DBusiness Daily Update: AT&T Invests $1.4B+ Over Three Years to Connect Michigan Customers, West Michigan’s Aspen Surgical Acquires Stork Products, and More

Our roundup of the latest news from metro Detroit and Michigan businesses as well as announcements from government agencies, including updates about the COVID-19 pandemic. To share a business or nonprofit story, please send us a message.
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timelapse of a city highway
AT&T says it spent $1.4 billion between 2018 and 2020 to connect customers in Michigan. // Courtesy of AT&T

Our roundup of the latest news from metro Detroit and Michigan businesses as well as announcements from government agencies, including updates about the COVID-19 pandemic. To share a business or nonprofit story, please send us a message.

AT&T Invests $1.4B+ Over Three Years to Connect Michigan Customers

AT&T has expanded coverage and improved connectivity in communities by investing more than $1.4 billion in its wireless and wireline networks in Michigan between 2018 and 2020.

The company’s commitment to communities across the country continuous and spans all layers of its network — from fiber to 5G to FirstNet. These investments are essential to connecting customers with their family, friends, and colleagues by increasing the network’s speed, reliability, coverage, and overall performance, according to AT&T.

In 2021, the company says it is increasing its fiber footprint by 3 million customer locations across more than 90 metro areas that it currently serves, including in Michigan. AT&T also announced recently that it will invest $2 billion over the next three years to help address the digital divide nationwide.

AT&T further improved critical communications for Michigan’s first responders and improved public safety with FirstNet — America’s public safety network.

“From connecting family and loved ones to helping first responders during a crisis, AT&T is committed to investing in Michigan to build state-of-the-art infrastructure that will keep people connected,” says David Lewis, president of AT&T Michigan. “By continuing to improve our network at the state and local levels, we are helping businesses grow in Michigan and helping to ensure that our customers and communities stay connected throughout the country.”

West Michigan’s Aspen Surgical Acquires Stork Labor and Delivery Products

Aspen Surgical Products Inc. in Caledonia, south of Grand Rapids, today announced the acquisition of Stork, a leading provider of surgical disposable products. Stork is a division of Iowa’s Briggs Healthcare.

Founded in 1958, the Stork line of products includes high-quality, branded sterile disposable obstetric products, such as the PlastiBell Disposable Circumcision Device, the Amnihook Amniotic Membrane Perforator, the Double-Grip Umbilical Cord Clamp, the Umbilical Cord Clamp Clipper, the U-Bag Pediatric Urine Collection Bag, and the Ready-Rolled FootPrinter. The acquisition of Stork strengthens Aspen’s portfolio of medical and surgical disposables sold into the acute care market.

“The Stork branded products have been a market leader in the labor and delivery space for over 50 years,” says Jason Krieser, CEO of Aspen. “The line fits very well with our current operational and commercial infrastructure, and we believe it is a sound platform for future growth in the obstetrics and gynecology space.

“Including Stork, we have completed five acquisitions in the last 18 months,” Krieser continues. “This, along with our internal manufacturing investments, commercial enhancements, and new product introductions, has helped us improve and expand our portfolio, providing more value to both our distribution partners and our end-user customers.”

BCBSM and Blue Care Network Offer Option for Young Adults

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and Blue Care Network are launching a new individual health plan option for young adults under 30 as part of a continuing commitment to offer comprehensive plan choices, along with moderate price changes, for its suite of health insurance plan options for the upcoming 2022 ACA Marketplace open enrollment period.

The new Preferred Value plan will be offered in 63 rural counties for adults under 30 years old who are ineligible for a tax credit under the ACA. The plan provides no-cost laboratory services and low copays for a variety of benefits including Blue Cross Online Visits, primary care visits, retail health visits, mental health visits, and urgent care visits.

Pending approval of rates filed with state regulators this week, on average, Blue Cross PPO and Blue Care Network HMO plans will have moderate price increases of 5 percent and 6 percent, respectively. Blue Cross and BCN will continue to provide a variety of coverage options with no plan cancellations for 2022 enrollment.

The companies remain the only carriers offering plans in the Upper Peninsula, as well as all 83 Michigan counties. Adding to a diversified portfolio of 30 total plans — two Gold, 16 Silver, nine Bronze, and two Catastrophic level offerings — the Blue Cross Preferred Value plan will be the one new product to be introduced for 2022 open enrollment.

“As we adjust to changing health care trends and needs of members, we’re more committed than ever to keeping premium increases in check and providing affordable plans, while ensuring our members have the coverage they depend on,” says Rick Notter, vice president of individual business for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. “Blue Cross has been a reliable coverage provider on the Marketplace since it opened, with stable plans and pricing for Michigan residents. We are pleased to continue to offer that stability in 2022.”

