Republican Presidential Candidates to Tackle Manufacturing

Some of the Republican presidential candidates are headed to Pella, Iowa tomorrow to discuss manufacturing at a National Association of Manufacturing forum.

According to the association’s website, it looks like almost all the front-runners for the Republican nomination for President will be there – sans former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Godfathers Pizza CEO Herman Cain.

NAM is broadcasting the forum live on its website beginning at 10 am CT . It will also air in Iowa through the Iowa Public Television network. The session will be held at the Vermeer Corporation. Its CEO, Mary Andringa, is the current chair of NAM’s Board of Directors.

Read Changing Gears’ coverage of manufacturing here.


Changing Gears Looks At Empty Buildings (And Other Places)

All over our region, the past is still present, in the form of empty buildings, property, even corporate campuses. The cost to our cities, in lost tax revenue, and in blight, is enormous.

But entrepreneurs, businesses and government agencies are taking steps to fill in those empty spaces. Throughout November, Changing Gears will take a look at reusing our empty places and the challenges involved. Our first report, from Dustin Dwyer, will air this Wednesday.

In some cases, it’s as simple as taking a building — like  Union High School in Grand Rapids, Mich. (my

Union Square condominiums, in Grand Rapids, Mich. Photo by Micki Maynard


mother’s alma mater) — and finding a new use for it, such as condominiums. In others, it requires patience and cutting through lots of red tape.

We’d love to hear from you. What’s the best re-use that you’ve seen of a previously empty building? Let us know. Have you bought empty property? How do you plan to use it?

If you’ve got pictures, include them in your answers or send them to us at Please include the location and how we can get in touch with you.

Midwest Memo: Ohio Voters Clobber Issue 2 In Polls, Icahn Acquires Navistar Stake

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Ohio’s Issue 2 trails at polls. A Quinnipiac Poll conducted last week showed Ohio voters are likely to vote down Issue 2 by a 25-percent margin, according to The Columbus Dispatch. Such a vote, which would scuttle Senate Bill 5 legislation signed earlier this year, would lead to more questions than answers, says the newspaper. Even if Issue 2 falls, Republicans still believe the state’s collective-bargaining laws need an overhaul. And although polls show fierce opposition to SB5, The Dispatch says there is strong support for portions of it, including merit pay and seniority-based raises.

2. Snyder addresses Michigan’s rail future. Gov. Rick Snyder will deliver the keynote address today at the Michigan Rail Summit in Lansing, a conference that will details the state of rail service in the state. Last week, the governor called for more than $1 billion in infrastructure improvements throughout Michigan. Snyder’s spokesperson, Sara Wurfel, tells our partner station Michigan Radio that Snyder believes “rail is very important to that mix, both passenger and freight.” Michigan recently secured a federal grant to purchase and upgrade 140 miles of track to be part of accelerated service between Detroit and Chicago.

3. Icahn acquires stake in Navistar. Regulatory filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission showed that billionaire investor Carl Icahn has acquired a large stake in Navistar International Corp. The Warrenville, Ill.-based truck-maker released a statement after the documents were made public, saying “Navistar’s board and management team are committed to acting in the best interests of all the company’s stockholders.” Icahn acquired 9.8 percent of Navistar’s stock. Although he’s usually a harsh critic of the companies he acquires, according to the Chicago Tribune, he was optimistic about Navistar. “If you look ahead a few years with Navistar, you see good things,” he told CNBC. Last month, Changing Gears reporter Niala Boodhoo profiled the company, and examined a year’s worth of changes that perhaps preserved jobs in the Midwest and put the company on more competitive footing.



Your Story: Can Grassroots Small Business Support Work?

Michelle Koles makes lunches at the Can Do Kitchen, one of the smaller organizations getting into business "incubating."

Business incubators are a trumpeted, but yet unproven way to give entrepreneurs and their projects a higher chance of success.  Foundations and governments are lining up dollars to support incubators in their communities.

