, but if there’s no frost through May, O’Keefe said 2018 could be a good year for wine production in Michigan.

Wine continues to be a growing industry in Michigan, and O’Keefe said he sees no reason why it won’t continue to grow.

“The only thing that would mess with that is good ‘ol Mother Nature,” O’Keefe said.


Autism diagnosis doesn’t come with a job

Capital News Service

LANSING — To combat high rates of unemployment among autistic individuals, mental health organizations statewide are connecting them to job opportunities — or even hiring them directly.

No reliable source tracks employment rates for adults with autism, according to Autism NOW, a national information center. Employment statistics generally fail to identify specific groups like those on the autism spectrum.

However, using results from a U.S. Department of Education study of youth who received special education services, the center suggested that young adults with autism are less likely to work than most other disability groups.

Thirty-three percent of young adults in the study with autism spectrum disorders had a paid job, compared to 59 percent for all disabled respondents.

Northern Transitions, a nonprofit community rehabilitation organization in Sault Ste. Marie, hires people with autism to assist with janitorial work and help with the county recycling service run through the organization.

The nonprofit connects people to jobs with local businesses as well. For example, Northern Transitions partners with the famed Soo Locks, placing autistic individuals into janitorial jobs around the park and supplying summer staff for its visitors’ center.

“Some people just come in the door — you know, ‘Hey, I’m a person with a disability and I’m looking for a job,’” said Karl Monroe, Northern Transitions’ rehabilitation director. “Some people we hire and some people we send to a job developer that works with about 40 companies down here and does placements.”

People with autism can bring unique skills to the workplace, Monroe said. Although autism can severely impact one’s social skills, it also often comes with an increased level of concentration and attention to detail.

Monroe told of an individual who found a grocery store job through Northern Transitions’ employment program and began to spot things most other employees simply skipped over.

“He’s noticing stuff that needs to be thrown away — which is not something that the boss appreciates,” Monroe said, tongue in cheek. “He’s the only person they have who always pays attention to the expiration dates.”

To better prepare people with autism for the workplace, the state has to start with fixing its special education system, said Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, who chairs the Michigan Special Education Reform Task Force and has a daughter with autism.

“Now, even though we expect much more mainstreaming of kids with disabilities into general education settings, just putting a kid in a classroom is not really inclusion unless you have expertise on staff,” Calley said. “You can be as isolated in the classroom as you were if you’re not in the classroom if the student is not supported the way they need to be supported.”

“Our special education — we have to do better with that. If we do, I think it will open up more employment opportunities,” he said.

In 2012, Calley championed autism insurance legislation that eventually became law.  It mandated that insurance policies cover applied behavior analysis, occupational therapy and speech and language therapy.

While Monroe said he sees value in such services for managing the symptoms of autism, there’s less clarity about whether they impact career readiness.

Autism affects people in such diverse ways — from self-injury and speech difficulties in severe cases, to delayed social skills in more high-functioning individuals — that an autistic person’s success in employment depends more on the individuals and the field of work they end up in, he said.

Not all employers are equipped to hire autistic individuals, however — especially ones  with more severe symptoms. Even if individuals are prepared with the skills necessary to enter the workforce, finding an employer with the resources to accommodate their other needs is a separate challenge.

While the federal Rehabilitation Act prohibits employment discrimination based on disability, federal law also says employers don’t have to accommodate disabilities if doing so would cause “significant difficulty or expense” for the employer.

There’s no formula by which employers can figure out what would constitute “significant difficulty,” said Mark Cody, the legal director for the Michigan Protection and Advocacy Service, although the size of a company is one consideration.

“The cost of the hardship for a small company of 20 or 25 employees is going to have a bigger impact than a place like General Motors,” Cody said.

However, Cody said the law is generally tailored to both employer and employee needs. Treating the accommodations process as a continuing conversation can give potential employees the best shot at securing a job, while protecting employers from discrimination suits.

Autistic individuals seeking employment would be best served by submitting their request in writing and having a “give-and-take discussion” with the employer about what exactly they need on the job to perform their essential duties, Cody said.

