Empty Buildings: Eyesore or Untapped Potential?

An abandoned building in Elk Grove Villiage, Illinois.

An abandoned building can be a potent symbol of a depressed area or a bad economy. Ruin porn has been decried and criticized as unhelpful voyeurism, but the pictures of crumbling buildings in places like Gary, Indiana and Detroit, MI continue to multiply on photo sharing sites across the web.

Perhaps it is too hard for aspiring photographers to resist. The Midwest is littered with abandoned property. Michigan and Illinois have home foreclosure rates among the highest in the country, with Ohio following not far behind. For commercial real estate, everything from strip malls to old factories to office buildings, the picture is not much better.

Despite the tough market, redevelopment is happening. Cities, private developers, even individuals with vision are trying to take advantage of a buyer’s market.  But, some of these buildings will never be revived, being left empty or demolished. We want to know about, and chronicle, this transformation of the landscape.

Contribute to our coverage.  What do you think makes a building worth saving? Tell us if there is anabandoned building in your neighborhood that drives you crazy. If you are redeveloping an old building, we are interested in how it’s going. And we want to see the transformation. Send us your pictures of abandoned buildings in your area, and rehabilitated ones.

Midwest Memo: Michigan Home Prices Climb, Milwaukee Streetcar’s Ongoing Fight, New Neighbors For Chicago Police

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Mixed Midwest real estate news. Home sale prices in Michigan increased significantly over the past three months, according to a new report from Clear Capitol. “Michigan overall is actually up even more so than the Midwest Region,” said Alex Villacorta, a Clear Capitol spokesperson. Villacorta tells Michigan Radio that prices are up 8.5 percent on a quarter-over-quarter basis, but cautions prices could decline by more than 3 percent in Michigan this winter. Elsewhere in the region, distressed sales in northeast Ohio pushed the decline in area home prices to almost double the national rate, according to Crain’s Cleveland. Prices in the Cleveland area fell 7.9 percent in August compared to a year earlier.

2. Milwaukee streetcar’s street fight continues. Two Milwaukee alderman asked Congress to kill a streetcar line in the city by giving its $54.9 million in federal funds to the cash-strapped city bus system. The alderman and opponents of the streetcar line, said Wednesday that the city could not afford to operate the streetcar. Their efforts face long odds, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. House rules may ban such a financial shift, and the city’s council has already voted to start final engineering on the $64.6 million streetcar project.

3. Closer confines in Chicago. The Chicago Sun-Times reports today the Chicago Police Department will have some company in its headquarters. The Chicago Fire Department is moving in late next month as part of cost cutting ordered by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a source tells the newspaper. Moving boxes have already arrived, and the fire department will abandon its lease on two floors at 10 W. 35th Street. “Everyone hopes everyone will get along,” the source tells The Sun-Times.

Emanuel: Chicago Tax Repeal Key To Ford Jobs

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has introduced a measure to repeal the city’s head tax on company employees. And he says the proposed repeal is why Ford is agreeing to create 1,100 more jobs in the Windy City.

 Photo by Slobodan Stojkovic via Flickrobs in his city.

Chicago charges $4 per person per month to companies with 50 or more employees in the city. The mayor, who proposed the repeal to city council this week, calls it a “job killer,” according to our partner station WBEZ.

He said the proposed repeal, which would reduce city revenue by $23 million, is already making the city more attractive to companies like Ford.

As part of a new contract with the United Auto Workers, the company is pledging to add 12,000 jobs nationwide. Government officials said earlier this week that the company would add 1,100 jobs at the Chicago Assembly Plant, and possibly 900 more at a stamping plant.

Workers are voting on the contract now. Continue reading “Emanuel: Chicago Tax Repeal Key To Ford Jobs”

Experts Expect Thorny Negotiations Between Chrysler and UAW

When contract negotiations stumbled last month between the United Auto Workers and Chrysler, the automaker’s CEO Sergio Marchionne criticized his union counterpart in a public letter. When deadlines passed, he declared new ones rather than continue open-ended extensions. Now he wants to remove a cap on the number of entry-level workers.

