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.
The numbers from manufacturing are looking good, I reported last week. Bill Strauss from the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago told me that of the 2.3 million manufacturing jobs lost in the recession, at least 300,000 of those jobs have come back. That’s about 13 percent – and where we left off last week. Today, we look at why employers say it’s hard to find those skilled workers. I started in Greenville, Michigan.
In 2008, Dan Spohn was laid off from his West Michigan manufacturing job. It took him six months of effort: going online every day, knocking on doors, passing out resumes, before he found new work. He said at that point, trying to even land an interview was “almost non existent”.
“I think people were in a mode of wait and see,” said Spohn, who has had 22 years of experience, including management, in the quality control side of manufacturing. Spohn ended up leaving the automotive sector where he had worked and moved into medical parts manufacturing. He figured that was a safer bet. But in November, that company downsized, and he was out of work again. But this time, it was a lot easier – within a week of being laid off, he’s had two interviews and two offers.
“Within two weeks of that, I was starting a new job,” said Spohn.
I have two 401(k) accounts and a Roth IRA. The IRA continues on, steadily. The 401(k) accounts are with different brokers, and while my strategy is similar with both, the older one outperforms the one I have through my current job. Is there benefit or more risk in combining these accounts in some way?
Ali and Christine respond,
Chris, we think you should combine those two 401(k) accounts, for simplicity and for better investing. For this question, we turned to Ryan Mack from Optimum Capital Management for a gut-check, since he advises clients every day on issues just like this one.
Wrangling over the potential recall of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is heating up, as a Jan. 17 deadline to turn in recall petition signatures approaches.
On Thursday, Waukesha County Circuit Judge J. Mac Davis ordered the State Government Accountability Board to pro-actively screen signatures on the recall petitions of Walker and five other state officials.
In the past, those gathering the recall signatures were the only ones responsible for ensuring signatures on petitions were not fake or otherwise invalid.
On Saturday, Gary, Indiana officially swears in its new mayor, Karen Freeman-Wilson. She’s actually been on the job since last weekend, though, with a long agenda of big and small goals.
Freeman-Wilson is the first African-American woman mayor in Indiana, where she served as the state’s attorney general. She’s a Gary-raised, Harvard-educated lawyer who has worked in Washington, but feels an obligation to her hometown.
“I know about the good things and the good places. It’s irresponsible to know about the good, to know about the potential, and not do anything about it,” Freeman-Wilson says.
I talked to Freeman-Wilson for this profile in The Atlantic Cities. She also spoke with our partner station WBEZ late last year about the challenges that she’ll face, namely a high crime rate, shrinking population, and citizens who feel they face obstacles in getting what they need.
Last month, Indiana’s Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels finally put his weight behind years-long effort to pass a Right to Work law in Indiana. He is making it a priority in the new legislative session in Indianapolis, and is facing immediate opposition from Indiana Democrats.
Democrats stalled business on Wednesday, the first day of the 2012 session, when they did not report to the House floor, according to the Associated Press. They continued to block action Thursday on a bill that would make Indiana the first state in a decade to enact a Right-to-Work law.
The laws bar private sector unions from automatically collecting dues from employees that do not join organized labor groups. None of the Great Lakes states, long union strongholds, have Right-to-Work laws. Some economic development proponents say Midwestern states need them to compete with the Right-to-Work friendly South.
The Indiana Democrats aren’t getting off easy: last year, Indiana lawmakers enacted a $1,000 a day fine for not showing up. The fines could take effect today.
Meanwhile, protestors are beginning to gather at the state capitol in Indianapolis, much as they did in Wisconsin and Ohio last year when governors sought to strip state employees of collective bargaining rights.
Michael Puente at our partner WBEZ reported this week on what’s at stake in Indiana.
Our mission at Changing Gears is to report the economic transformation of the industrial Midwest, through the stories of people driving and experiencing this change.
Recently, our stations aired an hour-long encore presentation of our favorite series from the fall, as well as other stories from throughout 2011.
Have you ever wondered if small business really plays an important role in job creation? Or why our region seems to focus so much on one magic thing that will save the entire economy? And, have you wondered what will become of all the thousands of the empty houses and factories that litter our region?
We also went to a few factory floors to see what manufacturing is like these days – including one place where the machines continue to work at night, unattended, long after the human workers punch out.
We hope that these stories – about the Magic Bullets that are supposed to save our economy, innovative ways people are filling Empty Places, and what the modern factory looks like, help fulfill our mission.
Our partners at WBEZ are featuring our special on their site. You can check it out here.
Today’s question comes from Regina Baldwin of Bowling Green, Ohio.
I am returning to school, while continuing to work full-time, to try to expand on my experience and enhance my ability to get a better job with a degree. I’m concerned that I am on the correct path as I am over 40. I am keeping my student loan debt at a minimum by attending a community college. I am worried that I will not get a better paying job by the time I finish. (If it makes a difference, I am pursing a BS in Business Administration-Computer Information Sciences with a focus on Accounting, and I currently work in healthcare.)