Jobs and the economy

The Surrey House in Harrison, Michigan

Plans are underway to reopen the Surrey House in Harrison if grants can be obtained to purchase and renovate the building. The goal is to take the historic two-story building that most recently housed a restaurant and bar and turn it into a mixed-use facility to help grow retail businesses. Tenants could include a small restaurant and community kitchen, and possibly several hotel rooms and a spa, according to an article in the March 1, 2012 issue of the Clare County Cleaver.

The Middle Michigan Development Corporation, a private, non-profit economic development organization responsible for the industrial and technological development of  Clare and Isabella Counties, and the Small Business Initiative Council, an organization that seeks to foster entrepreneurial activity the county and create an atmosphere that is inviting for business growth are assisting in the project.

The city of Harrison agreed to the project including taking title to the building as long as the city would not be under any financial obligation if grants do not cover the costs involved. The Surrey House has been closed since January 21011.

This is an ad that appeared in the Clare County Cleaver not long after the Surrey House reopened.

The building was constructed around 1880, a time when Harrison was booming thanks to the logging industry. Trains pulled into town on a daily basis bringing lumberman, storekeepers, families and even criminals like the infamous Jim Car (one of the most despicable men Michigan has ever produced), and taking lumber back south to construct cities in Michigan and in the Midwest.

The building was originally called the Lockwood House and served as a boarding house and restaurant during the logging era. Later renamed the Ohio Tavern and then the Colonial Hotel,  it was bought by two Flint businessmen in fall of 1945. At that time it was remodeled and renamed the Surrey House, according to an article in the June 13, 1945 issue of the Cleaver announcing the reopening. (There was no reason cited in the article for the name change.) Changes at that time included a Colonial porch constructed on the west side, two available entrances and “Beautiful sleeping quarters are on the second floor all remodeled rooms with splendid beds and cleanliness that is bound to please those seeking lodging.”

Rumor has it the building is haunted by a small boy that prowls the rooms upstairs. While his is a restless and sometimes mischievous spirit, it is not an evil one. Moving items from one location to another or opening closed doors is about the worst a waitress at the restaurant told me several years ago.

It will be nice to see the building reopened for use by more than just restless spirits.

Categories: Clare County, Economy, Harrison, History, Jobs and the economy | Tags: | 3 Comments

Rules for Clare Bank Employees — 1909

The following rules were found in the book “Clare Remembered 1879 – 1979,” published by the Clare Area Centennial Committee. Citizens bank stood on the corner of Fourth and MeEwan and operated for 70 years ,beginning in 1908.

Clare Citizens BankCitizens Bank of Clare — Rules for Employees       
March 10, 1909

  1. Office employees will daily sweep the floors, dust the furniture, shelves and counters.
  2. Each day fill lamps, clean chimneys, and trim wicks. Wash the windows once a week.
  3. Each clerk will bring in a bucket of water and a scuttle of coal for the day’s business.
  4. Make your pens carefully; You may whittle nibs to suit your individual taste.
  5. The office is will open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. daily except on the Sabbath, on which day it will remain closed. Each employee is expected to spend the Sabbath by attending church.
  6. Men employees will be given an evening off each week for courting purposes, or two evening off a week of they go regularly to church.
  7. Every employee should lay aside for each pay a goodly sum of his earnings for his benefit during his declining years so that he will not become a burden upon the charity of his betters.
  8. Any employee who smokes Spanish cigars, uses liquor in any form, gets shaved at a barber shop, or frequents pool or public halls, will give us good reason to suspect his worth, intentions, integrity of honesty.
  9. The employee who has performed his labor faithfully, and without fault for a period of five years in our service, and who has been thrifty, and is looked upon by his fellow men as a law abiding citizen, will be given an increase of ten cents per day in his pay, provided a just return in profits from the business permits it.
Categories: Clare County, General, History, Jobs and the economy, Life, Michigan | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Hunger in Clare County

Hi-lo unloads food from semi-truckI knew hunger existed in Clare County, Michigan but I never experienced it like I did on Oct. 29, 2011 when I participated in a food distribution sponsored by the Community Nutrition Network.

I volunteered to assist with the distribution on what turned out to be a cold rainy Saturday. The distribution was scheduled for 11 a.m. that day and when I arrived at 8 a.m. there were already people waiting to get into the building carrying bags, boxes and other containers with which to take their free food home.