“The Blue Cross Preferred Value plan was designed to provide a quality coverage option for young adults who may not qualify for subsidies, but are still looking for an affordable, comprehensive health care plan,” says Notter. “It’s important that everyone has access to the care they need regardless of their income or age, and the development of this plan was just another example of how Blue Cross intends to make that vision a reality. It’s one more step in the right direction.”

Blue Cross’ and BCN’s combined membership in individual plans has remained steady despite the COVID pandemic, with more than 170,000 members enrolled in individual market health plans, 57 percent of which receive subsidies through the Marketplace.

Several benefits are included as part of all individual plans to keep members and their families healthy at no extra cost. These services include free annual visits, wellness appointments and vaccines, as well as no-cost Blue Cross medical online visits and diabetes management tools.

Local Children’s Hospitals Join Forces to Bolster Service to Families

Through a new collaboration, Ascension St. John Children’s Hospital is now the designated inpatient care site for pediatric patients from Wayne Pediatrics, the pediatrics department of the Wayne State University School of Medicine.

With the new relationship, patients have increased access to board-certified specialists representing an array of pediatric services, including rheumatology, infectious diseases, HIV/AIDS in children and young adults, endocrinology, immunology, nephrology, adolescent medicine, and general pediatrics.

“We’re thrilled to combine our resources and align with Wayne Pediatrics and Wayne State University School of Medicine to offer world-class care, while also creating an environment that fosters excellence in teaching, research and training the next generation of clinicians and researchers,” says Dr. Michael Wiemann, president of Ascension Medical Group.

In addition to meeting patients’ needs, Ascension St. John Children’s Hospital residents will have the opportunity to complement their training by participating in clinical rotations with Wayne Pediatrics faculty. The affiliation also will increase physician career opportunities and academic faculty.

“In addition to expanded research, integration, and coordination of services, this collaboration widens the scope of pediatric specialty care available to families from experts dedicated to providing excellent health outcomes for Michigan’s children,” says Dr. Herman Gray, chair of the Wayne State University School of Medicine Department of Pediatrics. “We are excited to partner with Ascension St. John Children’s Hospital, allowing Wayne Pediatrics to positively impact the lives of more children.”

Registration Open for the National Virtual Pitch Contest for Entrepreneurs

The National Entrepreneurs Association in Southfield will host a National Virtual Pitch Contest on Aug. 18, from 5-7 p.m. via Zoom.

Contestants will have an opportunity to win more than $7,500 in cash and prizes. The event was created to give entrepreneurs and small business owners an opportunity to receive national exposure, professional coaching, funding, and other resources that can be used immediately for growth and expansion.

The event is sponsored by Dell Technologies and Comerica Bank.

For more information or an application visit here. Application deadline is July 1.

2019 U.S. Open Winner Woodland Commits to Rocket Mortgage Classic

Gary Woodland, the 2019 U.S. Open winner, has committed to play in the 2021 Rocket Mortgage Classic, July 1-4 at the Detroit Golf Club.

Adam Hadwin and Luke List also have signed on to compete in Detroit’s only PGA Tour event.

The tournament field boasts three of the four reigning major championship winners (2021 PGA Championship winner Phil Mickelson, 2021 Masters winner Hideki Matsuyama, and 2020 U.S. Open winner Bryson DeChambeau).

Woodland, Hadwin and List join a field that currently includes 10 major championship winners accounting for 16 major titles, as well as nine players among the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking and seven players within the top 30 in the PGA Tour’s 2020-21 FedExCup points standings.

The tournament’s 156-player field will be finalized June

Woodland, a four-time winner on the PGA Tour will be making his second appearance in the Rocker Mortgage Classic. Hadwin tied for fourth at the 2020 Rocket Mortgage Classic. List was a four-time All-American at Vanderbilt who tied for 21st in last year’s event.

joined the PGA TOUR in 2013 and has more than $9 million in career earnings. His best season was the 2017-18 campaign, when he registered five top-10 finishes and 11 top-25s. List played in the 2020 Rocket Mortgage Classic, finishing tied for 21st.

For more information, visit here.

Study: Average Age of Cars and Light Trucks on U.S. Roads Rises to 12.1 Years

New research from IHS Markit in Southfield shows that the average age of light vehicles in operation (VIO) in the U.S. has risen to 12.1 years this year, increasing by nearly 2 months during 2020 and elevated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The increase in average age will further drive vehicle maintenance opportunities from an increasingly aged vehicle fleet.

COVID-19 and its impact across the U.S. caused a drastic reduction in new vehicle sales as well as a sudden increase in vehicle scrappage, which was a catalyst for increased velocity in the growth of the average age of light vehicles. The pandemic-induced rate of increase in average age is expected to be short-lived as 2021 will see a return of new vehicle registrations and increased activity in used registrations as we adapt to post-pandemic norms.

In early 2020, the pandemic put significant pressure on new vehicle sales as dealerships worked to implement modified sales processes and deliveries to adhere to social distancing guidelines and create a comfortable vehicle purchasing experience for consumers, even moving some transactions online.

