Monday, November 25, 2013

Best of the Net 11/18-11/24

Kellogg Foundation Helps Kids

Battle Creek's W.K. Kellogg Foundation is selecting 100 people for fellowships to help vulnerable children and their families. The Battle Creek Enquirer reports that the fellows will primarily represent the priority areas of Michigan, Mississippi, New Orleans and New Mexico.

The Foundation will grant each fellow a $20,000 stipend and another $5,000 for a leadership project in the program's final year. The fellowship's three-year curriculum hopes to develop community leaders who will remove barriers to children's healthy development, academic success and economic security.

Literary Scene is Thriving in Detroit

Online magazine Ozy recently highlighted Detroit's literary scene. The excellent review reveals how Detroit often has been overlooked by publishers scheduling book tours and how Literary Detroit is promoting Detroit as a literary city. The volunteer organization hosts events for authors and serves as a network to connect readers with authors' works.

In addition to mentioning Literary Detroit and several authors and poets from Detroit, Ozy acknowledges InsideOut, a program that places professional writers in Detroit schools. The writers help students express themselves and provide opportunities for students to publish or perform their own work.

Grand Rapids Business Innovates

The Grand Rapid Business Journal reports that Grand Rapids-based Varsity News Network won the $500,000 grand prize at the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition. According the article, investors from 77 global firms attended the competition and 50 companies competed for the grand prize.

Varsity News Network provides a platform for high school athletic departments to promote their athletics programs online. According to the company's website, it also provides opportunities for students to learn about writing, web design, marketing and entrepreneurship.

Flint is Growing...Produce

In the heart of an urban area, Flint River Farms is growing produce and teaching children about farming. Michigan Nightlight features the farm's history and outreach efforts within the community. The farm started in 2010 and provides education programs for children through the FoodCorps and edible flint programs.

The farm also sells its products to Flint restaurants and farmers markets. According to Roxanne Adair, one of the farm's founders, the farm also hopes to sell its produce in local stores that currently sell only junk food.

Michigan Starts Up

Michigan is full of opportunities for startups and entrepreneurs to gain help creating and building their businesses. Two recent options for startups to grow their businesses are Detroit Innovate and Startup Weekend.

Michipreneur reports that Detroit Innovate, an early stage fund, recently launched. According to the report, the fund will offer investments of $50,000 to $500,000 for healthcare, transportation and advanced manufacturing startups. The fund's website states that the fund is working to develop high-growth companies within the entire Detroit region.

Startup Weekend is a national organization that provides designers, marketers, developers and entrepreneurs the chance to share ideas, build networks and launch startups. Michipreneur reports that Startup Weekend recently concluded programs in Detroit and Kalamazoo and that it will be coming to Grand Rapids in January and Ann Arbor in February.

Mount Clemens Welcomes Entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurs are moving into Mount Clemens according to a report by the Macomb Daily. Businesses are moving into empty offices due to low rents, the Clinton River waterfront and their proximity to the city's restaurants and bars.

The article features several of the entrepreneurs who recently have made Mount Clemens their home. Some of the newer businesses include architectural firms, software developers and marketing firms.
[Update: The link for this article from November 24 is no longer online].

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Giving Thanks for Michiganders

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.
-John F. Kennedy
Every week I sift through news stories and blog posts to find the best news from Michigan for my weekly “Best of the Net” feature. It is a time-consuming process, but it is not tedious. Instead, I find myself beaming with pride and inspired to promote my home state as I read about the many businesses and nonprofits that are giving back to their communities throughout Michigan. As Thanksgiving approaches, I want to commend these organizations and people for their dedication to Michigan. 

Filmmakers are documenting the state's natural beauty and economic recovery. Small businesses and restaurants are bringing pride and job opportunities to their communities. Nonprofits, new and old, are encouraging children to succeed, promoting the arts and caring for the less fortunate. Start up incubators are helping new businesses thrive throughout the state. By making their communities better, these Michiganders are not just uttering words of thanks, but living by them.

