With more than 35 giant animated displays and over a million lights, the Wayne County Parks Lightfest is the Midwest’s longest light show.

The complete route is over 4 miles along Hines Drive. There are walk-through displays, a Santa's Workshop and refreshments.

Open 7-10 p.m. daily through Jan. 1. Admision is a $5 donation.

Enter Hines Drive at 7651 Merriman Road in Westland, between Ann Arbor Trail and Warren Avenue.

Sledding is available along Hines Drive between Merriman and Inkster Roads in Dearborn Heights and Westland. The best sledding along Hines Drive is in the Cass Benton Area of Hines Park, where rolling hills start at Sheldon Road in Northville, following the Rouge River to Six Mile Road in Northville Township.

For more information, call 734.261.1990 or visit http://www.waynecountyparks.org/.
No need to drag that Christmas Tree out to the road for the garbage man this year.

Oakland County Parks and Recreation Department is offering a Christmas Tree recycling program for all area residents, starting Friday December 26th.

There are 11 drop off locations. The trees will be either replanted or cut up as mulch for park playgrounds or hiking trails.

For locations, click here .


by Courtney Monigold
Someone asked me the other day what my favorite ‘find’ of 2008 was. Besides a pair of designer shoes I found insanely on sale, it’s really hard to narrow it down to just ONE! But one that came to mind was the new Mirepoix Cooking School at Holiday Market in Royal Oak which opened in February this year.

I can’t tell you how long I have looked for a hands-on cooking classes. I have been to so many different cooking demonstrations, but had never been to a “hands-on” class. Most of you may know I am self-taught, so even my skills could use some brushing up.
Plus, I absolutely love learning new things to improve myself in the kitchen. So when I discovered this great opportunity to learn more about buffing up my so called ‘culinary expertise’ without actually enrolling in culinary school, you could only imagine the excitement I had!

I have managed to take a few classes at the facility and I can’t say enough good things about this school. It’s fun, it’s informative, the instructors are phenomenal, the service is great and even better ….you come out with useful knowledge you can use to better your skills!

Mirepoix offers an extensive variety of classes all the way from knife skills to stocking a pantry, from appetizers to desserts. Classes are very reasonably priced because you get one on one attention from a trained chef. On top of all that, you get to cook with all of the great gourmet ingredients you would find downstairs in the market. Gourmet or not, don’t let that detour you, they make this so easy that anyone could do it.

If you aren’t sure, I dare you to check out their class schedule at Mirepoix Cooking School. With so many tempting courses, it is very hard to choose!

Not sure what to expect? I’ll tell you…

When you arrive, what you may think is just a gourmet market, is only an illusion. Upstairs your cooking destiny awaits behind swinging stainless steel doors.

Upon entry, you are welcomed by the instructor(s), given your official chef’s coat and then sat down to go over the class recipe plan. Then, you are off to your own devices to grab your tools and ingredients (which are all conveniently located in the center of the room).

The school is set up what is reminiscent of a ‘home economics’ class you may have taken in school because each person or group has their own kitchen space. Depending on the class size, you may be put into groups and set up with your own chef to help guide you through the whole cooking process. They show you how to properly chop, weigh, measure, mix ….depending on what you may be doing of course! Before you know it, you have created an amazing gourmet meal(s).

Now…for my favorite part of the course: You get to EAT what you and the other class members have made! For me this is pay-off in itself!

So if you are squeamish in the kitchen, or maybe you just want to brush up your cooking skills or even if you are looking for a fun thing to do with a friend or loved one, sign up for Holiday Market’s, Mirepoix Cooking School. Not only will you have fun, but you will come out “full” of both new knowledge and great food!

For more info:

Contact Mirepoix Cooking School Director, Stacy Sloan


Phone: 248-544-7037, 1203 S. Main Streen, Royal Oak, MI 48067

Go Comedy! offer hilarious dance movie spoof

By Susan Steinmueller
Timeless: The Dancical, which opens the new Ferndale theatre's 8 p.m. Sunday showcase, has been extended indefinitely says Pj Jacokes, co-owner and producer. The showcase features original written comedies.

"It's one of the shows where people who see it come back," he said. "So each week we have repeat attendees. It's a big word of mouth show."

The spoof of dancing movies like Dirty Dancing was written and directed by Lauren Bickers of Ferndale.

Jacokes said Timeless is "hilarious" but "hard to describe."

"It's sort of like a musical but they don't sing, they dance, and it's not necessarily people who should dance," Jacokes said. "I have seen it 12 times by now and there are still times that I'll howl."

Timeless has had success in other venues. It debuted as a short sketch at Hamtramck's Planet Ant Theatre 2007 Box Fest, then returned there as a full production earlier this year. It was picked up by The Second City to run this summer at Donny's Sky Box in Chicago.

Timeless is followed at 9 p.m. by the fully improvised musical, Rock-o-Matic.

Using only audience suggestions, the cast creates an on-the-spot musical comedy accompanied by a live band featuring Phred and Mikey Brown. Rock-o-Matic is followed at 10 p.m. by Elemenopy featuring improv power-duo Pj Jacokes and Chris DiAngelo.

"I think our whole line-up is something you are not going to see anywhere else," Jacokes said.

Go Comedy! Improv Theater, 261 E. Nine Mile, opened last month in the building formerly occupied by the Ferndale Secretary of State office. It offers improv and sketch comedy, a training center, road shows, classes and workshops for private parties, corporations and schools.
For tickets ($10), call (248) 327-0575; or buy them beginning at 7:30 p.m. Sunday at the theatre box office. The Web site is http://www.gocomedy.net/.
By STEPHANIE ANGELYN CASOLA

It's less than a week away before the clink of champagne glasses toast in 2009. Have you made your plans yet? Whether you're a snuggle-by-the-fire sort or you plan to paint the town red at any expense.

FOR POCKET CHANGE
New Year's Eve can be just as enjoyable spent at home among friends or loved ones as it can with elaborate dinners or dancing. Try one of these non-plans and cozy up for the coming year:
Make it a movie night, no date required - Rent a DVD, grab a stack of pillows and warm blankets and set up a living room picnic with popcorn and peach mimosas - or ginger ale with a cinnamon stick.

