Survey: Majority of workforce overspends on vacation

People walk along the sidewalks of downtown St. Joseph looking through business windows. (Tony Wittkowski | HP Staff)

People walk along the sidewalks of downtown St. Joseph looking through business windows. (Tony Wittkowski | HP Staff)

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

The weather has gotten warmer in Michigan, which means more workers vacationing.

However, a new survey shows these vacations can be costly as most tend to overspend during their time away from home. According to a survey by Experian, a global information services company, 68 percent of people overspend when on vacation.

Jill Stone, executive director for St. Joseph Today, said the best way to overcome this issue on vacation can be to research prices months in advance.

While it’s hard to decide on what to do during one’s vacation, Stone said the easiest thing to take care of is lodging. By making hotel reservations or calling ahead to campgrounds and small bed and breakfasts, Stone said more money from a family’s budget can be used for other activities.

“It depends on the buyer,” Stone said. “Some people look for where they are going to be the most comfortable. If that’s the case, lodging will be the biggest part of the budget.”

Vacationers could also work in free activities to accommodate the extra expenses, Stone said.

“We’ve noticed the experience spending tends to be on the higher end,” she said. “Scooter Joe’s rents bikes and tends to do very well in the season regardless of the weather. When you’re planning your trip, look at not only what you want to do, but what you could end up doing. Research and planning is going to be key when keeping to a budget.”

Age matters

Spending more than budgeted is a big issue for millennials – people born, roughly, between 1980 and 2000.

Forty percent of people who took the survey – and 52 percent of young people – have accumulated credit card debt while on vacation, while 46 percent of people have used their credit cards to pay for vacation even though they don’t have enough money saved to cover it.

About 86 percent of people plan to pay for summer vacations, though 35 percent don’t save for it.

Bob and Betsy Taylor began their vacation Monday by driving through downtown St. Joseph for a view of Lake Michigan.

The Indiana residents came to Michigan with their daughters, son and son-in-law, and brought with them a large cooler of food.

“This is our first vacation ever as a family,” Betsy said. “We don’t want to spend lots of money, but we will do some fun things.”

Bob said the family started planning in February and anticipate lodging to be more costly than gas and food.

“We rented a cabin and will stay there,” he said. “It’s a set price so we knew what to plan for.”

Expensive trends

Some people don’t even make it to their vacation, as 37 percent surveyed have had to cancel their travel plans because of budgetary concerns, including 44 percent of millennials.

“People want to come home from vacation with happy memories, not with unanticipated and unmanageable credit card bills,” said Guy Abramo, president of Experian Consumer Services, in a written statement. “Racking up excessive credit card debt without a plan to pay it off can put people, especially millennials, in a bind that could affect their financial health and credit status for years to come.”

Abramo said to consider a “staycation” every other year. Staying nearby enables people to save on airfare, hotels and food, Abramo said.

Stone said staycations are the norm in St. Joseph because of the beaches and the wineries.

Other survey results on spending habits were not as flattering for the younger generation.

The poll found 33 percent of people – and 50 percent of millennials – use their tax refunds to pay for their summer travel.

Millennials planned on charging an average of $1,187 on their credit cards for summer vacations, versus $1,308 for people of all ages. Vacationers are also expected to use their credit cards much more than debit cards and cash to pay for lodging, entertainment, airfare, food and beverages.

Experian’s online survey of 1,000 adults living in the United States was conducted May 5-11.

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 July 7, 2015)

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Benton Harbor hot dog restaurant calling it quits

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BENTON HARBOR – A business in the hot dog community is closing only a year after opening.

Harbor Dogs and Sliders at 325 W. Main St. in Benton Harbor will close its doors for the last time at 3 p.m. today. Co-owner and operator Kim Curley said it is not from a lack of business.

“We’re dissolving our partnership,” she said. “We opened a year ago almost to the date. Other opportunities came up for us. Everyone’s leaving on a good note.”

The decision to close came last week when Curley met with other co-owners Elton Mann and Anthony Orlando.

“Plans change. We are really happy with the community over here,” Orlando said. “We had a big fan base. That’s the hardest part. We are going to miss all the people.”

Harbor Dogs and Sliders opened July 14, 2014, after getting word the previous June that the location was available. The trio came up with a business plan in six weeks.

