Midwest Memo: Asian carp fight could cost Indiana jobs, Ohio study says business subsidies backfire

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Complications from Asian carp fight. A leading Indiana lawmaker says efforts to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes could cost thousands of workers their jobs in northwest Indiana.  Mike Pence, a U.S. Representative and possible Republican candidate for governor in 2012, wants a review of how closing Chicago-area waterways could impact industry in Indiana, reports WBEZ, our partner station.

2. Ohio study: subsidies fuel sprawl. Tax breaks intended to keep companies in Cleveland and Cincinnati instead exacerbated wealth disparities and fueled suburban sprawl, according to a new report. A study of 164 companies which received tax deals showed “they moved jobs away from areas hardest hit by plant closings and with higher rates of poverty, unemployment and people of color to more affluent and less diverse areas,” says the report, financed by the Ford Foundation.

3. Brownfield sites slated for cleanup. Six industrial sites in northeast Ohio will receive nearly $8 million for cleanup and renovation efforts. Approximately half that money will go to two brownfield sites in Cleveland that officials hope to turn into a medical office building and a senior center. “Hopefully, we can fund projects so that something new can happen on the property,” Clean Ohio spokesperson Amy Alduino tells WKSU.

Canadian Oil is Boosting Midwest Economy, but At What Cost?

Workers in Marshall, Michigan are still cleaning up an oil spill from last summer.

Green energy is often said to be the future of the Midwest economy. But old fashioned fossil fuels could be having a bigger effect on the region’s jobs and corporate bottom lines.

This is not conventional oil, though. It’s a thick, tar-like crude from the oil sands in Alberta, Canada. It’s sent here by pipelines, many which cross our rivers and the Great Lakes, and that has some worrying about a bigger risk to the region.


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The Job Call: Hoping for Work

For blue collar workers, the recession has been more like a depression. (I reported on these sobering numbers last year.) That’s why so many construction workers welcome all the jobs oil refinery expansions are creating in the Midwest. The boon in the Canadian oil sands is creating jobs here. And, while my story this week spends a lot of time talking about the potential environmental and health risks of this industry, there is no doubt how much having work means to these construction workers. After the jump, some of the voices and images from a job call at an electrical union hall in Detroit.

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Developers Purchase Three Former General Motors Plants in Michigan and Ohio

Three former General Motors plants located in Michigan and Ohio have been sold in separate transactions to new owners who pledged to revitalize the vacant property and bring new jobs to the Midwest.

The RACER Trust, which was created by a U.S. Bankruptcy Court in March to oversee revitalization of 89 former GM sites in 14 states, announced the transactions Wednesday. Financial terms of the sales were not released.

The plants are located in Wyoming, Mich., Parma, Ohio and Moraine, Ohio, outside Dayton. Developer Lormax Stern purchased an 88-acre site in Wyoming that formerly housed the Grand Rapids Stamping Plant. The existing 2.6-million square-foot facility will be torn down and marketed for redevelopment.

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Your Story: Does “Company Town” Mean Anything Anymore?

There aren’t really American “company towns” anymore. The days when one business provided housing and more to a town full of its own workers have pretty much gone.

But there are still places that have a special relationship with a particular company. In Kokomo, Indiana, for example, Crysler is the largest employer. Orrville, Ohio, a small town of 9,000 is headquarters for Smuckers jams and jellies and the world’s largest pipe organ company.

As part of Your Story, Changing Gears wants to know more about the relationship between a place and its businesses. Are corporations just using these towns? Will they love ’em and leave ’em? Or is attracting or keeping one major employer a smart economic development strategy?

Tell us what it means to be a company town. Is it something hard to define, like the influence a corporation can have by sponsoring events or contributing to the towns identity? Or is it an economic partnership?

We’ll be covering this issue, and including your responses, in the coming weeks.



Midwest Memo: Education Reforms Stir Angst in Illinois and Ohio

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Fearing reform, Ohio teachers retire. Efforts to reform education in Ohio are causing anxiety among the state’s teachers. Possible changes to the teachers’ pension system and the politicization of education are cited as reasons for an 11 percent increase in retirement applications. Our partner station Ideastream reports that even though changes may be months or years away, the impact is being felt now in classrooms.

2. Youngstown mayor gets a promotion. The White House will name Youngstown Mayor Jay Williams to a new post this afternoon, in which he’ll help communities affected by auto industry layoffs. Williams will serve as a liaison between the Labor Department and cities and states, according to The Plain Dealer, and coordinate aid for communities trying to recover from plant closings.

3. Illinois ends state’s last writing exam. In a cost-cutting move that saves Illinois $2.4 million, high school juniors will no longer be tested on writing skills in annual standardized tests administered each spring. Some educators worry that writing skills will now receive less emphasize compared to other areas, like reading and math, that are required under the No Child Left Behind law.

Midwest Memo: Factory orders jump in May; film industry flounders in Michigan

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Factory orders brighten economic hopes. Orders for manufactured goods rose 0.8 percent in May, an indicator that the U.S. manufacturing sector is growing. Driven by orders for aircraft and automobiles, the Commerce Department said Tuesday the gains came across a variety of industries. Economists viewed the data favorably, following a 0.9 percent drop in April orders.

2. Silver screen shrinks in Michigan. Four months after Gov. Rick Snyder curtailed incentives for filmmakers in Michigan, the state’s fledgling film industry is contracting. The Detroit Free Press reports the number of productions approved for tax credits decreased 43 percent from 2010. Businesses that depended on the credits are no longer hiring, and workers are looking elsewhere.

3. Pennsylvania waste becomes Ohio treasure. Records from the Department of Environmental Protection show that Pennsylvania drillers sent 14.8 million gallons of hydrofracking waste to the Buckeye State in the latter half of 2010. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports that Ohio could realize nearly $1 million in revenues from the drillers.

When an Inch Means a Ton. Or 267 Tons, To Be Precise.

Who knew an inch could make such a difference?

In our piece this week on the Great Lakes dredging backlog, we introduced you to Mark Barker, president of The Interlake Steamship Company.  I called him “a man who measures revenue with a ruler.”

To see what that really means, check out this nifty chart from the Great Lakes Maritime Task Force. It shows how much cargo a ship can hold for every inch of water it occupies. For the biggest vessels – the “thousand- footers” – one inch of draft corresponds to 267 tons of cargo. That’s why every bit of clearance matters to shippers trying to get the most bang from every trip.

Chart courtesy of the Great Lakes Maritime Task Force

These are industry-provided numbers. But they’re figures officials with the Army Corps of Engineers quoted as well.

There was one math question that neither industry nor government experts could help me with, though. An estimated 15 to 18 million cubic yards of sediment have built up in federal navigation channels.  So how much is that dredging backlog, in human terms?

Continue reading “When an Inch Means a Ton. Or 267 Tons, To Be Precise.”

Great Lakes Shippers Declare State of Emergency Over Dredging Backlog


Engineer Tom O'Bryan says dredges like this one are basically big vacuums, chewing up sand. Photo by Kate Davidson

The Great Lakes form a sprawling ecosystem of nature and industry.  In a strong economy, ships can transport up to 200 million tons of cargo across these waters each year.  But now the shipping industry has declared a state of emergency.  The cause is a region-wide dredging backlog.  Shippers worry sediment buildup threatens to choke some navigation channels. [display_podcast]
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