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Midday West Michigan

MiBiz with Mark Sanchez

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Wednesday afternoon time for our bimonthly conversation with MiBiz senior writer Mark Sanchez. The outdoor recreation industry is in trouble and there's a new normal developing. 

A new normal because there's this massive demographic shift occurring in the world today. Here's a story this week over the next few additions we started this week in the the issue of MiBiz we took a look at outdoor recreation as an industry. How it fits in to the state. For many many of us it's why we live here. It is a $26.6 billion industry in terms of consumer spending, pays $7.5 billion dollars in wage and salary is contributing to about 232,000 direct jobs. That's according to the Outdoor Industry Association. But it's got a problem, for generatiosn much of the funding to protect these lands for conservancy,  for wildlife and game management has come from hunter, hunting, fishing fees. And as this demographic shift occurs we're seeing some fewer outdoorsman, hunters and fishermen. Just to give you an example, in 2013 the state issued 783,000 fishing licenses. In 2018 that was down to 658,000 and it's been a steady decline. That's for hunting licenses.  So, there's a declining interest in this. It's steady. It's not massive, but it's an indication of that demographic shift. And the folks we talked to for this first story in this series really say when you use that term new normal. There's a new normal for this industry and it could use a new economic model. 

How do you generate those revenues for conservation work, for maintaining these public lands, for managing the game when you have a situation such as what's been going on lately with deer heard and you have these disease outbreaks within the game. How do you manage that? How do you contain it? How do you protect? So, it's an issue for folks in the industry to start thinking about to find that new normal find that new economic model that maintains the revenues needed to protect these lands and continue these conservation efforts. 

What are some of the ideas that are being kicked around?

There's talk about a lot of us pay that little extra fee when we renew our license plates for our vehicle for the State Park entry. That's one of the ideas whether the legislature actually have the willingness and the political will to extend that, who knows, but that's just one idea that's been floated. It's not really a formal proposal right know, but it's something that was suggested by the folks we talked to for this story.

The Right Place, it is introducing a new venture capital fund tell us a little bit more about this.

Yeah, this was an announcement out of The Right Place, Inc. a week and a half ago or so, for a new venture capital fund. The Right Place hopes to raise $15 million to $25 million for a venture capital fund that will go toward start-ups owned by ethnic and racial minoritie. It would also go to make investment when the company is being sold because a family owned company the next generation isn't there to take over the company,  those owners would like to retire, so this fund would also make investments in those companies being bought by somebody who is a minority. And why that area? Very simple, because the approximately  $139 billion in venture capital investments last year, one percent went to businesses owned by ethnic minorities. Now, there's a lot to that equation, but the gist behind this new venture fund in Grand Rapids, when you talk to Birgit Klohs and the folks at The Right Place, and this is supported by Bank of America and the Consumers Energy Foundation that together put $400,000 into it to pay for the planning and the administration to get this up and running by next year. Their point behind this is that the economy needs to work for everybody there needs to be more that needs to occur for inclusion to have a more diverse economic base and make sure everybody had that opportunity to come to the table. So, they announced this late last month and they hope to get this new venutre fund up and running within a year. 

There is legislation out there to limit non-compete agreements. This is your story tell us more.

You know, you know for some professional services and professionals, non-compete agreement are customary, they're normal, they are often paired with nondisclosure agreements and nonconfidentiallity agreements, but should you have to sign a non-compete agreement if you're making sandwiches a fast food restaurant?  Remember a few years ago the Jimmy John's sandwich shop franchisees caught some heat and they dropped the practice of requiring their employees to sign non-compete agreements. So, it's gone away  for that, but backers of this legislation in Michigan say some of these agreements, these non-compete agreements are still being used in the fast food industry. So, what they've proposes is basically to prohibit their use, or at least curtail their use, for low-wage workers. Low-wage workers, typically folks making I beleive it was  128% of the federal poverty level and that's a case where if somebody's got one of these jobs making $9, $10 an hour in a sandwhich shop and they want to go out, and there's a competitor across town that pays a little more, these agreements prohibit that. So, there's a movement afoot in Lansing to really curtail these agreements. And the backers also say the've seen instances where somebody, for instance they're working in a salon, they want to go up maybe form their own small business as a salon or  maybe form their own deli. If they have one of these non-competed agreements in this low-wage job previously,  that could prohibit them from taking that step into entrepreneurship. So, it's proposed in Lansin, they had a hearing on it couple weeks ago, and there are some concerns. The Michigan Chamber has some concerns, but again, for some professions these are very acceptable, very customary, although the individual speaking on behalf of the Michigan Chamber, she's basically called what the Jimmy John's situation pretty ridiculous and should these low-wage workers really be forced into signing a non-compete agreement.