Manufacturers Want National Policy to Boost their Fortunes

Ron Bloom at our interview in Pittsburgh. Bloom stepped down from his White House post in August to spend more time with his family.

This winter, President Obama took the unusual step of naming Ron Bloom his assistant for manufacturing. But Bloom stepped down in August to return to his family in Pittsburgh. He hasn’t been replaced. This comes as manufacturers in our region are clamoring for attention. Many want a sign that manufacturing policy is a priority.


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Chicago Fed: Economic Activity Fell in August, but Midwest Manufacturing Gained Ground

Mixed data from the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago this week:

On Tuesday, the Fed said its monthly economic activity index fell in August. Three of the four categories that comprise the index were negative, and it decreased to -0.43 after finishing positive at +0.02 in July.

Production-related indicators still finished August in positive territory at +0.01, but the rate fell significantly from July’s +0.26.

One day earlier, the Fed’s Midwest Manufacturing index increased 0.6 percent in August to a seasonally adjusted level of 85.0. Revised data showed the index had increased 0.3 percent in July. Regional output in August rose 7.6 percent year over year, and national output increased 4.2 percent.

Midwest Memo: Ford and White House Clash Over Ad, Critics Charge Ohio Has Grown Too Cozy With Industry

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Ford stops controversial ad campaign. Ford has curtailed an ad campaign that featured an indirect rebuke of the federal bailout of the auto industry. The Detroit News reports the White House had “questions” about the marketing campaign, which featured a “real person” explaining his decision to buy a Ford instead of a car from a company bailed out by the government – a shot at rivals General Motors and Chrysler. “This thing is highly charged,” a source tells the newspaper. Ford “never meant it to be an attack on the policy.”

2. Ways to close Chicago’s budget gap. Chicago’s City Hall watchdog agency has proposed more than $2.8 billion in spending cuts and revenue increases, according to our partner station WBEZ. Ideas include a city income tax, tolls on Lake Shore Drive and privatizing trash collection, among others. The proposal from Inspector General Joe Ferguson includes 63 ideas to help Chicago contend with a projected $635 million deficit in 2012. Among the more controversial cuts is the possibility of laying off more than 700 firefighters and more than 300 police officers to save $190 million.

3. Critics: Ohio too cozy with industry. When the state of Ohio decided to set air-pollution standards on shale-gas wells earlier this year, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency sought advice from Chesapeake Energy, a drilling company. That’s one example of a too-cozy relationship between Ohio officials and industry, critics charge. Their concerns have mounted as gas-shale has boomed. “These agencies have an open-door policy with industry that they don’t with the public,” Teresa Mills, director of an environmental advocacy group tells The Columbus Dispatch.

Even the Best Ideas Go Bust. What Ideas to Bring Jobs and Wealth Didn’t Work?

courtesy of Christian Annyas

Especially in hard times, people look for ideas that will be “magic bullets,” big ideas touted as economic saviors able to restore wealth and jobs and to transform the economy. What are some of the “magic bullets” you’ve seen come and go, or that you’ve heard about? What did they promise and how did they deliver?

Follow this link to inform this story.


Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder Courts Asian Investment in Energy, Battery Development

Throughout his economic development trip to Asia, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has had an unlikely ally.

Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander.

The sure-fire Cy Young award winner isn’t actually traveling with the governor – he’s busy helping the Tigers contend for the American League pennant. But Snyder has been chatting about Verlander and his team’s success with his Japanese counterparts before meetings turn to the subject of bringing business investment to Michigan. He’s been giving gifts of Detroit Tigers hats.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder

“I presented several of them to different people today,” he tells “I gave one to the Japanese commissioner of baseball. And they love the Tigers. They know all about Verlander and how the season’s going.”

Will Snyder and his entourage find similar success on his overseas visit? The Detroit Free Press reports Wayne County officials are pitching a 1,000-acre site that straddles Plymouth and Northville ownships to battery suppliers in hopes of creating a “cluster of high-tech battery makers and suppliers” in western Wayne County.

“There’s a lot of emphasis this trip on battery development and energy,” Robert Ficano, the county’s CEO, told the newspaper.

Snyder sold the virtues of a revamped tax structure to his Japanese hosts on Sunday and Monday, saying it has made Michigan’s business climate friendlier to outside investment, and that a two-year balanced budget has increased the state’s fiscal stability.

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Guest Commentary: Factories Need to Collaborate for Future Success

Nathan Oostendorp believes manufacturers have to collaborate and learn from each other to stay competitive.

Nathan Oostendorp is a successful open-source entrepreneur living in Ann Arbor, Mich. He is the founder of Ingenuitas, a company that uses Open Source software to improve quality control in manufacturing.

He shares his thoughts on why he thinks the future of manufacturing depends on factories working together to improve their industry.

As we soul-search for what manufacturing needs to reinvent itself, there is a light in the darkness. We can look to a sector that has drastically impacted the way we live and communicate.

Mobile devices, online social networks, and the Internet have changed the way we interact — but they also show us a new, more open, way to innovate in manufacturing.