The restaurant has served hot dogs from different regions including the Chicago Dog and Detroit’s Coney-Style Dogs. Orlando said some of the popular items were the specialty dogs, including the Harbor Dog and the Red Arrow Dog.

The business tried staying open three hours later after Memorial Day by catching the drive-home and carry-out crowd.

“A lot of work goes into what we are doing here,” Orlando said. “We make a lot of our sauces and toppings. It’s just an endless list of prep work. We built a nice clientele. It’s just a lot of work for what you get out of it.”

Curley said she already misses the people who visited the restaurant often.

“We had some awesome customers,” Curley said. “We called ourselves ‘weinertown.’ It was ‘weinertastic.’ We just wanted to thank all our customers for their support.”

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 July 7, 2015)

Skilled trades in demand: Employers in search of more trades workers

Mold maker Mike Taylor works with a wire EDM machine, used to cut high precision shapes in steel, Thursday at Hanson Mold in St. Joseph Township. Employers are reporting a shortage of skilled workers for such precision tasks. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

Mold maker Mike Taylor works with a wire EDM machine, used to cut high precision shapes in steel, Thursday at Hanson Mold in St. Joseph Township. Employers are reporting a shortage of skilled workers for such precision tasks. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

Michael Voth has been in the welding business for more than two decades.

As the owner of Precision Welding and Repair LLC in Berrien Springs, Voth does some mechanical work and welding on farm equipment. In the last few years, he has begun to notice a growing problem, which many economic analysts have also noticed.

Both Michigan and the country are faced with a lack of skilled trades workers, like Voth. Should employers be unable to find qualified workers, the pace of economic growth that has been returning since the 2008 recession could come to a stall.

“I think there is going to be an extreme shortage, which is unfortunate,” Voth said. “A lot of these jobs are good-paying and are left unfilled.”

Manufacturing is no longer a dying industry and has been one of the most in-demand sectors this year in Michigan. According to a U.S. Department of Labor survey, nearly 5 percent of the jobs in Michigan are considered skilled trades, yet the number of job openings are expected to outpace the number of workers available to fill them.

The various explanations for the skilled trades shortage include stagnant wages and benefits, overly specific job requirements, fewer on-the-job training programs and apprenticeships, and an overall declining interest in skilled trades careers.

Jason Palmer, director of the Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives, conducted a study and said there are advantages of working in the skilled-trades sector.

While concentrated in manufacturing and construction, Palmer said skilled-trades workers are employed in many of the state’s industries. These occupations can be divided into three categories – skilled industrial trades, skilled construction trades and skilled service trades.

According to Palmer’s study, many skilled trades pay a solid wage with median hourly wages at about $21 and ranging from $13 to $34. When compared to average occupational wages, with a median hourly wage of $16 and a range from $8 to $39, the skilled trades see a pay advantage at the lower and middle range of the distribution, Palmer said.

“These workers are in high demand with more than 5,000 online advertised job vacancies” in Michigan, he said. “These vacancies and employment projections are measures of labor demand – not labor supply.”

Without a supply of qualified workers to satisfy the growth in demand, Palmer said there will be shortages in the labor market.

A shortage will result in reduced production and slow economic growth, which Palmer said could lead to businesses locating elsewhere.

In the long run, demand for some skilled trades will eventually slow, due to a weak employment outlook in manufacturing. However, Palmer said the continued growth will remain strong for many skilled trades titles before slowing. Overall, skilled trades should still grow by 7.4 percent through 2020.

Filling the skills gap

The demand for these jobs comes at a bad time with a general lack of skilled trades workers in Michigan.

Adam Carr recognizes this problem while serving as a welding instructor for the Career Technical Education program run through Lakeshore High School. Carr said the school district put a significant amount of money into its CTE programs after successfully passing a large bond to improve the school’s facilities.

Through CTE programs, Carr said the goal is to show the next generation manufacturing isn’t what it used to be.

“People don’t go into these shops and come out looking dirty like coal miners,” Carr said. “Manufacturing is a very clean, precise and safe work environment. My dad worked at a GM plant, but it isn’t like that anymore. Now, when you go into these facilities, it is immaculate. They are bright and well-marked.”

Carr said his passion is to teach young people to get into the skilled trades industry, stating those jobs are the backbone of America.

