Magic Bullets: Can Battery Plants Charge Up Midwest Jobs?

From Changing Gears contributor Dustin Dwyer.

GRAND RAPIDS — Three years ago, the advanced battery industry in the United States existed only in the imagination. Plenty of people believed electric cars would be the next big thing. and they would be powered by lithium ion batteries – the same kind of batteries that are in cell phones and laptops. But in 2008, almost all of the lithium ion batteries in the world were made in Asia.


The electric Nissan Leaf

Randy Thelan, who heads the economic development office in Holland, Mich., a small town on the shores of Lake Michigan, thought that could change. Thelan had heard one his local companies, Johnson Controls might be getting into the battery business.

“It wasn’t like we were making a direct pitch that we knew they were building a factory,” he said. “It was just sort of planting the seed, and suggesting to their leadership, keep Holland in mind as you guys are looking to invest and add to their capacity.”

While Thelan was working his angle for Holland, the state of Michigan was about to make a big commitment to the new future in batteries.

In December 2008, former Mich. Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed a new law to offer up to $335 million in tax incentives for battery companies in Michigan. Within a year, Holland landed that Johnson Controls battery plant.

The next year it landed another one for LG Chem. And now, just down the road in Muskegon, Michigan, another lithium ion battery plant is going up. Thelan estimates these companies and their suppliers will have created about 750 jobs by the end of the year.

“But ultimately, by 2020, we believe this is a 10,000 job, $2 billion opportunity for West Michigan and we’re well on our way,” he said.

Not everyone is on board with those job projections. Continue reading “Magic Bullets: Can Battery Plants Charge Up Midwest Jobs?”

Thursday in Mt. Pleasant: The Outlook for Michigan and the Midwest

Tomorrow, Changing Gears’ senior editor, Micki Maynard, will be in Mt. Pleasant, Mich., to talk about the outlook for the economies of Michigan and the Midwest. It’s an uncertain time, with unemployment back above 11 percent in Michigan, and budget crises in many of our states. But there’s also some optimism in the new UAW-GM contract, and the return of profits for Detroit auto companies.

Join Micki and the Mt. Pleasant Area Chamber of Commerce at the Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort. Details are here.

Cleveland Ice Cream Shop Stays Afloat Through Mix of New And Old

Our Changing Gears team has been looking at how the Midwest is adapting to new economic realities. But that can mean sticking to what you know best. From Cleveland, David C. Barnett takes us to Pierre’s Ice Cream Company, where a mix of old family values and new technology has helped it stay in business for 80 years.


America was ice-cream crazy in 1927. It was the Roaring ‘20s, and a high-calorie dessert fit in with the age of excess so well that band leader Fred Waring celebrated with a hit song with “I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream” lyrics still familiar today.

Ray Kralik of Pierre's

Five years later, the music of Depression-era America was much more somber. But a Cleveland businessman named Alex Basset figured it was the perfect time to open a business that catered to the public’s need for an indulgence, albeit an affordable one. It would be something to help them forget hard times, an ice cream shop.

Continue reading “Cleveland Ice Cream Shop Stays Afloat Through Mix of New And Old”

GM’s Chairman: Gas Tax Could Help Sell Cars

General Motors shareholders met today in Detroit for their annual meeting. This is the first time shareholders have come to the Motor City for the meeting in over 10 years. About 60 shareholdersshowed up at the meeting, reports the Detroit Free Press.

The company sold over 500 million shares in its Initial Public Offering, but most shareholders are large investors like mutual funds. The U.S. government still owns 26% of the company. Our partner station Michigan Radio reports that GM Chief Executive Officer and Board Chairman Dan Akerson said he thinks a more stable U.S, economy, and more jobs, are needed before people start buying new cars. Continue reading “GM’s Chairman: Gas Tax Could Help Sell Cars”

Midwest Memo Afternoon Edition: Drugs, Courts and Candidates

Three stories you need to know about the Midwest economy.

1) Drug Price Lawsuit The Associated Press reports Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has filed suit against pharmaceutical wholesaler McKesson Corp. He says the company inflated the prices of drugs it sold to the state’s Medicaid program. McKesson is based in California and is the largest pharmaceutical distributor in the country. Schuette estimates the state paid more than $2 million to the company, and is seeking a portion of that back. A judge in Seattle recently gave the go ahead for local governments to get together and sue McKesson for the same reason, reports Lawyers and Settlements.

2)Supremes Review University Patents: Another development in the courts that could have a big impact on Midwestern Universities is the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Sanford v. Roche. IP Frontline has an analysis of the case. Many universities in the Midwest bring in substantial revenue leveraging “their” patents, and say this is going to change the way they do business with potential inventors. This intellectual property case asked if universities can easily control the patent rights of an employee’s invention. The high court ruled that the inventor, not the school, controls the property rights. The justices clarified that the inventor has the right to sell or give the rights to a party other than the University, unless the University writes an iron-clad contract saying they can’t.