“There’s a fair degree of flexibility, and it can work well for both employer and employee,” Cody said. “If the employer is too bureaucratic or too rigid, that’s where they tend to get into trouble because they don’t really work with the employee to figure out what needs to be done.”

Northern Transitions’ Monroe said employment is a quality-of-life matter for people with autism, and overcoming the many barriers to their employment is almost always a positive.

“I think you’d have a lot more happy persons with disabilities if more of them were employed,” Monroe said. “When you identify yourself, I think most people start out with what they do for a living.

“There are a lot of values to work besides a check.”

Electric cars fighting for fuel in Michigan

Capital News Service

LANSING — Michigan’s automotive future is looking more electric.

Consumers Energy and DTE Energy, the state’s two largest utility companies, have announced pilot programs in the coming year that will study the number and efficiency of charging stations and consider improvements to promote the adoption of electric vehicles.

The Public Service Commission has held two conferences  on “alternative fuel” vehicles to encourage public discussion of the state’s role in electric vehicle charging, said Nick Assendelft, the media relations and public information specialist for the commission.

Participants raised questions about the regulatory framework, such as whether users would pay directly for charging stations or through utility companies, Assendelft said.

Pilot programs discussed included initiatives by Consumers Energy and DTE Energy to partner with automakers and charging station companies in places like Ann Arbor and Detroit, Assendelft said.

At the latest conference, Consumers Energy presented its “Electric Vehicle Strategy.” The utility plans to seek opportunities such as streamlining home charging equipment installation, working with General Motors to improve at-home charging and beginning a three-year pilot program on infrastructure.

DTE presented a plan to start six pilot programs in 2018, including charging “showcases” in Detroit and Ann Arbor and “extreme fast” charging on highways.

Consumers Energy press officer Brian Wheeler said the company is    interested in doing what it can to promote development of electric vehicle infrastructure.

The company’s hope is that Michigan will be a leader in electric vehicle technology, just like it became a leader when the auto industry  started up, he said.

Part of building a network for charging will include home, public and highway stations. Also, Consumers Energy will look into encouraging installations through methods such as rebates, particularly for homes, Wheeler said.

No formal plan for the upcoming pilot project has been submitted yet and there’s currently no timetable, Wheeler said, but a plan should be submitted to the Public Service Commission soon.

“This is really an exciting time because while electric vehicles don’t make up a large portion of what you see on the road now.  It’s growing and it’s going to continue to grow,” Wheeler said.

Michigan Electric Auto Association President Bruce Westlake said electric cars are becoming more popular because the economics are becoming more viable: The last few years’ worth of electric vehicles from Tesla and other automakers  are much more affordable, he said, and cost less to operate than gas-fueled cars.

The association just completed two Earth Day events, Westlake said. In the 10 or more years such events have taken place, Westlake said he saw the most electric engines this year, potentially double past interest.

Michigan sits in about middle-of-the-pack for the number of electric cars in the state, Westlake said.

While some states have incentives for purchasing electric vehicles, Michigan in some ways punishes drivers for purchasing electric cars. As of Jan. 1, Michigan electric car owners  pay an additional $135 to register their vehicles, and hybrid car drivers pay an extra $47, the Secretary of State’s office said.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center says there are 362 public stations for electric vehicles in Michigan, including older “legacy” chargers. Michigan has the 17th-most public charging stations, although it’s the 10th most populous state, according to the U.S. Census..

According to Consumers Energy, there are no utility, state or federal incentives for public or home charging stations for electric vehicles.

When it comes to charging infrastructure, it might not have a large impact on electric car ownership. Charging stations are a “chicken or the egg” kind of situation, Westlake said: Most people want to know if there’s charging infrastructure available before they buy, but the vast majority of the time they’ll be charging at home.

Catch more trout–if you can!

Capital News Service

LANSING — Anglers fishing for brook trout in the Upper Peninsula this season can tackle portions of 36 streams where the daily bag limit has been increased to 10 fish.

The season just opened and runs until Sept. 30.

“It’s been an evolving issue,” said George Madison, a Baraga-based fisheries manager for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). “For many years, the daily possession limit was 10 brook trout. After a while, there was concern from sport anglers and groups that the limit could be too much on streams that receive a lot of fishing pressure.”

