Proposed Chicago Budget Means Visitors, Drivers Would Pay More

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel unveiled his first budget today, tackling a $635 million deficit, and the city’s visitors and drivers are among those who would pay more.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel/Micki Maynard

The mayor had vowed not to raise property taxes or the city’s sales tax. But the budget, which the mayor outlined to city council, includes a proposal to raise the city’s hotel tax by 1 percent, or about $1.78 to the average visitor.

Although the increase itself isn’t likely to deter many visitors, Chicago has seen tourism drop, especially among people who come in from the suburbs for the day.

They may not be happy with another one of the mayor’s proposals: a $2 a day, week day congestion tax at garages downtown and in the city’s River North neighborhood.

Emanuel’s budget also takes aim at the city’s drivers, who are required to purchase a registration sticker. The price of a sticker for trucks and sport utilities would rise to $134 a year, from $120, although the price for a small car would remain at $75.

Anyone who is caught driving while intoxicated would see their fine double, while Emanuel also proposes doubling the fine for driving with an illegal weapon.  Continue reading “Proposed Chicago Budget Means Visitors, Drivers Would Pay More”

Midwest Memo: UAW Reaches Chrysler Deal, Wisconsin Democrats Begin Effort to Recall Gov. Scott Walker

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Chrysler and UAW reach deal. Eight days after reaching a tentative agreement with Ford, the United Auto Workers announced today it had reached a tentative agreement with Chrysler. As part of the deal, Chrysler has agreed to add 2,100 jobs by 2015 and invest $4.5 billion in its U.S. plants. “This tentative agreement builds on the momentum of job creation and our efforts to rebuild America,” UAW president Bob King said in a written statement. Chrysler’s 26,000 UAW members will vote on the deal in the coming days and weeks.

2. Democrats commence Walker recall effort. Next month, Democrats in Wisconsin will begin efforts to recall first-year Republican Gov. Scott Walker. Mike Tate, chairman of the state Democratic Party, announced the decision to pursue a recall Monday night during an MSNBC interview. Organizers must gather 540,208 valid signatures, one quarter of the votes cast in last fall’s election, within 60 days of commencing their efforts on Nov. 15, according to The New York Times. If those efforts are successful, Walker would be required to run for his office again.

3. Columbus-area tax incentives brought jobs. Six Franklin County, Ohio, companies received property-tax breaks in exchange for a promise to create 298 full-time jobs over the past seven years. They delivered more than county executives anticipated. Those companies created 665 jobs and added $32.8 million in new payroll, according to a report released Tuesday night by the county’s Tax Incentive Review Council. Leading the way, according to The Columbus Dispatch, was TS Tech North America, a seat supplier for Honda that created 310 more jobs than promised in 2004. TS Tech had received a 10-year, 50-percent tax break on taxes worth $829,000. “This is proof our staff knows what they’re doing,” county commissioner John O’Grady told the newspaper.

Battelle: From an idea to economic reality

Steve Jobs’ death last week has reminded everyone firsthand the notion that everyone has ideas, and very few become actual products. That’s because ideas need a push – and in some cases, a big one, from from science, to become reality. It sounds obvious, but when we’re talking about actual products, that translates into actual jobs, and actual economic activity, it’s something worth exploring. That’s why I was so interested to learn more about Battelle Memorial Institute.

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Battelle Memorial Institute (Niala Boodhoo)

Columbus, Ohio – Innovation can strike in a variety of ways.

Take Emery OleoChemical in Cincinnati. The company started making candles in 1840. Today, it uses the same tallow to make things like glycerin, which goes into soap, detergent and makeup. And it uses technology that mimics what happens in a lightning strike to make the stuff. Mark Durchholz, one of the company’s regional business directors, explained how it works:

“We discharge electricity at very high voltage across oxygen and we make ozone gas,” he said.

A few years ago, the company realized it could use this same technology to branch out into a whole new business. By adapting this technology, the company has created three new product lines – now they’re making materials that make foam, not just from crude oil, but from soy.

The idea for all of this was basically handed to Emery – by Battelle Memorial Institute.

If you’ve never heard of Battelle, not to worry. Neither had Emery OleoChemical – despite the fact that both have been around for more than 100 years, and Battelle is just 100 miles away in Columbus, Ohio.