For the young, and young-at-heart, you can't lose with animated classics like Rudolph's Shiny New Year or Happy New Year, Charlie Brown. Grown-ups might choose a favorite director - Alfred Hitchcock, Woody Allen or Ingmar Bergman - and squeeze in a double feature before the clock strikes 12. Stick to the holiday theme with a comedy like When Harry Met Sally, a romance like The Apartment or a mystery like After The Thin Man.

Heat up the oven and click on the TV - Plan ahead and make your own indulgent New Year's Eve dinner, complete with a dessert you'd never dared before (perhaps a chocolate souffle), light some candles and dine with your family or loved one decked out in slippers and pajamas. Let Dick Clark's Rockin' New Year's Eve, now with co-host Ryan Seacrest, entertain you and count down to a new year ahead. The Times Square holiday broadcast has been going strong since 1972 and will air at 10 p.m. Dec. 31, on ABC, Channel 7. After all, what would New Year's Eve be without the ball drop?

BYO Wine and Dine - Gather a group of close friends and ask everyone to bring a favorite bottle of wine, and an appetizer or dessert to share. Spend the time sampling flights - from white to blush to full-bodied red - and noshing on home-baked goods while you investigate the lyrics to Auld Lang Syne, the Scotch song known to ring in many a New Year. Try hanging sprigs of mistletoe around the house, to catch your unsuspecting pals off guard.

WITHOUT BREAKING THE BANK
If you can't imagine closing the door on 2008 without some serious dance moves, consider these mid-priced options for singles, couples or groups:

Ferndale's Boogie Fever blends the sounds of the '70s and '80s with party favors, a champagne toast and late-night pizza buffet. Doors open at 9 p.m. Dec. 31, at 22901 Woodward Ave., Ferndale. Tickets $25 in advance at http://www.boogiefevercafe.com/.

The Royal Oak Music Theater features Eve's New Year with guest Lori Michaels. Doors open at 9 p.m. Dec. 31, at 318 W. Fourth St., Royal Oak. The event is 21 and older and tickets $15-$30, call (248) 399-2980.

Craving those '80s hits you know and love? Feel like breaking out your Pat Benatar-inspired shoulder shakes? Head to the Magic Bag in Ferndale for the annual Mega 80s New Year's Eve Bash. Doors open at 8 p.m. for anyone 21 and older.
Tickets $40, visit http://www.themagicbag.com/ for details.
The bar is located at 22920 Woodward Ave., Ferndale. Call (248) 544-3030.

SET TO SPLURGE
From belly-laughs to long-standing traditions, make it a night to remember at any of these events:

For 21 years, Livonia's Laurel Manor has held the tradition of hosting a New Year's Eve Gala. This year will be no exception. From 7 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. on Dec. 31, patrons will enjoy hors d'oeuvres, an open bar, dinner featuring filet mignon and chicken or a vegetarian entree, dessert table and an afterglow featuring pizza and Danishes after midnight. Tickets $85 per person, 21 and over only, call (734) 462-0770. Laurel Manor is at 39000 Schoolcraft in Livonia, visit http://www.laurelmanor.com/.

Canton's Village Theatre hosts New Year's Eve with Two for the Road, a stage show featuring the music of Dean Martin, Barry White, The Beatles and more. The evening includes a strolling reception and champagne at midnight. Festivities begin at 9 p.m. Dec. 31, 50400 Cherry Hill Road in Canton. Tickets $50, call (734) 394-5300 or visit http://www.canton-mi.org/.

If your New Year's Eve requires a full-scale balloon-drop and fireworks, check out A New Year's Eve-olution, 9 p.m. Dec. 31 at Clutch Cargo's, 65 E. Huron in Pontiac. The first 100 tickets sold cost $40, then the price rises to $75, but it includes a top-shelf open bar until 1 a.m., elegant hors d'oeuvres, champagne, music by DJs Ryan Richards and Braz D, a fashion show, magicians, comedy by Guy Copeland, door prizes and a late-night buffet. Call (248) 333-2362 or visit http://www.clutchcargos.com/.

Eve '09 at the newly-revamped Hyatt Regency of Dearborn features music by DJs Captn20, Fadi and Blake George, model art, dancing in the Grey Goose Ballroom, a Platinum Ice Lounge featuring Jose Cuervo Platino Tequila, visit http://www.eve09.com/ for details and prices as they become available.

If you love Middle Eastern food and music, check out the lavish, stylish New Year's Eve Celebration hosted by legendary modern musicians Emad Batayeh and Osama Baalbaki plus DJ Franky Bones. The huge event includes appetizers, dinnner, champagne, breakfast and full premium bar. There's also kids tickets available that includes dinner and babysitters. The party also includes a raffle and prizes. Tickets are $75, $100 and $125. Location is the upscale Bella Banquet Center, 4100 E. 14 Mile Road in Warren (at Ryan Road. For details call (810) 397-8500.

Ring a Ding Ding with The Rat Pack is Back! a musical tribute to Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop and Dean Martin, offering show-only tickets for $45 at 6:30 p.m. and $65 at 9:30 p.m. on New Year's Eve. Dinner and a show offered at the same times for $110 and $130, respectively. Or opt for dinner only at the Century Grill, reservations run from $65 to $90, later seatings include a midnight champagne celebration with party favors and members of The Rat Pack Orchestra. It's all happening at The Gem Theatre, 333 Madison Ave., Detroit. Call (313) 963-9800.

Comedians Steve Harvey and Katt Williams take the stage for the 2008 Championships of Comedy, 9 p.m. Dec. 31, at Joe Louis Arena, 600 Civic Center Drive, Detroit. Tickets $65-$250, call (248) 645-6666.

The Barenaked Ladies will rile up the crowds, making them feel as if they had a million dollars, at The Fox Theatre, 9 p.m. on Dec. 31, 2211 Woodward, Detroit, Tickets $55-125, call (248) 433-1515.