The Lakeshore teacher has also had to deal with the negative connotation that comes with students trying to become a plumber or an electrician.

“They are not crummy, last-resort jobs,” he said. “There is so much more technology in this industry now. Students have to understand wiring, hydraulics and must be mechanically smart to run this equipment. We have students that come back that say they wished they paid more attention to math. Everything we come in contact with is manufactured. The table, the chair, light fixture, the pen they use to write is built by somebody.”

CTE programs, like Lakeshore’s, have attracted the eyes of local businesses in search of immediate help. Carr said they have a waiting list of Berrien County employers who want these skills in entry-level workers.

Among these companies is Hanson Mold, a mold and die making company in St. Joseph Township.

 Paul Zelmer runs an EDNC sinker machine, used to burn or sink shapes into steel, Thursday at Hanson Mold in St. Joseph Township. Employers are reporting a shortage of skilled workers for such precision tasks. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

Paul Zelmer runs an EDNC sinker machine, used to burn or sink shapes into steel, Thursday at Hanson Mold in St. Joseph Township. Employers are reporting a shortage of skilled workers for such precision tasks. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

Dan Mitchell, president of Hanson Mold, said it implements a four-year apprenticeship program that most of its current workers went through.

Mitchell said they work closely with Brandywine, Bridgman, Buchanan, Coloma and Lakeshore high schools to find the right candidates.

“I think those communities should be very proud to have such good technical programs still in place, helping students and businesses,” he said. “We had each of those schools tour Hanson Mold this past year, and students started the pre-apprentice academy on June 15 as a result of those tours.”

Like other skilled trades, Mitchell said they have difficulty finding people with five or more years worth of experience in high-tech machining and technical areas.

As for finding younger workers, Mitchell is not as worried.

“The opportunities for young people in this trade and at Hanson Mold are as good today as they were for me and my generation over 30 years ago,” Mitchell said. “Our apprentices are a mix of students that are right out of high school to people who have worked at other jobs or went to college for a time.”

Nathan Anders graduated from Brandywine High School last year and went on to begin his apprenticeship at Hanson Mold.

Part way through his four-year apprenticeship, Anders said he was thankful for the tutelage he received in high school.

“It was extremely easy for me to get quality training and education while in high school,” Anders said. “I imagined myself doing something trade related, but not so soon. I thought I had to go to a four-year school, but it really wasn’t necessary.”

Is college overrated?

Benton Harbor High School CTE Director Pamela Dudley said they are trying to address the need for more skilled-trades workers in Southwest Michigan. Her job as director is providing students in her district with the necessary skills to join the work force after graduating high school.

“Not everybody is going out to a four-year college or to get their masters,” Dudley said. “The bulk of our society is middle-level employees.”

Dudley said it is not up to her to convince her students to either attend or not enroll in college, but to help them get to a career they enjoy.

“We hold very candid conversations with our students,” she said. “We have to put our focus on the students and help them find that creative part of themselves.”

Even celebrities have begun to take notice of the skilled-trades gap that falls in line with education.

Mike Rowe, who became known for his role on the television show, “Dirty Jobs,” is among those who are trying to increase the number of skilled trades workers.

Rowe launched the mikeroweWORKS Foundation, which awards scholarships to students pursuing a career in the skilled trades.

Rowe said his reasoning for the foundation is simple: There are 4 million jobs out there for skilled workers like mechanics, plumbers and electricians, yet they are left unfilled.

To the former TV show host, a college diploma isn’t worth what it used to be as 53 percent of college graduates under the age of 25 are either jobless or underemployed.

So the question is, why are students heading off to college instead of pursuing a career as a plumber or an electrician with similar wages?

The problem, Rowe said, stems from an overall societal belief that skilled trades jobs are less admirable than other professions.

Rowe said he still remembers a poster on his guidance counselor’s wall that portrayed a smiling college graduate with a diploma on one side and a tired, wrench-wielding trades worker on the other. Reading the caption, “Work Smart NOT Hard,” was the first time Rowe said he saw work as something to try to avoid.

“We have got a trillion dollars in student loans today. A trillion,” Rowe said through an email interview. “You have got really high unemployment among college graduates. You have got many graduates working in fields they didn’t even study for.”

