Where Did Everybody Go? – A Changing Gears Special

Former Detroiter Alex Ozark on the Hyundai-Kia proving grounds in California / Credit: Charla Bear

Many of us have friends or family members that have moved away from the Midwest.

In the Changing Gears special “Where Did Everybody Go?” we’re talking with some of those people who have moved out of the region – asking them why they left, what they found, and if they’ll ever come back.

We also take a look at what their departure means for the region.

You can listen to some of those stories here.

Part I: What’s So Great About Austin? Plenty, According To Former Midwesterners

Part II: The Appeal Of Portland

Part III: Detroit Coney Dogs On The Sunset Strip

Part IV: A Generation Moves Off The Farm

You can listen to the hour long Changing Gears special “Where Did Everybody Go” Sunday, 9 pm ET, on Michigan Radio; Monday, 10 am CT, on WBEZ Chicago; or Tuesday, 8 pm, on ideastream Cleveland.

Midwest Migration: Detroit Coney Dogs On The Sunset Strip

Alex Ozark on the Hyundai-Kia proving grounds / Credit: Charla Bear

No city has been more affected by Midwestern out-migration than Detroit.

Based on the latest census numbers, the city is losing about 2 people every hour.

Changing Gears has been talking with some of those people who are leaving our region.

Alex Ozark grew up in Detroit. He always wanted to work in the auto industry, but he’s not doing it with the Big Three. He’s doing it in California.

Charla Bear brings us this report:

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Alex Ozark drives like a maniac in his company’s cars, treating a black SUV like a cross between a tank and a sports car.

“So we’ll do, we’ll do a hot lap.”

He deliberately hits potholes, runs over lane dividers, and takes corners really fast. So fast, I have a death grip on the grab handle.
Continue reading “Midwest Migration: Detroit Coney Dogs On The Sunset Strip”

Is Detroit’s Comeback Over? Carmakers Lose Market Share Gains

Last year, everyone in the auto industry was chuffed about Detroit’s comeback.

American Landscape, by Sheeler

The carmakers were enjoying a healthy rebound from the bankruptcies at General Motors and Chrysler. And for a while, at least, Chrysler outsold Toyota to make the Detroit Three the Big Three again.

But this year, Detroit’s market share has been slipping, and that has ramifications all across the Midwest.

In fact, the auto companies have fallen back to the market share level they held in 2009, as GM and Chrysler were struggling. In a piece for Forbes.com, I look at what happened to the Detroit companies during the first quarter.

Basically, there are three issues:  Continue reading “Is Detroit’s Comeback Over? Carmakers Lose Market Share Gains”

Midwest Manufacturing Reaches Milestones For Autos And Steel

The Federal Reserve Board of Chicago is out with its Midwest manufacturing index for February, and the numbers are something of a milestone.

The comeback in steel is good for places like Gary, Indiana/photo by Micki Maynard

The Chicago Fed uses 2007 as a baseline, meaning 100 on its index, which the Fed calls “a composite of 15 manufacturing industries that uses hours worked data to measure monthly changes in regional activity.” (We like to think of 100 as basically full staff.)

In February, the manufacturing index, which covers Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan, stood at 91.7. The number for automobile manufacturing was even better — 92.2 — while steel manufacturing stands a tad behind, at 90.5 percent.

But that’s an important number, as we’ll explain.

Since the index goes up about a half a percentage point to a point per month, you might extrapolate that the region will be back to 100 by the end of the year. Of course, there’s no way to really nail that, given high gas prices and other economic factors.

But the real story is in the historic numbers. Continue reading “Midwest Manufacturing Reaches Milestones For Autos And Steel”

Your Story: A Retraining Success, But Not In The Industry You’d Expect

Jennifer Knightstep

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.

Continue reading “Your Story: A Retraining Success, But Not In The Industry You’d Expect”

Two Countries, Two Red and White Flags, One Trade Deal?

“I don’t even know what street Canada is on,” Al Capone once said. But Canada’s prime minister, Stephen Harper, is determined to make sure he puts Canada on the map with one key global power: Japan.

Map courtesy of About.com

If he accomplishes his goal, it could have ramifications for the automobile industry, agriculture and the Midwest in general.