UAW president Bob King has already reached agreements with General Motors and Ford this fall. Negotiations with Marchionne and Chrysler will likely be the most arduous yet.

Continue reading “Experts Expect Thorny Negotiations Between Chrysler and UAW”

Three Michigan Universities Tout Economic Results from Research Collaboration, but Leaders Wary of Closer Alliance

An alliance between Michigan’s three largest research universities has produced an economic impact of more than $15.2 billion across the state over the past four years, according to a report issued Tuesday by the Anderson Economic Group.

Members of the University Research Corridor have invested more than $1.8 billion in research, which represents growth of approximately 30 percent, according to Anderson Economic Group. In the same time span, the URC, comprised of the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Wayne State University has cultivated the launch of 131 start-up companies.

The results are “an indicator of how truly world class these research universities are and what a tremendous asset they are to the state of Michigan,” said Jeff Mason, the URC director, in a written release. But the success of the collaboration does not necessarily mean the three universities want to grow closer together.

Continue reading “Three Michigan Universities Tout Economic Results from Research Collaboration, but Leaders Wary of Closer Alliance”

Midwest Memo: Midwest Counties Gain Ground, Illinois Seeks Amazon Taxes, Automakers Report Strong Sales

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Midwest counties lead nation. Several counties in the Midwest are among the country’s biggest beneficiaries of increased employment and wages, according to new data released from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Elkhart County in northern Indiana had the largest percentage increase in employment from March 2010 to March 2011 among the nation’s largest 322 counties, growing its workforce by 6.2 percent. Indiana’s overall employment increased 1.9 percent in the same time span. The next-largest increase belonged to Ottawa County in western Michigan, which grew at 4.7 percent. Peoria County, Illinois showed the largest year-over-year increase in average weekly wages, with a gain of 18.9 percent.

2. Illinois seeks Amazon taxes. Amazon.com has agreed to pay sales taxes in California. Officials are hoping that deal means the online retailer will agree to do the same in Illinois, according to a report in Crain’s Chicago Business today. The Illinois Retail Merchants Association has sent Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos a letter, saying “the tide is turning” and encourages the company to begin collecting Illinois sales tax immediately. Under the California agreement, Amazon agreed to go to Washington D.C. and lobby for national legislation that regulates how internet retailers should be taxed.

3. Big Three post sales gains. Strong sales of trucks and sport utility vehicles buoyed Chrysler in September, when sales rose 27 percent. The automaker led an impressive month for Detroit’s Big Three. Despite a struggling economy, General Motors posted sales gains of 20 percent and Ford’s sales rose 9 percent. “There is no double dip downturn going on around here,” Dodge brand president and chief executive Reid Bigland told The Plain Dealer in Cleveland. At General Motors, the Chevrolet Cruze continued to be the company’s best-selling car, although the sales of the Lordstown, Ohio-built Cruze dipped below 20,000 units for the first time in five months.

Help Wanted: Why Manufacturing Temps Are In Demand

Help Wanted: Temporary manufacturing workers are in demand.

Here are four very bad words you hear a lot these days:

There.  Are.  No.  Jobs.

But it turns out, that’s not entirely true.  Yes, the manufacturing sector lost six million jobs last decade.  But now, staffing agencies that place temporary workers in manufacturing say business is booming.[display_podcast] Continue reading “Help Wanted: Why Manufacturing Temps Are In Demand”

Midwest Memo: Ford Reaches Agreement With UAW, Wisconsin Aims to be Energy Industry Leader, Coal at Crossroads

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. UAW and Ford reach tentative deal. The United Auto Workers union has reached a tentative agreement with Ford Motor Co., announced Tuesday, that calls for $6,000 in signing bonuses and the creation of 5,750 new jobs at plants in the United States. Workers could vote on the agreement by the end of the week. “The American auto industry is on its way back,” UAW President Bob King said in a statement, adding the jobs will be added by the end of 2012. Crucial to the deal was consensus on entry-level wages of approximately $17 per hour. The tentative agreement means that Chrysler is the only automaker of the Big Three without a deal.

