Changing Gears is a public media project about the future of the industrial Midwest. Each week, reporters Dan Bobkoff in Cleveland, Niala Boodhoo in Chicago and Kate Davidson in Ann Arbor cover issues of interest to the Great Lakes region. Changing Gears also sponsors public events and conversations.
After weeks of debate and sometimes raucous dissent, leaders in Detroit and Lansing finally signed off on a financial stability agreement for the city yesterday.
You can read the full agreement here. But as important as the agreement is, it doesn’t actually solve any of Detroit’s pressing financial problems. It merely lays out the structure and the powers of the new group that will.
So today is when the real work begins.
The Detroit Free Press reports today that the first step in the process is to hire 11 people. Mayor Dave Bing is in charge of finding the first two:
Mayor Dave Bing now has six days to create the positions of the city’s chief financial officer and program management director and 30 days after that to hire the people for the positions. Those holding the jobs must have experience in municipal finance and balancing the books of a government operation of at least $250 million. The candidate list and ultimate hires will have to be approved by Snyder and Bing.
The mayor, governor, state treasurer and city council will also each have a say about who goes on the nine-member financial advisory board that will oversee the city’s finances for the next few years.
The folks at Funny or Die know it. Baseball can bring out the competitiveness in Midwesterners. We may have our disagreements – Cubs or Sox, Tigers or Tribe, Twins or Brewers – but no matter who you cheer for in the Midwest, chances are your local economy picks up just a little this time of year.
Detroit’s deal Last night, the Detroit City Council voted to approve a consent agreement with the state to avoid takeover by an emergency manager. That means, as long as the governor signs the deal as expected and the courts don’t strike the deal down, Detroit finally has the first step in a plan to avoid bankruptcy. Partner station Michigan Radio reports on what it all means.
Chicago’s debt problem The Chicago Sun-Times went looking for reasons why Chicago would turn to private partnerships to fund its new multi-billion dollar plan to rebuild infrastructure. One major reason: the city’s staggering debt. Chicago can’t take out any more bonds to pay for improvements because the city spends almost 23 percent of its annual budget paying off the $7.3 billion in debt it already has.
No more coal ash The Ludington Daily News reports the city’s historic car ferry has received a grant to convert its fuel source. Without the grant, the coal powered ferry would have been forced to shut down by the EPA. The historic vessel dumps about 500 tons of coal ash into Lake Michigan every year.
The RoboCop statue is definitely happening in Detroit.
That’s the update today from the Detroit News. For those who haven’t been following along, last year, a Twitter user in Massachusetts jokingly tweeted to Detroit Mayor Dave Bing that the city should erect a statue in honor of RoboCop, the cyborg public servant featured in the 1987 film based in Detroit. The mayor dryly responded that there were no plans for a statue, and suddenly everyone became interested.
Along the way, there has been controversy. Some don’t like how the RoboCop films portrayed Detroit – as a post-apocalyptic wasteland, run by an evil corporation. Some didn’t like the idea that people would spend money on a statue to honor a movie character, when so many other worthy projects go unfunded in the city.
Groupon’s bad week It’s been a rough couple of days for Chicago-based Groupon. The coupon website was forced to revise its previous financial statements, and admit it has “material weakness” in its accounting practices. The SEC is reportedly looking into the problems. And now, the Chicago Tribune says a shareholder has filed a class action lawsuit.
Measuring the success of retraining programs used to be straightforward. You just looked at how many people got better paying jobs. Now the emphasis is shifting from how job seekers benefit to how taxpayers benefit too. That’s because some federal funds for workforce development are shrinking, and local agencies have to do more to make their case.
In the Midwest, we hear a lot about retraining. A lot of the money for retraining and other job services comes from the federal government, through the states, to local programs like this one in Jackson, Michigan.
By the time you read this, Detroit leaders may have already reached a deal to avoid a state takeover. Or not. City council was scheduled to meet as of this posting to decide whether to sign a consent agreement with Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s administration.
The agreement could still be blocked in the courts, causing further confusion and panic in a city that’s already had plenty of both. According to state statute, a deal must be signed by midnight Thursday, or the governor will be forced to appoint an emergency manager.
It is against this political and economic backdrop that the Detroit-based electronic indie-pop band Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. has decided to release its latest video for the song “We Almost Lost Detroit.”
“We Almost Lost Detroit” began for us as an homage to one of the great artists of our time, Gil Scott Heron. We were so affected by its continued relevance as a piece of work some 30+ years later that just simply attempting to reinterpret it as a creative exercise seemed like a good enough idea on its own. While the song was originally penned as a reaction to a partial meltdown of a nuclear reactor halfway between Detroit,MI and Toledo,OH, so much of the imagery contained in Gil’s words seemed to ring true with the news of today.
Buyers at General Motors, Chrysler, Nissan and Hyundai paid record amounts for new vehicles during May, according to True Car.com, which tracks statistics about buying habits.
True Car bases its calculations on transaction prices: the final amount people pay, after incentives, bargaining and trade-ins. The numbers include the whole range of vehicles that the companies sell, such as cars, sport utilities, pickups, and minivans.
Transaction prices are way up since the beginning of 2010. Take a look at this chart by Meg Cramer of Changing Gears, which shows the industry average and what consumers at major carmakers are paying.
Jennifer Knightstep was a researcher in the media archives at General Motors until she was laid off in 2008. Her first reaction was fear.
“I panicked for a few minutes, and then I tried to think of what I wanted to do next,” she says. “There’s not a big demand for archivists in Metro Detroit or anywhere else for that matter.”
So instead of trying to get a similar job, Knightstep decided to go in a new direction.
“I thought maybe I should start trying to do what I really wanted to do, which was be a writer.”
When she filed for unemployment, she learned about No Worker Left Behind, a program in Michigan that offered up to $10,000 in tuition for degrees in emerging industries. NWLB was scaled back in 2010 following federal funding cuts.
When most people think about growing fields, freelance writing is not the first job that comes to mind, but Knightstep made it work.