Reporter’s Notebook: Downtown Decatur Development

In my recent Road Trip story about Decatur, I spent some time in the city’s downtown area. Odd fact: the city has two Main Streets, although no one could tell me why. It is also the site of Abraham Lincoln’s first “official” political speeches. The news everyone’s excited about in downtown Decatur, though, is ADM’s consolidation of some of its operations from around the city into one office building downtown:

Rodney Powell, owner of Robbie's Grill (Niala Boodhoo)

It’s one of the hottest days of the year in Decatur. So the lRobbie’s Grill on Merchant Street in downtown Decatur isn’t as packed as it usually is at lunchtime, owner Rodney Powell says, even though nearly every table is full.

Powell was “born, raised and baptized” in Decatur, he says. He’s also earned the unofficial title “The Mayor of Merchant Street” for his efforts to bring more people downtown.

That’s why Powell is thrilled that Archer Daniels Midland Co. is bringing 300 to 400 more workers downtown soon as it consolidates its IT, audit and accounting personnel into the Reynolds Building downtown.

“I am a fan of anybody moving anybody into downtown,” he said.  “It’s definitely better for restaurant owners like myself – the more the merrier.”

Continue reading “Reporter’s Notebook: Downtown Decatur Development”

Midwest Memo: Unemployment rises in Ohio, small-business loan program starts in Michigan

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Unemployment rises in Ohio. Unemployment rates climbed in 84 of Ohio’s 88 counties in June, providing more evidence the economy has slowed. It’s the first time since early 2010 the Buckeye State’s unemployment rate rose. The state rate climbed to 8.8 percent in June, up from 8.6 percent in May, according to Manufacturing jobs declined by approximately 3,000 in June, but government jobs diminished more. More than 7,000 were lost last month.

2. Loan program starts in Michigan. Michigan will be the first state eligible for small-business loans given by a federal government program to businesses investing in clean energy or located in economically troubled areas, according to the Associated Press. Details of the plan, part of President Obama’s “Start-Up America” initiative, are expected to be announced this afternoon. The initiative combines private institutional investors and federal funds to invest in targeted companies.

3. Gary, Ind. endures property-tax nightmare. One in three homeowners in Gary, Ind., has missed a property-tax payment. Worse, the city only collects 72.4 percent of its expected revenues, the lowest percentage of any Indiana city. Our partner WBEZ examines a wave of property-tax problems affecting Gary and the consequences of the shortfall, such as keeping police on their beats and providing basic education functions.

New program aims to lure new residents to downtown Detroit

“It’s a city center with a small-town feel.”

That’s the way the promotional arm of a Detroit development consortium describes the Motor City’s downtown. Many residents might not see their neighborhoods in that context, but a new program launched Monday aims to change that.

Despite losing 25 percent of its population over the past decade, Detroit has seen an uptick in young, college graduates living downtown.

As part of an effort to attract more residents and rebuild Detroit’s core, five of the city’s key employers announced a joint initiative that provides employees with cash incentives to move downtown and maintain their homes. More than 16,000 employees from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, DTE Energy, Compuware, Quicken Loans and Strategic Staffing Solutions are eligible for the Live Downtown initiative.

Neighborhoods eligible for the program include Corktown, Downtown, Eastern Market, Lafayette Park and Midtown. Overall, approximately $4 million will be available over a five-year period. A variety of incentive plans are available, including $20,000 loans for new homeowners purchasing a primary residence and $2,500 for new renters. Existing homeowners can receive as much as $5,000 for exterior improvement projects of $10,000 or more.

Continue reading “New program aims to lure new residents to downtown Detroit”

Road Trip: Decatur, The Heart of Illinois Agribusiness

Our Changing Gears road trip continues. Yesterday, I was in Kohler, Wisconsin. Today, I went down state in Illinois to Decatur.

Corn being grown across the street from Archer Daniels Midland Co. headquarters in Decatur (Niala Boodhoo)




DECATUR – Driving south from Chicago, it only takes about 25 miles to hit the corn fields. For the next 150 miles to Decatur, it’s a sea of yellow corn tassels, a head tall.

At night, the central Illinois darkness is broken only by the lights of the corn and soy processing facilities at Archer Daniels Midland Company.

At dawn, the truck and rail traffic starts rolling into the yards of ADM, one of the largest food processing companies in the world.

Continue reading “Road Trip: Decatur, The Heart of Illinois Agribusiness”

Changing Gears’ Midwest Road Trip Is Off And Running

This week, the Changing Gears team is on the road, looking at modern-day company towns around our region. We’re telling the stories of towns that still rely on one big company, or one industry, and how they’re coping during the recession. On one of Kohler's main streets, just between Kohler Co. main offices and The American Club (Niala Boodhoo)

I sat down this morning with Alison Cuddy, host of 848 on our partner station WBEZ in Chicago, to talk about our series.


Here’s our lineup for the week. If you live in one of our company towns, we’d love to hear from you.

KOHLER: Niala Boodhoo visits Kohler, WI, which was created by The Kohler Company, the home fixtures company that is still its biggest employer.

DECATUR: Niala goes to Decatur, IL, where the scent of the agriculture products processed by ADM is in the air.

