Youth fair sets deadline for large animal registration

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BERRIEN SPRINGS – The deadline for large animals to be displayed in the 2015 Berrien County Youth Fair is June 1.

Animals that need to be registered by the deadline include dairy, sheep, goats, swine, llamas, alpacas, equine and beef breeding.

BCYF Marketing Coordinator Jill Hein said registration is open to any Berrien County resident ages 5-20.

Entry forms can be brought to the fair office at 9122 Old U.S. 31 in Berrien Springs between 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. Forms need to be postmarked on or before June 1, or placed in the drop box outside the fair office after office hours until midnight on June 1.

The fair’s office will be open June 1 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. to accommodate the registration deadline. However, Hein said exhibitors are encouraged to get their registrations in early.

Online registration is also open. Exhibitors can return to the program and add more entries up until each entry deadline. The exhibitor’s printed email confirmation will serve as the traditional yellow copy of the entry form and is required on entry day.

The link for online entries can be found at www.bcyf.org.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture tag number must be on the entry form and ordered when it is turned in to the fair office by the June 1 deadline.

Fair Office Coordinator Gail Holmes said if the USDA ear tag has not arrived by June 1, exhibitors can mark it pending on the entry form.

“Normally, they call the USDA as soon as they have their animal and they send them tags,” Holmes said. “If they mark pending, the tag numbers have to be called into the fair office by July 24.”

In addition to the USDA ear tag, exhibitors registering market animals will also need to come to the fair office and pick up the BCYF ear tags for those animals. BCYF ear tags must be in the animals’ ear by Aug. 1 or the entry will be disqualified.

Small animals like rabbits, poultry, cats, dogs and pocket pets must be registered by July 1.

Still exhibits like crafts, home economics, flowers, horticulture and variety classes must be registered with the fair office by Aug. 1.

The Berrien County Youth Fair runs Aug. 17-22. Anyone with additional questions can call the fair office at 473-4251.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@thehp.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on May 28, 2015)

SJHS seniors present semester-long community projects at exhibition

St. Joseph High School seniors Miles Elliott, Derek Burton and Ella Jones, present their senior project, a “Little Free Library” for Benton Township, during the 2015 Senior Service Project Exhibition Day on Wednesday at St. Joseph High School. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

St. Joseph High School seniors Miles Elliott, Derek Burton and Ella Jones, present their senior project, a “Little Free Library” for Benton Township, during the 2015 Senior Service Project Exhibition Day on Wednesday at St. Joseph High School. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

ST. JOSEPH – Derek Burton, Miles Elliott and Ella Jones stood before their peers and three judges as they took turns relaying what they had accomplished in the last five months.

The three St. Joseph High School seniors had built a “Little Free Library” and placed it along Euclid Avenue outside of Refreshing Fountains Church in Benton Township.

The 30-by-25-inch library hosts a small collection of books, which are free to the public for the taking and are to be returned when read.

“Our intent was to promote literacy in the community,” Burton said. “The Benton Township area doesn’t have a library, and they lack the access to read books.”

The semester-long effort was part of the Senior Project Exhibition on Wednesday morning at St. Joseph High School.

Tracy Becker, an English teacher and the exhibition’s coordinator, said she had her students create community projects when the state made a change to the curriculum that required students to take an additional year of English five years ago.

It wasn’t until this year the senior class took part in an exhibition, where they presented to a panel of judges.

“These are supposed to be community-oriented service projects,” Becker said. “(The presentations) add a little more teeth to the end result. It gives them a lot of real-world experience they would get in college and their jobs.”

Once students chose their project and knew what direction they would head in, each group was assigned a mentor and came up with a plan and implemented it. Students also completed a research paper on the topic and created a website that showcased their process and the project’s outcome.

They had to log 10 hours of service in some way and the project had to be something they created on their own.

The 74 students that took part in the exhibition were split up into six different rooms, where they spoke in front of judges who represented local businesses and organizations.

The real-world aspect is what separated the regular presentations they had done in the past from this year’s exhibition, Becker said.

The senior English teacher said she took pride in seeing her students succeed outside of the normal classroom setting.

“Ultimately, this project is a way for them to exercise all the skills that we’ve been teaching them throughout the years in a very real-world fashion,” Becker said. “They had to write emails, contact people, do an interview with their mentor and write a speech outline.”

Becker said this year has produced some of the better projects she’s seen since they added the assignment to the curriculum.

One project that went above and beyond included a three-week water safety class for elementary school students. The class offered free swimming lessons and showcased guest speakers from the Coast Guard on water safety.

St. Joseph seniors Jessica Foster, Hannah Grall and Lauren Magnuson came up with the idea to keep children safe on the Great Lakes.

“We wanted to get in touch with the kids, rather than just raising money and donating it to a place we didn’t know where it would go,” Grall said. “Since we live in a lakeside community, we wanted to do something that was relevant to our area.”