A strong finish to 2020 demonstrated the resilience of new vehicle registration as more than 8 million new vehicles were registered in the second half of the year, bringing new registrations up to 5.1 percent of VIO for the whole year.

While new vehicle sales proved resilient, the most significant impacts to VIO from the pandemic were felt in the rate of vehicle scrappage and vehicle miles traveled. Scrappage, the measure of vehicles exiting the active population, saw its highest volume in two decades at more than 15 million units, and second highest rate at 5.6 percent of VIO. Vehicle Miles Traveled declined year over year by over 13 percent in 2020 due to lockdowns and work from home policies.

“2020 was a radical departure from the norm and challenged assumptions about how vehicle owners use their vehicles and accumulate miles; from a vehicle fleet perspective, one of the real surprises was the number of vehicles that suddenly exited the active population,” says Todd Campau, associate director of aftermarket solutions at IHS Markit.

According to the analysis, the rate and mix of vehicles leaving the population point to the possibility that the volume may be inflated due to a larger percentage of vehicles that may not have been registered due to lags in state requirements for registration renewals, more vehicles being put into “storage” due to COVID-19 restrictions in many locations and work-from-home initiatives.

The ongoing microchip shortage is expected to continue to challenge new vehicle production volumes through the fourth quarter 2021, but rounding out the year, IHS Markit expects U.S. light vehicle sales to reach 16.8 million according to current forecasts, which can be expected to mute average age growth. In addition, during the height of pandemic, some vehicle owners may have allowed registrations to expire because their vehicles were not being driven.

The combined impact of the factors at play in 2020 led to the first decrease in VIO since 2012, with 279 million vehicles in operation as of January 2021, down from nearly 281 million a year prior. That said, the industry is entering a period of strong growth in the aftermarket ‘sweet spot’ — those vehicles 6-11 years of age — as record sales years begin moving into that age group over the next five years, which will serve as a tailwind to aftermarket revenue growth.

In addition, electric vehicles continued to increase, with strong registrations through 2020, pushing total electric vehicles in operation to near 1 million units. The average age of electric vehicles in the U.S. is 3.9 years of age and has been hovering between 3.8 and 4.1 years since 2016 as the volume of new registrations of electric vehicles continue to represent a large share of overall EV VIO.

Almost 90 percent (89 percent) of 2016-2020 model year EVs are still registered by their first owner, as compared to 68 percent of gasoline vehicles for those same model years. As EV’s begin to gain more market share and become more prominent in the used vehicle market, it is expected that their average age will begin to increase. At that time, the aftermarket will begin to see repair opportunities shift in response to the increased EV market share.

Countdown to In-person Automate 2022 Begins

The Association for Advancing Automation (A3) in Ann Arbor has begun the countdown to Automate 2022, North America’s largest showcase devoted to automation industry trends, leading-edge technology, and innovations that help companies compete in global markets.

Automate will take place in Detroit and is expected to draw more than 20,000 attendees, 600 exhibitors, and hundreds of speakers on robotics, vision and imaging, motion control, artificial intelligence, and smart automation technologies.

“As we emerge from the pandemic, we see increasing interest from companies in every industry to automate their processes as they aim to improve efficiencies, handle ongoing labor shortages and ultimately prepare for anything else the future might bring,” says Jeff Burnstein, president of A3. “While we’ve had great success with our virtual events, including last week’s Vision Week, an in-person Automate will bring back what attendees and exhibitors love most about this show — the opportunity to interact with the world’s leading automation companies and find solutions to their most important challenges.”

A3’s first in-person event post pandemic will be the Autonomous Mobile Robot & Logistics Conference in Memphis, Tenn., Oct. 12-14, followed by the A3 Business Forum in Orlando, Fla., Jan. 31-Feb. 2. After Automate 2022 next June, the conference will return to its normal odd-year cycle with shows scheduled in Detroit May 22-25, 2023, and May 12-15, 2025.

For more information about sponsoring or exhibiting at Automate 2022, contact Jim Hamilton at 734-994-6088 or visit here.

The Joint Chiropractic Opens First Clinic in Michigan

The Joint Corp., the nation’s largest provider of chiropractic care through The Joint Chiropractic network, announced the opening of its first clinic in the state of Michigan. The Joint Chiropractic – North Ann Arbor is located at 2627 Plymouth Road in Ann Arbor. The Joint continues to expand access to chiropractic care with a retail footprint that now extends to 35 states.

“Our continued growth demonstrates the increasing consumer demand for routine and affordable chiropractic care,” says Peter D. Holt, president and CEO The Joint Corp. “We’re pleased to now be offering residents of Michigan convenient access to seek pain relief and a path to a healthier lifestyle.”

The Joint Chiropractic is known for its convenient retail setting and concierge-style services including no-appointments, no-insurance hassles, affordable chiropractic care, and accommodating hours of operations, including evenings, and weekends.

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