Answers To The 9 Most Important Questions In Detroit Right Now

Downtown Detroit. Credit: David Tansey.

One way or the other, today is likely to go down as a historic – and possibly transformative – day for the city of Detroit. The city is burning through its cash, and fast approaching bankruptcy. By the end of the day, we could know more about what approach the state will take to help avoid that bankrupcty.

But the negotiations over Detroit’s future have taken a lot of confusing turns in the past couple of weeks, so we’ve tried to put together some answers to the city’s most pressing questions.

What’s happening today? Today is the deadline for the city to sign off on a proposed consent agreement with the state. The agreement would lead to the creation of a new panel to restructure Detroit’s finances.

What’s actually in the consent agreement? A lot. Sarah Cwiek at partner station Michigan Radio has an explainer.

What happens if the consent agreement isn’t signed today? Some say the state’s financial review team will be forced to recommend that Gov. Snyder appoint an emergency manager. Then, the governor will have 10 days to do so. But the Detroit Free Press says some of the details are still up for debate.

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Two Countries, Two Red and White Flags, One Trade Deal?

“I don’t even know what street Canada is on,” Al Capone once said. But Canada’s prime minister, Stephen Harper, is determined to make sure he puts Canada on the map with one key global power: Japan.

Map courtesy of

If he accomplishes his goal, it could have ramifications for the automobile industry, agriculture and the Midwest in general.

Harper opened negotiations this weekend with Japan on a free trade agreement. Negotiators were careful to caution against any quick resolution, because it can take years to negotiate such deals, and Japan isn’t known for speedy decision making.

But, a Canada-Japan trade agreement would join one between Japan and Mexico — and leave the United States as the only North American country without one.  Continue reading “Two Countries, Two Red and White Flags, One Trade Deal?”

Midwest Memo: Detroit Deadline, GOP Primary Goes To Wisconsin and Baby Boomers In Ohio

Decision day A state-appointed review team that’s been looking into Detroit’s finances will have to make a recommendation today. The Detroit News reports officials were working over the weekend to try to reach a deal that would avoid placing an emergency manager in the city.

Not the biggest race in town Wisconsin is the next state in the spotlight for the GOP presidential primary, but are people in Wisconsin really fired up? Reporters for the Gannett news service find that donations to presidential candidates dropped 50 percent this year in Wisconsin, compared to the last presidential race. One possible reason is that people are spending a lot more on statewide races.

Revisiting re-shoring The Chicago Tribune finds more evidence that some manufacturing that used to be done in China is coming back to the U.S.

Your dinner is an invasive species The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is expanding its effort to stop invasive species, and some people are not happy. The DNR now wants farmers to stop raising certain kinds of pigs. One farmer in Indiana says he’s worried the law could spread to his state.

The boomers are all right The Columbus Dispatch is running a series on how the recession has changed expectations for Ohio baby boomers. One result: there’s a baby boomer boom in college enrollment.

Pop The Cap, Have A Good Ball

Sixty years ago Wednesday, the first rock and roll concert happened in Cleveland.

The promotional poster for the Moondog Coronation Ball, the world's first rock and roll concert. Source: Wikipedia

The Moondog Coronation Ball was kind of a disaster. It ended in a riot. One person was stabbed. But it was also the first public indication of how hot this new rock and roll trend had become. Organizers originally hoped for about 10,000 people. Twice that number showed up.

The Ball was the idea of Alan Freed, the Cleveland disc jockey who first coined the phrase “rock and roll.” He’s the reason Cleveland is home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. And every time you find yourself in a packed concert venue, listening to music that’s a little too loud and a little too fast, you’re taking part in a tradition that began in Cleveland at the Moondog Coronation Ball.

Officially, the anniversary was on Wednesday. But the Ball was held on a Friday, and right now it’s almost quittin time across the Midwest.

So go have a Ball, in honor of Alan Freed.

Check Out What Chicago Looked Like In 1893

A view of downtown Chicago, from a map drawn in 1893. Credit: Big Map Blog

Want to see how much Chicago has changed since 1893? The folks over at Big Map Blog have scanned this incredible bird’s eye view of the city drawn by Peter Roy.

The blog lives up to its name by scanning maps at high resolution, so you can zoom in and see what was going on in your neighborhood 119 years ago.

(Not from Chicago? The Big Map Blog has lots of historic maps from around the Midwest.)

In The Race For “Green Jobs,” The Midwest Is Doing OK At Best

Credit: flickr user agrilifetoday

Not too long ago, jobs in the new green economy were seen as the number one solution to transform the Midwest economy. You almost couldn’t go to any sort of economic luncheon or policy briefing without hearing about it.

So, how is the Midwest actually doing when it comes to creating these “green jobs”?

Meh. We’re doing all right. Not great. Not horrible.

Yesterday, the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics for the first time released data on how many jobs there are in “green goods and services.” The figures include construction jobs for people who weatherize homes, manufacturing jobs for people who make fuel efficient cars and scientific jobs for people who try to come up with environmental solutions, among many other kinds of jobs.

The headline is that the U.S. had about 3.1 million of these green jobs in 2010, accounting for about 2.4 percent of all jobs in the country.

If you just look at the sheer number of jobs, the Midwest did pretty well: Both Illinois and Ohio rank in the top ten. But those are also big states, with lots of jobs. So, if you look at the numbers just based on the percentage of the states’ overall jobs that can be classified as “green,” then the numbers are less impressive.

