Got Lakes? Try cycling around them

By JACQUELINE KELLY
Capital News Service

LANSING — As a professor of politics at Ithaca College in New York, Thomas Shevory knew that his decision to bicycle around each of the Great Lakes would lead to numerous observations of environmental and economic conditions.

But he was surprised to learn how central the lakes are to much of the development of the United States.

“I just never put it together how early exploration and settlement in what is now the U.S. occurred in the north, along the Canadian border,” he said. “I tend to associate colonial America with places like Plymouth Rock, Jamestown, the Puritans, et cetera. But it was hunters and trappers who drove the economy, and they were able to easily get around because of the lakes.”

Shevory has put together an enticing read of what it’s like to travel around the Great Lakes on two wheels. “The Great Lakes at Ten Miles an Hour,” published this fall by the University of Minnesota Press, is available online for $16.95.

Born and raised 25 miles from Lake Erie, Shevory was no stranger to the Great Lakes.  The idea that there was still so much he could explore in his own backyard didn’t even cross his mind until he was more than 6,000 miles away in Ulan Bator, Mongolia.

“I had just got to thinking that we sometimes travel long distances in search of the mysterious or exotic, and that in doing so, we might miss those amazing places that are closer to home,” he said.  “And the Great Lakes struck me as being like that – not that far from me, but in many respects very mysterious.”

Shevory first decided to make a hobby out of cycling in the summer of 1989 after participating in RAGBRAI (the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa), a seven-day bicycle ride across the state. Heading into its 45th year, RAGBRAI is the oldest, largest and longest recreational bicycle touring event in the world, although Shevory wouldn’t call it a true cycling tour.

“There was plenty of food and beer,” he said. “I remember some great pulled pork. It wasn’t the most vigorous cycling trip I have ever been on, and it didn’t involve much training. But it definitely sparked my interest.”

The following summer he took his first tour from his home in Ithaca to the northern border of New York. He was hooked.

In the summer of 2011, Shevory began his Great Lakes journey in Sarnia, Ontario. This first leg of his five-lake trip allowed him to see Lake Huron in a different light. Readers feel like they’re accompanying him through bike-friendly tourist towns in “the Thumb” of Michigan. They accompany him past the industrial Essar Steel Algoma plant as they cross the Sault Ste. Marie Bridge into Canada.

Shevory makes observations about the economic, environmental and historical backgrounds of each area he cycles through. Commentary about the bankruptcy of Detroit and loss of jobs in Buffalo not only gives the reader perspective about the deindustrialization of many cities but also casts an optimistic light on their revitalization with new ways to stimulate their economies.

“We know that it is not likely for these industries to be rebuilt as they once were,” Shevory said. “That’s what made it so much more inspiring that these big cities weren’t giving up and are finding new ways to develop the economy by capturing their rich histories, and bringing tourism into beautiful cities.”

As he comments on how each Great Lake played a role in the creation of the United States, he advocates for worldwide environmental stability.

Shevory’s journey ended June 27, 2014 after cycling around Lake Ontario. Each leg of the trip took two to three weeks over a three-year period.

He’s now moved on to rivers and his sights are set on the Colorado River for next summer.

His advice for aspiring cyclists: “You don’t need too much experience to start touring, but you always need to be prepared for the unexpected. Make sure you have proper clothing, and you should be able to change a flat tire or a broken chain.”

Jacqueline Kelly is a reporter for Great Lakes Echo

Major recycling scam ends in indictment

By ERIC FREEDMAN
Capital News Service

LANSING — A bogus scheme to build an eco-friendly “green energy” waste processing facility in Detroit defrauded lenders and investors — including Chinese investors hoping to qualify for U.S. visas — of $4,475,000, according to a federal grand jury.

Project promoter Ronald Van Den Heuvel promised the victims that his Green Box-Detroit would build and operate a facility to recycle paper, process other waste and produce synthetic fuel, the indictment charged.

He also sought approval from the Michigan Economic Development Corp. (MEDC) to issue $95 million to $125 million in tax-exempt bonds toward the project’s $200 million price tag, legal documents said.

In a related civil suit against Van Den Heuvel and Green Box-Detroit, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) said, “He claimed that he had developed a breakthrough recycling process that could turn post-consumer waste into usable products. He represented that the Green Box process would be both environmentally friendly and profitable, and would allow Green Box-Detroit to repay investors.”

But it was a scam because Van Den Heuvel never acquired the promised facility or equipment and used the money for other purposes, the indictment said.

The Detroit scheme was disclosed in a broad indictment accusing Van Den Heuvel of fraudulently obtaining more than $9 million in investments and loans in Wisconsin and Michigan between 2011 and 2015. He promised to “turn post-consumer waste from sources like fast food restaurants completely into usable consumer products and energy,” the U.S. Attorney’s office in Milwaukee said in announcing the indictment.

“As represented by Van Den Heuvel, the Green Box business plan was to purchase the equipment and facilities necessary to employ a proprietary process that could convert solid waste into consumer products and energy, without any wastewater discharge or landfilling of byproducts,” the indictment said.

