Governors Provide Weak Regional Leadership Across Midwest, Says Environmental Advocate

The Midwest lacks leadership. That’s a blunt assessment delivered from Gary Wilson at the Great Lakes Echo, a website that covers news related to the Great Lakes environment.

When it comes to issues surrounding the region, he says governors are more interested in stealing companies from each other in a zero-sum jobs battle than confronting – and collaborating on – the region’s economic and environmental challenges.

“They’ve been the antithesis of collaboration and now are singularly focused on creating jobs, many times by trying to pirate them away from neighboring states,” Wilson writes. “That’s when they’re not weakening environmental regulations to create a more business friendly climate.”

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Midwest Memo: Michigan Mining Company Lays Off 600, Chinese Students Wisconsin Bound, Iconic Cleveland Building Sold

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Mining company lays off 600 workers. A mining company in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula will temporarily shut down part of its operations and lay off approximately 600 employees. Cliffs Natural Resources, which operates the Empire Mine in Marquette County, said production is expected to drop from 4.6 million tons in 2011 to 2.7 million tons in 2012, according to the Marquette Mining Journal. The drop comes because steel producer ArcelorMittal will take a blast furnace down for maintenance in the second quarter. A company spokesperson said the layoffs will last “several months” until the furnace goes online again.

2. Historic Cleveland property has new owner. One of Cleveland’s historic downtown landmarks was purchased today by a Canadian hotel and resort company during a foreclosure auction. Skyline International Development Inc. was the sole bidder for the Arcade, and purchased it for $7.7 million – the minimum bid, according to The Plain Dealer. The current site was renovated a decade ago for $60 million, but went into foreclosure in April 2009 when its Chicago-based owner defaulted on a $33.3 million mortgage. An attorney for the new owners said this is Skyline’s first U.S. real estate holding, but did not comment on the firm’s plans for the Arcade. With the property selling for the minimum, its creditors, including Bank of America, the city of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County, will not recoup any of their investments.

3. Chinese students Milwaukee bound. Hundreds of Chinese students could attend the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in coming years thanks to a recruiting agreement the school’s chancellor signed today in Beijing. An agreement with a Chinese education network will boost the university’s international profile and help lure Chinese companies to Milwaukee, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. It would also boost the school’s out-of-state tuition coffers. China is the city’s third-largest trading partner, according to the newspaper. The agreement runs for five years. “You could think of myriad ways these students could connect to help Milwaukee employers in China,” said Tim Sheehy, president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce.

Midwest Money: Buyout, Retire, Keep Working? Ask Personal Finance Experts Velshi and Romans

The recession has played havoc with a lot of peoples’ job plans here in the Midwest. Buyouts are tempting, but what lies on the other side? Retirement at age 65 may have been a goal — now, is it too risky to leave? And, how long does it make sense to keep working?

Changing Gears wants to help you get some advice. We’ve asked authors Ali Velshi and Christine Romans to take your questions on retirement, and any other personal finance topic that’s on your mind.

Write in this week. Ali and Christine will answer your Midwest Money questions later this month. And if they pick your question, you’ll get a copy of their new book, How to Speak Money.



In Cleveland, Downtown Shifts Uptown

In 1969, the Cuyahoga River was so overrun with oil and industrial pollutants that a spark from a passing rail car ignited a blaze across the water’s surface. Firefighters extinguished the flames in less than two hours, but the image cemented in dubious city lore. Critics called Cleveland the “Mistake On The Lake.”

Things have only gotten worse from there.

For decades, city leaders have watched the city’s industrial base vanish, the population plummet and poverty grow. In recent years, they have sought to reinvent Cleveland according to 21st century urban principles, envisioning a city built on health care, higher education, entertainment and mass transportation.

Now they have a tangible foundation. The New York Times profiles a massive reclamation project throughout the city that has ignited job growth and stoked talk of a small-scale comeback: In Cleveland, the downtown has shifted uptown.

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A Handy Changing Gears Resource Guide For Educators And Our Readers

Welcome to Changing Gears. We’re a public media project looking at the economic transformation of the industrial Midwest, telling the stories of the people that are living through that change. Changing Gears is shared by three stations: WBEZ Chicago, Michigan Radio in Ann Arbor, and ideastream in Cleveland. You’ll also hear our reports on NPR shows like Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on Marketplace. And, our team members are often guests on programs such as PBS NewsHour, Talk of the Nation and The Diane Rehm Show.

Changing Gears has reporters in Chicago, Ann Arbor and Cleveland, as well as a Web editor, a public interest journalist, and our senior editor. We’ve reported from Minnesota to New York, from big cities and small towns, and we hope we’re capturing a region that’s going through a transition.

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Midwest Memo: Detroit Mayor Dave Bing Defiant, Milwaukee Courts Chinese Investment, U.K. Investigates Groupon

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Bing defiant over looming Detroit takeover. A state takeover of Detroit and its ruinous financial situation has seemed imminent for weeks, if not months. On Thursday, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder told Mayor Dave Bing he would initiate a 30-day review of the city’s finances, a precursor to the appointment of an emergency manager. Bing then gathered the city council and other leaders and declared his opposition. “We are Detroit,” he told the Detroit Free Press. “Detroit needs to be run by Detroiters.” Free Press columnist Rochelle Riley wonders whether the unified front is too little, too late. She asks, “Why does it always take a crisis?” before city leaders finally work together.