Harper opened negotiations this weekend with Japan on a free trade agreement. Negotiators were careful to caution against any quick resolution, because it can take years to negotiate such deals, and Japan isn’t known for speedy decision making.

But, a Canada-Japan trade agreement would join one between Japan and Mexico — and leave the United States as the only North American country without one.  Continue reading “Two Countries, Two Red and White Flags, One Trade Deal?”

Student Debt: When Fixing Cars Breaks The Bank

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Victor Gregory teaches high schoolers about cars. He worries when they take on debt after graduation.

Americans owe close to a trillion dollars in student loan debt.  Changing Gears has been reporting on that debt, a lot of which comes from attending private, for-profit schools.  They’re the fastest growing part of higher education, popular for non-degree technical training.  Call them career colleges, technical schools or trade schools … just don’t call them cheap.

Fact: For-profit schools cost more than community colleges.  Fact: For-profit students borrow more, then default more than students from public colleges.  Fact:  All this explains why I ended up at the strip club in Detroit.

So I’m at Cobra’s the Grind, eyes-avoiding-buttocks, walking up dimly lit stairs to meet the manager. Steve is a big guy; he started here as a bouncer. He lays his gun down next to us as we talk.  He had different life plans after graduating high school in 2006. Continue reading “Student Debt: When Fixing Cars Breaks The Bank”

What Do We Mean When We Talk About Detroit?


Last night during the Super Bowl, Chrysler ran a follow-up to its much buzzed-about commercial from last year’s big game. The new commercial, dubbed “It’s Halftime in America” ran, appropriately enough, during halftime.

The ad makes it clear that Chrysler is sticking with its strategy to promote the Motor City as a way to promote its vehicles.

After declaring that “it’s halftime in America, the ad’s narrator, Clint Eastwood, says:

People are out of work and they’re hurting. And they’re all wondering what they’re going to do to make a comeback. And we’re all scared because this isn’t a game. The people of Detroit know a little something about this. They almost lost everything. But we all pulled together. Now, Motor City is fighting again.

The ad got us thinking: When people say Detroit, oftentimes what they mean is “the auto industry” or “metro-Detroit.” So, what exactly are we talking about when we talk about Detroit?

Continue reading “What Do We Mean When We Talk About Detroit?”

Buy Here-Pay Here: Get a Ride, Don’t Be Taken for One

Matt Ghazal runs a Buy Here-Pay Here business in West Michigan. He's trying to change the sector's reputation.

In the Midwest, it’s hard to get around without a car.  These days, people are holding onto them longer.  The average vehicle is almost 11 years old and used cars prices are on the rise.  All this adds to the pressure on the bottom rung of consumers: people with bad credit.  For many, the only way to finance a car is at a Buy Here-Pay Here lot.  Here, dealers loan to deep subprime customers at interest rates up to 25%.[display_podcast] Continue reading “Buy Here-Pay Here: Get a Ride, Don’t Be Taken for One”

Midwest Memo: Abbott Posts Layoffs, Auto Industry Posts Openings And A Target For Cabrini-Green

Layoffs at Abbott North-Chicago based Abbott Laboratories is laying off 700 workers in the U.S. and Canada. The Chicago Tribune reports 200 layoffs will be at the company’s campus in Lake County, Ill.

Don’t call it a comeback One analyst predicts the auto industry will add 15,000 jobs this year. But the Detroit Free Press reports that still won’t come anywhere close to replacing the jobs that were lost.

Job training, streamlined Ohio governor, John Kasich says this year, job training is “going to be, probably my seminal issue.” The Columbus Dispatch says streamlining Ohio’s current job training programs is at the top of the governor’s to-do list. Right now, Kasich says the state has 77 training programs across 13 agencies.

Radically local consumerism Residents in Chagrin Falls, Ohio decided to “occupy” their locally-owned hardware store over the weekend to help generate some business. USA Today says by 10 a.m., the store was jammed with a “cash mob.”

This is where we used to live It’s official, the former site of one of the country’s most violent and infamous public housing projects has been bought by Target. Crain’s Chicago Business reports Target bought the former Cabrini-Green property for $8.8 million.