Make it to the Mansion for an unforgettable New Year's Eve bash this year as Detroit's Whitney restaurant opens its doors - and even heats garden tents - for revelers. The restaurant offers three dinner seatings, at 5 p.m., 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. but the party begins at 10 p.m. and keeps rocking with DJs Matt A and DJ Roc Boy until 4 a.m. Enjoy a premium open bar, champagne toast and hors d'oeuvres for $100 per person or reserve a booth for up to six guests including unlimited bottle service for $900. Late-comers arriving after 1 a.m. pay $50 each. Reserve a spot at (313) 832-5700.
by Oakland Business Review

The following is a list of recent achievements by businesses in Oakland County:

• Orchard Hiltz & McCliment Inc., an engineering and architectural firm with headquarters in Livonia, was recently named one of the Top 50 Best Civil Engineering Firms to Work For in the U.S.

• With offices in Novi, Sidock Group recently announced it has added Wilkie & Zanley Architects of Wyandotte to its group of companies.

• Kathy Mastantuono, chief executive officer for The KPM Group, a family-owned recruiting firm specializing in direct hire and temporary staffing, recently announced that her organization has been granted certification by the Women's Business Enterprise National Council. KPM Group has offices in Troy, Livonia and Chicago.

• Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak, with Gift of Life Michigan, was recently recognized for outstanding organ donation rates by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This marks the third consecutive year Beaumont, Royal Oak, has received this award.

• For over 40 years, the Troy Chamber of Commerce has recognized the outstanding physical investments made by businesses in the city. The 2008 honorees were selected by the Best of Troy Committee of the Chamber and were announced at its annual holiday luncheon. This year's winners are: The Boston Consulting Group, Ciot Granite & Marble, Franco's, Ocean Prime, Seco Tools Inc. and Walsh College.

• The employees at Troy-based WorkLife Financial helped raise nearly $6,000 for their Holiday Families Fund. The money raised allowed them to purchase gifts for 38 children and adults.

'Secret Santas' pass out $11,000 in Detroit area

Associated Press

Two "Secret Santas" have given away $11,000 to strangers to help make their holidays happier.

The Detroit Free Press says the married Detroit area couple anonymously gave away $100 bills Monday at bus stops, thrift stores and coin-operated laundries in the working-class community of Lincoln Park.

Local police were told about the money giveaway, and an officer accompanied the couple who asked that their identities not be revealed.
By ROBIN SCHWARTZ
FOX 2 News

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (WJBK) --There's a new "green" business located here in Metro Detroit's Auburn Hills that's growing.

It produces a state-of-the-air building material called Microposite, which resembles wood.

"It's a new Michigan story," says Governor Jennifer Granholm. "Microposite builds energy efficiency materials."

Granholm recently visited the company's 30,000 square foot facility, where 29 workers help produce what's considered to be the first alternative to premium siding in 20 years.

Microposite plans to add new shifts, and they hope to double their workforce by the end of 2009."This is exactly the sweet spot of Michigan's transformation," says Granholm.

The company uses a low energy manufacturing process with natural materials, which makes Microposite good for the environment. It's also water resistant, light weight and energy efficient.

The material was developed locally, in part by people who used to be employed by the auto industry. A handful of the founders worked for General Motors in the 1980s. The company could have located anywhere, but they set up shop in Auburn Hills, enticed by a grant worth more than a half-million dollars.

The governor says when it comes to selling Michigan to high-tech, "green" companies, the pitch is easy. "We are hungry. We have the workforce that is available. We can make a good business case for you to do it," says Granholm.
The land along I-94 and M-59 in Chesterfield will house the new 150,00 square foot Chesterfield Town Centre, featuring a convention center and 4-star hotel.

Bill Crouchman/Chairman, Macomb County Commmissioners stated," This is really a shot in the arm to get things going again."

Bill Crouochman is the chairman of the Macomb County Commission. He helped lead the effort to get the project going.

It will cost developers $150 million over the next 10 years to complete.

There will be plenty of shops, entertainment, basically something for everyone. It's all designed to bolster the I-94 corridor in the area.

Crouchman
"You've got $100 billion a year going thru Port Huron and Detroit, back and forth from Canada every year. We're right in the middle of that."

You might ask yourself does Macomb County need a convention center with Detroit nearby? Fair enough. But, commissioners say this land needs to be developed because things are about to change between here and their neighbors to the south.

Crouchman
"We will surpass the City of Detroit in population in the 2010 Census, we've grown quite a bit."

That means having what's needed to keep people shopping closer to home. The bonus comes with the roughly 1,700 permanent jobs that will be created with the new convention center and hotel. They are expected to open for business in 2010.

The center is expected to generate 6 million dollar a year in new sales taxes. Roughly half a million of that will go to Macomb County. Construction will begin next spring once the governor approves the legislation passed last week.

Mark Hornbeck / Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Michigan has launched a record $30 million dollar travel promotion campaign, featuring TV ads with Actor/Michiganian Tim Allen.

For the first time in 15 years, the state is running a series of winter tourism commercials and will follow that with a first-ever $10 million national cable TV buy in the spring to coax out-of-state vacationers to flock to the Great Lakes State in the summer.


MSU to bring med school to Macomb Co.

Christina Stolarz
The Detroit News

-- Kristy Maxlow doesn't believe that community colleges always receive their due respect.

But she thinks the big exception is Macomb Community College, which is pairing with Michigan State University to bring a satellite campus for MSU's osteopathic medical school to Clinton Township.

"The fact that these big colleges are willing to participate and have affiliations with this little community college makes us believe they believe in this little community college," said Maxlow, 33, of Almont, who is the president of MCC's December 2008 nursing graduating class.

"Anything that will bring attention there, and advance the programs there, is wonderful."

The medical program -- set to train 50 students in MSU's College of Osteopathic Medicine -- will open in June on MCC's Clinton Township campus. It's an effort to address Michigan's physician shortage.

However, the 21,850-square-foot MSU facility under construction is not slated for completion until January 2010, said Dan Heaton, manager of media relations for MCC. The community college will provide classroom space in the meantime, he said.