2. Milwaukee mayor China bound. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett leaves Sunday for his second trade mission to China. He’ll spend a week visiting Beijing and the growing port of Ningbo, which already has an informal sister-city relationship with Milwaukee, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Barrett tells the newspaper he’ll pitch the city’s strengths in manufacturing and industries related to water, food and beverages in hopes of luring more jobs and investment. He’ll also talk to Ningbo police commanders about purchasing Harley-Davidson motorcycles for officers. The Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce’s China Council will pay for the trip. In a related item, Chinese officials tell the Associated Press they want to convert some of the country’s U.S. government debt into investment in renovating American roads and subways.

3. U.K. investigates Groupon practices. Chicago-based Groupon Inc. is being investigated by Britain’s Office of Fair Trading over concerns about unfair promotions and exaggerated savings, Bloomberg reports today. The investigation commenced in July and expanded after receiving a complaint. “Given Groupon’s track record, we have serious concerns about its ability to adhere to the advertising code,” the U.K.’s Advertising Standards Authority said in a statement. In a written response, Groupon said it is “constantly evolving business process” and cooperating with the probe.

In Ann Arbor, Crosswalk Law Reaches A Crossroads

Local laws serve as the blueprints for their communities.

Zoning codes and other local ordinances control nearly every aspect of how we function in our environments – how we shop, live and move. Those local laws are being increasingly rethought as cities around the industrial Midwest look to reinvent themselves.

Earlier this year, Changing Gears brought you a story from Streetsboro, Ohio, where town officials scrutinized the way zoning laws affected economic development and created a car-centric culture that favored big-box stores.

Now comes another story, perhaps of once city’s overreach in an earnest effort to become more friendly for pedestrians. Council members in Ann Arbor, Michigan passed an ordinance last year that mandated motorists stop if they think pedestrians are approaching the street, even if they haven’t yet entered the road.

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Starting Over? Need Advice Getting Through The Recession? Get Midwest Money Help From Ali Velshi and Christine Romans

The recession has played havoc with personal finances all over the Midwest, whether you’re starting from scratch, or trying to stretch your budget to get through these hard times. It can be hard to get good advice on what to do.

Rest easy. We’re offering some Midwest Money help. Two of the country’s leading experts on personal finance issues — Ali Velshi and Christine Romans— are teaming up with Changing Gears to provide some answers.

They are the authors of the new book, How to Speak Money: The Language and the Knowledge That You Need Now.

Here’s your chance for Midwest Money advice. Send us anything that’s on your mind, from retirement, to job hunting, to your mortgage and more.

We’ll pose your questions to Ali and Christine, and publish their answers every day during the week of Dec. 19. And, if they pick a question that you sent in, you’ll get an autographed copy of their new book

Post your questions here.

Empty Places, Many Solutions: Our Series About Transformations and Challenges

All across the Midwest, cities and suburbs are tackling the problem of Empty Places. Throughout November, Changing Gears took a look at some of the challenges and solutions involved in transforming property from the past.

In Flint, Mich., Kate Davidson found there may be no better example of how the industrial Midwest is changing than the site of the old Fisher Body Plant No. 1.  It’s one of the factories that was occupied by sit-down strikers in the 1930s.  The plant made tanks during World War II.  It was later closed, gutted and reborn as a GM design center.  But GM abandoned the site after bankruptcy and the new occupants don’t make cars.  They sell very expensive prescription drugs.

In suburban Chicago, Tony Arnold reported that  as companies adjust to economic conditions, many in the region have been re-evaluating the basics – including where they’re located. Cities and states bend over backwards to create jobs, and they’re left with some big challenges when a company decides it no longer wants its headquarters there. Continue reading “Empty Places, Many Solutions: Our Series About Transformations and Challenges”

Midwest Memo: Sears Spurned In Illinois And Courted By Ohio, Chrysler Sales Skyrocket, Dayton Seeks Immigrant Influx

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Dayton seeks immigrant influx. Among industrial Midwest cities seeking to stop a population hemorrhage, Dayton, Ohio hardly stands alone in its attempts to attract highly educated immigrants. What’s unusual in Dayton is that the city wants the rest of the immigrants too.  City Manager Tim Riordan tells our partner station WBEZ that welcome all immigrants regardless of skill or wealth will create “a vibrancy” in the city. Dayton’s population sank 14.8 percent over the past decade to 141,527 in the 2010 U.S. Census, a steep decline from its all-time high of 262,000 in the 1960s. Currently, foreign-born residents account for 3 percent of the city’s residents. But Riordan says newcomers are already building foundations in the western Ohio city.

2. Chrysler sales skyrocket. Driven by rising consumer confidence, Chrysler reported today that sales rose 45 percent in November year over year. Brand sales rose 92 percent thanks to increased demand for the 200 and 300 sedans, and Jeep sales increased 50 percent from November 2010. General Motors and Ford are both expected to release monthly sales numbers later today. “Consumer confidence is really what’s going to underpin us as we go into 2012, so we’re really pleased to see that showing up,” GM’s Don Johnson tells our partner Michigan Radio. Industry sales appear to be on pace for 13 million units in 2011.

3. Ohio courts Sears. Two days after Illinois lawmakers jilted Sears Holdings Corp. in its attempt to win tax incentives worth $100 million from the state, the Chicago-based company has a new suitor. Ohio has offered Sears incentives worth four times that amount to relocate its headquarters and 6,200 jobs to the Buckeye State. Texas is another state aggressively courting the company, according to the office of Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn. His counterpart, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, declined to confirm or deny an offer to Sears, joking with The Columbus Dispatch that, “we are somewhere between $0 and $400 million.”