Midwest Memo, Monday, May 23, 2011

Economic activity has seemed to be on the rise. But the Federal Reserve of Chicago says its National Activity Index fell in April, to the lowest level since August 2010. The Chicago Fed said the index, which tracks broad categories in the economy, turned negative for the first time since December 2010. It said there are concerns of “subdued” inflationary pressure in the economy in the coming year, much of it due to high oil prices.

Toyota’s reputation for quality suffered a significant blow the past two years in the wake of millions of recalls. Now, a blue-ribbon panel says the world’s biggest carmaker has to give more authority to its executives and employees in North America, ¬†and pay more attention to outside input, in order to avoid repeating that experience.

Read the report at Changing Gears.

Toyota assembly line, by Automobile Magazine

On Tuesday, Chrysler officials plan to repay $5.9 billion in government loans and interest payments that paved the way for its emergence from bankruptcy. Federal officials are coming to suburban Detroit to collect the check. Ron Bloom, the Obama Administration manufacturing advisor, and Brian Deese, an administration economic advisor, will join Fiat chief executive Sergio Marchionne at Chrysler’s Sterling Heights, Mich., plant.

We know all about the movies made in Michigan and elsewhere in the Midwest. We’ve heard the promises that our states have made about their contribution to economic development. But how did the 90 movies made in Michigan during the past three years actually do? The Detroit Free Press looked at that this weekend. The big winners seem to have been Up in the Air, starring George Clooney, and Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino.

Spring rains are causing problems for farmers all over the region. In Wisconsin, some farmers are weeks late getting crops in the ground, and there’s special concern about the corn crop. Farmers had looked forward to some of the biggest crops in years, but the rain could keep them out of the market, where prices are hitting records.

With universities raising tuition and cutting programs, some critics are taking a new look at the schools’ reserve funds. In Michigan, public colleges and universities have $3.4 billion in unrestricted funds that they can tap for any purpose. The schools say the money is needed for new buildings and to fund unexpected expenses. But some students wonder why they’re being asked to pay more when there’s cash on hand.

Detroit has had casinos for years. Cleveland is getting one. And casinos dot the Midwest landscape. Should Chicago have its own? Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn says he’s open to the idea but says, “We’re not going to become the Las Vegas of the Midwest.”

The rivalry between Michigan and Ohio State has nothing on the one between Cincinnati and Cleveland. Plain Dealer columnist Bill Richardson sized up the two sports towns, whose baseball teams played each other this weekend. Says Richardson: “Only Ohio, Illinois (White Sox and Cubs) and Pennsylvania (Phillies and Pirates) can stage an interleague series featuring teams that date back to the gaslight and horseless carriage era. In the Reds’ case, the city’s baseball history dates back to the very beginning of the professional game in 1869.”

And in a little point of pride, Changing Gears gained its 1,000th Twitter follower last week. (Actually, we’re now up to 1,014). Please join us @ChGears.

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