Manufacturing activity rises, output falls in Midwest

Mixed news on Midwest manufacturing arrived today, courtesy of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.

It reported that the Midwest Economy Index, a weighted average of 128 state and regional indicators, reached its highest level in 16 years. In April, the index climbed to +0.83, its best mo nthsince March 1995 and up from +0.79 in March. April marked the seventh consecutive month the marker finished above its historical trend.

Manufacturing activity led that growth. It added +0.73 to the MEI, the sector’s largest contribution since January of 1984. Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin all gained manufacturing activity in April, while the sector held steady in Illinois and Indiana. (The Seventh Federal Reserve District does not include Ohio).

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How much money do you really need to make to survive?

A few months ago the Wider Opportunities for Women partnership came out with an intriguing look at how much money families really need to earn to support themselves. It was national, and I thought the lede to the New York Times story about it said it all: “Hard as it can be to land a job these days, getting one may not be nearly enough for basic economic security.”

The DC-based advocacy group has used public data for their report, and they’ve started parsing out the information locally. Today, they released data for Michigan. Here are the results:

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Grand Rapids ‘Dying?’ Residents Disagree

From 2000 to 2009, the city of Grand Rapids, Mich. lost 2.1 percent of its population, according to census data. That statistic is not refuted. Does that population loss merit a label of a “dying city?”

That’s an entirely different question.

In January, Newsweek listed Grand Rapids as one of its top 10 dying cities. It’s one of three Michigan cities to make the dubious list. But residents of the west Michigan city – Grand Rapidians? – did not appreciate the designation.

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Midwest Memo: Friday, May 27, 2011

Eventually, the Wisconsin Supreme Court may have the final say over a law that restricts the collective bargaining of public employees. For now, the controversial legislation has been struck down.

A Dane County judge ruled Thursday that Republican lawmakers violated the state’s open meetings act when they passed the bill on March 9. In her 33-page ruling, Judge Maryann Sumi wrote, “transparency in government is most important when the stakes are high.”

Republicans should try to pass the legislation again, opines the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, this time with a “more reasonable approach.” The ruling is a big boost to Wisconsin Democrats and their efforts to recall Gov. Scott Walker, says the Washington Post. Continue reading “Midwest Memo: Friday, May 27, 2011”

Podcast: Oprah’s Impact and Food Trucks

Welcome to our podcast that recaps our Changing Gears coverage from the past few days.

This was Oprah Winfrey’s last week hosting her top-rated television show following a 25-year run. Her “Favorite Things” list catapulted small businesses throughout the Midwest into the spotlight – for better or worse. Changing Gears reporter Niala Boodhoo joined us in the studio to discuss that impact and share what comes next for “Favorite Things.”

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Wisconsin Union Law Struck Down

The law that caused thousands of protestors to descend on Madison, WI, has been shot down. But the legal battle won’t end.

Associated Press photo

Dane County circuit court Judge Maryann Sumi said today she is freezing the law, called Act 10, because Republicans legislators on a committee did not follow the state’s open meetings law.

The law, championed by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, significantly limits collective bargaining rights for state employees, except for police and firefighters.

There was no court hearing before Judge Sumi issued her 33-page opinion. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Sumi wrote, “The Legislature and its committees are bound to comply with the open meetings law by their own choice. Continue reading “Wisconsin Union Law Struck Down”

How Hollywood Made it Snow in Ann Arbor in May

All across Michigan, homeowners are mopping up from torrential rains. But in downtown Ann Arbor, there is snow. Movie snow, that is.

"Snow" in downtown Ann Arbor

Why? It’s for the movie Five Year Engagement. The film has been shooting all over the area for the past weeks, according to On Line Vacations, one of our favorite sites for tracking movie productions. says the production company sought permission from the city to take over sidewalks and streets downtown this week.

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Midwest Memo: Wednesday, May 25, 2011

One day after Chrysler hailed its repayment of $7.5 billion in government loans, GM announced it will add 2,500 jobs in Detroit to meet growing demand for fuel-efficient cars. Shifts will be added at the company’s Hamtramck, Mich. plant as part of the automaker’s goal in meeting growing demand for sedans and electric cars, according to the Detroit News.

Both developments are signs of progress for the American auto industry, which has emerged as a building block for President Obama’s fledgling re-election campaign. In that spirit, the President will visit a Toledo-area Chrysler plant next week, possibly on Friday.

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Midwest Memo: Tuesday, May 24, 2011

It’s official: Chrysler repaid $7.6 billion in loans this afternoon to the United States and Canadian governments.

The automaker plans to mark the occasion in a ceremony at an assembly plant in Sterling Heights, Michigan where the Chrysler 200 is built. Our partner station Michigan Radio reports the payments are expected to save $300 million per year in interest.

In terms of the company’s history, USA Today says it’s the biggest moment since the completion of a similar turnaround under Lee Iaccocca, but there’s not as much acclaim this time around.

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