The trio said they noticed an immediate impact from the children who took the class.

After making fliers, researching their topic and organizing the class, Foster said she realized how different the project was.

“We had to think outside of the box in how the project would benefit the community,” she said. “At most high schools, the events are already set up for you to come and volunteer. This was something we had to organize on our own.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@thehp.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on May 28, 2015)

Housing market selling price on the rise through April

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

ST. JOSEPH – The Southwest Michigan housing market saw significant increases in selling prices for April, which outperformed last year’s totals for the month.

The average selling price increased 4 percent in April to $186,327 compared to $179,820 in April 2014. The year-to-date average selling price was 2 percent higher this year.

The median selling price of $138,250 set the record for the highest median selling price in its 10-year comparison. The median selling price at $121,700 was also the highest since 2006 when the year-to-date median selling price was $114,750.

The number of houses sold in April and March varied by 1 percent.

The average selling price in April jumped from $160,996 to $186,327 – a 16 percent increase. The median selling price rose 20 percent with $138,250 in April in contrast to $115,500 in March.

A significant increase in selling prices raised the monthly total dollar volume by 14 percent. The total dollar volume in April was $45 million, compared to $39.4 million in March.

Gary Walter, executive vice president of the Southwestern Michigan Association of Realtors Inc., said the number of houses sold in April increased by 8 percent since last year.

The year-to-date number of 801 houses sold in April was the highest dating to 2006.

“There was a 12 percent rise in the total dollar volume for April 2015 when compared to last year in April,” Walter said. “Even though we consider 2006 the peak housing market year, the year-to-date total dollar volume this year in April was the highest for the 10-year period.”

Despite property selling at faster rates since July 2013, existing-home sales slowed nationally in April, but remained above an annual sales pace of 5 million for the second straight month, according to the National Association of Realtors.

NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun said sales in April failed to keep pace with the robust gain seen in March.

“April’s setback is the result of lagging supply relative to demand and the upward pressure it’s putting on prices,” he said. “However, the overall data and feedback we’re hearing continues to point to elevated levels of buying interest compared to a year ago.”

The national median existing-home price for all housing types in April was $219,400, which is 8.9 percent above April 2014. This marks the 38th consecutive month of year-over-year price gains.

The percent share of first-time buyers remained at 30 percent in April for the second consecutive month. First-time buyers represented 29 percent of all buyers in April 2014.

All-cash sales were 24 percent of transactions in April, unchanged from March and down considerably from a year ago. Individual investors, who account for many cash sales, bought 14 percent of homes in April. Seventy-one percent of investors paid cash in April.

Nationally, the total housing inventory at the end of April increased 10 percent to 2.21 million existing homes available for sale. Unsold inventory is at a 5.3-month supply at the current sales pace, up from 4.6 months in March.

“Housing inventory declined from last year and supply in many markets is very tight, which is leading to bidding wars, faster price growth and properties selling at a quicker pace,” Yun said. “To put it in perspective, roughly 40 percent of properties sold last month went at or above asking price – the highest since NAR began tracking this monthly data in December 2012.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@thehp.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on May 31, 2015)

Cornerstone Alliance hires temporary consultant

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BENTON HARBOR – Cornerstone Alliance announced Tuesday it hired an economic development strategist to fulfill some of the responsibilities handled by its former president.

James Hettinger, owner of JH Urban Development Services, will be contracted by Cornerstone to provide interim economic development strategy expertise, consult the staff and represent the nonprofit organization at outreach programs.

“Jim brings years of successful economic development expertise to Cornerstone Alliance,” said Chairman John Janick. “We are looking forward to have him hone in on our focus and achieving our goals laid out in our (three-year) strategic plan.”

The hiring comes a month after former President Vicki Pratt resigned for undisclosed reasons.

Hettinger has a strong economic development background, serving as Battle Creek Unlimited’s CEO for 30 years. The longtime economic developer founded his own consulting firm in 2009.

Hettinger said he is excited for the opportunity to promote the Southwest Michigan region.

“I am looking forward to a change of scenery and helping Cornerstone Alliance continue their momentum,” Hettinger said. “I am delighted to represent this great organization and work with its staff to continue to deliver economic development outcomes.”

Hettinger will begin work June 2 and remain as Cornerstone’s consultant until a president is chosen.

Greg Vaughn, Cornerstone’s chief operating officer, will continue to oversee the organization’s daily operations.

Finding Pratt’s replacement

A search committee has been formed and is working with The Pace Group, a national economic development search firm, to fill the vacant position.

Janick said he expects the search for the next president to take no longer than four months.

“Our committee is comprised of Cornerstone Alliance board members and staff,” he said. “There has been a long-standing tradition of outstanding leadership at Cornerstone Alliance, and The Pace Group is well connected and capable of locating economic development leaders throughout the country.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@thehp.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on May 27, 2015)

Plaza construction to expand parking lot

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

ST. JOSEPH – Customers who frequent the St. Joseph Township Plaza near Interstate 94 will see more construction in its parking lot.