I was going to make a list of every organization in Michigan that inspires me, but it is impossible to attempt to credit everyone without snubbing many. I merely will say thank you to the organizations and individuals that make people believe in Michigan and, more importantly, make Michiganders believe in themselves. You brighten Michigan's days and bring the night's stars within reach.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Best of the Net 11/11-11/17

Detroit's Midtown Continues To Impress

Midtown Detroit, Inc. is a planning and development nonprofit organization working to maintain and revitalize the Midtown district in Detroit. Its efforts have helped Midtown become one of Detroit's success stories in recent years. MLive reports that the Urban Land Institute (ULI) has named Midtown Detroit, Inc. as one of twelve Global Award for Excellence winners.

According to the MLive report, ULI commended Midtown Detroit Inc. for its efforts with the Woodward Garden Block development, the Sugar Hill Art District, the Ellington and Whole Foods Market development, the Auburn and the Green Garage. In addition to these developments, Midtown offers many cultural attractions through the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Detroit Public Library and Wayne State University.

Midtown is not done reinventing itself though. Model D reports that a Knight Foundation grant will support the TechTown Living Room, a public space at Cass and Burroughs that will be available to the approximately 400 entrepreneurs who will be moving into the new TechTown co-working space in Midtown.

Filmmakers Feature U.P. Bike Trails

The Upper Peninsula offers an abundance of outdoor activities including the up-and-coming sport of snow biking. Clear and Cold Cinema is a U.P. production company that seeks to highlight the beauty of the U.P. Upper Peninsula's Second Wave reports that the production company is releasing a new film called Cold Rolled. The action-packed documentary features snow biking on the trails of Marquette's Noquemanon Trail Network.

For a brief trailer for the film, click here.

LaughFest Is Coming To Grand Rapids

Gilda's LaughFest, the annual comedy festival held in Grand Rapids since 2011, has announced its 2014 lineup. The Grand Rapids Business Journal reports that comedians Jay Leno, Lily Tomlin, Chris Tucker and Jim Gaffigan, among others, will be performing between March 6 and 16.

The festival raises funds for Gilda's Club Grand Rapids, which provides cancer, grief and emotional health support to the community. Gilda's Club is named in honor of legendary Michigan comedian and original Saturday Night Live cast member Gilda Radner.

To Be Should Not Be A Question

The original king of comedy (and tragedy), William Shakespeare, hopes to come to Detroit this summer. Shakespeare in Detroit (SiD) aims to bring three outdoor Shakespeare plays to the city in 2014. If SiD is able to stage the plays in Detroit, it will also hire Detroiters to prepare and perform in the productions. Last summer, the company produced Othello in Grand Circus Park.

However, the company needs help raising funds according to a report by Hell Yeah Detroit. Sam White, the founder of SiD, is asking for financial help through a Kickstarter campaign. If you would like to help, click here to see a video from White explaining her goals and to make a donation. As White explains in the video, other major cities have outdoor Shakespeare productions, and if it is good enough for them, it's good enough for Detroit.

A Flint Made Man Gives Back

Eric Woodyard is a journalist from Flint who refuses to believe that he succeeded despite growing up on Flint's north side. Instead, he believes his success is a result of the grit and toughness he developed while growing up in Flint. MLive highlights Woodyard's production of his short film "Flint Made Me." The film features interviews with people who inspired him and helped him obtain academic scholarships while also showing the neighborhood he grew up in.

Woodyard will use proceeds from the film to help fund a scholarship. For a preview of the film, click here.

Symphony Broadens Its Reach

The Grand Rapids Symphony is trying to gain interest from younger music lovers through its MySymphony360 program. The membership program is designed for professionals between the ages of 21 and 35. The Grand Rapids Business Journal reports that the symphony will offer discounted tickets to the program's members and that it hopes to partner with restaurants and bars to offer additional discounts to members on concert nights.

Detroit's Unseen Sights

Shinola, manufacturer of bicycles and luxury watches, is one of Detroit's newer businesses that is bringing jobs and positive press to the city. Sight Unseen asked Shinola's creative director Daniel Caudill to give snapshots of his new hometown. The story features several photos of Caudill's favorite places and businesses in Detroit and includes his commentary about why these places are special.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Bourdain's Detroit: An Unfinished Story

Flowers reaching for the sun in Detroit. Photo by A. Burtka

Points of view. Biases. Misperceptions. Truths.  Everyone’s narrative is shaped by all of these. They blend. They diverge. They contradict. But in the end, every story is skewed by the lens through which it is seen.

