Downtown businesses struggle as former customers work from home

AVOIDING DOWNTOWN DEMISE – Michigan downtowns are headed for long-term trouble with so many workers continuing to work from home, business experts say. Local business groups are fighting back with creative marketing and repurposing commercial property. We talk to a Charlevoix downtown authority, the head of the Small Business Association of Michigan, the state retailers group and the Michigan Downtown Association. By Zholdas Orisbayev FOR PETOSKEY, TRAVERSE CITY, CORP!, GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS, LANSING CITY PULSE AND ALL POINTS.

Michigan schools must write off student lunch debts to qualify for state grant

LUNCH DEBT FORGIVENESS: Only 13 Michigan schools have applied for a million dollar program to forgive student lunch-money debt, designed to avoid shaming kids behind on their payments. And the Dec. 1 deadline is fast approaching. The distraction of COVID 19 and short deadlines are two of the reasons for the lack of response, officials said. We talk to the Michigan Education Association, a school lunch association and the Department of Education. By Zholdas Orisbayev. FOR GONGWER, MIRS AND ALL POINTS

COVID-19 drives new initiative to support affordable child care

COVID CHILD CARE: Advocates hope that a pilot program to split child care costs among businesses, government and families in west Michigan will lead to a similar program statewide. Child care challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic prompted the creation of a unique coalition of business and child care advocates to test the plan they hope will lead to statewide implementation. By Zholdas Orisbayev FOR GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS, CORP! AND ALL POINTS

Michigan universities lose $1.2 billion to the pandemic

UNIVERSITY BUDGET WOES: Declining enrollment and new costs related to the pandemic have Michigan universities cutting costs, deferring construction projects and laying off employees. The Michigan Association of State Universities projects that the state’s 15 public universities will take a $1.2 billion hit. By Zholdas Orisbayev. FOR SAULT STE. MARIE AND ALL POINTS

COVID-19 adds to local government funding woes

The coronavirus is straining Michigan local government revenues already under strain for years. Repeated cuts in funding and changes to statutory revenue have harmed local budgets since the early 2000s. That decline will worsen as local businesses wrestling with COVID-19 lose sales that generate local government income, according to one nonpartisan study. By Zholdas Orisbayev FOR ALL POINTS

Michigan prisons seek more funding as COVID-19 expenses rise

PRISONS COVID: Testing for COVID19 and shuffling corrections officers among facilities short-staffed because of the pandemic has added financial challenges to Michigan’s $2 billion prison system. They come just as prison officials struggle to replace a surge of retirements, the legacy of a 1980s prison build-up. We interview the director of the Department of Corrections. By Zholdas Orisbayev. FOR MARQUETTE, COLDWATER, IONIA AND ALL POINTS.

Northern Michigan real estate booms as builders struggle to meet demand

REALESTATEBOOM: Michigan builders are responding to a demand for expensive homes, a market driven in part by people investing in homes rather than travel during the pandemic. At the same time, the state lacks housing for moderate-income buyers, such as the workers who build the high-end homes, experts say. It is especially true in northern Michigan resort areas. Home prices statewide are up about 10% over last year. But last August the average selling price for homes in Northwest Michigan’s Emmet County was $428,581, up from $344,120 reported for the same month the previous year. FOR BUSINESS AND NEWS PAGES IN TRAVERSE CITY, PETOSKEY, CHEBOYGAN, GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS, CORP! AND ALL POINTS

Community colleges expect enrollment surge from COVID-19 essential workers

ESSENTIAL TUITION: Essential workers during the pandemic crisis could provide community colleges with an enrollment surge in January. That’s when Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s offer of free tuition kicks in. That’s good for the students and for the colleges that suffered an enrollment drop of 5% to 10% this fall. We talk to community college and college association officials. By Zholdas Orisbayev. FOR TRAVERSE CITY AND ALL POINTS.

This chart indicates the rate of households reporting information directly to the census themselves for each county. Editors may wish to insert local numbers into the story.

Census faces challenges in Michigan, particularly in the north

Seasonal properties, vacant houses, the lack of internet, distrust of government and fewer census takers, not to mention the pandemic, are challenges to the 2020 U.S. census, especially in Michigan’s rural northern counties, census experts say. Statewide, about 71% of Michigan households self-reported their numbers online to the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s better than the national rate of 62.1%. But the statewide number obscures low rates of self-response in the low-population rural north. By Zholdas Orisbayev FOR BAY MILLS, MARQUETTE, BIG RAPIDS, SAULT STE MARIE, ST. IGNACE AND ALL POINTS

As teachers go online, internet access shapes academic performance of Michigan students

As the pandemic forces more students online, the lack of affordable broadband internet could cause lower performance of rural Michigan schoolchildren. A recent Michigan State University study of 15 rural school districts found that students without internet access averaged a half-grade lower grade point average and did not perform as well on college entrance tests. Internet advocates are cobbling together a network of public Wi-Fi hotspots that students can access from parking lots to avoid exposure to Covid-19. CNS editors note: The MSU study cited and linked to in story includes Brimley Area Schools, Les Cheneaux Community Schools, Mackinac Island Public Schools, Pickford Public Schools, Rudyard Area Schools, Sault Ste. Marie Area Schools, St. Ignace Area Schools, Tahquamenon Area Schools,Whitefish Township Schools and Morley Stanwood Community Schools. By Zholdas Orisbayev. FOR BAY MILLS, SAULT STE. MARIE, ST. IGNACE, MARQUETTE, BIG RAPIDS AND ALL POINTS.