Undergrads At Case Western Build A Better Pothole Patch, Score One For Midwest Innovation

Credit: flickr user _chrisUK

Innovation is a tricky thing to track. Everyone talks about it, but it’s almost impossible to predict where it will happen, or what it will be. But you know it when you see it.

And so it is with a new invention out of Case Western University. A group of five undergraduate students at the Cleveland school have come up with a potentially brilliant solution to a nagging problem. They’ve built a better pothole patch.

They’ve done it with something called a non-Newtonian fluid. Without getting too technical, a non-Newtonian fluid is a material that acts like a liquid in some situations, and a solid in others – like the ketchup that stays stubbornly stiff when you shake the bottle, but pours out evenly when you coax it with a butter knife.

Another example is a mixture of cornstarch and water, which appears to be a liquid, but acts like a solid if you run across it. If you’ve never seen how this works, it’s pretty incredible.

The Case Western students took this principle, and applied it to potholes. Continue reading “Undergrads At Case Western Build A Better Pothole Patch, Score One For Midwest Innovation”

Changing Expectations: How Are You Planning For What Comes Next?

It’s tax time, and today is the last day before the filing deadline. If you spent your weekend filling out your tax forms, you have come face-to-face with your 2011 finances. Now is a time for reflection and reckoning – it’s also a time for planning. What will this year look like for you?

Credit: Flikr user 401k

Over the next two weeks, Changing Gears will be sharing stories about how people are planning ahead in a tough economy, and how their expectations have changed in light of the recession.

You can read some of the stories about changing expectations on our tumblr page: http://chgears.tumblr.com.

You can also tell us about your own experiences. How are you planning for what comes next? Are you coming up on a milestone like retirement, marriage, or a new career? How have your plans changed since the start of the recession? Follow this link to share your story.

Midwest Memo: No Oversight In Infrastructure Plan, Stimulus Funds To Closed Schools And Casino Competition

Infrastructure plan, examined Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s $7.2 billion infrastructure plan gets a hearing today at the City Council. The Chicago Tribune reports the plan would give a board of financiers the ability to approve multi-million dollar deals with almost no oversight. Some aren’t happy with the idea.

Stimulating failure The Dayton Daily News reports that nearly $5 million in federal stimulus funding went to charter schools in Ohio that have since closed their doors. Millions more went to schools that were accused of mishandling funds in the past, according to the paper.

Casino competition Indiana is expecting to lose $100 million in state revenue as new casinos open in Ohio. The new Ohio casinos are expected to take away customers from Indiana’s casinos according to the Herald Bulletin.

Empty buildings, full of danger The Detroit Free Press looks at the harrowing walk to school for many of Detroit’s children. The Freep has a twopart series at the dangers children face from the 33,000 vacant buildings near Detroit schools.

Parking lawsuit A deal to privatize four city-owned parking garages in downtown Chicago has led to a $200 million lawsuit, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Banking on land banks Partner station WCPN Ideastream says more Ohio counties are setting up land banks to deal with the problem of vacant property.

Changing Gears Wins A Regional Edward R. Murrow Award

For many of us in journalism, Edward R. Murrow is an icon.

Edward R. Murrow

He was a ground breaking foreign correspondent, investigative reporter and program host who had an enormous influence on our profession from the 1940s through the 1960s. You might also know him as the central character in the movie, “Good Night and Good Luck.”

So, it’s with great pride that we let you know that Changing Gears has won a regional Murrow Award from the Radio Television Digital News Association, for our series on manufacturing. (This is the same series that was awarded a National Headliner Award.)

We were the winner in the audio news series category in RTDNA’s Region 7, which includes entries from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio.

Winners from each region go on to compete in the national Murrow Awards, which will be announced this summer.

Thanks to members of the Changing Gears team — Dan Bobkoff, Kate Davidson, Niala Boodhoo,  our former colleague Pete Bigelow, and our colleagues Sarah Alvarez, Meg Cramer and Dustin Dwyer.

Are Tax Incentives Working? Many States Don’t Even Check

The Pew Center on the States checked all 50 states to find out which ones are evaluating their tax incentive programs. Credit: Pew Center on the States.

Tax incentives have become the weapon of choice among states battling for new business investments. Niala Boodhoo reported in December that offering incentives has become a sort of strategy game for Midwest states hoping to one-up each other as everyone fights to grow jobs. But, as Niala reported, these are games with millions of dollars in tax breaks and thousands of jobs on the line.

Now, the Pew Center on the States is taking a look at incentives from a different angle. The Pew Center tried to figure out whether anyone is actually checking to see whether the incentives are worth it.

Turns out, a lot of states do very little follow-up once they approve incentives programs.