ISHPEMING: Kate Davidson heads way north, to Ishpeming, MI. It’s still possible to get a mining job here, although no one knows what the future holds.

NORWALK: Dan Bobkoff tells the story of Norwalk Furniture, which was saved by 12 townspeople who invested to keep it open.

ORRVILLE: Dan wraps up the week in Orrville, OH, where you may have heard of Smuckers, but probably don’t know about the family owned businesses that help keep the economy moving.

Midwest Memo: Michigan seeks union negotiations, and SB5 faces uphill fight in Ohio

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Michigan starts negotiations. Administrators from Gov. Rick Snyder’s office will begin contract negotiations this week with state workers, who face wage and benefit cuts as Michigan grapples with a budget deficit. According to our partner station Michigan Radio, workers must agree to re-open contracts before negotiations commence. State officials say layoffs are possible should employees not green-light concessions.

2. Ohio’s SB5 faces uphill fight. Voters in the Buckeye State will find a referendum on SB5 on the ballots in November. An early poll shows the controversial state bill that limits collective bargaining rights of public employees faces a formidable challenge. A Quinnipiac poll released this week showed that 56 percent of voters favor repealing the law, while 32 percent believe it should be kept, according to The Plain Dealer of Cleveland.

3. Political divide on Wisconsin rail projects. A proposal for a commuter rail from Milwaukee to Racine and Kenosha could be dropped today. Tomorrow, the Milwaukee Common Council could approve a downtown streetcar line. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports the transportation issue has become a “defining” one for politicians. What comes next in Wisconsin? To some extent, it depends on how people get to work.

UAW Talks Get Underway With Detroit Automakers

Bailouts and bankruptcies behind them, Detroit’s automakers are now facing talks on new national contracts. The United Auto Workers kicked off the ceremonial opening of negotiations at Chrysler today, and will do the same at Ford and General Motors later this week.

UAW President Bob King says he doesn’t want to put any of the companies at a disadvantage.
“We want them to be competing on the basis of product, design and quality,” he said, according to Bloomberg.

Auto talks open at Chrysler, by Jeff Gilbert, WWJ Detroit

Contracts expire in September. During the last major negotiations, in 2007, the auto industry was on the verge of a devastating decline in sales that would lead to federally sponsored restructurings at Chrysler and G.M., part of an industry bailout that cost $82 billion.

This time, the Detroit automakers are each profitable again. G.M., Ford and Chrysler combined to earn more than $6 billion in the first quarter. Last year, GM earned $6.17 billion. Ford had net income of $6.56 billion in 2010, the most in 11 years. (Chrysler, now part of Fiat, did not report 2010 results.)

But competitive pressures remain. Continue reading “UAW Talks Get Underway With Detroit Automakers”

Midwest Memo: Wisconsin reports job growth, U.S. sells Chrysler, and high-speed rail’s future

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Wisconsin reports job growth. Citing a resurgent tourism industry, Wisconsin officials reported a gain of 12,900 private-sector jobs from May to June. It’s the largest one-month gain in the Badger state in nearly eight years, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. But the state’s unemployment rate nonetheless ticked upward from 7.4 percent in May to 7.6 percent in June. Gov. Scott Walker noted that Wisconsin’s growth accounted for nearly half of the nation’s job creation.

2. U.S. sells stake in Chrysler. Italian automaker Fiat purchased the U.S. government’s remaining stake in Chrysler on Thursday, a move that ends federal involvement with the automaker. Fiat paid $560 million to the Treasury Department in exchange for its 98,000 shares, according to our partner Michigan Radio. The government had helped rescue the automaker from bankruptcy, with Chrysler receiving $12.5 billion. Of that amount $11.2 has been repaid.

3. Is high-speed rail dead? That’s the opinion of The Urbanophile’s Aaron M. Renn, who argues that a poorly executed federal plan combined with Republican resistance at state levels has crippled the future of high-speed rail in the U.S. More than $8 billion in funds were provided in President Obama’s stimulus package, but major initiatives still aren’t off the ground. “It’s time to take a major gut check on high speed rail in America and re-think the direction,” Renn writes.

Midwest Memo: Ohio voters will decide SB5 fate, bills would restrict Michigan’s regulatory power

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. SB5 will appear on ballot. Ohio’s controversial collective-bargaining law will be decided by Buckeye State voters in November, according to The Plain Dealer, which first broke the news Thursday afternoon. A group leading the repeal effort needed to submit 231,147 signatures to place the issue on the ballot. They submitted 915,456, the Ohio elections chief told the newspaper.

2. Bills restrict Michigan regulators. Two packages of bills making their way through the Michigan state Legislature would prohibit the governor and other state agencies from making any rule more stringent than federal standards. Only the Legislature would retain that power, according to our partner station Michigan Radio. Critics say the legislation is a power grab, and that Michigan needs strengthened laws to protect resources like the Great Lakes.

3. Ohio ranks worst in air quality. Three Midwestern states ranked among the top seven states in which residents are most at risk from toxic emissions from coal-and-oil power plants, according to a report issued Wednesday. Ohio ranked worst in the nation, while Indiana and Michigan were sixth and seventh, respectively. The study, according to Reuters, was an analysis of 2009 toxic emissions data released by the Environmental Protection Agency last month.