Some of the larger incubators around the region were profiled by Niala Boodhoo earlier this week. But there are also more grassroots efforts springing up, incubators that seem themselves to be small enough to be supported.

Marcy Kates lives and works in Holt, Michigan. Two months ago she left her job as a program officer for the state’s AmeriCorps program and opened IncuBake, an incubator kitchen and commercial kitchen space. Kates used her savings and her credit cards to open the kitchen, inspired by being unable to find low-cost commercial space for her own catering.

“I started this project to be a job creator, “ said Kates. Even so, she intentionally stayed away from a nonprofit model, wanting more flexibility and not really wanting to fundraise. That meant using her savings and her credit card to start the business, which is now about 15 percent full but, Kates says, growing steadily. Continue reading “Your Story: Can Grassroots Small Business Support Work?”

Feagler & Friends: Putting Space Technology on Wheels

NASA hopes to put space-age ideas on wheels. Glenn Research Center held a workshop this week for automotive experts showing NASA-developed materials and industrial processes that could be put to work in the car industry to save weight, time and money. Among materials they’ll demonstrate is a lightweight metal alloy that ‘remembers’ its shape and returns to it when damaged.

On this segment of the WVIZ/PBS ideastream program Feagler & Friends, Robert J. Shaw, PhD, director, Office of Technology, Partnership & Planning, NASA Glenn Research Center; and Paul Bartolotta, aerospace engineer speak with Dick Feagler.


Midwest Memo: Chrysler CEO Predicts End Of Two-Tier Wage Structure, Indianapolis Jobs Announcement May Be Hoax

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Will two tiers vanish from auto contracts? One contentions round of contract negotiations just ended, Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne is already making bold predictions about what’s ahead when the current four-year contract ends. He said today that the automakers’ two-tier pay structure is not a viable one, and Chrysler and the UAW must find a way to merge two classes of workers next time. The structure is, “not something that can go on for a long period of time,” he said on a conference call to discuss the company’s second-quarter earnings. Marchionne continued, saying, two-tiers is “not a viable structure on which to build our industrial footprint.” Last month, Changing Gears reporter Kate Davidson examined the two-tiered wage structure and reported on its impact upon automakers and their workers.

2. Is Indianapolis jobs pledge a hoax? Only two short days ago, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard welcomed a California entrepreneur whose company would bring 1,100 jobs to the city. Two days later, there’s growing worry the company, Litebox Inc., and its owner Bob Yanagihara aren’t for real. The Indianapolis Star reviewed public documents that show Yanagihara owes “hundreds of thousands of dollars in state and federal tax liens” from the past decade, as well as money to investors who have sued him – and won. “I would strongly advise anyone thinking of investing in his projects to think twice,” Colin McGrath, who is owed $145,000, tells the newspaper.

3. Whirlpool will lay off 5,000 workers. Appliance manufacturer Whirlpool said Friday that it would eliminate 5,000 jobs across North America and Europe. The Benton Harbor, Mich.-based company cut its earnings forecast. Whirlpool CEO Jeff Fettig said the cuts came amid weak demand and higher costs. The cuts include 1,200 salaried positions, and company officials said overall, the layoffs will save approximately $400 million. There was no immediate breakdown of how the cuts would affect Whirlpool’s Michigan workforce.


Despite Split Vote, UAW Ratifies Chrysler Contract, Concludes Unusual Negotiations

Hours after United Auto Workers members reached an unprecedented split decision on whether to ratify a new contract with Chrysler, UAW president Bob King told PBS NewsHour there was no conflict within his ranks.

Asked about frustration following the split vote, he told host Jeffrey Brown, “You want to make – I’m sorry, but you seem like you want to make a rift where I don’t think there’s a rift.”

Watch UAW President Bob King on New Contracts: Top Priority Was Creating Jobs on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.

Earlier Wednesday, the UAW reported that 54.8 percent of hourly workers had voted in favor of ratifying a new contract with Chrysler, but that 55.6 percent of skilled-trade workers had voted against it, resulting in a split decision for the first time ever.

