Midwest Memo: Shale Boom Could Bypass Ohio, Groupon Stock Price Falls, Detroit Short On Time To Address Fiscal Woes

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Detroit’s fiscal crisis looms. The amount of time Detroit has to address the city’s looming financial crisis is “relatively short,” Gov. Rick Snyder tells the Detroit Free Press, before he must decide whether to commence a financial review of the city under the state’s controversial emergency manager law. The city could be insolvent as soon as April, according to reports. In response, the city council issued a proposal that was more far-reaching than Mayor Dave Bing’s earlier this week, proposing a 20-percent income tax increase and 2,300 layoffs, among other items. “We are running out of time,” councilman Andre Spivey tells the newspaper.

2. Groupon stock sharply declines. Shares of Chicago-based Groupon are “getting pummeled” for the third consecutive day, reports the Chicago Tribune this afternoon. They are now trading 15 percent below the initial public offering price of $20 on Nov. 4, and down 35 percent since Friday’s closing price of $26.19. Groupon had cautioned investors that trading could be volatile because it offered only a 5.5 percent stake in its IPO.

3. Shale boom could miss Ohio. Shale gas may not create the economic prosperity across Ohio that Gov. John Kasich has touted as a jobs creator, warns a new report. The problem? The gas industry has been too successful. There’s so much natural gas supply across the U.S. that prices are falling. And no one is quite sure how much actually lies beneath the Buckeye State, reports The Plain Dealer. The jobs gain, once predicted to number as many as 200,000, “will happen on some scale,” Andrew Weissman, executive director of Energy Business Watch, tells the newspaper. “But the question is whether it moves quickly or whether it moves slowly so that it only has a modest impact on Ohio’s economy.”

The Same Job, In Detroit, For 20 Years Running. Or Make That, Kicking.

Jason Hanson is like a lot of Detroiters. He’s worked the same job for 20 years. Of course, his job is just a little different than other peoples’ daily grind. 

Hanson is the place kicker for the Detroit Lions, for whom he’s played 20 seasons. He recently set a record in the NFL for the most games with a single franchise — 305, and counting. He’s a key reason behind the comeback by the Lions, which have drawn sold-out crowds and been a bright spot in Detroit’s bleak economy.

Our Web editor Pete Bigelow profiles Hanson in today’s New York Times.

Continue reading “The Same Job, In Detroit, For 20 Years Running. Or Make That, Kicking.”

What Do You Do With An Empty Corporate Campus?

All this month, our Changing Gears series has been looking at empty places across the Midwest – from foreclosed homes to abandoned factories. But as companies adjust to economic conditions, many in the region have been re-evaluating the basics – including where they’re located.

Cities and states bend over backwards to create jobs, and they’re left with some big challenges when a company decides it no longer wants to be there. Tony Arnold of WBEZ in Chicago looked at the issue.

There’s a hot new trend among companies around the Midwest – threatening to leave. Several companies, especially around Chicago, have been asking big picture questions as they take a look at their bottom lines.

One is the food maker Sara Lee, which is going through a major transition as it prepares to split into two companies. One would be focused on meats, such as sausages and hot dogs. The other one would focus on beverages.

Company spokesman Jon Harris says the company believes a downtown location “would provide our new North American meats company with an environment that will be energetic, that will foster breakthrough thinking, create revolutionary products, offer fresh perspectives and really own the market.”

But that means moving from Sara Lee’s headquarters and test kitchens, which are currently based in Chicago’s western suburbs, in a town called Downers Grove.


Continue reading “What Do You Do With An Empty Corporate Campus?”

We Asked, ‘What States Do You Consider Part Of The Midwest?’ Here’s What You Said

“What states do you consider part of the Midwest?”

It was a simple question we asked Monday on Twitter. We were caught by surprise with the number of complex and disparate answers. Geographical boundaries are apparently open to wide interpretation.

