Whirlpool celebrates ruling against foreign competitors

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BENTON HARBOR — Whirlpool Corp. is celebrating a second, and what appears to be final, anti-dumping ruling made in its favor.

On Tuesday, the U.S. International Trade Commission ruled that LG and Samsung caused injury to the U.S. appliance industry by selling China-produced washing machines in the U.S. for less than they cost to make.

The Benton Harbor-based company initially filed its complaint with the U.S. Department of Commerce and the ITC in December 2015 in an attempt to keep Samsung and LG from dumping residential washers.

Dumping is in reference to the making, exporting and selling of goods at a loss in order to boost market share and potentially drive out competitors.

After Whirlpool filed its complaint against the two foreign competitors, the DOC made its preliminary ruling in favor of Whirlpool in July.

Jeff Fettig, chairman and CEO of Whirlpool, said in a news release Tuesday that the ruling was a win for American manufacturers, especially for those who work at Whirlpool’s factory in Clyde, Ohio. The Ohio factory is known for its production of clothes washers.

“The government made the right decision today, affirming that Samsung and LG’s long-term pattern of serial dumping injures American appliance manufacturers and threatens U.S. jobs,” Fettig said in the release. “By enforcing and applying trade remedies that help ensure fair competition, the government supports a solid U.S. manufacturing base and continued investments in innovation that improve the lives of consumers.”

South Korea-based Samsung and China’s LG have continued to deny they are dumping washers.

However, because of the ruling, Samsung and LG must pay anti-dumping duties at the rates set by the DOC – margins of 52.51 percent for Samsung and 32.12 percent for LG.

A ‘dumping’ pattern

The federal government in 2012 imposed 9 percent and 13 percent tariffs on LG and Samsung Korean- and Mexican-made washers after Whirlpool filed a dumping complaint.

In 2013, the U.S. government found LG and Samsung were dumping large residential clothes washers exported to the U.S. from production factories in South Korea and Mexico.

Following that ruling, Samsung and LG moved their washer production for the U.S. to China, skirting the order in an effort to continue to dump prices abroad.

According to the DOC’s report on the ruling, imports of washing machines from China were valued at an estimated $899.4 million in 2014.

While Whirlpool employs nearly 100,000 around the world, the company has more than 20,000 employees in the Beijing, Shanghai, Shandong, Zhejiang, Guangdong and Anhui provinces.

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 Jan. 12, 2017)

No one injured in Chicken Coop fire

coop

St. Joseph Township firefighters put out a fire at the Chicken Coop restaurant along Washington Avenue on Tuesday night. No one was injured from the fire. (Tony Wittkowski | HP Staff)

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

ST. JOSEPH — It took firefighters about 20 minutes to put out a fire that started at the Chicken Coop restaurant in St. Joseph Township.

Several fire trucks and police cars blocked traffic near the restaurant Tuesday night at 2062 Washington Ave. as smoke continued to billow after firefighters had hosed down the business.

St. Joseph Township Fire Chief Gary Maynard said it appears the fire started after a vent blower short circuited. However, authorities won’t know for sure until later in the week.

“The owner of the business indicated to us that he could smell something burning and his exhaust fans quit,” Maynard said. “At that time, he shut all of his fry vats down, but he could still smell something burning.”

The lone employee working in the building left uninjured.

Maynard could not estimate how much damage the building took, but said it was mostly just smoke damage.

“It’s not that bad, but there won’t be any chicken made for a while,” Maynard said.

Firefighters got the call around 6:30 p.m. when they were already out on another call for a structure fire.

Maynard said they used a saw in the attic of the restaurant to cut a hole in the ceiling to make sure there wasn’t any fire remaining. St. Joseph Township police and Medic 1 were also on scene for assistance.

Various people from Burger King and Chilli’s across the street made their way out to watch as firefighters put out the fire at the Chicken Coop.

Standing outside next door to the neighboring building was Dan Sandmann, an employee of Sandmann Barber Shop.

The Sandmann family owns a few of the buildings along Washington Avenue that house businesses, including the Chicken Coop.

Sandmann said his family leases the building to the owner of the Chicken Coop and was curious about what was taking place next to his workplace.

“A buddy of mine works across the street at Chili’s as a manager,” Sandmann said. “He was the one who texted me and told me the Chicken Coop was on fire. I walked out and saw this.”

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 Jan. 11, 2017)

SJPS Foundation raises $572K in 2016

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

ST. JOSEPH — The St. Joseph Public School Foundation surpassed several of its goals in 2016, which the school district’s board was happy to hear Monday night.