In 2000, all of the state’s Type 1 trout streams changed to a five-fish bag limit, Madison said. However, some people felt there were a lot of streams that didn’t receive much fishing pressure, and the 10-fish limit could still be in effect in those areas.

Most streams in the state are Type 1.

“Several years ago we did some experimental streams with the 10-fish limit to evaluate if the people catching 10 fish would truly impact the populations or not,” Madison said. “The evaluation went on for four years, and every summer was different. We couldn’t really tell if populations were being impacted by the 10-fish limit.”

Phil Schneeberger, the Lake Superior Basin coordinator for the DNR, said brook trout populations have a high variability from year to year due to environmental factors, with or without an increase in the bag limit.

“There was some evidence of a decrease in population in some streams with an increase in the bag limit, but I wouldn’t call it compelling,” he said. “The population also decreased in some streams that did not have a increase in the bag limit. There are just so many other factors that can make the population fluctuate.”

However, Madison said the study did show that many remote streams in the U.P. get little to no fishing pressure,.

In 2016, the Natural Resources Commission decided to open more streams to the higher bag limit, he said. “All in all the decision was supported by the public. They recognized this would diversify fishing opportunities across the U.P. areas.”

All but one of the U.P.’s 15 counties has at least one stream on the list of those with a 10-fish bag limit. The sole exception is Menominee County.

“I think it’s a good opportunity for the anglers,” Madison said. “We’ve selected streams throughout the U.P. so that whatever county you’re in, you have an opportunity nearby to have a stream that would have a higher possession limit.”

One reason the DNR is increasing the limit is because it’s not seeing as many stream anglers.

“At one time, it was very popular. Years ago there would be anglers packed along the river. Nowadays, you don’t see that as much,” Madison said. “Anglers have become a little more sedentary where they like to fish out of boats for walleye or bass.“

One problem is that some anglers, especially those who are unfamiliar with an area or stream, may be confused because only a portion of some streams has the higher limit.

However, Madison said DNR maps try to make the boundaries clear-cut, such as a county road “so people would know that the waters upstream from this road are 10-fish possession limit and waters below the road are five-fish possession limit,” he said.

Another problem for the DNR is the difficulty of enforcing the regulation. For example, if a conservation officer comes across an angler near one of the boundaries with 10 fish in his or her cooler, the officer has no way of knowing on which side of the stream the angler caught the fish.

Schneeberger said,“We realize that with the proximity of some of the increased bag limit streams so close to the five-bag limit streams, it’s going to be almost impossible to enforce it rigorously.”

However, Madison said most anglers are pretty good at following the rules.

“Most of our regulations are based on an honor system. Ninety-nine percent of the anglers follow the letter of the law.”

Based on the DNR’s creel census studies, most people catch between three and five fish, Madison said. “Although there are people that fish hard and are good anglers. They know where to go and they can catch 10 fish.”

There’s a surge in fishing from the season opener through early summer, “and then it kind of wanes after that,” Madison said. “People move on to other activities. We see a little bit of an uptick in September because people get out for the fall colors.”

Too many jobs need state licenses, critics say

Capital News Service

LANSING – One out of five workers in Michigan needs a state license to work, according to the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

Its report says the state licenses about 160 occupations, a requirement that it claims raises prices for consumers by up to 30 percent.

That’s too many types of licenses, says the Midland-based free market-oriented think tank, although some experts say there are occupations that should be licensed but aren’t.

Some occupations should be regulated, “but what we do is just too high right now,” said Jarrett Skorup, the Mackinac Center’s director of marketing and communications.

Skorup started to pay attention to licensing regulation in 2011 after national reports began to look at licensing.

To get a barber’s license, applicants must complete 1,800 hours of coursework at a licensed barber college and pass an examination, according to the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs.

Skorup said he thinks the number of hours required to work as a barber is overwhelming. “If you want to cut hair or shampoo hair, you have to do more hours of training than someone who’s an airline pilot.”