Detroit has several million narratives, the narratives of those who live in the city, those who live in the suburbs and those who used to live there. Even commentators who “parachute in” from the coasts with preconceived notions of a city in ruin craft their own narratives, even though they are horribly shaped by their own personal biases.

After Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown episode aired, the internet exploded with knee-jerk reactions, positive and negative, to the show. I sat on my couch stunned. I was not surprised by anything the show revealed, except for maybe the ghost gardens growing in yards where families had not lived for decades. I thought to myself that I needed to digest the show for a few days before being able to summarize my feelings about it, but nearly a week later, I am still dumbfounded.

Digesting this show, more than any other exposé on Detroit, is as difficult as digesting the entire history of the city. My stomach cannot handle the history of Detroit in one sitting. I can nibble off a piece here and there, but I quickly become full and have to turn to something else.

Although I did not grow up in the city, I was born there and grew up in its suburbs. My mom did grow up in the city, and her schools and church are now long gone, but the street she grew up on is still there. My grandparents moved to the city and this street in search of the abundant opportunities that Detroit offered.

My grandma loved to garden, and I think of her planting flowers, trees or bushes in the family’s yard on Bangor Street in the 1950s. My grandma passed away a decade ago in her native Pennsylvania, and I now wonder if her memory lives on in a ghost garden in Detroit…something I never considered before the Detroit episode of Parts Unknown. It is painful to think that something she once cared for and nourished may still be living and yet I have never seen it because I have never set my eyes upon my mom’s old street.

I believe knowing your history, especially knowing what went wrong, is important and not to be ignored. Like any Detroiter, I am offended by “ruin porn” that merely exists to sell a story that Detroit is dead. It is unproductive and is insulting to the many people who live in Detroit and the many more who still love it and consider it home. Showing an abandoned building or burned out house does not offend me if the blight is offered in a constructive manner that reflects on what went wrong, but also what can  be done to make things right.

Like any narrative, Bourdain’s show contained nuggets of truth but did not tell the whole story. The footage of the Packard Plant and the abandoned buildings are truths that punch you in the gut harder than any blow from Joe Louis. Bourdain did say Detroit was “screwed” over and over again, but unlike some commentators’ jabs, it did not feel like an insult. It felt as if Bourdain truly felt the pain of a city that has been continually knocked to the ground but that keeps getting up saying, “Is that all you’ve got?”

Bourdain did not focus on Midtown and Downtown as many hoped he would, but those are the more well-known parts of Detroit that are flourishing. He took his viewers to actual neighborhoods where actual Detroiters live, and he did give us Chef Craig Lieckfelt who loved Detroit enough to do the unthinkable of leaving a world of opportunity in New York to come back to his hometown. There are many more doing what Lieckfelt did, and Bourdain unfortunately missed out on them.

It’s easy to understand the knee-jerk reactions about the show from Detroiters because each reaction is valid in its own right. Each was the composite of an individual’s points of view, biases, misperceptions and truths. Detroiters know the truth more than the rest of us, but even Detroiters do not agree on what the truth is. The important thing is that the past is not accepted as the narrative for the future. What’s done is done. It’s time to move on.

Detroit is moving on, maybe slower and more painfully then we would like, but it is moving on. Blight busters, mower gangs, public art projects, urban farms, startup businesses and new ideas are shaping a new narrative for this city. Insults and jokes from every national pundit and comedian would break a lesser city, but Detroit is still there. It still fights, much like the flowers in ghost gardens pushing their way through the weeds to reach the sun.

If you love Detroit, do not bemoan its past. Believe in its future. The city’s narrative is not finished. Millions of souls have and will contribute to this great city’s story.

What will your contribution be? 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Bell's vs. The World

The venue

On Tuesday night, Bell's Brewery of Kalamazoo, Michigan, competed with beer selections from Lyon Hall restaurant in Arlington, Virginia. The Lyon Hall vs. Bell's beer dinner featured a five course meal with each course accompanied by one beer selected by Lyon Hall's beer director David McGregor and one beer chosen by Bell's. The diners then chose which beer better suited each course, not necessarily which beer tasted better on its own.

