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.
In 2006, Moshe Davis thought he found the right site to expand the Orthodox Jewish elementary school he ran in Chicago. An abandoned building that formerly housed an audio electronics company in Evanston seemed like the perfect new home.
At the heart of the conflict is a dilemma that municipalities all across the Midwest have confronted throughout the recession: Do communities jump at the first chance – any chance – to fill vacant buildings or do they wait for the return of a tax-yielding business?
Three stories making news across the Midwest today:
1. Changing face of office space. Sixty-six acres of land with 1 million square feet of office space located close to O’Hare Airport traditionally shouldn’t have trouble selling in Cook County, Illinois. The fact the former United Air Lines corporate site has lingered on the market for two years not only reflects a stalled real estate market, but the changing needs of corporate office environments. Our partner station WBEZ examines the changing corporate campus culture, as well as the move of several suburban headquarters toward downtown Chicago.
2. Ohio home sales rise. Home sales rose throughout Ohio in August, according to data from the Ohio Association of Realtors. Sales increased 22 percent year over year, and 10 percent from July. “Throughout the state, we experienced a significant uptick in activity in August for the second consecutive month,” the president of the association tells The Columbus Dispatch. In the Columbus area, sales were up more than 15 percent from the previous August.
3. Construction activity on upswing? Following four consecutive months of declines, the Architectural Billings Index surged upward in August. The ABI score rose to 51.4 in August after posting a 45.1 in July, a gain that caught some analysts by surprise. “It’s possible we’ve reached the bottom of the down cycle,” AIA chief economist Kermit Baker said. The ABI is an economic indicator of construction activity. The Midwest regional average was 49.0, highest of the four regions covered in the data.
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.
Navistar builds all kinds of trucks across North America: at nonunion factories in the South and Mexico, as well as union shops in the Midwest. But the United Auto Workers at its Springfield, Ohio plant say a year of changes has made them competitive with those nonunion plants. And, they say they’re hopeful for the future of their jobs in the Midwest.
UAW President Bob King has followed through on his vow to win a raise for entry level auto workers. Details of the new contract between the union and General Motors, released today, show some of them will be earning nearly $20 an hour by the end of the contract.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer has a story that includes both the summary sheet of the contract, and the actual contract language.
MacArthur Geniuses: The Midwest abounds with geniuses, at least where the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation is concerned. The Chicago-based foundation awarded three of its $500,000 genius grants to women faculty members at the University of Michigan, and another to Chicago architect Jeanne Gang. You can read the list, and see an interview with Gang here.
Chicago River Development: Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel says he is eager to reverse the
impression that many visitors and residents have of the Chicago River. So, he’s planning to invest in recreational facilities up and down the river, starting with new boathouses. There will be new launches for paddlers, as well as picnic areas and concession stands.
Say Nice Things About Union Members: This fall, Ohio voters will consider whether to repeal Senate Bill 5, which curbed the collective bargaining ability of unionized state workers. Opponents of the repeal effort still want to see that ability cut, but they’re trying a novel tactic: saying nice things about union members. Here’s the story from our partner station ideastream in Cleveland.
In 2007, entrepreneur Brad Keywell co-founded a company that intended to build a critical mass of online consumers and leverage their collective purchasing power with local merchants. The company, originally called The Point, was a quick failure.
“You could have called it ‘What’s the point?,’” he joked Friday, while delivering the keynote address at the University of Michigan’s “Entrepalooza,” a two-day seminar on entrepreneurship at the Ross School of Business.
Forced to retreat and reinvent the company’s business plan, he and two partners simplified the concept and re-launched as Groupon. Since then, the Chicago-based company has seen its workforce mushroom from 37 employees to 3,600 and grown from 152,000 subscribers to approximately 115 million. Forbes Magazine recently called it the fastest-growing company in history.
Three stories making news across the Midwest today:
1. Too much health-care? One sector has outperformed all others in bucking the trend of job loss throughout the country: Health care added 800,000 jobs throughout the recession. Oakland County, Michigan, located in suburban Detroit, has been among the municipalities looking at heath care as a potential economic savior, and hopes to add a $600 million hospital that could bring 3,000 jobs. But Marketplace asks, is it overkill? Dennis McCafferty, a union and business representative, says there are six hospitals within a 30-minute drive of the proposed Oakland County site that have an average occupancy of 55 percent.
2. Indiana eyes Chicago casino. Throughout his push for approval of a Chicago casino, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has lamented the potential $20 to $25 million in monthly revenue that has instead gone to places like Hammond, Ind. But if a casino is built in Chicago, it’s no certainty that money would automatically be diverted to the Windy City’s coffers. Our partner station WBEZ spoke with gamblers in the area, and reports it’s no shoo-in that Chicago will come out ahead in the gambling turf fight.
3. Ohio steel industry surges. Calling it a rebirth may be a stretch, but the steel industry in northeast Ohio has seen a resurgence in activity in the past two years. “Youngstown looks less like a graveyard,” reports our partner station Ideastream. A $650 million plant for steel-pipe producer V & M Star is leading the way. U.S. Steel is investing in a $100 million project near Lorain. A Cleveland State University professor says a change in Ohio’s business tax structure that lowers the burden on manufacturers is the reason for the uptick.
As the election season begins, it almost seems politicians are obligated to tout small business as one way to stave off further economic collapse and bring back the American Dream for all of those whom it has left behind.
Small business overall does have a tremendous economic footprint in this country, employing half of all private sector employees, by government estimates. But small business is also a really big umbrella. The United States Small Business Association includes any firm with less than 500 employees a small business. It’s easy to see how a business with 500 employees could be critical to a town.
Then there are people like Laura Cowan. She hopes to be a small business owner, but she’s not there yet. Cowan runs a green, affordable parenting blog out of her home, and patches together paying work while she balances full-time care of her young daughter. She is what has been called a “micro-preneur.” These are people who run very small businesses, typically with only one, or at most a handful, of employees.