Continue reading “Battelle: From an idea to economic reality”

‘Occupy’ Protests Gain Traction Throughout Midwest

Four weeks ago, a small group of demonstrators began protesting the grim state of the U.S. economy in New York City with little fanfare.

Now, a growing movement based on the Occupy Wall Street protests has spread throughout the country, including demonstrations in several Midwest cities.

Separate groups protesting the role of big banks in the U.S. foreclosure crisis marched Monday and Tuesday through Chicago, meeting at the Art Institute of Chicago, where the Mortgage Bankers Association was holding its annual conference.

“People are mad as hell at these financial organizations that wrecked the economy, that caused this whole mess,” Catherine Murrell, a spokeswoman for Stand Up Chicago, a coalition of approximately 20 Chicago community organizations, told the Chicago Sun-Times. “They broke the economy. They played with it like it was a toy.”

Continue reading “‘Occupy’ Protests Gain Traction Throughout Midwest”

Midwest Memo: UAW Local 900 Rejects Ford Deal, Chicago Rail Project Begins

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. First UAW rejects Ford deal. UAW Local 900, which represents workers at three Detroit-area auto plants, has narrowly rejected a tentative contract agreement with Ford, the Associated Press reported today. Local 900 was the first to vote on the agreement reached last week, and 51.1 percent of 2,582 voters nixed the deal. More votes are scheduled this week and next week. Bill Johnson, bargaining chairman of the Michigan Assembly Plant, tells the AP that workers are angry the contract does not restore some items lost in previous concessions.

2. Michigan State creates economic development center. The U.S. Economic Development Administration has given Michigan State University a $915,000 grant to create an economic development center that will focus on innovative ways to generate Michigan jobs. MSU will partner with other colleges, local and regional governments, private businesses and other groups to identify innovative ideas and practices. Rex LaMore, the head of the initiative, said many economic development practices have become outdated in what has become a knowledge-based economy.

3. Construction begins on Chicago rail project. Fourteen Amtrak, 78 Metra and 46 freight trains vie for rail space each day near 63rd and State Street in Chicago. On Tuesday, workers broke ground on a $133 million project aimed at breaking that bottleneck. U.S. Senator Dick Durbin tells our partner station WBEZ that the project allows for expanded Amtrak service around the Midwest, and will create more than 1,500 jobs. But one union laborer who watched Tuesday’s groundbreaking was skeptical of that number. “They say they’re going to hire from the community, but I’ve been hearing this for years,” Bob Israel tells the station. “It’s just a dog-and-pony show. Trust me.” The project, called the Englewood Flyover, is due to be completed in 2014.

Agriculture Industry is Growing, but Can’t Find White Collar Workers

The Midwest’s persistently high unemployment rate isn’t expected to fall anytime soon.

But as our Kate Davidson reported, temporary employment agencies across the Midwest can’t seem to find enough people to fill all the open factory jobs they have waiting. These agencies are busier than they’ve been in years, because manufacturing has more open jobs than candidates willing or able to fill them.

Now, another industry finds itself in a similar position: agriculture. It’s a big business all across the Midwest. In Michigan, agriculture is said to be the state’s second largest industry and is still growing.

But, Jim Byrum of the Michigan Agri-Business Association says agriculture producers can’t find enough people to fill jobs now, and he’s even more worried about the future.

“The industry demand is pretty solid, and it’s an increasingly severe problem,” Bryum says. Continue reading “Agriculture Industry is Growing, but Can’t Find White Collar Workers”

Green Bay Packers Stock Sale Will Raise Money for Lambeau Field Upgrades

If owning an NFL franchise has ever been a dream, here’s your chance.

The Green Bay Packers will hold a stock sale by the end of the season to raise money for $130 million in renovations at Lambeau Field. The NFL’s only publicly owned franchise expects each share will cost approximately $200 and include voting rights.

Stock owners can attend annual meetings at Lambeau, among other perks. But the value of the shares would not appreciate and there would be no dividends, according to the Associated Press, which first reported the upcoming sale. The stock sale would be the fifth in the team’s history.  Currently, 112,205 shareholders own a total of 4.75 million shares. The Packers have been a publicly owned nonprofit corporation since 1923.