Reader responses were – pun intended here – all over the map. It seemed everyone had their own, particular definition of the Midwest.

Some of you drew the Midwest along industrial lines while others drew it along agricultural boundaries. Some considered states in the Great Plains and Great Lakes their own distinct regions. Others lumped them together.

Some of you ardently advocated for Pennsylvania’s inclusion and Nebraska’s omission – and vice versa. Some people considered state lines irrelevant.

Continue reading “We Asked, ‘What States Do You Consider Part Of The Midwest?’ Here’s What You Said”

General Motors Touts Flexible Assembly Approach At Revamped Spring Hill Plant

Years ago, General Motors boasted that Saturn was “a different kind of car company.”

Now, the Spring Hill, Tenn. facility that once made the now-discontinued Saturn is becoming a different kind of assembly plant.

As part of a four-year contract agreement with the United Auto Workers, General Motors will re-open the shuttered assembly side of the plant next year. On Monday, the company announced nearly 700 workers will be hired in 2012 and nearly 2,000 will be added by 2015.

When they arrive, they’ll find an assembly plant unlike any other in the country. GM is trying what Forbes calls “an innovative manufacturing concept” at the facility. Rather than produce one or two models, Spring Hill will function as a flex plant that produces vehicles in high demand, serving as an overflow catch-all of sorts.

The flexible nature of the plant was conceived after General Motors’ production could not keep up with sudden customer demand for the Chevrolet Equinox last year. Sales of the model rose 18 percent year over year, and production was ramped up three different times since 2009. GM said it will spend $61 million preparing Spring Hill to build the Equinox, a crossover model that has been Canadian-built in the past, according to Forbes.

Continue reading “General Motors Touts Flexible Assembly Approach At Revamped Spring Hill Plant”

Midwest Memo: Indiana Republicans Will Introduce Right-To-Work Legislation, Wisconsin And Ohio Add Jobs

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Wisconsin shipbuilder adds jobs. A northeast Wisconsin shipbuilder plans to double its workforce over the next 18 months after winning a contract with the U.S. Navy, according to our partner station WBEZ. Marinette Marine, located on the shores of Lake Michigan, will add 1,100 more employees as it builds 10 new ships under a contract for approximately $4 billion. “Seven hundred of those are hourly wage earners,” says company president Charles Goddard. “They’re union employees. They’re steel-fitters. They’re welders, pipe-fitters, electricians, they’re painters.” The ships, called Littoral Combat Ships, mark a new direction for the Navy toward smaller vessels able to navigate in shallow water.

2. Indiana will consider right-to-work law. State Republican leaders will attempt to turn Indiana into a right-to-work state during the upcoming legislative session. “I do expect an intense debate,” GOP House Speaker Brian Bosma told our partner station WBEZ. Republicans say the legislation would set Indiana on more competitive footing in enticing businesses to relocate. Such right-to-work legislation would end requirements that force workers to join unions or pay dues as a condition of employment, according to the station. Democrats fought similar legislation during the last legislative session, and dispute that there would be economic benefits. “House minority leader Patrick Bauer said, “This could be the eventual decline and fall of Indiana being an economic, viable state.”

3. Kasich touts Ohio job gains. In the past week, Gov. John Kasich has announced the arrival of more than 1,700 new jobs at three locations across Ohio. On Monday, he was on hand as material-handler Intelligrated announced it would add 200 technical and engineering jobs over three years in suburban Cincinnati. It was the third such announcement Kasich had attended this week, seemingly marking a shift in his strategy since SB5 was repealed by voters, says The Columbus Dispatch. “What that illustrates is that we’re starting to get our act together in the state of Ohio,” Kasich told the newspaper. “We’ve got a long way to go, but we’re answering the bell.”

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder Has New Ally In Fight For International Bridge

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has an unlikely ally in his push to build a new international bridge between Detroit and Canada — the Buckeye State.

Ohio state senators say their state needs the bridge as much as Michigan.