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Midwest Memo: Illinois Budget Deficit May Grow, Groupon IPO In Flux, Ohio’s Shale-Gas Boom

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Illinois’ deficit may grow. Despite budget cuts and tax increases, the state of Illinois’ budget deficit will reach $5 billion next year, according to a report released today by a government watchdog group. The Civic Federation says added pension and debt costs are causing an increase from this year’s $4.6 billion figure. “In spite of a tax increase, we’re actually losing ground under this budget,” said Laurence Msall, president of the non-partisan budgetary think tank, tells the Chicago Sun-Times.

2. Groupon IPO still uncertain. U.S. regulators are scrutinizing documents related to Groupon’s upcoming IPO more thoroughly than expected, which is delaying the offering. The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday that the Chicago-based daily deals company remains committed to the offering, but the timing is still unclear. On Friday, Groupon amended its offering documents to report reduced revenue from 2010 to $312.9 million from $713.4 million, the newspaper reported.

3. Fracking fuels Ohio boom. State regulators and industry officials may be debating the practice of hydrofracking, but across Ohio, the shale-gas boom is already taking off. Energy company workers are clogging courthouse hallways across eastern Ohio to research documents that determine who owns property, according to The Columbus Dispatch. “I’m told that, even back in the coal days of the 1950s and 1960s, it was never as busy as this,” the Harrison County recorder tells the newspaper.

Midwest Memo: Michigan Governor Off to Asia on Trade Mission, Wisconsin may Ease Mining Laws

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Michigan governor’s trade mission. Gov. Rick Snyder and an entourage of administration and business officials head to Asia this weekend as part of his first trade mission while in office. Snyder will spend two days in Tokyo, one day in Beijing, one day in China and one in Seoul, according to our partner station Michigan Radio. He will emphasize the state’s business tax structure and workforce in his attempts to entice overseas leaders to invest in Michigan, though downplays any expectation of immediate results. “I don’t have high expectations there,” he said. “This is more about starting the relationships and then looking six months, a year out.”

2. Manufacturing’s one key trait. In a short essay for Bloomberg Business Week, General Motors CEO Daniel Akerson writes the key to saving the American manufacturing industry is adaptability. In the wake of bankruptcy, he points toward an agreement the United Auto Workers made to lower wages at a plant in Lake Orion, Mich., as one that hailed the arrival of a more flexible cost structure. “If you don’t prize adaptability, whether it’s industrial relations or it’s in how you view, perceive, and react to your competition, you’re going to be a dinosaur,” he said.

3. Wisconsin could ease mining laws. A special legislative committee in Wisconsin will examine proposals to minimize state laws that regulate the mining industry, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “We need to focus, one, on the environment and, two, on job creation,” Republican State Sen. Neal Kedzie told the newspaper. Regulation became an issue recently when Gogebic Taconite announced it would delay plans for an iron-ore mine near Hurley until state laws eased. Gogebic said the mine would employ 700 workers.


Great Lakes Metropolitan Areas Enjoy Stronger Economic Recovery Than National Counterparts

Cities in the Great Lakes region are recovering from the Great Recession at a faster pace than their national counterparts, according to a recent report released from the Brookings Institution.

Akron, Grand Rapids, Toledo and Youngstown all ranked among the top-20 performing metropolitan areas in the country.

All but one of the Great Lakes’ 21 metro areas has gained jobs since reaching its unemployment trough. Grand Rapids has seen its unemployment rate decline by 4.3 percent since reaching its high in the third quarter of 2009.

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Midwest Memo: UAW Talks Continue, Ohio Eyes Energy Jobs, Wisconsin Median Income Plummets

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Ohio eyes energy jobs. Ohio Gov. John Kasich hosted an energy summit Wednesday on the Ohio State University campus that brought together members of the oil and gas industries, utilities officials and environmentalists. The Plain Dealer reports there was widespread enthusiasm over the prospect of Chesapeake Energy Corp. investing $200 billion in Ohio that could bring more than 200,000 jobs. Kasich held some skepticism. “I want to make sure we are steady in this,” he told the newspaper. “I don’t want to get ahead of the curve.”

2. Ford next in UAW talks. While United Auto Workers began to vote today on a four-year deal reached last week with General Motors, the UAW has shifted its focus to negotiations with Ford. The only U.S. automakers that avoided bankruptcy in 2009, Ford workers will likely expect more lucrative terms than the ones reached in the GM deal. Reuters reports there’s some resentment among UAW Ford workers over the $26.5 million compensation package Chief Executive Alan Mulally received, one that UAW president Bob King called “morally wrong.”

3. Wisconsin median income plummets. Adjusted for inflation, median household income in Wisconsin plunged 14.5 percent between 1999 and 2010, according to U.S. Census Bureau Data released today. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports the median household income dropped, when adjusted, from $57,316 to $49,001 last year. “The middle class is taking a beating,” Timothy Smeeding, director of the Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, tells the newspaper. “We were manufacturing our pants off. But times are changing.”