Changing Gears is a public media project about the future of the industrial Midwest. Each week, reporters Dan Bobkoff in Cleveland, Niala Boodhoo in Chicago and Kate Davidson in Ann Arbor cover issues of interest to the Great Lakes region. Changing Gears also sponsors public events and conversations.
“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.
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.
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).
At a certain point, you can’t tell if you’ve created the momentum, or the momentum has created you — Annie Lennox
There’s no doubt that the Midwest was swept this past year with political momentum. It deposited Republican governors into office in Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio, and in turn, buoyed successful efforts to strip public employees of their collective bargaining rights.
But with the resounding defeat of Ohio’s Issue 2 on Tuesday night, it appears that momentum has been slowed, if not stopped. And now, like a tide rushing out, governors across the Midwest have to consider whether the momentum that led to swift changes will now work against them.
All over our region, the past is still present, in the form of empty buildings, property, even corporate campuses. The cost to our cities, in lost tax revenue, and in blight, is enormous.
But entrepreneurs, businesses and government agencies are taking steps to fill in those empty spaces. Throughout November, Changing Gears will take a look at reusing our empty places and the challenges involved. Our first report, from Dustin Dwyer, will air this Wednesday.
In some cases, it’s as simple as taking a building — like Union High School in Grand Rapids, Mich. (my
mother’s alma mater) — and finding a new use for it, such as condominiums. In others, it requires patience and cutting through lots of red tape.
We’d love to hear from you. What’s the best re-use that you’ve seen of a previously empty building? Let us know. Have you bought empty property? How do you plan to use it?
If you’ve got pictures, include them in your answers or send them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include the location and how we can get in touch with you.
Back in April, we did a story on the untapped potential in the Midwest’s music industry. Today, we have a better sense of the state of Cleveland’s music industry. For the first time, researchers have conducted a comprehensive study on employment and spending in the sector.
First, the economic impact number: $840 million. That’s how much the study says the music industry contributes to the Cleveland area economy.
But that impact comes from relatively few workers. In Northeast Ohio, about 6000 people work in the music industry. That includes everything from orchestras to record shops. In Cuyahoga County just 2700 work in music. That’s less than half a percent of the workforce.
“It’s really quite remarkable how small but mighty the industry really is,” she said.
Puch says there’s a lot more potential here. Cleveland has a music reputation: for its Rock and Roll legacy and the Cleveland Orchestra. And, she thinks the music scene could benefit more from the region’s traditional industries: manufacturing and healthcare. Making musical instruments and music therapy are two areas for growth, she says.
The study is considered the first comprehensive look at the industry. It used a combination of surveys and labor data. And, while the total employment numbers are tiny, the report found that the music industry’s employment was actually more stable than the workforce on the whole.
Four weeks ago, a small group of demonstrators began protesting the grim state of the U.S. economy in New York City with little fanfare.
Now, a growing movement based on the Occupy Wall Street protests has spread throughout the country, including demonstrations in several Midwest cities.
Separate groups protesting the role of big banks in the U.S. foreclosure crisis marched Monday and Tuesday through Chicago, meeting at the Art Institute of Chicago, where the Mortgage Bankers Association was holding its annual conference.
“People are mad as hell at these financial organizations that wrecked the economy, that caused this whole mess,” Catherine Murrell, a spokeswoman for Stand Up Chicago, a coalition of approximately 20 Chicago community organizations, told the Chicago Sun-Times. “They broke the economy. They played with it like it was a toy.”
Andy Case thinks the Midwest has an image problem. Even worse, he says, is that Midwesterners buy into the characterization of the Midwest as “flyover country,” or not as interesting as the East or West coasts.
Case, a native of Plymouth, Mich., says this mentality causes people to leave the region in search of economic opportunity. He decided to do something to try to change that way of thinking — and that led to his blog, Midwestern Gentleman.
“I didn’t see anything that said ‘I’m proud to be from the Midwest and here’s why,’ And, I think my blog is highlighting things that make the Midwest great, and why it’s great,” said Case.
1) Exporting to economic growth. A study released today on nine Midwestern states shows that exports are helping to revive the economy.
Creighton University’s Business Conditions Index for the Mid-America region rose to 60.2, from 57.7 in April. The index is a survey of supply managers and purchasing executives, who rate the economy on a scale of zero to 100. Anything above 50 reflects growth in the next three to six months.
2) From yachts to wind. The recession forced many small manufacturers to find new products to make in an attempt to survive. Tiara Yachts, a Michigan manufacturer, is taking risks to keep its factory open and employees on the job. Lindsay Smith of our partner station Michigan Radio looked at the company.
It’s been more than a week since Japan was ravaged by the first of a series of earthquakes as well as a tsunami. The harm from those natural disasters is still unfolding, as the world watches what happens to several damaged nuclear reactors in Japan. But in the Midwest, companies are trying to figure out what the events in the island nation will mean for businesses here.