They have introduced a senate resolution encouraging their northern neighbors to build a replacement for the 83-year-old Ambassador Bridge. Ohio Senate Resolution 141 states that bilateral trade with Canada generated $30.9 billion in 2010, and said Canada was the top market for Buckeye State exports.

“A modern border crossing that can support the ever-increasing amount of trade and travel between the U.S. and Canada is essential to the economies of Ohio, the Midwest and the U.S.,” says SR141, which was introduced by Republican Sen. Gayle Manning.

Continue reading “Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder Has New Ally In Fight For International Bridge”

Great Lakes States: How Can We Get Along Politically?

The Great Lakes states (and Ontario) have something significant in common: water. But beyond  Lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie and Ontario, the states and province seem to go their separate ways.

On Monday, WBEZ’s Front and Center project and Changing Gears took a look at whether the Great Lakes states and province can cooperate politically. Guests included Richard Longworth, of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs; Indiana Congressman Scott Reske and Carol Coletta, president of ArtsPlace, a cultural group pushing economic transformation through the arts.

Listen to the program, and let us know: how can our states (and province) cooperate?

Midwest Region Holds Highest Concentration Of Homegrown Residents

The Midwest has the highest concentration of homegrown residents of any region in the country.

That’s good and bad news, according to analysts. The distinction could mean the Midwest has done the best job retaining strong community ties with native residents. It can also mean the area, overall, has struggled to lure employees from other states.

William Frey, a Brookings Institution demographer, tells Governing, which compiled state-by-state data on residents living in the state of their births, that “you have a very rooted population in some of the Midwestern middle of the country,” while the western U.S. is “still filling in.”

Louisiana ranked highest in the data with an overall homegrown population of 78.8 percent, but Midwestern states took the next four spots: Michigan (76.6 percent), Ohio (75.1 percent), Pennsylvania (74.0 percent) and Wisconsin (72.1 percent).

Continue reading “Midwest Region Holds Highest Concentration Of Homegrown Residents”

Midwest Memo: Michigan Debates International Bridge, Ohio Foreclosures Rise, U.P. Coal Plant Could Close

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Detroit bridge project scrutinized. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder absorbed his first major political defeat since taking office – and it came at the hands of his own Republican party, which refused to green-light the construction of a new bridge between Detroit and Windsor. Expectations are growing, according to the Detroit Free Press, that Snyder will try to circumvent the legislature, a strategy that will raise legal questions about the range of the governor’s executive authority. Last week, Changing Gears senior editor Micki Maynard detailed the skirmish over the new bridge for The Atlantic Cities, and examined forceful opposition from Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun.

2. Ohio foreclosures on the rise. After enjoying their lowest level of foreclosures in five years, Ohio residents saw a foreclosure uptick in the third quarter of 2011, mirroring a nationwide trend. Our partner station Ideastream reports foreclosures in Cuyahoga County increased 17 percent from the previous three-month period. Experts attribute the jump to mortgage lenders resuming the foreclosure process after last year’s robo-signing scandal had halted proceedings. Over the summer, less than 1 percent of Ohio home loans entered the foreclosure process, Ideastream reports. Currently, 9.3 percent of Ohio mortgage holders are late on their payments, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

3. Future of Michigan coal plant unclear. The only major power plant in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is at a crossroads. A coal-fired plant owned by We Energies could be shut down over the next five or six years as new environmental rules go into effect. One alternative would be a switch to natural gas, a conversion being employed by numerous plants across the Midwest. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports the future of the plant is of high concern in Marquette, where We Energies employs 180 workers and plays 17 percent of the city’s property taxes. “A closure would be devastating for our community,” Mayor John Kivela tells the newspaper.

(Clarification: An earlier version of this entry contained dated information. It has been revised to indicate that a Michigan state senate committee defeated a proposal regarding a new bridge linking Detroit to Canada last month.)