I attended last month's beer dinner when Founders went head to head with Lyon Hall, and I was interested to see how Bell's fared against McGregor. Plus, the food was so good last month that I wanted to try more creations from Lyon Hall's chef.


Food: Thistle Honey Roasted Pear Salad, Duck Confit, Duck Fat Vinaigrette
Bell's: Winter White Ale
Lyon Hall: New Belgium RedRock Paardebloem

The first course

I am not sure what thistle honey is (or is it thistle and honey?), and duck fat is not something I usually ask for at my local supermarket, but this course was surprisingly enticing. My wife normally does not like duck, but she enjoyed the duck confit.

Wheat beers are generally a hit or miss with me. I tend to like darker, more robust beers, but an occasional wheat will surprise me. The Winter White Ale on its own did not make a strong impression on me. It was a little too light for me, and had too much of a lemony flavor and soapy texture for my taste.

I enjoyed the Paardebloem (do not ask me how to pronounce this) better. It was fruity, but not overbearingly fruity, with a predominantly peach taste. It was refreshing and easy on the palate.

Ultimately, I felt that the Winter White paired better with the pear and duck. The peach flavors of the Paardebloem almost drowned the flavor of the food while the Winter White's flavors seemed to enhance the taste of the duck and pear.

Bell's 1
Lyon Hall 0

Monday, November 11, 2013

Best of the Net 11/4-11/10

Lansing Builds The Car Of The Year

Michigan auto workers can still build a great car, and Motor Trend magazine agrees. Motor Trend has named the Cadillac CTS its 2014 Car of the Year. As reported by the Lansing State Journal, Cadillac revamped the CTS for 2014, and the remodeling has paid off.

Cadillac manufactures the CTS at its Lansing Grand River plant. The plant built its one-millionth car in September, which coincidentally was a 2014 CTS. The CTS previously won Motor Trend Car of the Year honors in 2008.

Detroit Housing Market Rebounds

Detroit's housing market may not be strong, but it is improving. MLive reports that Detroit led the nation's housing recovery for the third quarter according to a study. Detroit's home sale prices have been climbing at a double digit rate since March, although the median home price is still extremely low.

With Detroit's revitalized Downtown and Midtown, hopefully more people will move into the city and continue to improve home prices.

Marquette Tourism Has A Strong 2013

The Mining Journal reports that Marquette County tourism has been strong this year and that tourism spending in the Upper Peninsula increased 10 to 11 percent this summer. The article lists the many attractions in the U.P. that have contributed to the tourism growth, such as beaches, kayaking, biking, brew pubs, mining museums, waterfalls and fall foliage.

The U.P.'s close proximity to metro areas such as Chicago, Detroit and Minneapolis also makes it a desirable and easy destination for a large number of travelers.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Detroit Food City

When I return to Michigan, I always look forward to visiting my favorite restaurants. Old favorites provide the comfort of knowing that I will enjoy what I order and bring back memories of good times.

When I recently returned to Detroit, I decided to step outside of my comfort zone by visiting several restaurants in Detroit that I had not been to before and two classics that I had not been to in years.

Below are my favorites:

The Two Classics

The originals: Lafayette and American

During my first day in Detroit, I needed to visit American Coney Island and Lafayette Coney Island. These are the two original makers of Detroit Coney dogs. A Detroit Coney is an all-beef hot dog topped with chili, mustard and onions.

These two competitors are next door to each other but have very different approaches to their business. American is a much larger restaurant with large windows and a much brighter atmosphere. Lafayette is a small, dingy dive. Lafayette's dinginess only adds to its authentic feel, while American feels more like a fast food chain on the inside. Its menu is much bigger than Lafayette's with items like gyros, a Greek salad, a taco salad and a chicken pita. I did not see a menu at Lafayette, but I understand that they only have Coney dogs and french fries (with or without chili).

As for the Coneys, I preferred Lafayette and its sweeter onions. I remember liking Lafayette better as a kid, but American was better than I remembered. If you are looking for more than Coney dogs, American is the place for you. The staff was friendlier, and the chicken pita my wife had was actually really good.