As the time came nearer to 11 a.m. the line grew steadily until several hundred people waited in a long line that snaked through the empty bus transit building that opened for the purpose. There were elderly people with walkers and canes, young families or single parents carrying babies or standing with  children who–in a perfect world–would have been sitting in a warm house Food cost comparisonwatching cartoons. Each person was different but they had one trait in common: they all waited patiently.  Some of them asked how they could volunteer so they could give back to this organization that was helping them. Some offered thanks for the fact they were being helped. As they waited they could also view nutritional information,recipes and tips to make them better shoppers and showing them how they could eat better at less cost.

My heart broke for those in line, not only because they were in need but also because I Volunteers unpack delivered food for needycould see myself in that line in the not-to-distant-future if I am unable to secure a job.

The Community Nutrition Network is a group of volunteers who wrote a grant to bring food to the needy in the county. For more information on how you can become involved contact Pastor Mike Simon at The Gathering Church at 989-539-1445 or Genine Hopkins at 989-539-1352. The group is looking for faith-based organizations to sponsor a truck for upcoming months.

Categories: Clare County, Economy, Harrison, Jobs and the economy | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

A sign of Frustration–or Surrender

South of Harrison on old US-27 stands a sign that reads: “Thinking of moving here? Don’t. No jobs. No value. No help.”

I’m very curious about that sign–and about the person who posted it. What event made the individual go to the bother of putting it there? What does he or she expect as a result?

The sign also got me thinking about the bigger picture: If Clare County residents want to encourage jobs in this region and improve the local economy, is this the way to do it? What responsibility do we who live and work here have to encourage visitors to visit this area, people to settle, and entrepreneurs to set up their business here? What can we as residents do to improve the county so it is more appealing for businesses and families and encourages our young people to stay once they graduate?

One hopes that whatever caused the sign to be posted will be resolved and the sign removed since venting doesn’t solve problems. I do hope the sign is only a sign of frustration because things in the county, state and nation are not as they  should be and not a sign of of surrender because the person feels things are never going to  improve.

Categories: Clare County, Economy, Home life, Jobs and the economy | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Doggy Dude Ranch Fills a Niche

Zion National Park canyonZion National Park is Utah’s most popular park welcoming more than 2 million visitors a year. And with good reason. The park is filled with beautiful canyons and colorful rock formations, and has trails for people of all abilities. There also is an historic lodge within its boundaries.

Many visitors bring their pets with them on their vacations. However, Zion, like many national parks, is not pet friendly. Pets are not allowed on Zion’s trails or are they to be left unattended in campgrounds, as summers in Zion are brutal with temperatures easily exceeding 100 degrees. Those temps mean pets cannot be left alone in cars–even for a few minutes–while their owners enjoy Zion’s beauty.

Filomena, owner of the Doggy Dude Ranch walks one of the dogs in her care.And that is where the Doggy Dude Ranch comes into the picture. Located just 3.7 miles outside of Zion,  on Highway 9 between Rockville and Springdale, the ranch fills a niche for travelers who want to see Zion but need someone to care for their animals while they do it.

Filomena Diaz-Johnson (pictured at left) has owned and operated the Doggy Dude Ranch since 1990 when she spotted a need for animal careand filled it. Since that time, Filly as she is called and the Doggy Dude Ranch have boarded dogs, cats, horses and has even a camel on its 10-acres of land along side the Virgin River. The ranch has a large–and largely shaded–outdoor kennel and an inside air-conditioned facility for animals Aerial view of Doggy Dude Ranchthat may not like the heat. There is also a large play area (with pools) and animals are given a chance to play and to socialize  with others  (if they are play well with others, that is). A staff member is always on site day or night. Owners can have their pets bathed if they so choose. Filly even offers pet training for those who have problem pets or want to prevent problems.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must state that Filly is my sister-in-law and married to my brother Stephen pictured with her in the photo at right. Filly and her husband Stephen in front of their signThat said, I find her a remarkable woman and one in tune with animals, especially dogs. One could call her a dog whisperer, although it’s not a term she herself uses. She just loves animals and even boards rescue dogs and works to find them homes.

Filly has turned her passion for animals into a thriving business and all because she was able to recognize a need and fill it. It’s a recipe for success and I am happy for her and proud of her. We all should be so lucky.

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A no-win Scenario in Harrison

It’s the Kobayashi Maru–a no-win situation–come to Harrison, Michigan.