Van Den Heuvel, who lives in De Pere, Wisconsin, diverted more than $3.9 million of the $9 million for personal uses, the indictment and SEC suit said. Among them: $44,000 for Green Bay Packers football tickets; $57,000 for court-ordered support for his ex-wife; $89,000 for a new Cadillac Escalade; $16,570 for his children’s private school tuition; and $33,000 for his wife’s dental work.

He also falsified financial statements that “grossly inflated his personal wealth and his companies’ assets,” the indictment said.

His defense lawyer, Robert LeBell of Milwaukee, didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The primary victims of the Detroit project were nine investors from China who poured $4,475,000 into the failed endeavor. They’d hoped to become permanent residents — green card-holders — by investing at least $500,000 each under the U.S. Citizenship and Immigrant Services EB-5 Immigrant Investment Program.

Van Den Heuvel worked through Green Detroit Regional Center, which is owned by a Georgia law firm that is authorized to operate in Wayne, Livingston, St. Claire, Lapeer and Macomb counties, court documents said. The center finds “foreign clients, mainly from China and South Korea, to invest in large alternative energy projects,” according to its website.

The Green Box-Detroit project was portrayed as creating 35 direct and indirect jobs per each Chinese investor.

“Green Detroit Regional Center promoted the EB-5 investments in Green Box Detroit based on Van Den Heuvel’s representations,” the SEC suit said. It said the chief executive officer of the Green Detroit Regional Center, Georgia lawyer Simon Ahn, marketed the project to investors through immigration consultants in China.

Neither Ahn nor Green Detroit Regional Center have been charged or sued by the SEC.

Ahn said, “If the charges are true, it is completely shocking to learn about the extent that Ron Van Den Heuvel hid the truth from me,” the center and investors.

“All of us visited the plants in Wisconsin many times, including the potential site in Detroit, and everything checked out fine. All the financials from a recognized accounting firm indicated that everything was proceeding on track, Ahn said.

The SEC suit said Van Den Heuvel falsely told investors that the MEDC had approved tax exempt bonds for the project. However, the MEDC rejected the request after discovering five tax liens, one construction lien, two state tax warrants, four civil judgments and three civil lawsuits, according to court documents.

“Van Den Heuvel did not satisfy MEDC’s concerns. He did not provide additional information to the MEDC, and did not provide a satisfactory explanation for the issues that it had raised,” the SEC suit said.

MEDC vice president of marketing and communications Emily Guerrant said “Yes, they did approach us. No, we never engaged with them.”

Ahn said it is likely that a receivership will be established to help Chinese investors recoup their money. He said it is “hard to determine at this point” whether they will qualify for green cards.

The grand jury accused Van Den Heuvel of wire fraud and illegal financial transactions. If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. In addition, the federal government is seeking to recoup the proceeds of the alleged fraud.

Earlier this month, Van Den Heuvel pleaded guilty under a separate 2016 indictment in a bank fraud conspiracy case. Charges against his wife and a bank loan officer in that case are still open.

DACA workers would leave a hole in economy if forced to leave

By STEPHEN OLSCHANSKI
Capital News Service

LANSING —  Veronica Thronson, director of the Immigration Law Clinic at Michigan State University, said the economic impact to ending DACA is uncertain, but it could have detrimental effects on those already benefiting from it.

Thronson said she knows of DACA participants who are research assistants at Michigan State.  Another created her own business, she said.

“She started a business where I think she has four or five employees so not only are they [DACA recipients] contributing, they’re also employing other people,” Thronson said. “And so the impact is just going to be tremendous.”

Michigan’s economy could lose hundreds of millions of dollars if the children of undocumented immigrants are deported, according to some analyses.

However, much uncertainty remains on the scale of the potential loss as the result of the Trump administration’s push for a plan to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

That program — enacted under former President Barack Obama — protects children brought to the United States by undocumented immigrants. To qualify, most had to enter the U.S. before they were 16 and live here since June 15, 2007.

A liberal think tank, the Center for American Progress, based in Washington, D.C., pegs the economic loss at nearly $390 million for Michigan and nationally at $433.4 billion over the next 10 years. The conservative Cato Institute, also in Washington, puts the national figure at $280 billion over the next decade.

DACA allows these undocumented immigrants to apply for a two-year period of deferred action on deportation and to apply for a work permit. It does not give them legal status as a citizen.

Trump moved to end DACA Tuesday, giving its nearly 800,000 participants a six-month delay before they are eligible for deportation.

The onus is now on Congress to replace the program before the six-month delay ends.

The Center for American Progress estimates there are 5,982 Michigan DACA participants and that 5,204 of them are employed.

The Washington, D.C., Migration Policy Institute estimates that 15,000 Michigan residents are eligible for the program.

Experts say that the loss to the economy comes from losing potential workers.

Many participants are also pursuing high -evel degrees which will translate into employment in high skilled jobs,  Thronson said.

Much of the uncertainty shinges on how or if Congress adopts a new law regarding DACA.

“In that case the effects are likely to be small,” said Charles Ballard, an economist with the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research at Michigan Statey.