MCC officials say the partnership is a perfect fit because the Clinton Township campus is near several major medical facilities: Henry Ford Macomb Hospital, Children's Hospital of Michigan Stilson Specialty Center and William Beaumont Medical Center.

"It's a very significant development for the college and the community," Heaton said. "MCC has a pretty well-respected name in its own right. This just provides another opportunity for the community."

A similar satellite campus is opening at the Detroit Medical Center, allowing MSU's College of Osteopathic Medicine to accept an additional 100 students for a total of 300 this year, said Dr. William Strampel, dean of the program.

The program's expansion has been in the works for about three to four years. It made sense to bring the medical education to the Metro Detroit area so interested students didn't have to uproot and move to East Lansing, Strampel said.

MSU's College of Osteopathic Medicine receives an estimated 5,000 applications each year, 1,000 of which are from Michigan, Strampel said. Of the Michigan applicants, about 600 come from students who live in Metro Detroit.

"I think it's going to be wildly successful," he said.

Kristin Stehouwer said she's excited because the project will allow students to remain in Macomb County to get a medical degree.

"It's an exciting development," said Stehouwer, vice provost for arts and sciences at MCC. "The building is really a symbol of the level of commitment MSU has to our county. It will be a tremendous asset."
Jennifer Youssef
The Detroit News

Michigan tourism officials are looking to lure thousands of Chinese travelers to the Great Lakes State during the next few years as the Asian nation's burgeoning middle class takes to the air to visit the United States.

Their efforts come in the wake of a tourism agreement between the U.S. and China that will increase leisure travel from China as well as a new nonstop flight between Detroit and Shanghai, China's automotive and financial capital, set to begin in June.

"There's a growing number of affluent Chinese and they are going everywhere," said George Zimmermann, vice president of Travel Michigan, the state's tourism advertising firm. "We don't want to miss this opportunity."

Zimmerman and representatives from the Detroit Convention and Visitors Bureau and The Henry Ford attended the China International Travel Mart in Shanghai in November to promote the state's attractions and amenities.

The state also is considering stationing a travel representative in Asia (Michigan has some in Europe). Some 115 agencies from across the country were at the tourism trade fair vying for a piece of China's growing leisure travel market.

"If we can get a piece of that, that would be fantastic," Zimmermann said.

More Chinese visitors
The U.S. and China signed an agreement last year to bolster travel between the two countries. The deal will increase the number of Chinese visitors to 580,000 by 2011, the U.S. Commerce Department said. Previously, there were restrictions on group and other leisure travel from China to the U.S.

The agreement also makes it possible for tourism officials and destinations like The Henry Ford to market their attractions in China.

The United States is becoming an increasingly popular destination for Chinese travelers. In 2007, China ranked as the 16th largest international market for the United States, according to the Commerce Department.

While industry experts expect most Chinese tourists to visit large cities such as New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, Michigan is not out of the realm of possibilities with its natural attractions, including the Great Lakes, automotive sites, casinos, sporting events and shopping.

Michigan, too, has a major advantage: A new direct flight route on Northwest Airlines from Shanghai will make Detroit one of only three cities in the U.S. with direct service from China. The others are Chicago and New York.

Chinese are top spenders
Last year Chinese visitors spent an average of $6,000 in the U.S., about twice the next-highest foreign visitors' group, according to the Commerce Department. If even a fraction of the estimated 580,000 visitors come to Michigan, it would be a boon to the state's $18.1 billion tourism industry, the second-largest sector of the Michigan economy.

China is "a burgeoning economic powerhouse," said George Moroz, president of the Tourism Industry Coalition of Michigan, a statewide organization of tourism professionals.

Moroz, who is involved in the strategic planning process at The Henry Ford, said the many Michigan entities -- airlines, airport and Michigan Economic Development Corp. -- interested in forming partnerships with the Chinese should work together.

"It seems to me on a number of different fronts that there are a lot of things in the works and we should try to coordinate and support each other's efforts," he said. "There's a lot of activity in China right now. There are some real opportunities to tap into."

About 100 million tourists visited Michigan in 2007, Zimmermann said.

The state has made an effort to broaden its regional marketing. Travel Michigan expanded its successful Pure Michigan campaign this year to include Columbus and Dayton, Ohio, and St. Louis, Mo. The ads -- airing in Chicago, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Milwaukee and Ontario as well -- feature the voice of actor Tim Allen describing the state's natural attractions.

Chinese love shopping
Almost every other state had representation at the tourism trade show in China, each trying to get media attention and form partnerships with Chinese agencies, said Tim Tyrrell, director of Megapolitan Tourism Research Center at Arizona State University's College of Public Programs. Asian tourists' love of shopping is well known and if a state or tourism entity can create a vacation package that includes a lot of it, it's likely to draw many visitors.

"I think it could be very big," he said. "China is a huge market and there's plenty of (tourists) to go around."

NBC's The Biggest Loser is a realty show that has turned losing weight into a full on competition. This past season featured couples, husband and wives along with parent child teams. One of the mother daugher teams, Shellay & Amy Cremen, are from Royal Oak. Even though they didn't make it to the end and win the $250,000 grand prize, the "Purple Team" came out winners by losing a combined 178 pounds!

The next season aires Janurary 7, 2009 and 3 of the 11 teams hail from Southeast Michigan:

- Carla Triplett, a 36-year-old assistant bank manager, and her best friend Joelle Gwynn, a 41-year-old non-profit founder, who are from Southfield, MI.

-Ron Morelli, a 54-yeaar-old city councilman and retired food distributor, and his son Mike Morelli, an 18-year-old student, who are from South Lyon, MI.

- Helen Phillips, 47-year-old retired retail manager from Sterling Heights, MI, and her daughter Shanon Thomas, a 29-year-old massage therapist from Centerline, MI.
Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

MOUNT CLEMENS -- When it comes to traffic lights, timing is everything.

That's what the Road Commission of Macomb County has determined since the start of an experiment two years ago aimed at making travel in the county more efficient.

The commission has been testing out a high-tech system for controlling the timing of traffic signals along Mound Road between Eight Mile and Hall Road since 2006.

