Midwest Memo: Thursday, May 19, 2011

As a child, Don Barden sold vegetables from a roadside stand. As a teenager, he worked for a shipbuilder in Ohio. And as an adult, Barden emerged as one of Detroit’s most well-known entrepreneurs, building successful cable television and casino empires.

He died early today at Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit at age 67.

Our partner station Michigan Radio has details on the life and career of Barden, who built his cable company into one of the nation’s largest black-owned businesses before he sold to Comcast in 1994.

In addition to cable television, he owned two riverboat casinos in Gary, Ind., and brick-and-mortar ones in Las Vegas, Black Hawk, Colo. and Tunica, Miss. In gambling circles, he may be best remembered for one that never got built. City officials rejected two bids to build a casino in his native Detroit during the 1990s, a snub Barden resented, writes the Detroit Free Press.

Where Barden fell short, perhaps Rahm Emanuel will succeed. Chicago’s new mayor wants Illinois leaders to approve a city-owned casino before their legislative session ends, WBEZ.org reports today. Two days into his term, Emanuel says gambling revenues could help him narrow a projected $500 to $700 budget deficit.

Elsewhere across the Midwest:

Mixed news from the auto industry today: Chrysler could pay off $7.5 billion owed to the United States and Canadian governments by next week, a move that improves the car maker’s financial footing. Meanwhile, May auto sales are off to a “dismal” start, according to J.D. Power and Associates.

The ailments of Midwest manufacturing have been well-documented, but the industry is not dead yet. On the contrary, Ideastream reports the manufacturing sector has, on a small scale, created recent regional job growth.

Values of Midwest farmland surged year over year, rising 16 percent in the first quarter over 2010, according to a report released by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.

Storylines about the absence of grocery stores from urban centers may be exaggerated, according to Rust Wire. Why? For starters, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “food desert locator” overlooks stories with annual sales of less than $2 million.

Metromix Chicago released its list of the city’s “best beer bars.” Let us know which watering hole is your favorite, and which ones may have been omitted from this list.

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