“If you go cook in a restaurant, there’s no license to be a cook,” Skorup said. “The state doesn’t require any license for that, so why does it require a license for so many other areas?”

According to Skorup, many occupations require a license in Michigan but are unlicensed in many other states, such as forester, animal control officer and butter grader.

He said the state should allow people to work without a license in any field that isn’t dangerous to the public, like shampooing hair and being a court typist.

“I think that industry can figure out how good people are at that,” Skorup said.

Rep. Triston Cole, R-Mancelona, said he thinks Michigan is a too-heavily regulated state. “It seems like there are permits for everything.”

Some of the requirements make sense, but the state has taken it “a little bit too far,” he said.

Cole, a member of the House Michigan Competitiveness Committee, gave the example of licensing maple syrup producers, which is a concern that was brought to his attention: With less than $25,000 in gross sales of maple syrup, a producer requires a permit costing $186. The price rises to $471 for those selling more than $25,000 worth.

“The inspection happens every other year, but you are paying this every year,” Cole said. “This is the same cost to inspect a Meijer store or a Kellogg’s foods, that kind of thing.”

He said such fees are too high and “across-the-board.”

Occupational licensing should be driven by the private sector, according to Cole. “The private person should make the decision if they are qualified or not. We need greater freedom for employees and individuals to start to run and maintain a business.”

Some licensing regulations are holding job seekers back, especially those with a criminal background, according to Skorup. “For most areas, it said if you have a criminal background, the state can deny you the ability to work.”

He gave an example of licensing a roofer: “If you want to be a roofer — which requires a license — the state will review your criminal background and will limit you from being able to work. That’s problematic and traps people who have a criminal background and want to get back to work.”

Skorup said the licensing should come from the standpoint of health and safety. “Right now the state doesn’t really know what things are necessary because it relates to health and safety, and what things they are requiring that really get in the way of people trying to find work.”

There are different views on what the public interest is, however.

Ross Yednock, the program director of the Michigan Economic Impact Coalition at the Community Economic Development Association of Michigan, said the state is not an overly regulated state. The agency is a nonprofit trade association.

He also said there’s a lack of licensing for some occupations, including tax preparers..

Michigan has no regulations for them.

According to  Stateline, a Pew Charitable Trust initiative, in 2014, only four states had license requirements for independent tax preparers.

Many people are surprised to find out that they paid $200 to have someone without a license do their taxes, Yednock said. “There should be some sort of guarantee that the person doing your taxes knows what they’re doing and is trained.”

Yednock said it’s “really up to the state” to set regulations for tax preparers.

Pardeep Toor, the public information officer at  Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, said the department has worked closely with legislators to improve occupational licensing regulations, including the elimination of licensing for some occupations, such as auctioneer, community planners and ocularist.

According to Toor, the department has worked to ensure that any new legislation regarding occupational regulation is not excessive and needed to protect the public.

“In many cases, licensure is necessary to protect the safety of Michigan citizens,” Toor said.

Lt. Gov. Brian Calley said that for license requirement that are not being repealed, the most important thing is to make sure “the process is more efficient and responds more quickly, and we get answers to people more quickly.”

For example, Calley said licensing of nurses used to take about seven weeks but the state streamlined the process and gets it done in two weeks.

Regulations threaten services for disabled, nonprofits say

Capital News Service

LANSING — Facilities employing and training people with disabilities face increased regulations that will decrease the amount of help they can provide, nonprofit program experts say.

Federal regulations intending to provide disabled residents with more community integrated programs for employment education have vocational rehabilitation facilities worrying that changes may mean less choice for participants.

Vocational rehabilitation facilities around Michigan specialize in working with people  with physical and mental disabilities. The goal is to enable them to find employment. Services include socialization skills, resume building, career planning, transportation assistance and job placement.

The U.S. Census Bureau says 75 percent of the 552,000 persons living with a cognitive disability in Michigan are unemployed. The poverty rate for Michigan residents with disabilities is 28 percent.

Federal law requires vocational rehabilitation facilities to provide more opportunities for work experience in community settings. The intent is to ensure that facilities don’t  isolate participants from the broader population in what are referred to as sheltered workshops.