3) Candidates Take On The Economy: The 2012 presidential campaign can be expected to generate a lot of talk about how to improve the Midwest’s economy. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is speaking today at the University of Chicago.

Former Minn Gov. Tim Pawlenty
Pawlenty is the first candidate to throw his hat in the ring from the Midwest – if you don’t count President Obama. Pawlenty’s website says he wants to propose cutting business and personal tax rates to spur economic growth. We’ll continue to cover the candidates’ ideas for economic growth in the region.





A Midwest Champion In The Battle For Reinvention? Chicago!

Photo by Simonds via flickr

Changing Gears Senior Editor Micki Maynard talked with travel writer Paul Brady about Chicago reinvention the other day. Brady writes for and is going on a Visa-sponsored road trip of the country.

He and Micki talked about how Chicago has diversified its way to economic success. They also discussed Millennium Park, a pet project of former Mayor Richard Daley, and “the Bean.”

After his talk with Micki, Brady stopped at Ann Arbor institution Zingerman’s for an almost $20  lunch. Changing Gears’ Pete Bigelow says just $170  more could get him into Zingerman’s Camp Bacon.




Work Stoppage Could Cost Illinois 52,000 jobs


A halt in road construction could put tens of thousands of people out of work. Photo by Ladyheart agency:morguefile


Illinois Governor Pat Quinn says he’s calling the legislature back into session, and wants approval on  state money for capital construction. Without the money, Crain’s Chicago Business says more than 31,000 highway workers could lose their jobs starting June 17.

The first round of layoffs could be followed by 21,000 more across other departments, according to Crain’s, affecting workers involved with waste water projects and high-speed rail construction. The entire country added only 54 thousand new jobs in the month of May.

The news from Illinois comes on the heels of new numbers that show unemployed workers from the recent recession are staying out of work for much longer. Read Changing Gears Senior Editor Micki Maynard’s post on long-term unemployment for more.




My Job is to Hear Your Story

I first came to Michigan when I was 13, moving from New Mexico to Laingsburg, a small agricultural community between Lansing and Flint. When I went to high school there, Future Farmers of America was the biggest club in the school. Our chemistry lab was used more for preparing the club’s chickens for sale than chemistry class. It’s changed since then. Farming is a hard business, and Laingsburg is close enough to the Lansing and Flint areas to attract people looking for a great place to live close to work, but out of the city.

I went to the University of Michigan for college and left the state to go to law school at Columbia University in New York City. I lived and worked in New York for about seven years. I do love New York, but we didn’t want to stay there because it’s hard and really expensive to raise a family.

We found our way back to Michigan in 2010 after three more years in Oakland, California. Most people in the Bay Area think it is Heaven on earth, but I wanted to get back to Michigan. When I would come home, my husband and I would talk about being able to feel the energy people were putting into starting something new and just figuring out how to make it work.

I decided I wanted to start over too. I was determined to use my legal background to help me do something I actually like. We used our savings and I became an unpaid intern in the Michigan Radio newsroom. I worried about day care and bills but we were able to do it.

There are so many of us making leaps we never thought we would. These stories of personal and regional reinvention have infinite variations. All of them are better when there are more voices in the conversation.

I can’t wait to hear from you. email me at, or find me on twitter @SarahAlvarezMI.

When Arts Funding and Financial Constraints Meet

Amid dwindling budgets, can cities and states afford to support the arts?

That’s the question posed today by our partner ideastream’s “Sound of Ideas” program. It looked at public subsides for art in age of fiscal constraints.

The five theatres at the Cleveland Playhouse draw more than a million visitors annually. Photo by Sanford Kearns via Flickr.

Northeast Ohio may be better positioned than many areas in our region because of a voter-approved cigarette tax that generates as much as $15 million per year for arts funding. But supporters of the arts argue that during economic recessions, it’s important to remind taxpayers of more than their cultural benefits. Arts can be economic drivers as well, they say.

Continue reading “When Arts Funding and Financial Constraints Meet”

Midwest Memo: Tuesday, May 17, 2011

One day after his inauguration as Chicago’s new mayor, Rahm Emanuel started trimming the city’s budget deficit.

Today, he is expected to announce $75 million in cuts. The savings would be realized by merging the city’s Fleet Management Department, which maintains city vehicles, with the General Services Department. It’s the first of several developments expected in the short term from the mayor’s office. Here, from the Chicago Sun Times, are six changes that may be coming soon to Chicago, ranging from longer school days to garbage collection.

Continue reading “Midwest Memo: Tuesday, May 17, 2011”