The system has saved the 70,000 motorists who drive the 12-mile stretch of Mound Road daily an estimated $2 million in fuel costs during the two years, said Adam Merchant, the road commission's traffic engineer.

And the commission plans to expand the computerized system to other roads during the next year, he said.

"The whole idea is mobility," Merchant said. "The goal is to enable motorists to get to a place in the shortest amount of time and without any traffic delays."

The commission calls the project Signal Optimization. On Mound Road, the system uses cameras, computers and sensors in the pavement to detect traffic tie-ups and adjust the signals' timing to alleviate congestion. The technology will save motorists fuel, money and time by preventing them from idling at intersections and relieving traffic congestion, Merchant said.

Other benefits include less pollution from vehicle tailpipes in the air, and travel is safer because drivers have to make fewer stops, cutting down the potential for accidents, he said.

During the next year, the commission will spend about $750,000 to analyze traffic patterns and develop traffic signal timing programs for stretches on five major county roads.

Money for the project is coming from federal highway grants.

The roads the commission has targeted for the high-tech system are:

• Schoenherr Road between Eight Mile and 23 Mile.• Garfield between Utica to 21 Mile.
• Hayes between Utica and Hall Roads.
• Metropolitan Parkway between Dequindre and Jefferson.
• Harper Avenue between Eight Mile and Metro Parkway.

Andrea Kanakry, 32, of Warren said she's all for anything that can be done to make it easier for her to get around, since driving is a big part of her job. She owns Andrea's Gift Boutique and Florist on 13 Mile at Mound and makes all of its deliveries herself, she said.

"I know traffic on Mound moves pretty well," she said. "It can get a little busy on the road when the Tech Center lets out. But other than that, it's a good traveling road."

BY CHRISTY ARBOSCELLO

• FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER •

Fifteen years after it began building affordable houses for low-income families, the Macomb County Habitat for Humanity is making big plans to ring in the New Year.

For the Christian housing nonprofit in Macomb County, 2009 will commemorate a major feat -- its 50th house.
The construction of the 1,200-square-foot ranch in the Colchester section of Clinton Township, near the Mt. Clemens border, not only will highlight Macomb Habitat's legacy but also will set a precedent.
In what it is calling the "largest ecumenical build project ever undertaken in Macomb County," the chapter is seeking pledges and volunteers from 240 area churches to make the approximately $100,000 house a reality by September.
"It's our attempt to do a couple things: One is publicize the progress we've been able to make in Macomb County in terms of providing decent, affordable homes for families in need, and also highlight the strong support we've had over the years from the faith community," said Dave Tirsell, church relations director and coordinator of the project called the 2009 50/50 Build.
By early this week, four churches -- First United Methodist of Mt. Clemens, Lake Shore Presbyterian Church in St. Clair Shores, Kensington Community Church-East in Clinton Township and Cross Lutheran Church in Clinton Township -- were signed on as supporters, Tirsell said.
The rest of the commitments from congregations are expected in January, with construction slated to start in April. A family has not been selected for the house, which is to be part of a Habitat subdivision under way since 2007.
The development of several new homes around Howard Street, near Joy Boulevard in what's referred to as the Colchester area of the township, marked the first new construction there in 25 years. They abut an existing, older neighborhood with home owners who have an average yearly income of about $9,000.
Macomb County Habitat for Humanity also has built houses in Mt. Clemens, Roseville and Warren.
"In the early years of Macomb Habitat, we were building one or maybe two homes in a year, so the 50th house is how we've been able to grow the capacity to help families ... through partnerships and business and organizational support," Tirsell said.
With more than 300 houses under its belt, Habitat for Humanity of Detroit said it's important to note those types of accomplishments.
"In general, when you reach those milestones, you certainly want to have a celebration because it's pretty significant," said Vincent Tilford, executive director of Detroit Habitat.

Habitat for Humanity in Oakland County is preparing for its 100th house in 2009.

Marisa Schultz / The Detroit News

The Rochester-based university freed $250,000 in additional financial aid this month for students on the brink of dropping out because of sudden setbacks. Students would not have to repay the money.

"Any student who is in financial straits will contact our financial aid office, and there will be money available to help them finish their school," said Oakland President Gary Russi.

"It's a really good investment," Dan Evola, student body president, said of Oakland's aid program.

About 200 students have inquired about the free assistance. The university is asking for written verification showing that their financial situation has significantly changed.

About 15 percent of those students have been shown to be eligible for the special assistance, said university spokesman Ted Montgomery.

Colleges across the state are reaching out to students who are struggling. Wayne State University, Lawrence Technological University and Michigan State University are among the institutions that recently rolled out new financial aid programs.

In addition, Oakland University has allowed students with an overdue balance of $1,500 or less to register for winter classes to encourage sustained enrollment. In the past, the university held up such registrations until the bill was paid.

About 550 students had overdue balances for the fall semester; 120 of them have registered for winter classes. All outstanding bills must be paid by Jan. 2.

An additional 70 students paid their balance, but have not registered for the winter semester.
"We are staying in close contact with all of these students to make sure they register for winter, if that is their intention," Montgomery said.

Tuition is $8,324 a year for full-time freshmen and sophomores and $9,091 for juniors and seniors.
JOHN GALLAGHER
• FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITER •

Digital Dialogue operates 24-hour call centers providing member services for more than 200 credit unions in 42 states. But unlike many call centers in other industries that operate offshore or rely on a computer-generated voice, Digital Dialogue delivers on the credit-union promise of personalized member service.


"Our recent growth is a testament to the demand for 24/7 total member care," said Peter Schmitt, president of Digital Dialogue. "We realized that credit unions didn't want their members talking to computers. They'd rather have their members talking to my people and serviced professionally."


Founded in 1999, Digital Dialogue now employs about 260 people at its headquarters in Auburn Hills and at another call center in Southgate. It hired 120 employees in the past few months and anticipates hiring an additional 200 employees in 2009 as its member base expands rapidly.
That growth stems in part from its purchase in 2007 by its new parent PSCU Financial Services, a credit union service organization. The growth also stems from credit unions' need to manage their expenses in a tough economy by outsourcing their customer-service work.

