From the Senior Editor: Obama’s Victory Lap

This week and next, President Obama is taking a victory lap. But is it too soon?

On Friday, the president was set to visit General Motors and Chrysler plants in Detroit. Next week, he’ll be in Chicago to visit the Ford Motor factory.

At the two Detroit plants, workers literally owe their livelihoods to the president, whose administration provided the carmakers with more than $60 billion to assure their survival. You can argue the Ford workers should be grateful as well, since Ford’s future would have been threatened had its two Detroit rivals gone into liquidation.

I talked about the automobile industry’s situation on NPR’s Morning Edition with my good friend Don Gonyea, who spent many years on the car beat when he was based in Detroit. This is a story of deep interest to the Changing Gears region, and its outcome will play a huge role in determining the future of the Manufacturing Belt. Continue reading “From the Senior Editor: Obama’s Victory Lap”

Updated: An Oil Spill Of Our Own

The oil spill in the Kalamazoo River looks worse than originally thought. It now covers more than 25 miles of the Kalamazoo River, according to the latest information from the Environmental Protection Agency.

On Thursday, Michigan Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm declared a state of disaster in Calhoun County and potentially affected areas along the Kalamazoo River downstream of Talmadge Creek in response to Monday’s oil spill from a pipeline near Marshall, Michigan.

“This disaster declaration reinforces our efforts to ensure the safety of Michigan citizens and the environment by making any needed state resources readily available,” said Granholm.

Continue reading “Updated: An Oil Spill Of Our Own”

Volt and Leaf: Auto Companies Changing Gears?

General Motors is finally giving some of the most important details about the Chevrolet Volt. It’s a plug-in hybrid car that goes on sale late this year.

G.M. says the Volt will cost $41,000 (buyers may be eligible for a $7,500 federal tax credit for alternative fuel vehicles). The automaker also will offer leases on the Volt for $350 a month, since its sticker price puts it in the range of a small BMW or a Lexus.

G.M. has been talking about the Volt for a long time. Here’s a story I did for the New York Times in November 2008.  Back then, G.M. used the Volt as the centerpiece of its efforts to win a federal bailout from Congress. Those efforts failed, and G.M. went through a government-sponsored backruptcy a year later. Continue reading “Volt and Leaf: Auto Companies Changing Gears?”

From the Senior Editor: Food’s Revival Role

Can food help revive a city — and a region? It certainly can play a part.

Here’s an example. We sat outside this week for a birthday dinner at a lively bistro. Near our table, a brazier burned brightly as well-dressed guests chatted in the warm evening air.

The wine list featured a variety of intelligent choices, from crisp chilled rose to warm reds and sparkling whites. The special was pork belly, the raw bar included a choice of east coast or west coast oysters, and the frites looked fantastic.

We were not in Paris, or New York, or Chicago. We were at Zinc, on Euclid Avenue, in downtown Cleveland. Zinc, set a historic building, is one of the most recent editions to the city’s growing culinary scene, which is centered around the corner on Fourth Street. Here’s a piece that Dan Bobkoff recently did for our partner ideastream on Cleveland’s new restaurants.

I’m convinced that good food is essential not just to a city’s spirit, but to a city’s revival. Restaurant wise, Cleveland already rocks — and so can the Great Lakes region. Continue reading “From the Senior Editor: Food’s Revival Role”

From The Senior Editor: Deal or No Deal

When should a state provide incentives to a big employer?

That’s one of the questions that states are wrestling with as they try to shake off the recession and move forward. And, it’s a story the Changing Gears team will be examining many times in the next few years.

The latest state to deal with the issue is Missouri, whose governor has signed controversial legislation meant to keep a Ford Motor Company plant from leaving the state. I talked about the situation this week on KMOX in St. Louis.

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Continue reading “From The Senior Editor: Deal or No Deal”

In South Chicago, A Neighborhood Faces Change

As Changing Gears gets underway, we’re featuring stories from our partner stations about the issues facing the Manufacturing Belt.

South Chicago, once a vibrant industrial neighborhood, has been hit hard by the decline of the steel industry. Thousands of jobs have disappeared at U.S. Steel, the biggest industrial presence in the area. Now, the city council has taken another step toward formalizing plans for a new development that could mean condos, new stores and the potential for jobs on land that is co-owned by the steel maker.

It’s just the kind of project that would show the area is Changing Gears and moving toward a new future. But not all residents are happy about the prospect. Michael Puente, a reporter with Changing Gears partner WBEZ, looked at the situation last month.

Continue reading “In South Chicago, A Neighborhood Faces Change”

Tell us a story…

Changing Gears is about the people of the Manufacturing Belt, and how they are moving forward. Some are doing so as entrepreneurs; others are banding together in their communities to break new ground. We want to tell their stories, and to do so, we want your help.

Tell us where to look. Tell us who to talk to. Tell us what to focus on. Post your ideas in the comments section, or send us an email to changing gears (at) umich.edu.

From the Senior Editor: Carmakers, One Year Later

A year ago this month, a new version of General Motors emerged from a government sponsored bankruptcy, only weeks after the new version of Chrysler came to live with federal help. On July 7, NPR’s Neal Conan invited me on Talk of the Nation to discuss what things look like now.

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In short, things are better. Auto sales are rebounding modestly from the awful levels of last year. But the industry is a long way from the boom days of the mid-’00s, and Detroit companies still have far to go. How does each company look now — and what role with they play as the manufacturing belt transforms itself? The auto industry’s story is a crucial part of Changing Gears.

Continue reading “From the Senior Editor: Carmakers, One Year Later”