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Midwest Memo: Detroit In Legal Limbo, Ohio Becomes Dumping Ground And Etch-A-Sketch Gets A Bump From Gaffe

It’s a mess, basically Efforts to avoid a financial meltdown in the city of Detroit are turning into a confusing legal situation. Partner station Michigan Radio reports a judge says the state can’t enter into its proposed consent agreement with the city until he decides whether the state’s review team broke open meetings laws. And there’s some disagreement over when the actual deadline is to reach a deal.

Wasteland BusinessWeek reports on how Ohio has become a dumping ground for the chemical-laced wastewater brine that’s a byproduct of new natural gas drilling in the U.S. BusinessWeek says Ohio has 176 storage wells for the “fracking” fluids. In comparison, Pennsylvania has just six such wells.

Romney is helping business The Toledo Blade reports on how an Ohio company has benefited from a political gaffe. Ohio Art Co., the maker of Etch-A-Sketch, has seen its stock more than double since a Mitt Romney aide referenced the toy in an interview on CNN. The statement has turned into one of the biggest gaffes of the GOP primary, but Ohio Art Co. isn’t complaining. Sales of Etch-A-Sketch toys are on the rise, and company executives are trying to manage requests for media interviews.

O-H-I Am Pandering President Obama visited Ohio State University yesterday. He promised to increase drilling in the United States, but he says he draws the line at drilling in Ohio Stadium. The President also made some hand signs that won’t play well in Ann Arbor.

Hogan out Partner station WBEZ reports on the resignation of University of Illinois president Michael Hogan.

Chicago secession? A landfill operator is trying to secede his 86 acres of property from the city of Chicago, and join the suburb of Dolton. The move is an attempt to get around the city’s ban on landfills.

Mysterious Noises Are Rattling Windows In Wisconsin. It’s Happened Before In Other Places.

In October 2010, a 360 foot long crack appeared in rural Menominee County, Michigan. Residents nearby reported hearing booming noises. Is this what's coming for Clintonville, Wisc.? Credit: Wayne Pennington, Michigan Technological University

We’ve been as fascinated as anyone else about the strange news coming out of Clintonville, Wisc. this week. Residents in the small town have been hearing mysterious booming noises in the wee hours of the morning.

It may be a stretch to consider this an economic story, but Clintonville is being flooded by out of town reporters, who must have some kind of economic impact. And at least one engineering firm is getting business from it.

Plenty of people online also speculate that “fracking” could be behind the mysterious noises. Hydraulic fracturing, the natural gas drilling method usually just called “fracking,” did play a role in a series of earthquakes near Youngstown, Ohio.  The U.S. Geological Survey just confirmed that there is small seismic activity behind the Clintonville booms – tiny tremors that only measure 1.5 in magnitude. But town officials say they’ve ruled out most man-made causes for the tremors (the closest known fracking operation is about 20 miles from Clintonville).

That leaves natural causes as a possible explanation. says the Midwest’s abnormally warm spring could be playing a role, as ice in the ground quickly melted and the soil suddenly settled.

But one of the biggest questions, of course, is whether these noises are something to be worried about.

Continue reading “Mysterious Noises Are Rattling Windows In Wisconsin. It’s Happened Before In Other Places.”

The Controversial Economic Report That Challenges Everything We Think We Know About U.S. Manufacturing

Job losses in manufacturing from 2000 - 2010 were devastating in almost every state. And a new report claims that productivity gains in manufacturing were not as strong as advertised. Credit: The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation

Economic reports are not usually the kind of thing that gets the heart racing. But earlier this week, a non-profit think-tank called The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation put out a report that amounts to a bombshell.

The report is titled “Worse Than the Great Depression: What the Experts Are Missing About American Manufacturing Decline.”

We first read about the report in the Washington Post. The basic claim is that manufacturing in this country is not doing nearly as well as advertised. At Changing Gears, we’ve made a lot out of the productivity gains in manufacturing over the past couple of years. According to everything we’ve heard, manufacturing productivity has led the way out of the recession, and Midwest manufacturing has been a major driver of growth.

But the ITIF report provides a blunt challenge to that story line. Some of the claims in the report are controversial, and not widely accepted. But even the federal government now says there could be problems with how it measures manufacturing productivity.

And that could have big implications for the policies our leaders consider in the future.

Continue reading “The Controversial Economic Report That Challenges Everything We Think We Know About U.S. Manufacturing”

Blame The Tsunami For This Warm Midwest Spring

Last fall, Accuweather forecasters predicted a weather so bad in the Midwest that people in Chicago would want to move. As we all know, that didn’t happen. Not by a long shot.

Instead of snow, we're getting this/photo by Micki Maynard

Now, according to the Chicago Tribune, the weather prediction company has come up with a reason it was so off base: the Japanese tsunami.

“We’re wrong sometimes, we can admit it,” meteorologist and news director Henry Margusity said Wednesday. “It was not exactly the best forecast.”

He theorizes on his blog that drifting debris from the tsunami last March seems to be sending warm weather aloft over the Pacific, which in turn is wafting warmer breezes here. Because the Pacific is the world’s largest ocean, it has a great deal of impact on global weather.

“If you match up where that debris field is right now with where the warmer than normal water temperatures are, they match up perfectly,” he said.

That also means we’re in for a warmer than normal summer, which could affect Midwest agriculture, businesses and our lifestyles.

Are you buying it?