Nonetheless, UAW leaders met following the final tabulations and declared the contract had been ratified.

If skilled-trade workers had voted against the contract because of changes that specifically affected only their work, the UAW would have tried to renegotiate that portion, King told the Detroit Free Press. But “it was overwhelmingly clear that the issues were economic issues and not skilled-trade issues,” he said.

Continue reading “Despite Split Vote, UAW Ratifies Chrysler Contract, Concludes Unusual Negotiations”

Looking At The Global Economy With Here And Now’s Robin Young

From the automobile industry to agricultural products, Michigan and the global economy are inextricably intertwined. On Wednesday night, Robin Young, the host of Here and Now, joined Changing Gears and our partner Michigan Radio in Ann Arbor for a town hall meeting to look at issues facing the state and the world.

Robin Young of Here and Now with Michigan Radio listeners. Photo by Micki Maynard

The topics ranged from Chinese investment in the United States to whether Right to Work laws would make Michigan and other Midwest states more attractive to international investment.

Panelists included Linda Y.C. Lim, professor of strategy at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, and Changing Gears senior editor Micki Maynard, a frequent guest on Here and Now.

Young also dropped by Michigan Radio this morning to meet listeners and speak with newsroom staff. Here and Now airs daily on Michigan Radio at 1 pm ET.

Here’s a link to video from the panel discussion from Wednesday evening, courtesy of the Ross School of Business.

Midwest Memo: Groupon Overhauls Sales Staff, Cleveland Schools Cut Preschool, Spring Sports, High School Busing

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Michigan governor wants infrastructure investment. In a speech to the state Legislature today, Gov. Rick Snyder said Michigan can no longer delay investment in its transportation infrastructure. He proposed a $120 registration fee hike per year on passenger vehicles that would generate $1 billion in annual revenue. Snyder also wants to replace the state’s 19-cents-per-gallon tax on gasoline with a wholesale tax on fuel, according to our partner station Michigan Radio. “By investing in the means to move people and products with speed and efficiency, we can compete with other states and countries for business and jobs – and we can win,” Snyder said in written remarks.

2. Cleveland school board makes cuts. Over the protests of residents and teachers who packed a high school auditorium, Cleveland’s school board voted to make $13.1 million in budget cuts Tuesday in order to comply with a state requirement to balance its budget. Among the cuts: preschool, spring sports and busing for high school students. Board members said the cuts came as a result of a decrease in state aid and the rehiring of 300 teachers this fall. “Do we have the ability to print money? I don’t think we do,” board member Eric Wobser told The Plain Dealer.

3.Groupon overhauls sales staff. On Wednesday, Groupon CEO Andrew Mason told investors the Chicago-based company is replacing the bottom 10 percent of its sales staff of 4,800 employees. The goal is to win stronger deals from merchants and ensure continued growth, according to the Chicago Tribune. The move comes as Groupon readies for an initial public offering expected to raise $10 to $11.4 billion. Analysts have grown concerned that the company has failed to win enough repeat customers. Repeat customers increased in the second quarter, but numbered 16 million among 143 million subscribers, according to a regulatory filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Report: Chrysler Workers Reach Split Decision On Chrysler Contract

Chrysler workers have reached a split decision.

A majority of United Auto Worker production members have voted to ratify a new contract with the automaker. But UAW skilled trade members rejected the deal on Wednesday afternoon.

UAW leaders discussed the vote on a 1 p.m. conference call and have not yet announced how they intend to proceed, according to the Detroit Free Press, which broke news of the split vote. No precedent exists for resolving a split vote.

“I don’t remember this ever happening,” Art Schwartz, a former GM labor negotiator, tells the newspaper. “It’s never happened in my memory in a national agreement.”

Precise results from the votes have yet to be released. CBS-TV has also reported that the tally is split.

The Soldiers of Solidarity, a splinter group within the UAW that has traditionally opposed concessions, published a laundry list of complaints about the tentative Chrysler contract on its website.

Continue reading “Report: Chrysler Workers Reach Split Decision On Chrysler Contract”