We support Michigan Moto Mania lawn signHarrison is a community of some 2,000 people located near the middle of the state’s lower peninsula. Harrison and the surrounding area are relatively poor lacking any major industries and having to depend on tourism and agriculture to stoke its economic engine. And even in regards to tourism, Harrison is more of a stopping point than a destination.  That’s why when Doug and Robin Longenecker, came to town with the promise to being in more tourists and their dollars, the Longeneckers were welcomed with open arms by most of Harrison’s citizens. Unfortunately, one important group of citizens, a group that really matters most–its neighbors–don’t want it.

The facts of the story are this: The Longeneckers purchased 200 acres of land located about 4 miles east of Harrison on Mostetler Road for an attraction they called Michigan Moto Mania. It would be a  road park for motorcycles, quads and various other vehicles. The property the Longeneckers chose consisted of rolling terrain off of a lightly traveled country road. The surrounding area had few residents, but most of the land was in private hands with some state land sprinkled about.

Mosteller RoadThe Longeneckers purchased the property on land contract  after receiving a variance from the township zoning board that the land could be used for the purpose the new owner intended. The township zoning board, consisting of volunteers, was more than happy to grant that  variance, especially since it would mean additional visitors and dollars to the community.

There was just one problem. The zoning board gave its blessing to the plan without giving the neighbors in the immediate vicinity proper notification as required by law. So when the Longeneckers began to cut down trees and bulldoze trails for MMM, several neighbors went ballistic–and one can’t blame them. Most of the neighbors purchased their property in order to enjoy the peace and quiet of the countryside, to watch deer in their yards along with wild turkeys, fox, birds and other assorted wildlife. They didn’t have anything against a resort for motorized vehicles, they just didn’t want it located on Mostetler Road where they would be subjected to the whine of small motors and the roar of large motors day in and day out.

So the neighbors filed suit and have stopped MMM in its tracks and trails. Although the Township Board andMMM property and trails Township Planning Commission have both voted in favor of MMM, the Zoning Board of Appeals and the township attorney have ruled against it.  The courts have so far failed to rule other than to keep the track from opening and tossing the problem back to the township to resolve.

So it’s neighbor against neighbor. The Longeneckers played by the rules, but may lose their investment due to the incompetence of a zoning board that consisted of volunteers who were trying to do what they thought was the right thing. However, members of that board failed in their duty to protect the rights of nearby landowners who should have had a voice and who just want to enjoy their isolated homesteads in peace.

MMM has a Facebook page and has more than 2,100 friends. At least one blogger opposed to the resort posts on a blog called the Hayes Township Watchdog. Sadly, both sides demonize the other. So no matter what happens, someone is going to be harmed and someone’s rights will be trampled. It’s an ugly situation in a town my wife and I have grown to love.

Update: According to an article in the January 13, 2011 issue of the Clare County Cleaver,a local newspaper, the Longneckers have submitted a new plan “complete with a variety of nature-themed activities including horseback riding, cross country skiing, hiking and camping.” The same article states that the opposition seeks removal of  Zoning Board Chairman Lyle Criscuolo from the Zoning Board stating he is biased toward granting a permit to Longeneckers to open their resort.

Categories: Economy, Harrison, Jobs and the economy, Michigan, Travel and tourism | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Getting up to Speed on the Internet

One never knows where an internet path might lead…

I subscribe The Great Lakes IT Report, a daily email from Matt Roush at WWJ-AM, a Detroit radio station with an all-news format.  As its title suggests, the report provides news and information on what is happening in Michigan and the surrounding region in the area of information technology.

An article today (Jan. 5), mentioned a grant being given to a Michigan company to map broadband coverage in the state.  This link led to a website dedicated to promoting affordable high-speed internet for all Americans. is a project of the Communications Workers of America and a large number of partners across the country.  According to its home page, Speedmatters founders believe that granting everyone high-speed access to the internet is not only critical to our nation’s growth but is a right of all Americans.

Now whether you believe that high speed internet access is a right (life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness high speed internet access) is a topic for another blog, however, the site makes a good case for creating a high speed federal policy.  Currently, the U.S. ranks 15th among industrialized countries in adopting high speed access and 28th in overall internet speed.

This is a growing problem since it means most U.S. households can’t download large files for such things as medical monitoring, run home-based businesses or benefit from multi-media distance learning.

These are things that will become increasingly important as we move further into this century and become more reliant on technology to improve our standard of living–and I’m not just talking about a desire to download the latest episode of American Idol.

The site also has a nifty speed test that allows anyone with an internet connection to check his/her download and upload speed.  In Michigan, the average download speed beats the national average of 5.1 megabytes per second.  We as a country should be closer to 10 MB/sec.   By way of comparison, South Korea is over 20 MB/sec.   Find our speed.