The approximately 6,000 Michigan DACA participants could have a small economic impact in a state of 10 million residents, Ballard said. It would fall more so on the individual than on the economy as a whole.

As for highly skilled workers being removed from the economy, Ballard said he believes it wouldn’t be “devastating” to the economy in Michigan but would present a challenge to employers.

“If you’re an employer and you have a few of your top workers and all of a sudden they’re gone, that hurts your business — no question about it,” Ballard said.

Canada might be a benefactor if Michigan DACA workers are deported, he said. Many might choose to move there instead of facing deportation to a country which doesn’t speak English as a primary language.

“If we basically export thousands of highly skilled workers to Canada, that’s a win for Canada and a loss for the United States,” Ballard said.

Removing potential skilled workers harms the economy, Ike Brannon, a visiting fellow at the Cato Institute, wrote in an email.

“We’d basically be taking almost a million potential workers, all of whom have or are receiving post-high-school education, and are consigning them to the informal/underground work force,” Brannon wrote. “When the unemployment rate is below 4.5 percent, the issue isn’t that we have skilled people who are looking for jobs

“It’s that we have occupations that are wanting for skilled people, and we’re removing people who fill those needed positions, Brannon said.

Michigan universities offer help for undocumented students

By CHAO YAN

Capital News Service

LANSING — Several public university officials in Michigan said they will continue to work to keep tuition rates lower and campuses friendly for undocumented students, even as the federal government launches policies that are viewed as unfriendly to many immigrants.

President Donald Trump ordered the construction of a Mexican border wall on Jan. 25 and is expected to curtail immigration, which has caused stress among undocumented students.

In 2012, President Barack Obama launched the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which granted undocumented immigrants work permits and temporary residency, a status that must be renewed every two years.

As of September 2016, Michigan had nearly 11,000 approved DACA recipients and was ranked 24th in the nation, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Continue reading

State’s ag exports to China skyrocket

By MICHAEL KRANSZ
Capital News Service

LANSING — In the past five years, more and more of Michigan’s dairy products and prepared fruits and vegetables have been on their way to China, according to export data from Euromonitor International Ltd.

From 2010 to 2014, the dollar value of dairy product exports to China skyrocketed 688 percent, according to the London-based economic analysis firm. In that same time period, the dollar value of prepared fruit and vegetable exports, which include dried tart cherries, rose almost four-fold.

Chris Wolf, a professor of agricultural, food and resource economics at Michigan State University, said U.S. dairy products — specifically powdered milk — took hold in the Chinese market following that country’s baby formula scandal in 2008.
Continue reading

International students with startups face visa difficulties

By YUEHAN LIU
Capital News Service

LANSING—International students face daunting challenges starting a business.
But as more and more international students enroll at Michigan universities, more and more keep trying to open businesses in the state.

And the Small Business Association encourages their idea.

For example, Grand Valley State University has 400, Western Michigan University has more than 1,800, and Michigan State University has more than 7,000 international students.
Continue reading

Michigan aims to capture Chinese tourist market

By ZHAO PENG

Capital News Service

LANSING — The number of Chinese travelers and the amount of money spent per visitor are the highest among all groups of international visitors, according to the U.S. Travel Association.

This potential tourism market is capturing the attention of Michigan’s government.

For the first time, Gov. Rick Snyder included tourism in the agenda of his recent investment mission to China and touted Michigan’s potential as a destination for international travelers.
Continue reading

New visa rules mean increased efforts to attract Chinese visitors to Michigan

By CHEYNA ROTH
Capital News Service

LANSING — The U.S. is making it easier for Chinese residents to visit the United States, and Michigan is working hard to take advantage of this new economic opportunity.

Leisure visas into the United States from China are now good for 10 years, which makes it cheaper and easier for Chinese tourists to come and go. A rising economy and growing upper middle class mean Chinese visitors can stay longer and spend more than they used to, tourism officials said.

About 1.8 million Chinese tourists traveled to the U.S. in 2013, according the U.S. Office of Travel & Tourism Industries. In 2014, a little over 1.9 million had visited by October.
Continue reading

Refugees increase, face education, language hurdles

By KATIE AMANN

Capital News Service

LANSING — The world has a growing number of displaced people driven from their homes because of conflict, more than ever before, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. For the 86 percent of them in developing countries, that means increasingly limited access to quality education.

“Education is vital in restoring hope and dignity to young people driven from their homes,” the agency said.

But even refugees living in Michigan may face serious obstacles in obtaining education, experts say.
Continue reading

Turkey should help Syrians, Turkish students here say

By DUYGU KANVER

Capital News Service

LANSING – The Syrian town of Kobani, a predominantly Kurdish city by the Turkish border, has been under assault by the jihadist group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) since mid-September, leaving about 800 dead and 300,000 displaced from their homes.

While airstrikes led by the U.S. have supported ongoing resistance by Kurdish forces in the region, Kurds say Turkey’s collaboration by opening its borders with Syria and Iraq is central to saving Kobani.

“We ask for nothing from the Turkish government but this,” says Ruken Sengul, a Turkish Kurd postdoctoral fellow in the Armenian Studies program at the University of Michigan.
Continue reading