But what Digital Dialogue won't do, Schmitt said, is outsource the work to Asia.


"We believe that the language barriers are enough that it hinders the quality of service," Schmitt said. "And, two, it's difficult to monitor and control the security and access to information when it's offshore."


Strolling through the company's spacious offices in Auburn Hills, one finds employees seated before computer screens speaking with credit-union members from all over the country. When a caller gives the name of his or her credit union, a Digital Dialogue employee can offer a personalized response, right down to a greeting of "Aloha" when the caller is from Hawaii.


As demand grew, Digital Dialogue recorded more than 211,167 calls in a single month this past summer. The company nearly doubled its office space from 9,300 square feet to more than 17,000 square feet in its Auburn Hills headquarters this year.


With its client base growing so rapidly, Digital Dialogue saw its revenues soar 89% in 2007 and 95% this year. The company expects to grow its revenue another 70% to 80% in 2009.


"Being located in Detroit, we have been fortunate enough to take advantage of the existing labor market," Schmitt said. "The demand for our call center services has enabled us to grow. We expect to continue growing at this rate for years to come."
by Erica Finley Oakland Business Review

Granholm today visited Auburn Hills-based Microposite Inc., a growing company that recently began production on an environmentally friendly siding product.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm said an early stage, Auburn Hills-based company is a perfect example of the type of forward-thinking Michigan needs to help foster.

Microposite Inc., which has begun production of an environmentally friendly residential siding product, touted as the first new development in home siding in two decades, got its start in the auto and aerospace industries, supplying composite materials.

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"We are targeting innovative companies like Microposite to diversify and grow our state's economy," Granholm said, in a news release about her visit to the company.
"This is the kind of company that will create good-paying jobs and help Michigan become a leader in green manufacturing processes and products that will increase energy savings and help protect our environment."

The company debuted the new siding product - made of 80 percent perlite, polyurethane resins as a binder and fibers for strength and durability - at the International Builders' Show in mid-February in Orlando, Fla.

Despite competition from other states, Microposite set up shop in Michigan with support from the Michigan Economic Development Corp., including a Michigan Economic Growth Authority tax credit and co-investment through the Michigan 21st Century Investment Fund. The Invest Michigan! program also played a part.

"The environment (in Michigan) is helpful for us," CEO Marc Carlson told the Ann Arbor Business Review in February, citing availability of employees, manufacturing space and tax benefits.

The private company operates out of a 30,000-square-foot office and manufacturing space, and as of February, employed 25 people. Employment projections called for 62 employees.
Carlson wouldn't reveal revenue projections, but said the siding and trim industry is worth about $10 billion per year in the United States.

"It's an enormous market," Carlson told the Business Review. "And there have been no new product innovations in 20 years."

Funding for Microposite comes in part from Nth Power in San Francisco and DFJ Element in Menlo Park, Calif.
Maureen McDonald / Special to The Detroit News

DETROIT -- Despite a slowdown in General Motors corporate business, Matt Prentice says the Coach Insignia Restaurant, occupying the 71st and 72nd floor of the GM Renaissance Center is already booked for several key days of the North American International Auto Show.

"The restaurant continues to do well since it opened in August 2004," said Prentice, CEO of the seven-restaurant chain with annual sales of $25 million, around $4 million at the downtown dining establishment. "But we have to beat the bushes to bring business in."

On a clear day, up to 500 diners an evening look out floor-to-ceiling windows to see the Palace of Auburn Hills, the lights atop the Ambassador Bridge, the neon entrance of Caesar's Windsor and a glorious sunset draped across two nations bisected by the Detroit River.

The wine list with over 600 selections housed in two separate wine stations draped in steel shimmer screens that sway up to three feet in wind storms. The wine racks are locked down. Coach Insignia dinner menus offers truffle mashed potatoes, steak, sea bass and its signature chocolate torte.

GM contributed $8.6 million to the build-out of the restaurant, which opened in 2004. Prentice, with the help of restaurant designers Ron and Roman LLC of Birmingham, gutted the revolving restaurant mechanism on one floor, removed one whole floor and reconfigured dining spaces for window gazing.

"This place is a big risk," Prentice said. The main kitchen is on the first floor next to the GM Wintergarden. His employees must cart food on a bustling freight elevator that could take up to a half hour to get to the prep kitchen on the 71st floor. The advantage is that Prentice also caters large scale events in the Wintergarden.

He named the restaurant for Coach Insignia, a brand of wine sold by Napa Valley-based Fred J. Fisher, grandson of the Fisher Body family that built coaches for GM vehicles. The 32,000 square-foot restaurant in the round highlights auto history in its decor, from photographs of crash test dummies and lunar modules to maps of its proving grounds.

"Coach Insignia is an excellent venue because the food is excellent and the location convenient for media and clients," said Larry Weis, owner of Auto Com Associates in Bloomfield Hills. He booked several tables for Charity Preview Night of the auto show. "We're not going to do a big lavish dinner. It isn't appropriate with all the difficulties the industry is facing, but we will have tables for some of our clients."

What brings Weis back? "In my opinion, Patrick Peterson, the sommelier, is absolutely the best around. He works with you, he has a vast wine knowledge and he's a great guy. I send all kinds of people to Coach and tell them to ask for Patrick," Weis said.
Clint Eastwood gives metro Detroit a leading role in 'Gran Torino'

BY JOHN MONAGHAN
• FREE PRESS SPECIAL WRITER •

Long before Dirty Harry rode into town, Berkley dental receptionist Pam Richardson had him on her screensaver at work.

It was Richardson's picture of a gun-toting Clint Eastwood that caught the eye of Janet Pound, the local casting director assigned to "Gran Torino," the movie that acclaimed actor-director Eastwood shot in the Detroit area over the summer. "She told me that she would find a way to get me in the movie, and she did," says Richardson, who lives in Farmington Hills.

Early one morning in late July, she and her husband, Gene, headed for St. Ambrose Catholic Church in Grosse Pointe Park, where they were assigned to play mourners in a scene that finds Eastwood's character, a Korean War vet and retired autoworker named Walt Kowalski, scowling his way through the funeral of his beloved wife.

