At Auto Plants, A Reversal of Fortune

Two Years, Two TiersThe American Dream is that each generation will do better than the last.  But many families of auto workers no longer have that expectation.  As Detroit car makers sped towards financial ruin, their union agreed to a dual wage structure,  plus deep cuts in benefits.  Now, new hires earn about half what traditional workers make.  Changing Gears Ann Arbor reporter Kate Davidson tells how this reversal of fortune has altered their lives.[audio:20100921_davidson.mp3]

To download this MP3 or listen on a smartphone that doesn’t allow flash, click here.

The newest workers at General Motors, Ford and Chrysler have an unusual name.  They’re called “two-tiers,” meaning their wages fall on the second tier of pay in their union contracts.

Will Dunlap is one of them.  He says the two-tiers joke that, “If two two-tier people died in a fire, they’d save one GM employee lost.  You feel like half an employee.” Continue reading “At Auto Plants, A Reversal of Fortune”

Sandusky: A City on a Roller-coaster


Most people when they hear of Sandusky think Cedar Point: the amusement park that has been bringing millions of people to Northern Ohio for 140 years. Despite its tourism, the city is on a roller coaster of its own. As Changing Gears kicks off this week, we also start a series about Sandusky, a place we’ll follow as it wrestles with the problems affecting the whole region.

Photos: Adee Braun

Continue reading “Sandusky: A City on a Roller-coaster”

Lights, Camera, Economy! Changing Gears Premieres


Changing Gears, a new series looking at the revival of the industrial Midwest, is on the air! We kicked off on Monday with a look at The Film Factory — the race to attract movie crews to the region. Here is the inaugural report from Kate Davidson in Ann Arbor, Dan Bobkoff in Cleveland and Niala Boodhoo in Chicago.

Download the audio here

Towns and cities across the Midwest are trying to look like mini Hollywoods, thanks to generous tax incentives that have attracted dozens of film crews. Some think the silver screen is a silver bullet.

But California still dominates the $57 billion film industry – and some — including Michigan’s state Senate fiscal agency — are asking whether Great Lakes states are offering too much. Continue reading “Lights, Camera, Economy! Changing Gears Premieres”

Movies Starring The Midwest


Batman, roller dames and road warriors have all starred in movies filmed in the Midwest over the past few years. Here’s a walk of fame of Midwest-made pictures, picked by Team Gears and our Facebook friends. Got more? List them in the comments and we’ll add the most popular ones.

Film incentivized

The Dark Knight, 2008 (Filmed in Chicago and other global locations) Heath Ledger won a posthumous Oscar for his portrayal of the Joker, with Christian Bale reprising the main role as Batman. Easily the most successful film ever made in the Midwest, it has earned over $1 billion internationally. Continue reading “Movies Starring The Midwest”

How The Film Factory Looks From Outside The Theater


It costs a lot to go to the movies these days, and to bring them to your state.

Many are questioning whether the Midwest is right to pursue film production, arguing that California still has the bulk of the $57 billion industry. It’s hard to replicate the infrastructure, from technical personnel to the labs needed for processing.

However, California’s grip may be loosening.

Continue reading “How The Film Factory Looks From Outside The Theater”

What Does Labor Day Mean to You?

Parades. Cookouts. Back to school shopping. And for some, the end of summer.

Labor Day has a different meaning to many people throughout the region, depending on their point of view. But in the Great Lakes region, it is hard to overlook its roots as a holiday to celebrate working men and women. Jobs and the redefinition of jobs will be a key focus of Changing Gears, and you’ll be hearing about new approaches to jobs when we go on the air Sept. 20, just two weeks from now.

Labor Day originated in New York, and became a national holiday after the devastating strike involving the Pullman rail car company of Chicago. In Detroit, generations of union members, from the United Automobile Workers to the Teamsters to members of the hotel and restaurant trades have gathered downtown each Labor Day in solidarity.

Continue reading “What Does Labor Day Mean to You?”

Team Gears: Our Man in Cleveland

Dan BobkoffI’m Dan Bobkoff, and as the Cleveland reporter for Changing Gears, I’ll be holding down our fort on Lake Erie.

If you’re a regular listener to our partner station WCPN ideastream, you’ve already heard me for the past three years, doing reports on business and politics in northern Ohio. Many of those have run on NPR shows like All Things Considered and Morning Edition. Here’s one I did recently for Weekend Edition on interesting new uses for excess infrastructure.

One thing I’ve learned since I moved here nearly four years ago is that Cleveland and Northern Ohio don’t have as clear a national image as Michigan and Chicago. That’s both good and bad. Many outside the Midwest have no real conception of what’s happening here and what it’s like to live here. For some, the image is stuck in a 40-year time warp conjuring up images of a Cuyahoga River on fire and late night comics picking on Cleveland as the “mistake on the lake.” Sure, foreclosures, population loss and the decline of manufacturing have taken their toll, but Northeast Ohio is also home to a world class orchestra, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a fantastic hospital, food scene, and a downtown that’s looking better every year. Continue reading “Team Gears: Our Man in Cleveland”

From the Senior Editor: Obama’s Victory Lap

This week and next, President Obama is taking a victory lap. But is it too soon?

On Friday, the president was set to visit General Motors and Chrysler plants in Detroit. Next week, he’ll be in Chicago to visit the Ford Motor factory.

At the two Detroit plants, workers literally owe their livelihoods to the president, whose administration provided the carmakers with more than $60 billion to assure their survival. You can argue the Ford workers should be grateful as well, since Ford’s future would have been threatened had its two Detroit rivals gone into liquidation.

I talked about the automobile industry’s situation on NPR’s Morning Edition with my good friend Don Gonyea, who spent many years on the car beat when he was based in Detroit. This is a story of deep interest to the Changing Gears region, and its outcome will play a huge role in determining the future of the Manufacturing Belt. Continue reading “From the Senior Editor: Obama’s Victory Lap”

From The Senior Editor: Deal or No Deal

When should a state provide incentives to a big employer?

That’s one of the questions that states are wrestling with as they try to shake off the recession and move forward. And, it’s a story the Changing Gears team will be examining many times in the next few years.

The latest state to deal with the issue is Missouri, whose governor has signed controversial legislation meant to keep a Ford Motor Company plant from leaving the state. I talked about the situation this week on KMOX in St. Louis.


Continue reading “From The Senior Editor: Deal or No Deal”