At least among professional sports franchises, the stock sale represents an unorthodox way to raise funds for a new venue or improvements to existing ones.

Continue reading “Green Bay Packers Stock Sale Will Raise Money for Lambeau Field Upgrades”

With The Exception of Michigan, Midwestern States Shed High-Tech Jobs in 2010

The U.S. high-tech industry lost 115,800 net jobs in 2010 that represented approximately 2 percent of the overall high-tech workforce, according to the annual Cyberstates report compiled by the TechAmerica Foundation.

With one notable exception, states across the Midwest reflected the national trend.

Illinois lost 6,400 tech jobs, approximately 3 percent of its high-tech workforce. It was the fifth-biggest decline in the U.S. and the state slipped to eighth place in the country in terms of overall technology jobs. Minnesota lost 2,900 jobs, Wisconsin lost 1,900 tech jobs, Ohio 1,400 and Indiana shed 300.

Michigan, on the other hand, trended in an upward direction.

Continue reading “With The Exception of Michigan, Midwestern States Shed High-Tech Jobs in 2010”

Midwest Memo: Cleveland Targets Small-Business Growth, Does Tennessee Lead Nation In Automotive Strength?

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Cleveland counts on small growth. In the past, economic development approaches in Cleveland have centered around big-ticket items. A new stadium. A new arena. The Medical Mart and Convention Center. That strategy is changing. Under Cuyahoga County’s new governing structure, executive Ed FitzGerald will target small-and-medium-sized business growth rather than large-scale projects. Our partner station Ideastream examines a proposal for a $100 million economic development fund that FitzGerald calls “a major commitment to business development.”

2. Tennessee GM plans will re-open. The contract agreement between the United Auto Workers and General Motors calls for the hiring of an additional 6,400 employees. Approximately 1,700 will be located at the company’s plant in Spring Hill, Tenn. The plant was initially shuttered in June 2009, but in a move that’s considered rare among industry insiders, the plant will re-open as GM seems to gain market share from Toyota. According to an Atlanta Fed analyst, the re-opening is one such reason “Tennesee could be viewed as a leader of the pack in automotive manufacturing strength,” throughout the nation.

3. Business school applications down. As prospective students grow leery of accumulating massive amounts of student debt, applications to most Chicago-area business schools have fallen. Crain’s Chicago Business reported Monday that applications at Loyola University’s Graduate School of Business have fallen 9.5 percent this year, applications at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management declined 5.6 percent. Applications at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business dropped 3.0 percent. DePaul was the only university in the Chicagoland region to buck the trend, noting a 13 percent jump.

Midwest Memo: Unemployment Rate Unchanged, Michigan Business Owner Desires Better-Educated Workforce

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Unemployment rate unchanged. American’s unemployment rate remained unchanged at 9.1 percent in September even as the economy added 103,000 jobs, the U.S. Labor Department announced Friday. Among those struggling to find work, more than 1 in 4 respondents to a Rutgers University survey said they are opposed to a renewal of extended unemployment benefits. An extension proposal is part of President Obama’s jobs bill, according to The New York Times, which explored the sentiments of the unemployed. Theresa Gorski, a pharmaceutical rep from Detroit, tells the newspaper she once shared skepticism about prolonged benefits, but after 17 months of unemployment, her views have changed.

2. Software chief: Michigan needs more education. For Michigan companies, a strong education base is more important than lower taxes. That’s the opinion of Bill Wagner, co-founder of Ann Arbor, Mich.-based software firm SRT Solutions, who writes the dismantling of education throughout the state has painted a grim picture to prospective global employers in an AnnArbor.com op-ed published today. He believes budget cuts have harmed the state’s education infrastructure, and that savings from reduced business taxes, among other things, amount to less money than his company spent last year on a summer intern.

3. Sara Lee may move headquarters. The headquarters of Sara Lee has only been based in Downers Grove, Ill. for six years. Its’ already looking to move. Our partner station WBEZ reports the company is exploring a move within Illinois, possibly to downtown Chicago or another suburb. “We do believe that a downtown location would provide our new North American Meat Co. with an environment that will be energetic, that will foster breakthrough thinking,” a company spokesperson told WBEZ. Sara Lee currently employs 1,000 workers in Downers Grove.