North Eastern Michigan Rehabilitation and Opportunity Center, a nonprofit manufacturing facility in Alpena, employs around a hundred individuals with disabilities, said David Szydlowski, its chief executive officer.

Employees are trained on site by job coaches and receive training to operate forklifts, pay loaders and industrial saws. The program also contracts out employees to provide custodial services to local businesses.

Szydlowski said the problem is the Michigan Department of Community Health’s interpretation of federal law. If the program gets a contract for a local cement plant for two people to move tables, or to paint a room, it cannot assign two disabled individuals to be on that job together.

“In order to comply to the regulations, I’ll have to take away those jobs for disabled workers,” Szydlowski said.

Determination of compliance can vary by local health departments, he said.

“There are community rehab programs across the state and across the nation that are saying that this isn’t an issue and those two people can continue to work together because they are working in the community for a local business,” Szydlowski said.

Todd Culver, the chief executive officer for the Michigan Association of Rehabilitation Organizations, said, “If these rules and regulations are implemented in a way that is not fair to the individuals receiving services, then it can impact the quality of their life.”  

According to Culver, Health and Human Services developed a test for a thousand different environmental settings that facilities may operate in and is determining which ones qualify for Medicaid funding.

“We’re right in the middle of going through that data,” he said

According to Culver, if a program fails the test, there’s an opportunity to follow a corrective action plan.

Rehabilitation facilities argue that the law shouldn’t restrict a participant’s choice in where to go for services.

Another facility which was cited for non-compliance is Grand Traverse Industries in Traverse City. It’s now following a corrective action plan.

“This is a regulatory nightmare,” said Steve Perdue, the facility’s president.

“We’re working through the Home and Community Based Services waiver with our Northern Michigan entity and thus far are optimistic that we are in compliance,” Perdue said. “They’ve gotten back to us on certain issues and we made changes that we believe will have us in compliance.”

The nonprofit’s annual report said 31 percent of its services were conducted outside of its main facility.

More people moving to some rural areas

Capital News Service

LANSING – Some rural counties are seeing more people move in, Governing magazine data shows, but some experts remain skeptical of a possible trend.

The data shows some counties, such as Isabella, Wayne, Missaukee and Grand Traverse, have lost more residents than they gained while rural counties like Crawford, Lake, Antrim and Leelanau showed growth.

However, numbers in both directions in the 12 months ending in July 2017 were small.

The “net domestic migration rate” refers to the number of people moving in versus those moving out per 1,000 population, according to Governing.

Erich Podjaske, the economic development coordinator of Crawford County, said he doesn’t see a significant number of people moving in, although the county does have plans to attract more workers..

“We are holding development summits, and we have new businesses that are opening, particularly in the trucking and manufacturing area,” Podjaske said.

But the county faces a labor shortage. “We just don’t have enough employees to fill all the positions in every area. Not just engineering, but also soft skills,” he said.

One of the problems is a lack of “nice quality housing,” Podjaske said. “People are moving here and not finding the homes or rentals that they would like.”

It’s difficult to find contractors to build single-family homes, especially because homes in Crawford County aren’t increasing in value and contractors won’t make money on them, he said. To help tackle this dilemma, the county is working on things like multifamily housing, where state assistance could potentially offset some costs.

Recreation is drawing people to some rural counties, according to Rep. Triston Cole, R-Mancelona, who lives on a farm.

He said Northern Michigan, which is typically considered rural, has roughly 4.5 million acres of public land, and “it’s fantastic place to recreate.”

“People want to get away from the hustle and bustle in urban environment, and they would rather look at slowly bubbling creek,” Cole said. “It’s a huge draw to Northern Michigan.”

Northern Michigan has hundreds of lakes and streams for fishing, boating and swimming, and some of the most phenomenal lakeshore for recreation, he said — “whether just sitting in the lawn chair, enjoying the sand in the sun, or if you want to swim in the freezing cold water of Lake Superior.”

As for whether public services meet the needs of incomers, Cole said people don’t require public services to survive. “Many folks just desire to be self-sufficient.”