Continue reading “Are Tax Incentives Working? Many States Don’t Even Check”

Midwest Memo: Tracking Tax Incentives, Rebounding RVs And Foreclosure Numbers

Not tracking incentives Few states are doing a good job tracking their business tax incentives. That’s according to a new report from the Pew Center on the States. The AP has a writeup. Among Midwest states, Pew says Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Missouri are “leading the way.” Michigan and Ohio have “mixed results.” And Illinois and Indiana “trail behind.” The full report is here.

Revved up for RVs PBS Newshour reports on the rebounding RV industry in Indiana. The town of Elkhart was struggling just a few years ago because of a downturn in RV sales. Elkhart turned to electric vehicle maker Think to help boost jobs. Now, Think is in bankruptcy, and the RV companies are hiring again.

Now, on to the budget Detroit mayor Dave Bing will present his budget plan to city council this morning. It will be the last budget proposal from the mayor before a new financial advisory team takes over the city’s finances.

In full bloom A report from Michigan State University says the state’s agricultural sector grew dramatically during the recession. Partner station Michigan Radio has the details of the report, which claims agriculture now contributes $91.4 billion to the state economy.

Foreclosures New foreclosure numbers are out from RealtyTrac. The Midwest still has 7 states in the top 20 for highest foreclosure rate.

One More Thing About Ethanol

The price spread between gasoline and ethanol. Credit: Reuters

Today, I reported that ethanol, despite losing its hype, is bigger than ever in the U.S. 

The chart above, from Reuters, shows one more reason people in the ethanol industry are optimistic. The chart shows the price difference between gasoline and ethanol. And, right now, according to Reuters, gas prices are at an all-time high compared to ethanol. A gallon of the biofuel is more than a dollar cheaper than gasoline.

Craig Hoppen, the president of J&H Oil Co. in West Michigan told me that this margin makes a big difference when people decide whether to pump E-85.

“Lately, as gas prices went up, we’ve sold a lot more [E-85], because it’s very price competitive today,” Hoppen said. “When the margin goes down … the volume drops accordingly.”

Hoppen says as of this month, E-85 sales are up about 50 percent at J&H Oil’s filling stations.

But still, E-85 only makes up about 1 percent of total sales. The U.S. Department of Energy reports that there were only about half a million E-85 capable vehicles on the road as of 2009.

That’s why the ethanol industry isn’t counting too much on E-85 for the future of the fuel.

Midwest Memo: Gas Fuels Manufacturing Jobs, Preschool Gets Cut And Blagojevich’s Fiscal Legacy

Gassed up The New York Times reports that the boom in natural gas in the United States could lead to a ‘Manufacturing Renaissance’ in the country. The natural gas expansion is due mainly to the new, controversial drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing, or “tracking.”

Preschool not a priority Ohio saw a big drop in public preschool enrollment over the past decade, and no other state cut more money from its preschool program during that time, according to the Columbus Dispatch. The numbers come from a report by the National Institute for Early Education Research. The report also has some negative news for Indiana and Illinois.

Still feeling it Forbes takes a look at the Rod Blagojevich legacy on fiscal issues in Ilinois, and tells the story of how the former governor could be to blame for a proposed rate hike from the Chicago Transit Authority.

Arsenal of research The U.S. Army is opening a new $60 million lab in the Detroit suburb of Warren. WDIV TV takes a tour of the new facility.

Nom nom nom Wisconsin will get three new cheese plants.

Don’t Call It A Comeback: Ethanol Is Bigger Than Ever

The Carbon Green BioEnergy Refinery in Lake Odessa, Mich. Photo courtesy of Carbon Green BioEnergy

[powerpress]

The ethanol refinery for Carbon Green Bioenergy rises up out of the cornfields outside Lake Odessa Michigan.

The refinery was built in 2006. Mitch Miller, the CEO of the company, says a lot of refineries were popping up then.

“Five years ago, ethanol was a craze,” he says. “It was the next best thing.”

Now, not so much. Refineries aren’t being built. Politicians aren’t stopping by with platoons of reporters.

Seriously, when is the last time you heard anyone talk about ethanol?

Here’s the crazy thing though: When the ethanol hype went away, the ethanol industry got bigger than ever.
Continue reading “Don’t Call It A Comeback: Ethanol Is Bigger Than Ever”

It’s Tax Season, Let’s Talk About Money And Your Future

Changing Gears is collecting stories about how people are planning ahead in a tough economy, and we’d like your help. What’s on your mind as you plan for what comes next?

Tax forms shelved at a US Post Office. Credit: stevendepolo / Flikr

You can follow this link to share your thoughts.

We want to hear from you – whether you’re planning for retirement, saving for a home, sending kids to college, or just starting a career. If you’re retired, have you had to make some adjustments?

Are things different from what you expected? Tell us what kinds of choices you’re making.