Richardson has been an Eastwood fan since she saw him in 1971's "Play Misty for Me," his first outing as a director. Though she's miffed that her husband got some extra screen time after he was tapped to walk down the aisle of the church several times during the scene, she says she can't complain too much. She spent most of the day watching a genuine movie legend at work, had a catered lunch and went home with a $75 paycheck for her trouble.

"I think what I like about him is that he's so multitalented," she swoons. "He acts, he directs and, after seeing him up close, he's still really good-looking. What more do you want from a movie star?"

Richardson's encounter with Eastwood is the kind of Motown-meets-Tinseltown moment that is becoming increasingly common. Earlier this year, Michigan lawmakers approved legislation allowing for an up-to-42% tax break on expenses for movies shot in the state, and Hollywood is taking notice. "Gran Torino" was originally set in Minnesota, but the Michigan tax breaks brought about a quick change in its locale.

What makes the $35-million film unusual is the involvement of a major movie talent like Eastwood -- and its quick turnaround time. It was shot over 33 days in July and August.

"Gran Torino" opens locally on Christmas Day at the Birmingham 8 and will open wide nationally Jan. 9. The movie's quick, end-of-year release is partly to make it eligible for Oscars. Eastwood's recent best actor nod from the National Board of Review is now winning him Academy Award buzz.

Grumpy old man

In "Gran Torino," Eastwood's Walt lives in an immaculately groomed home in a run-down part of Detroit. He has a rabid disdain for the changing face of his neighborhood and its growing Hmong population of Southeast Asian immigrants, many of whom arrived in the United States decades ago in the wake of the Vietnam War.

When the teenage Thao (Bee Vang), Walt's next-door neighbor, tries to steal the old man's cherished 1972 Gran Torino Fastback as part of a gang initiation, Walt confronts him with his old military rifle.

But as he gets to know the family and grows estranged from his own sons and grandchildren, Walt learns to respect the Hmong culture. He befriends the boy and his outspoken older sister Sue (Ahney Her) and eventually takes Thao under his wing and tries to teach him the construction trade. Then Hmong gang members, including some of Thao's cousins, shoot up the boy's house and viciously attack Sue, and Walt must decide whether to take matters into his own hands.

If this were one of Eastwood's celebrated Dirty Harry movies of the '70s and '80s, Walt would simply burst into the gang's headquarters with guns blazing, but Eastwood's view of violence has been altered dramatically over the decades. His change in perspective was first evident in "Unforgiven," the 1992 Western that earned the actor his first of two directing Oscars, and it has since been seen in titles as varied as "Mystic River" and "Letters from Iwo Jima." In each case, man's inhumanity to man comes with a heavy price.

Eastwood, 78, fresh from promoting his other fall release, "Changeling," and now working on a Nelson Mandela biopic in Africa, has granted few interviews to discuss "Gran Torino." Critics, who have had generally kind words for the film, call it among his most personal works.
In October, Eastwood told USA Today that he was initially attracted to the "Gran Torino" script because it provided a rare leading role for an actor his age. In addition, Eastwood, like Walt, is a Korean War veteran. His show business career began a few years after the war, and he became a TV star on "Rawhide" in the early '60s.

Though Walt uses racial epithets, especially in addressing his Asian neighbors, he is a familiar and likable character, particularly when he begins to learn some lessons about tolerance and redemption.

"We all know someone like him: the racist uncle at Thanksgiving or your shop teacher in high school," says screenwriter Nick Schenk. The movie is about a "dying culture," he says, "not about an unrepentant racist, but a man who gets his mind and heart straight."

Schenk was surprised when Eastwood announced that he wasn't going to change a word in the script, which was the writer's first big Hollywood sale. The only major difference was the change of setting from Minnesota to Michigan. Schenk thinks the movie translates well, except for one thing. "It's the part where the son calls Walt for connections to get Lions season tickets," Schenk chuckles, "like they are so valuable and hard to get."

A lively barbershop
Ted Widgren, who turns 90 next month, has seen his quaint Royal Oak barbershop used for everything from photo shoots to small, independent films. The storefront business on 11 Mile Road near downtown Royal Oak is something of a local time capsule. Its fake wood-paneled walls are lined with World War II-era photos of Widgren in uniform during his days as an Army Air Corps lieutenant.

He says the set dressers left his Widgren's Barber Shop pretty much as it is, replacing only some of the photos and painting a new sign on the front window glass that reads "Martin's Barber Shop" in the film.

Widgren, who has been cutting hair in Royal Oak since 1938, doesn't appear in "Gran Torino." Instead, the producers flew in John Caroll Lynch, a character actor best known as Frances McDormand's husband in "Fargo," to play Martin the barber. Three of the film's most entertaining scenes take place in the barbershop, including one in which Walt and Martin have a profanity-filled exchange about the rising price of a haircut. Later, Walt brings young Thao to the shop so he can learn to curse like a real man.

Eastwood allowed Widgren to watch the action from his shop's back room -- until Widgren interfered with one of the scenes.

"They had this guy playing the barber, and I heard him say 'son of a bitch,' " Widgren remembers. "So I said, under my breath, 'I wouldn't say something like that in my shop.' The next thing I know, someone yelled cut, and they had to do it all over again. They were very nice about it, but they needed quiet on the set."

Widgren spent the rest of the day's filming in the parking lot behind his shop.
Though he didn't ask for any financial compensation, he and the building owner received $2,000 each from producers for the day's shoot. "They treated me very well," Widgren says.

Courting a community
One of the trickier parts of making "Gran Torino" in the area involved getting the local Hmong community to be a part of it. That task fell largely to Cedric Lee, 27, whose half-Hmong and half-French family owns a number of Asian markets and restaurants, including Sy Thai restaurant in Birmingham. He advertised for local actors and extras through community newspapers, Internet postings and word of mouth.

"Many weren't sure at first," says Lee of Rochester Hills, who has juggled work with his family businesses while pursuing a career as an independent filmmaker. "They were concerned that the Hmong people would be depicted by nothing but gang violence, though you can find that in almost any community."