Teresa Bertossi, an adjunct assistant professor at the Department of Earth, Environmental and Geographical Sciences at Northern Michigan University, said it’s important to be cautious when looking at large-area data in an attempt to understand movements with or between counties.

Urbanization is still a trend, according to Bertossi.

“The overall statistics support that people are still moving to more urban areas, generally speaking, on the planet than ever before,” she said. “Outmigration continues to remain a persistent challenge for many less-developed or more rural places.”

However, Bertossi said her research has demonstrated an apparent pattern of a “sort of” rural gentrification in some non-agriculture-based, rural Lake Superior coastal communities.

“So in a way that does lead to a strain on public services, whereby working class people are forced out of their communities because they can’t find affordable family starter homes,” she said.

Another example of rural gentrification is that within some rural areas with major amenities, like Lake Superior, people are moving from larger cities and building second and third homes in rural places, Bertossi said. That trend contributes minimally to the local economy, leading to higher land values that push working class and lower income people farther away from the lake.

Jeroen Wagendorp, an associate professor at the Department of Geography and Sustainable Planning at Grand Valley State University, said the positive migration rate for rural counties may be due to movement from one rural county to another and not as much from urban to rural counties.

The cost of living in rural counties can be lower than in urban counties.

“If you live in the country, your lifestyle is subsidized by taxes paid by the people living in the city,” Wagendorp said. “The taxes in the city sometimes are twice as high as living in the country.”

Athletes find ways to cope with life after sports

Capital News Service

LANSING — Jake Sterling, a former Michigan State University club football wide receiver, is now transitioning into the workforce after spending his college career as an athlete.

A 2016 graduate, Sterling, from Newport, competed in track and field and on the club football team.

But like thousands of other student-athletes who don’t move to the professional level, Sterling had to figure out how to transition into a life that no longer revolves around their sports. He now works as an IT account manager for Randstad Technologies in Troy.

“I’ve been competing in sports my whole life. Losing that competitive edge that I used to go through every day, like when I was running track and playing club football, is easily the most challenging part,” Sterling said. “On the contrary, the positive part is transitioning that into my work life because I’m now an account manager for a sales position, so being competitive in that position brings out the competitive edge that I learned in sports.

“Now I apply that to my work life,” he said.

Few collegiate athletes ever play professionally, according to data from NCAA. Only 5.6 percent of men’s ice hockey players will play in the NHL, for example. As for football, only 1.5 percent of college athletes will play in the NFL. Fewer than 1 percent of female collegiate basketball athletes will play in the WNBA.

Melinda Harrison, a founding partner of Teal & Co., a consulting firm in Toronto, Ontario, helps athletes transition from the college world to the working world, said, “Sport is all encompassing, and an athlete’s life revolves around a cycle of training and competition schedules.

“And it has revolved around this venue from early stages of childhood adolescents,” said Harrison, who was an All-American swimmer at the University of Michigan.

“An athlete that competes at an NCAA level has spent many years perfecting the execution of skills with dedication, desire, grit, and self-regulation,” she said.

“These are what I refer to as character skills of sport. They become part of the athlete’s DNA because of the life that they have experienced. When that venue disappears, so does the place to execute that part of their operating DNA,” she said.

Harrison said most athletes who leave their sport go through a period of adjustment that “can range in intensity from feeling unsure, to lost, or feeling just not normal to severe depression and anxiety.

“One common mistake those on the outside make is the assumption that just because someone has moved on to a job, that they have successfully transitioned from sport. This is far from reality. A job is a positive step towards transition but does not replace the deep meaning that sport has provided, she said.

Aaron Stuk, a former MSU rugby player and native of Oxford, recently moved to Oregon to work at a ski resort. He has his own way to cope with a new lifestyle after his four years playing rugby.

“I have explored new avenues to challenge myself physically and mentally, like snowboarding, rock climbing and cross-country hiking. I also play in men’s rugby leagues and coach youth teams in my spare time to grow the sport,” Stuk said.

“Coaching is a great way to give back and stay involved after college ball. Motivating co-workers and teammates to accomplish a common goal is something that I will always attribute to rugby,” he said.

Trevor Darnell writes for Spartan Newsroom.