2. Coal at a crossroads. Coal produces nearly half the electricity used in the United States, but benefits associated with coal are outweighed by pollution and health problems that cause more economic harm than good, according to a recent study from the American Economic Review. Our partner station Ideastream begins a multi-part series today examining the economic impact of coal and its future in the Midwest. First up in the series: the natural gas boom has given coal added competition. Coal’s share of the nation’s electricity production was at its lowest level in more than 30 years through the first quarter of 2011.

3. Wisconsin announces microgrid project. On Monday, Wisconsin officials announced a new project that aims to make the state a national center for energy microgrids, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. By using energy storage devices and battery systems, microgrid “energy islands” maximize the use of energy from renewable sources, according to the newspaper, and could help if main power grids are disrupted. Several Milwaukee-area companies and the state’s four largest engineering schools are among the participants in the project.

Here’s Why The Midwest Has Tilted Against President Barack Obama

President Obama speaks at an assembly plant in Toledo in June, one of seven trips to Ohio during his presidency.

The Midwest carried President Barack Obama to the White House in 2008. But when it comes to his re-election prospects in 2012, there are signs the president may have a more arduous task across the region.

Thirteen months away from the next presidential election, the president’s approval ratings have sunk. In Michigan, 65 percent of likely voters disapprove of the job he’s done. In Wisconsin, 51 percent disapprove. In Ohio, his 42 percent approval rating is the lowest of his tenure thus far.

In Pennsylvania, 54 percent of voters disapprove of his job. And in Indiana, which went for a Democrat in 2008 for the first time since 1964, Obama’s disapproval rating has ratcheted up to 60 percent. In 2010, Republican governors were elected in Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio.

Far from the hope of sweeping the region again, even safe Democratic strongholds now appear in play. His approval rating in Minnesota hovers just above 50 percent. Perhaps most ominously, voters in Obama’s home state of Illinois gave his former Senate seat to Republican Mark Kirk last year.

Continue reading “Here’s Why The Midwest Has Tilted Against President Barack Obama”

Midwest Memo: UAW Nears Deal With Ford, Chicago Mayor Hosts Aviation Summit, Midwest Native Wins Nobel Prize

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. UAW nears Ford deal. Local leaders in the United Auto Workers union have been called to Detroit for a Tuesday meeting, a “strong sign” that a contract has been reached with Ford Motor Co., according to the Associated Press. A UAW spokesperson said Monday that no deal has been finalized, although the union is hoping it will have one to present at tomorrow’s meeting. The four-year deal is expected to be more lucrative than the one UAW workers reached with General Motors last week, and include profit sharing instead of annual wage increases.

2. Emanuel hosts airline leaders. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel will hold a summit today with airline executives. He will discuss what kinds of improvements they’d like to see in Chicago’s workforce and infrastructure to maintain the city’s status as a transportation leader. United Air Lines and Boeing are based in Chicago, and American Airlines uses O’Hare as one of its major hubs. “I do not want to just sit on that lead. I want to build it,” Emanuel said last week. The CEOs of United, American, Boeing and electronic-booking agent Orbitz, as well as government officals, are expected to be in attendance.

3. Chicago native wins Nobel Prize. Bruce A. Beutler, a genetics professor born and educated in Chicago, is one of three winners of the Nobel Prize for Medicine. The prizes were announced Monday. Buetler was born in Chicago and earned his medical degree from the University of Chicago in 1981. He currently works at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif, where officials credit his groundbreaking work in immunology for the prize. “I awoke in the night, looked at my cell phone and saw that I had a message that said, ‘Nobel Prize,’” Beutler told the San Diego Union-Tribune.