Lee introduced crew members to different Detroit-area Hmong homes and even took them shopping for items to decorate the sets. Look close, Lee says, and you'll see his family pictures on the walls. Lee even appears as one of the people who leave food on Walt's front steps in appreciation of the way he stands up to Hmong gang members who are preparing to pummel Thao in front of Walt's house. ("Get off my lawn," the old man snarls at the troublemakers as he squints over his M1 rifle -- a line that's certain to be a part of all future Eastwood highlight reels.)

Though extras were assembled from the estimated 8,000 to 10,000 Hmong people living in the Detroit area, the actors who share significant screen time with Eastwood were cast through Eastwood's Malpaso Productions in Hollywood. Neither Bee Vang, from Minneapolis, nor Ahney Her, from Lansing, had any experience in front of the camera. It is this authenticity that Eastwood was striving for.

Rob Lorenz, Eastwood's producing partner since 2002, says that although Minnesota has a large Hmong population and would have made a more logical location for "Gran Torino," tax incentives in Michigan proved too generous to pass up.

"We realized that this would make the right place," he says. "If it didn't work, we wouldn't have filmed there."

Secretive sets
Because "Gran Torino" is such an intimate, character-driven drama, cast and crew members were able to work mostly under the radar, filming a day, or maybe two, at various local businesses, churches and street corners. Most nights, Eastwood and his Hollywood team headed back to Birmingham's Townsend Hotel or to production offices in Troy.

On the monthlong shoot, the most time was spent in and around the house that is used as Walt's residence in what Walt's sons refer to as "the old neighborhood." Several spots were considered before Jeff and Dana O'Farrell's well-manicured, red-brick colonial home on Rhode Island Street in Highland Park made the final cut. The two also own the house next door, which serves as the home of Walt's Hmong neighbors.

"It's important to keep a low profile," says Jeff Spillman, managing partner at S3 Entertainment Group, the Ferndale production company that handled the physical details of the "Gran Torino" shoot. Everything from catering to prop and set design and security went through the S3EG offices. Shooting schedules were often kept under wraps and e-mailed to key cast and crew members the night before. Security was employed to protect expensive equipment and to keep gawkers from disrupting a scene.

"You have to get in, get out, then move on to your next location," Spillman says. "Movies have to work efficiently, and Clint Eastwood is one of the most efficient filmmakers in the history of Hollywood."

Despite following procedures that often recalled a spy movie, Eastwood proved consistently charming to those who got to meet him.

Kim Lundy, whose Grosse Pointe Shores house was used as the home of Walt's son, didn't believe producers' promises that Eastwood would appear after the shooting to pose for photos with her neighbors. "I thought they were humoring me," she says, "but there he was, around 5 p.m., and he couldn't have been nicer."

Hometown pride
On Tuesday night, local cast and crew members for "Gran Torino" braved a snowstorm to attend a screening of the film at the Birmingham 8 theater. Though the audience was mostly silent while watching, applause erupted during the closing credits as local cast and crew saw their names appear on the screen.

Such local screenings will be common next year, when a slew of made-in-Detroit movies, from the Drew Barrymore-directed "Whip It!" to the Michael Cera-Justin Long comedy "Youth in Revolt," will enjoy national release. For adviser Lee, the "Gran Torino" experience has opened doors to other Detroit-filmed features, including "The Butterfly Effect: Revelation" and "America," starring Rosie O'Donnell and Ruby Dee. Lee was flown to Hollywood this fall by Eastwood to proofread subtitling of Hmong dialogue and oversee the looping (or rerecording) of some characters' lines.

"The whole auditorium was brimming with a sense of pride for a job well done," says producer Spillman of the Tuesday screening. "No one, me included, could have dreamed while growing up that we'd be in Detroit and making a movie like this, especially one with an icon like Clint Eastwood. ... It's important to see something this positive coming out of Detroit right now."
Joe Serra, cochair of the 2009 North American International Auto Show, drew applause Thursday simply by reassuring hundreds who attended a preview event that there will be an auto show.
"To begin my discussion about the 2009 North American International Auto Show, let me start by saying, there will be one," Serra told an audience of about 450 at Cobo Center in Detroit, who had come to see the North American Car and Truck of the Year finalists revealed.

Serra said show organizers were knocked off balance this year by the corporate departure of Nissan Motor Co. and six other manufacturers.

Still, Serra said this year's auto show will feature 58 global and North American vehicle unveilings, which is more than last year, and said the number of journalist registrations is on pace to match the annual mark of about 6,000.

Serra also said that 49 manufacturers -- including the late-Thursday addition of Tesla Motors Inc., a Silicon Valley start-up -- will be represented.

Two manufacturers, Nissan Motor Co. and Mitsubishi Motors Corp., will have scaled-down displays staffed by local dealers but no corporate presence.

Tesla spokeswoman Rachel Konrad said this will be the first time Tesla has had floor space at Detroit's auto show.

"Detroit is one of the most important events in this industry, so we really look forward to being there," Konrad said.

Other new or recent additions to the 2009 auto show are Bugatti, Brilliance Auto, Lotus Cars USA, Morgan Motor Co., Revenge Designs and Aston Martin.

"So then, what can you expect to see at the 2009 show? The key word is efficiency in both cars and displays," Serra said. "We will still be a global stage to the world, but perhaps with a little bit less glitz and glamour."

Serra, owner of 21 auto dealerships, said he is frustrated by the lack of action by the federal government to rescue the automotive industry.

"I was disheartened by the lack of trust and distaste for the auto industry," he said.
Serra said about 700 automotive dealerships have gone out of business this year.

Next year, he expects about 900 also will close. One of the main problems dealers face is a 30% to 40% drop in revenue caused by a drop in sales, a consequence of low consumer confidence and the inability of customers to obtain credit.

Next year, Serra predicts that about 12 million vehicles will be sold in the United States, a decline of about 25% from 2007.

"As positive and optimistic as I personally am about this industry, I am a realist, and nobody denies that these are dire times," Serra said.
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