While schools like Lakeshore have doubled the number of spaces available in its welding program, other schools have cut their shop classes and programs all together.

Voth said he wouldn’t be where he is today if it wasn’t for the shop classes he took when he attended St. Joseph High School.

With a college degree in teaching and welding, Voth said he was often encouraged to go another direction when it came to his career choice.

But looking at his alma mater’s curriculum today, Voth says he doesn’t like that it did away with most of the industrial arts programs.

“That’s a huge portion of the problem,” he said. “That is where I spent the majority of my time in high school. Most of the skills I learned and use today were in those classes. It exposes students to what opportunities are out there.”

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 July 5, 2015)

Retracing an old road: Teacher rides from Motown to Morton House Museum

Chuck Jager, a history teacher at Lakeshore High School, stands with his bicycle near where he recently completed a ride along the old Territorial Road, from Detroit to the Morton House Museum in Benton Harbor. (Tony Wittkowski | HP Staff)

Chuck Jager, a history teacher at Lakeshore High School, stands with his bicycle near where he recently completed a ride along the old Territorial Road, from Detroit to the Morton House Museum in Benton Harbor. (Tony Wittkowski | HP Staff)

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BENTON HARBOR – At Lakeshore High School, Chuck Jager teaches history. Last week, he became a part of it.

Jager rode his bicycle across Michigan between June 23-27, trying to trace the route of the old Territorial Road. What began in Detroit and followed the path taken by pioneers in the 1830’s, ended at Lake Michigan’s shoreline.

The 54-year-old spent about 40 miles a day on his Trek hybrid in order to complete the 200-mile trip.

Jager commutes to Lakeshore by bike when the weather is nice. However, he has never completed such a long distance before.

“It’s a passion, that’s what was part of this trip,” he said. “I got to check out a lot of places. I joke with my kids and threaten to stop at all the historical markers on the way. With this trip I was able to.”

Jager stopped at various historical sites along the way, including Greenfield Village, the birthplace of the Republican Party and the grave of Sojourner Truth.

Originally known as a trail used by Indians, Territorial Road parallels I-94 and travels through cities like Ann Arbor, Jackson, Battle Creek and Kalamazoo, ending in Benton Harbor at Water Street.

When the Erie Canal opened in 1825, it led to expanded immigration to the Midwest. Jager said the road he has grown accustomed to served as the east-west pathway through Michigan. The road was authorized for such use in 1829 by the Territorial Legislature, hence its name.

“There was a Michigan fever,” Jager said. “People were moving out here left and right, using Territorial Road.”

Although some of the route retains the name “Territorial Road,” a large portion is now called Michigan Avenue, Jager said.

Like the original pioneers traveling across the state, Jager camped out overnight and visited with people along the original Territorial Road. He said Marshall has done the best job of preserving its heritage through older buildings. In other places Jager had to use his imagination.

“To some extent, I tried to be like the pioneers in 1830,” he said. “The trip as a whole wasn’t too physically taxing. The first day was not friendly at all in Detroit with the noise and traffic congestion. It got more country after Ann Arbor, so it was a little better.”

His reasoning for the long trip stems from not only what he teaches, but because he used to live along Territorial Road in Benton Harbor. He said he has long had the idea to follow the road’s original path. Jager spent the last eight to nine months planning the route and getting in touch with people along the way.

As a board member for the Morton House Museum, Jager said it meant a lot to others in the area.

“I was originally interested because I lived on Territorial Road,” he said. “I am also involved with the museum, which has a stone in front of it marking the end of the Territorial Road.”

Denise Reeves, board president and museum curator, was on hand with the rest of the welcome party when Jager returned.

“I thought it was great,” Reeves said. “He was all smiles when he got back. He was pulling his little trailer with all his stuff in there. Everybody was thrilled he made it back safely.”

In his 22 years teaching at Lakeshore, Jager said he has never done something like this before. When he began talking about it with his students in the spring, he received a mixed reaction.

“Yeah, I told my students. I think they thought it was kind of weird,” he said. “Maybe it’s a little bit of a mid-life crisis, only instead of a buying a sports car I’m riding a bike.”

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 July 4, 2015)

May sales moving up in the housing market

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

May provided a good start to this year’s selling season in the Southwest Michigan housing market.