Bill Marohn, foundation president, and Sue Riemland, foundation administrator, gave trustees a year-end review for one of the district’s largest grant contributors. Riemland referred to 2016 as the “best year in the history of the foundation.”

In her report, Riemland outlined the foundation’s net revenue of more than $572,000 after setting its original goal at $450,000.

Riemland said Whirlpool Corp. remained the foundation’s biggest contributor in 2016. The appliance maker contributed about $160,000, which was raised in large by the company’s golf outing.

“We couldn’t do what we do without the help of Whirlpool,” Riemland told trustees Monday. “As we talk to our counterparts and other school foundations across the state, they remind us of what they wouldn’t give for a corporate partner like Whirlpool.”

While the foundation overshot its goal in 2016 by quite a bit, Marohn said they are going to retain their goal of $450,000 heading into 2017. This is in part because there will be no Encore in 2017.

Encore, which raised about $70,000 after expenses in 2016, is a two-night variety show that reunites former St. Joseph High School performers every other year.

The goals are set with the chairs of the foundation’s executive committee.

Marohn said they will also reach out to staff members to see what the foundation can do better.

“One of the things we are trying to do is tap into teachers who have not requested a grant from our foundation,” he said. “We are trying to figure out the barriers and how we can get them to be more willing to apply for a grant.”

New year, same faces

Three returning trustees were sworn in Monday night as well.

Barry Conybeare, Denise Reeves and Kerry Wright took a ceremonial oath of office at the beginning of the meeting after being elected to the board in November.

Trustees also voted for who should hold what cabinet positions on the board for the current term. Amy Porritt-Peirce was voted to remain as board president, J.T. Inman was named vice president, Reeves was voted secretary and Chris Cook will remain treasurer.

Cook, Inman and Amy Marohn will continue to serve on the district’s Finance Committee.

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 Jan. 10, 2017)

Niles, Napier intersection to get new street sign

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

ST. JOSEPH — For weeks, the street sign on the corner of Niles and Napier avenues in St. Joseph has been shorter than normal after recent construction on the intersection.

Michigan Department of Transportation spokesman Nick Schirripa said while signs are mandated to be at least 17 feet off the ground, the shorter sign was meant to be there temporarily.

Schirripa said the street name signs are owned by the city of St. Joseph. However, MDOT temporarily relocated them because of the signal work at that location.

The signal work is expected to be completed later this year, which Schirripa said will most likely be closer toward summer.

“There will be new street signs at the intersection, which are the big illuminated signs that hang from the signal mast arm,” Schirripa said. “I know we are working on the utilities, but we have yet to do ADA (American Disabilities Act) ramp reconstruction for the sidewalks. The signals also have to be replaced.”

The illuminated street sign that is expected to be installed at the three-way intersection will be the only one MDOT plans to do so in the city.

“There were a handful of intersections we are working on, but that’s the only one that gets that big of a change,” Schirripa said. “I don’t think there were any others that were getting that much of a design change.”

Traffic numbers for Napier Avenue are not available to MDOT, but Niles Avenue sees about 17,600 cars daily that run south of Napier and 14,200 cars that north of Napier.

The busy intersection is no stranger to construction, especially with work on the CVS Pharmacy that began in 2015.

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 Jan. 10, 2017)

World Series trophy coming to St. Joseph

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

ST. JOSEPH — The Chicago Cubs’ World Series trophy is expected to make an appearance in St. Joseph next month.

The Cubs updated its trophy tour schedule, which now includes St. Joseph and Kalamazoo on its list of stops on Feb. 20.

Referred to as the Commissioner’s Trophy, the time of the trophy’s arrival – as well as the trophy’s destination – were not listed online. However, it does state “to be decided” on the website.

It is also unknown if any players from the Cubs championship team will be present during the tour. The Cubs’ media relations department did not return comment to The Herald-Palladium on the tour’s specifics Monday.

Brian Smith, interim director of St. Joseph Today, said the announcement of the visit presents good timing as the Cubs’ mascot is being carved to be on display for the 13th annual Magical Ice Festival from Feb. 3-5.

While Smith said he doesn’t know where the tour will be in the Twin Cities, he’s welcome to hosting the trophy.

“We would certainly welcome the celebration,” Smith said Monday. “We have a lot of Chicago visitors and second home owners and vacationers that come here. Anything that creates excitement in Chicago – we would be happy host it.”

Kalamazoo is another stop on the trophy tour for Feb. 20. However, like St. Joseph, it is unknown when and where the trophy will be in Kalamazoo.

Berrien County residents who don’t want to wait for Feb. 20 can drive to South Bend later this month. The South Bend Cubs and Notre Dame will host the Cubs’ World Series trophy on Jan. 21.