The plaza at 3260 Niles Road, which is home to such eateries as Five Guys Burgers and Fries, Moe’s Southwest Grill and Panera Bread, will expand its parking lot.

Brian Cronkrite, vice president of marketing for Trigo Hospitality, said construction started last week and will be completed in June.

“We are just paving that blank area and adding to the parking lot,” Cronkrite said in reference to the property nearest to the plaza’s east side entrance. “There is a demand from the restaurants within the center for more parking.”

The parking lot now has 159 spaces. Construction would add 44 spaces, bringing the lot’s total to 203. The project cost was not disclosed.

Cronkrite said the land being paved has been a patch of dirt since Trigo began work on the plaza.

The property was originally set aside for future expansions or incoming businesses.

“It was a potential spot for an addition to the building,” Cronkrite said, “but with the tenants that we already have there, it would be more beneficial for parking at this point.”

Greg Collins, director of operations for Panera Bread, said there became a need for more parking when Five Guys moved in next door in January.

“I’m glad they’re doing this,” Collins said. “I don’t expect this to interrupt business at all.”

Trigo Hospitality is the same company that received approval from the Benton Township Board of Trustees last week to build a Sonic Restaurant at the former Maxton Motors property at 2680 M-139, near I-94.

Cronkrite told the board the Sonic Restaurant could be open as early as September.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@thehp.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on May 27, 2015)

Benton Township manufacturer closes its doors, operations

Modar Inc., in Benton Township, is in the process of closing up shop, as the majority of its 75 employees have been laid off. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

Modar Inc., in Benton Township, is in the process of closing up shop, as the majority of its 75 employees have been laid off. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BENTON TOWNSHIP – A Benton Township-based manufacturing company has put a halt to its operations.

Stephen Hughes, general manager and CFO of Modar Inc., said the decision came a few weeks ago that the company would no longer produce its specialty fixtures and furnishings.

“There are various reasons, but the main thing is we lost the contracts for our two biggest customers,” Hughes said. “One provided about 60 percent of our hospitalities business.”

The majority of the company’s 75 employees have been laid off, with a small portion still on site as they prepare to sell Modar’s assets at auction.

Hughes said Modar once had 160 workers in its 1394 E. Empire Ave. location prior to the 2008 recession.

“We have kept a core team here over the last few weeks,” he said. “Last Friday was our last production day. The rest of the time has been about getting things set up for the auction.”

The auction is taking place the second week of June.

Hughes said they hope the entire operation will sell as is because it would be costly to move the remaining equipment.

Two months ago Modar closed its warehouse in Bridgman.

Hughes said that was in the plans even if Modar was able to continue as a business.

“We had determined Bridgman to be obsolete,” Hughes said. “Very little came back to the main plant from that warehouse. When it did, a lot of the fixtures were outdated.”

Real estate agent Lauren Gerber said Modar’s main facility was put up for sale when the building’s owner contacted him a few weeks ago.

“It’s really too bad,” Gerber said. “It’s a nice location. I didn’t know they employed that many people.”

The 129,000-square-foot building is zoned industrial and includes 17 acres. Gerber said the plan is to have the building sold around the end of June, after the equipment has been cleared out.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@thehp.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on May 27, 2015)

Maytag mobile tool to eliminate ‘buyer’s remorse’

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

ST. JOSEPH – When it comes to buying a large appliance, nothing can be harder than trying to visualize what it may look like at home.

That’s what Maytag officials thought when they created the Bring Maytag Home mobile online tool, which allows consumers to see what their home would look like with the appliance there.

After choosing an appliance, ranging from dryers to refrigerators, the consumer then takes a picture of the empty space it is desired to go in. The site then plays back a video with a Maytag man installing the desired appliance in the picture that was uploaded.

Brendan Bosch, senior brand manager for Maytag, said the mobile tool was created to simplify the shopping process.

“We know it is complicated to find what features are right for you,” he said. “It’s a convergence of a few things. We know that people are more into their mobile phones than in the past, but also that sometimes people need help in knowing what their renovation might look like.”

Bosch emphasized that the tool is not an app because research showed many customers were unwilling to download an app for a one-time occurrence.

The mobile tool was officially released to the public May 12, months after development began.

Bosch said the process was complex, but worthwhile as they have already begun to receive feedback from customers.

“There is a bit of an entertainment aspect to it since you get to see the Maytag man in the video,” he said. “The feedback we are getting is very useful. For now our focus is that this is a easy to use tool to help shoppers remodel their kitchen or laundry room.

“We want to make sure we are giving the best info to make their experience as stress free as possible.”

Customers can swipe through different color and configurations of the appliance and have the ability to use the tool as many times as they want.

The tool is compatible on desktops and internet enabled Android and iPhone devices by visiting BringMaytagHome.com.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@thehp.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on May 24, 2015)