The number of houses sold in May increased 23 percent since April and the total dollar volume per month increased 34 percent. The average selling price in May at $202,729 was 9 percent higher than in April and the median selling price increased 4 percent to $144,000 from $138,250.

“We are still working with a low inventory of houses for sale,” said Gary Walter, executive vice president of the Southwestern Michigan Association of Realtors Inc. “So far this year, our inventory has ranged from 7.7 to 9.7 months supply of homes for sale.

“Our inventory of homes for sale in May fell 9 percent from the level we had in May 2014. In May, we had 2,511 houses for sale giving us just a 9.7-months supply of houses to meet the current demand.”

In comparison to May from last year, the number of houses sold was up 11 percent. Year-to-date, the number of houses sold was up 10 percent.

The total dollar volume in May 2015 at $60.2 million was up 10 percent over last year in May, which came in at $54.4 million. Year-to-date, the total dollar volume was up 11 percent.

“Selling prices held very close to last year’s selling prices,” Walter said. “In May, the average selling price varied by just $584. The average selling prices in May 2015 and May 2014 were the highest set in a month of May going back to 2006, which we consider to be the peak market year in our area.”

The median selling price dipped 1 percent to $144,000 in May 2015 from $145,450 in May 2014. The median selling prices in May 2015 and May 2014 were also the highest set in a month of May since 2006.

In May, the number of bank-owned or foreclosed houses as a part of all closed transactions in the Southwest Michigan market dropped again to 11 percent. In April, the percentage had dropped to 13.

A national increase

According to the National Association of Realtors, fueled by an increase in the share of sales to first-time buyers, existing-home sales increased in May to their highest pace in nearly six years.

Total existing-home sales, which are completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhouses and condominiums and co-ops, rose 5.1 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.35 million in May from an upwardly revised 5.09 million in April.

Sales have now increased year-over-year for eight consecutive months and are 9.2 percent above a year ago.

NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun said May home sales rebounded strongly following April’s decline and are now at their highest pace since November 2009.

“Solid sales gains were seen throughout the country in May as more homeowners listed their home for sale and therefore provided greater choices for buyers,” he said. “However, overall supply still remains tight, homes are selling fast and price growth in many markets continues to teeter at or near double-digit appreciation. Without solid gains in new home construction, prices will likely stay elevated.”

The national median existing-home price for all housing types in May was $228,700, which is 7.9 percent above May 2014. This marks the 39th consecutive month of year-over-year price gains.

The percent of first-time buyers rose to 32 percent in May, up from 30 percent in April and matching the highest share since September 2012. A year ago, first-time buyers represented 27 percent of all buyers.

“The return of first-time buyers in May is an encouraging sign and is the result of multiple factors, including strong job gains among young adults, less expensive mortgage insurance and lenders offering low down payment programs,” Yun said.

All-cash sales were 24 percent of transactions in May for the third straight month and are down from a year ago when it was 32 percent. Individual investors, who account for many cash sales, bought 14 percent of homes in May, unchanged from last month and down from 16 percent in May 2014.

The total housing inventory at the end of May across the country increased 3.2 percent to 2.2 million existing homes available for sale, and is 1.8 percent higher than a year ago.

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 July 5, 2015)

Unemployment rises slightly in Southwest Michigan, U.S.

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

For May, there was a good and bad side to an overall increase in unemployment across Southwest Michigan.

While each Michigan county saw a slight increase in unemployment, those rates did remain lower in comparison to May last year, according to a report from the Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives.

The reason for the all-around increase was due to work force expansion in the area and the seasonal employment cut in state education.

Allegan, Berrien and Cass counties finished with a jobless rate lower than the state’s unemployment rate. Only Van Buren County, 6.5 percent, finished with a higher jobless rate than Michigan.

Outside of the state, the U.S. finished at a 5.3 percent jobless rate in May, besting Berrien and Van Buren counties.

The jobless rate increased in all four counties from April to May.

Allegan County’s unemployment rate went from 3.8 percent to 4.4 percent. Cass County increased from 4.3 percent in April to 5.2 percent in May. Berrien County increased its jobless rate from 4.6 percent to 5.6 percent – tied with Kalamazoo County for the largest increase in the Southwest Michigan region.

Van Buren County is among the highest in the region, which managed to move its unemployment rate from 5.7 percent to 6.5 percent – which is still lower compared to 7 percent in March.