If I was taking a group out with a few people who do not like hot dogs, I would take them to American, but I would stop at Lafayette afterward and grab a Coney to go.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Best of the Net 10/28-11/3

A New Era of Innovative CEOs

In the early 1900s, Michigan drew entrepreneurs from around the country and the world, all of whom wanted a piece of the auto industry's pie. Eventually that pie was divided three ways by Ford, GM and Chrysler, and many innovators flocked to other areas of the country. Now, entrepreneurs are coming to Michigan and starting a wider variety of businesses throughout the state.

One sign of the diversification of Michigan's economy is the CEO Summit of the Business Leaders for Michigan, which was held in Detroit on Wednesday. The Detroit News highlighted the CEO Summit and some of the businesses throughout the state that are working to diversify and create balance for Michigan's economy.

Detroit Startup Will Boost You Up

Saving money for a wedding, a vacation, a car or a new home can be difficult, but Boost Up is here to help. The crowdfunding website allows users to save for major expenses, and it allows family and friends to make donations. Michipreneur reports that Boost Up recently moved to Detroit from Chicago and that Detroit Venture Partners recently provided $1 million in funding to the company.

Michigan And Michigan State Play Nice

Michigan State University may have defeated the University of Michigan on the gridiron on Saturday, but these two universities work together off the field on a regular basis. The Lansing State Journal recently highlighted the many ways that the two schools combine their resources to improve Michigan and humanity as a whole.

For example, the two schools and Wayne State University are members of the University Resource Corridor, an effort to coordinate the universities' research efforts to strengthen Michigan's economy. Michigan and Michigan State scientists also work together to cure diseases, and their academics collaborate to foster entrepreneurship. Unlike the athletic contests between the Wolverines and Spartans, everyone is a winner when these two universities meet in the academic halls and scientific labs.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Wolverine and Spartan Fans Defined

Today, the Michigan State Spartans and Michigan Wolverines will play their annual in-state rivalry game. MSU fans think that all Wolverines are "arrogant asses" (and that's a direct quote about Wolverines from a former Spartan head coach). U-M fans think Spartans have a collective inferiority complex and that they would rather see Michigan fail than Michigan State succeed.

In "honor" of both fanbases, here are two movie scenes that capture what each side thinks of itself and its competition:

Ferris Bueller's Day Off

MSU fans think: Wow, we are really cool like Charlie Sheen, and Jennifer Grey is a Michigan student who is upset that she didn't get into an Ivy League school like her brother. Plus, we really are a lot better looking and cooler than Michigan students. No wonder Jennifer Grey/U-M students always want to hook up with us.

U-M fans think: We are Ferris Bueller. We are brilliant and charming and do not understand why MSU (Jennifer Grey) hates us so much. MSU fans spend every minute of every day worrying about us and denying the fact that they would rather be in Ann Arbor...or wait, is Charley Sheen MSU? He is in a police station after partying too hard and presumably burning a couch the night before.  Ha ha...couch burning jokes never get old.

Good Will Hunting

MSU fans think: Michigan is totally the Harvard guy. Completely arrogant and treats people who do not go to U-M as inferiors. This scene reminds me of that time in the bar when I totally shut up that Michigan student by pointing out that I got into U-M but chose MSU because it has a better Veterinary School.

U-M fans think: We are Will Hunting, and Ben Affleck is my friend from high school that went to MSU. We are just as smart as Harvard grads and love to fight for the little guy. This scene totally reminds me of that time that Northwestern student was picking on my friend from MSU for going to a public university and I shut him down by pointing out how much less my in-state tuition at U-M cost than his Northwestern tuition.

The reality

If you went to either MSU or U-M, odds are you have friends and family members who went to the other school, especially if you grew up in Michigan. Except for the days that our football, basketball and hockey teams meet on the field, court or ice, we generally get along.

The more time we spend together, the more we realize that we are not that different from each other. Yes, we still take lighthearted jabs at each other, but in the end we are brothers and sisters. Perhaps the ending of an 80s teen classic sums it up best:

It's easy to see us "in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions," but if you spend time with your enemy you will find out that each one of us is a brain, an athlete, a basketcase, a princess, and a criminal (wait, that last one only applies to Buckeyes).

Here's to a good game today. Remember, our two schools work together a lot and many of us do have family members who went to the "other school." Keep it clean and respectful.

And finally, Go Blue! Beat State!