And mine? I don’t come anywhere close to average.  Maybe that explains why I can’t download American Idol.

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A Passion for Safety, a Knack for Writing

There are 120 million blogs out there in the naked city, give or take a few.  Assuming one read a blog a minute 24 hours a day, seven days a week, it would take a very long time to read them all–and being that most are poorly written and contain information of no value, it would seem even longer.

I do have one you might want to consider reading.  It’s called “Doak TC” and its message is safety, primarily traffic safety.  That safety message is understandable because Doak TC is Fred Doelker who, until he was put out to pasture in August 2009, was a traffic safety coordinator for AAA Michigan.

Fred’s job was to travel around the state preaching safety and making Michigan a better place to live as a result.  Fred spent many of his days teaching groups and individuals how to avoid becoming a statistic as a motorist or as a pedestrian.  He talked to seniors, children and everyone in between.  Fred was also a great spokesperson for AAA Michigan and put a human face on a big corporation.  However, because one couldn’t put a dollar benefit on what Fred did, Fred now lives in the northwestern community of Traverse City (TC), Michigan writing about safety while seeking an end to being out to pasture.

Fred knows safety and it shows in his writing.  Although the information is especially useful to those who live in the snowy regions of Michigan (all residents), his blog contains useful information for anyone who drives, walks or flies.  His blog would also be a good resource for the media since it contains a wealth of safety information.  So would Fred for that matter since he translates wells from print to radio or television.

They (the unnamed blogging experts, that is) say successful bloggers are usually those who write about topics they have a passion for and are knowledgeable about.  Fred’s blog fits that bill.  In addition, Fred is a gifted writer with a knack for turning a phrase, and that in itself makes his blog worth reading.  He also knows technology, but that’s a whole different topic.

Doak TC is a good blog out there among the millions and millions (and millions) of blogs.  Give it a try.  Oh, and be safe.

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Choosing an Insurer

Industry experts say you should  shop around for  insurance.  According to an Oct. 9, 2009 article in The Wall Street Journal, “prices in the intensely competitive auto-insurance business are based on so many different factors, and they are calculated in so many different ways, that shopping several different companies really could help you save hundreds of dollars every six months.”

Here are a few tips from the WSJ article quoted above.

  • Your financial behavior matters.Companies look at credit scores.  The higher the score, the lower the premium.
  • Compare prices both with insurers that sell directly and those that sell through agents.  Prices may vary a lot, and though agents receive a commission, they aren’t always more expensive.
  • Loyalty cuts both ways. Car-insurance companies want to win over new customers, but at the same time, they reward those who stay put.
  • The discounts are in the details. People who have multiple policies with the same company often qualify for discounts.
  • Price matters, but so does service. The last thing a person wants after an accident is an insurer that is slow to respond or pay.  Check out the company’s reputation.

Happy insurance hunting. Oh, and if you live in the Detroit Metropolitan area and need a good agent, give Kristin Madden a call over at AAA. She’s a good friend, a good agent and an honest person. She will do her best to get you the coverage you need at a fair price. Kristin can be reached at (248) 553-3700, ext. 491.

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It’s not easy Being a Teacher

Handle the following situations:

You are trying to teach 26 first-graders how to read. Some are already proficient. Others can’t even recognize simple three- or four-letter words like “and,” “the” or “from”—-and have no desire to learn.

How do you challenge the better readers without losing the beginners. One more thing: Many of your poor readers come from families where the parents barely speak English.

You are trying to teach the same group to count using coins. Some children already know how to count. Others don’t even know the value of a dime and are unable to grasp the concept that it, even though smaller than a nickel, is worth more.  How do you challenge the better students without losing the poorer students?

You are trying to teach, but one of your children won’t focus and is disrupting class. You find out she is hungry. You learn she didn’t eat breakfast because she was too busy playing Nintendo and her mother was too busy getting ready for work to notice?

Do you let her stay hungry to teach her a lesson, even though she won’t learn and may continue to cause problems?  But if you feed her, what do you tell the other 25 students who wonder why they aren’t getting a snack too?

These are just some of the challenges my wife faces as a school teacher. She teaches first graders.

She’s not alone in this regard, of course.  All teachers deal with similar issues.

So the next time you feel you are qualified to criticize a teacher’s ability to teach because you are able to teach your children to read or add numbers, don’t.  Unless, of course, you have 26 kids. Then it’s ok.

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