The trophy will be at the South Bend Cubs’ Performance Center at 525 S. Lafayette Blvd. in South Bend and at the Notre Dame Basketball Purcell Pavilion at 113 Joyce Center in Notre Dame, Ind., on Jan. 21.

The Commissioner’s Trophy is 24 inches tall and features 30 flags – one for each Major League Baseball team.

After a 108-year championship drought, the Cubs won the 2016 World Series by a score of 8-7 in Game 7 over the Cleveland Indians. The win secured one of the greatest comebacks in the MLB, where the Cubs were forced to win the final three games of the series.

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 Jan. 10, 2017)

Making pennies stretch further: Business owners uncertain of minimum wage increase

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

ST. JOSEPH — Tom Jennings remembers getting paid $1.45 an hour at his first job and being happy about it.

That first job was at a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in the 1970s, when Jennings was still attending high school. Decades later as the owner of Czar’s 505 in downtown St. Joseph, Jennings doesn’t understand why the conversation of upping minimum wage to $15 an hour should be broached.

“If people are good, they’ll work their way up,” Jennings said. “Getting paid $1.45 an hour, I didn’t complain about it because I was a high school kid in 1974.”

As of Jan. 1, the minimum wage increased from $8.50 to $8.90 an hour in Michigan. The wage is scheduled to climb again on Jan. 1, 2018, to $9.25, with future increases tied to the rate of inflation.

Tipped workers are also getting a similar bump in pay. Their base pay rate has gone from $3.23 to $3.38, and will go up again at the start of next year to $3.52. However, these increases are applicable to employers of two or more employees in Michigan.

While minimum wage is set at $8.50 in January, there are still lower wage rates that were enforced at the start of the year. Employers can pay $4.25 per hour for newly employed teens between the ages of 16 and 19 for the first 90 days of their employment. After that, the employees that are ages 16 and 17 can still be paid the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

According to estimates from the U.S. Department of Labor, about 4.3 million low-wage workers across America were slated to experience a pay increase across 19 states last week. In total, 29 states and the District of Columbia have now set a minimum wage level higher than the federal standard of $7.25 an hour.

Aside from local districts, Washington, D.C., has the highest minimum wage in the U.S. at $11.50, followed by Massachusetts and Washington with $11 each. Arizona made the biggest pay leap this month, with its minimum wage increasing by $1.95 to $10.

While Michiganders might have to wait a few years before reaching that level, it could be worse. The lowest minimum wage belongs to Wyoming at $5.15.

Minimum wage had been $7.40 in Michigan before 2014, when legislators passed a bill that would raise it gradually to $9.25 by 2018. It previously rose to $8.15 on Sept. 1, 2014.

Jennings, who’s owned and managed several area businesses in downtown St. Joseph, said raising minimum wage is not a good thing.

“In a time when we are in competition with other states and countries, this is not a good idea,” Jennings said. “Small businesses already have enough trouble trying to turn a profit and we don’t need to put anything more overhead.”

A theory among several economists is one that Jennings believes is a possibility with the pay hike. By raising the minimum wage, in theory, businesses will be inclined to hire fewer people in entry-level positions. This in turn would then lead to a slight boost in unemployment.

Roger Seely, owner of Roger’s Foodland in Royalton Township, said they try to stay as competitive as anybody else when it comes to pay. While Seely said they don’t plan on eliminating any positions at their grocery store, their budget is expected to get a little tighter.

“We work off of such small margins that any factor can make things tighter,” Seely said. “But somehow, down the road, everybody is going to have to adjust to cover these things. I mean, when the price of gasoline goes up, things change. That’s just business. We’ll dig into our pockets as we go along.”

Jennings said because of the wage increase, there are a lot fewer hostesses in the restaurant business because most can’t afford to pay that much for people to sit out front and greet customers.

“It’s too difficult to make money in labor-intensive businesses,” said Jennings, who used to run Pump House Grill, among other St. Joseph eateries. “The market is not going to absorb it. You can’t just pass it along to a customer. It’s caused me to not want to be in the restaurant business.”

Among the industries Jennings expects to see hit by the increased minimum wage are retail stores and restaurants – who often provide that first job for high school students.

Jennings said the state could face another hurdle in attracting potential companies with increased wages.

“If you have a company that wants to relocate a factory, and they’re thinking about going to Berrien County or northern Indiana, the company will go where the wage is lower,” Jennings said.

Too soon to tell?