The state finished May with a 5.9 percent unemployment rate, a 1.1 percent increase from April, while the U.S. had 5.3 percent.

Total non-farm payroll employment in Berrien County was at 62,300 in May. The county did see an additional 1,100 non-farm payroll jobs in leisure and hospitality, but manufacturing employment dropped by 300.

Employment in the private education and health sector for Berrien County dropped by more than 400 since last May.

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 July 3, 2015)

Firework sales expected to ‘boom’ leading up to Fourth of July

Sean Rodgers of Stevensville checks out the selection of fireworks Wednesday at Jake’s Fireworks Tent on Cleveland Avenue in St. Joseph. Fireworks sales in Michigan are up dramatically, growing from $17.52 million in 2013 to $26.44 million in 2014. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

Sean Rodgers of Stevensville checks out the selection of fireworks Wednesday at Jake’s Fireworks Tent on Cleveland Avenue in St. Joseph. Fireworks sales in Michigan are up dramatically, growing from $17.52 million in 2013 to $26.44 million in 2014. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

Business is booming when it comes to fireworks in Michigan.

As thousands of residents turn their eyes to the sky for July 4 festivities, fireworks dealer James Houck predicts sales will increase.

Buyers were sparse in the beginning of the week, but Houck said sales will be lively in the days leading up to, and after, Independence Day.

“At the end of this week, we estimate at least $6,000 to $8,000 in sales,” Houck said. “It’s been kind of slow so far, but normally Friday and Saturday we’ll see our biggest buyers.”

Houck began selling pyrotechnics in Jackson. Now, set up in a Jake’s Fireworks Tent in the parking lot across the street from Martin’s Supermarket along Cleveland Avenue, Houck said he plans on testing the St. Joseph area.

“We’ve seen a steady increase of people since setting up this tent,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of window shoppers who say they’ll come back when they get paid.”

This summer marks the fourth year since Michigan loosened its laws to allow the sale of consumer-grade aerial fireworks, like bottle rockets.

Most types of fireworks are available for purchase and use since Michigan lawmakers lifted the ban on aerial fireworks in 2011. As a result, it’s been good for business.

According to the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, sales of all types of fireworks in the state are up dramatically, from $17.52 million in 2013 to $26.44 million last year.

In addition to sales, Michigan charges a 6 percent fee on sales volume to fireworks sellers, which is dedicated to firefighter training. The state also charges a 6 percent sales tax, which is split between the state’s general fund and school aid fund.

Houck said fees for fireworks sales permits range from $600 for a temporary location to $1,000 for a permanent retail location.

Since 2012, the number of certified sellers of consumer grade fireworks has grown by 22 percent.

A hot seller

The most popular fireworks for Houck so far have been sparklers. While they don’t have the biggest punch, Houck said they are kid friendly.

“A lot of people have kids, so I’ve been selling a lot of them,” he said. “Those are always a good seller. The mortars and cakes have also done well because they are easy to use.”

Houck said price doesn’t seem to matter with a lot of consumers in the area, as he has seen people buy 39-cent firecrackers to larger items like “The Instigator,” which comes in at $250. For those who come to Houck’s tent not knowing what they want, he recommends the combination packs, which have everything from snappers to fountains.

Consumer fireworks that are now legal in Michigan include Roman candles, bottle rockets and other items that leave the ground.

Low-impact fireworks like sparklers were legal and remain so. Novelty fireworks like snakes, snaps and poppers aren’t regulated by the law.

Because of some law restrictions, some residents outside of the Michigan come to the mitten state to buy and use fireworks. States like Delaware and Massachusetts ban any kind of fireworks.

Tom Maas, a Maine resident who is in town visiting family for the holiday weekend, said he buys fireworks whenever they are legal.

Maas had recently bought fireworks and said he wanted something loud and aerial for his grandchildren, who live in a town where fireworks are not permitted. For Maas, it is this reason why he hasn’t bought fireworks in more than a decade.

“You can use them in certain parts of the state and some municipalities,” he said. “I haven’t bought fireworks in probably 12 years because I live on an island where fire protection is minimal. Now that I’m here, it’s a good time to buy” and set them off in Michigan.”

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 July 2, 2015)