For economic development organizations like Kinexus, which trains inexperienced workers, there appears to be no real hard data yet to show any potential impact. Currently, 2015 holds the most recent data for occupational wages locally and statewide.

“The first increase in minimum wage in Michigan was Jan. 1, 2016, where it went up to $8.50 (an hour),” Mary Morphey, customer engagement manager with Kinexus, said in an email. “Now a second increase has happened and we don’t know the impact yet. Right now, any data that we could present from EMSI shows potential wage growth would be anecdotal at best.”

However, Seely said minimum wage no longer applies to anyone who is trying to feed their family. He said the people who are normally paid the minimum are either working a part-time job or are working for some extra spending money.

Seely recalled his first job when he was a bagger at a grocery store.

In 1960, he was paid the union wage of $1.03 per hour. While he doesn’t believe a bagger should be paid $15 an hour like many fast-food restaurant workers are lobbying for, Seely said he believes the increase will benefit employees due to the rising costs of living.

“When I came out of the service, the price of bread went up from 19 cents to 30 cents,” Seely said. “Everything has gone up one way or another. Now a cheap loaf of bread is $1.50, so pay has to account for that. We just have to make pennies stretch out farther.”

Jim Kramer, who owns Schu’s bar & Grill and Tim’s Too in downtown St. Joseph, doesn’t foresee the wage increase having any impact on his restaurants.

This is because few who work at his restaurants are paid minimum wage, Kramer said.

“Depending on their age and experience, some of our summer employees, like hosts and dishwashers, are the main ones who would be paid minimum wage,” Kramer said. But that’s just to start out. If they work long enough, they move up rather quickly in payroll.”

During his time in the restaurant industry, Kramer said he’s in favor of increasing minimum wage and making things even. Kramer said the minimum wage should be decided by other factors – especially if it’s an employee’s first job.

Kramer hasn’t heard anything negative about restaurants closing as a result of the increase. However, he said upping minimum wage will eventually be passed on to the customers or the profit margins of businesses will take a hit.

“It’s a natural thing. If your food prices go up, what we pay for the price of the food we have to be passed along,” Kramer said. “But can you do that all the time? No. The price of ground beef went up this summer, but did we charge extra? No. The price eventually went back down and it evened itself 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 Jan. 8, 2017)

Snow plow cameras coming in handy for MDOT

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

After a Southwest Michigan test run, the Michigan Department of Transportation is helping the public track where snow plows are working on state roads this winter.

Using GPS technology, members of the public are able to see the location of plow trucks and where salt is being applied on the Mi Drive website at www.michigan.gov/drive.

The pilot program, introduced to MDOT plow trucks in Berrien, Cass, Kalamazoo, Van Buren and St. Joseph counties, has since branched to include the rest of the state.

For days like Friday, when at least six accidents took place along I-94, the new technology has come in handy for drivers.

Under certain circumstances, plow truck locations are plotted on the Mi Drive Interactive Map when they are traveling faster than 10 mph and are within 50 feet of the roadway. Those visiting the site are able to see if the plow is down and if salt is being applied. Camera images are available for some of the plows.

Michigan Department of Transportation spokesman Nick Schirripa said the program, which began last winter, equips each plow truck with a GPS locator. However, not all the trucks have the camera.

The blue truck icons on the map don’t have cameras, but still tell residents if they are plowing or salting. The purple icons do both, while also showing updated images from the road.

Since making its debut in Southwest Michigan, the rest of MDOT has taken on the program.

This area was chosen for the pilot project because of its high level of winter storm activity and the concentration of MDOT maintenance services in the region.

“We have the largest percentage of direct work force in the state,” Schirripa said. “By that I mean most MDOT regions contract with their counties. However, we have more plows in our region, which gave us a better idea of how the project would fare.”

MDOT’s Southwest Region has 86 plow trucks and about 140 plow drivers, who work out of seven regional garages. Among those drives, there are 62 routes to cover.

There are other states that use the dash camera feature, Schirripa said.

While MDOT has done the GPS locator for its snow plows before, it was never for the public’s benefit.

Schirripa said the locator was originally used to incur details about their snow plows from how much material is used and what areas tend to require more attention from plowing.

Then the idea came about to put the locators on the Mi Drive maps to let people know where the heaviest activity of plow activities were. The cameras came along soon after.

When the pilot program was re-evaluated last spring, Schirripa said it was received so well that other regions wanted to do it.

“When we first unveiled it, the feedback was unbelievable – especially on Facebook and Twitter,” he said. “It’s just an easy way of letting people know when a snow plow is near their street. People really appreciated that and the cameras as well. The truck cameras gave them another look.”

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 Jan. 7, 2017)