Midwest Memo: No Oversight In Infrastructure Plan, Stimulus Funds To Closed Schools And Casino Competition

Infrastructure plan, examined Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s $7.2 billion infrastructure plan gets a hearing today at the City Council. The Chicago Tribune reports the plan would give a board of financiers the ability to approve multi-million dollar deals with almost no oversight. Some aren’t happy with the idea.

Stimulating failure The Dayton Daily News reports that nearly $5 million in federal stimulus funding went to charter schools in Ohio that have since closed their doors. Millions more went to schools that were accused of mishandling funds in the past, according to the paper.

Casino competition Indiana is expecting to lose $100 million in state revenue as new casinos open in Ohio. The new Ohio casinos are expected to take away customers from Indiana’s casinos according to the Herald Bulletin.

Empty buildings, full of danger The Detroit Free Press looks at the harrowing walk to school for many of Detroit’s children. The Freep has a twopart series at the dangers children face from the 33,000 vacant buildings near Detroit schools.

Parking lawsuit A deal to privatize four city-owned parking garages in downtown Chicago has led to a $200 million lawsuit, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Banking on land banks Partner station WCPN Ideastream says more Ohio counties are setting up land banks to deal with the problem of vacant property.

Midwest Memo: Illinois’ ‘Basket Case,’ Right To Work Challenge And A Shortage Of Asparagus Workers

Pension problems Bloomberg News reports that Illinois’ pension system is a “basket case.” The state’s teacher pension system is only 47 percent funded, the lowest number of any similar system in the country.

Right to sue The Associated Press looks into a court challenge against Indiana’s Right to Work law, passed earlier this year. Among other things, the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 argue that the law deprives them of free speech rights, since it forces them to represent members who do not pay dues, and that money would be used to support their political speech.

Raising casinos, raising taxes A ballot proposal in Michigan to allow eight more casinos in the state would also raise taxes on Detroit’s three existing casinos, according to Mlive.

Want to pick asparagus? Asparagus season has come early in Michigan, and farmers are desperate to find workers to pick this year’s crop. Partner station Michigan Radio reports there will be a job fair on Thursday to try to fill 220 jobs.

Midwest Memo: A Casino Gamble, Wisconsin Primary And Red Cross Workers On Strike

Taking a chance A group in Michigan wants to change the state’s constitution to allow more casino gambling. According to the Detroit Free Press, the group is proposing new casinos in eight locations, including downtown Detroit and Grand Rapids.

Two politicians, two views of the economy Wisconsin primary voters head to the polls tomorrow. The Boston Herald has a look at one campaign event over the weekend that featured both Mitt Romney and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Though they shared a stage, they both offered different views on the state of our economy.

Still on strike It’s the eighth week of a strike for about 250 Red Cross Workers in Northern Ohio. The workers help run mobile blood collection units for the charity. Partner station WCPN Ideastream reports there’s still no sign of a deal in the strike that started in February.

Engineers in demand The Detroit Free Press reports on better job prospects for engineers. At a recent engineering conference in Metro Detroit, the paper reports open jobs outnumbered attendees nearly six to one.

Drill now, drill where? Some state-owned land in Michigan could be opened up for oil and gas drilling, according to partner station Michigan Radio.

Hello, tax revenue Bloomberg News reports cities in Michigan that collect income tax are seeing a windfall this year.

Two More Views On The Casino Economy

Credit: flickr user Michael Kappel

Yesterday, we used some Bon Jovi lyrics to explain the casino boom in the Midwest.

But while we were busy analyzing what casinos tell us about our regional economy, both The Atlantic Magazine and the New York Times Magazine published long, in depth looks at the state of casino gambling in the U.S. Both pieces are worth a read.

The Atlantic‘s Mark Bowden writes about “The Man Who Broke Atlantic City.” He profiles savvy blackjack player Don Johnson, who managed to win $15 million from three Atlantic City casinos on three different days.

Bowden writes that Johnson was able to take advantage of the casinos because, as a high-roller, he could negotiate his own rules for playing blackjack – small changes that tilted the odds of the game in his favor.

Bowden writes that the casinos gave Johnson the special rules because they’re desperate for revenue.

Continue reading “Two More Views On The Casino Economy”

Midwest Memo: “Something Wrong” In Wisconsin, Casino Plans In Michigan And A Region Digs Out

“There’s something wrong” Wisconsin leads the nation in private sector job losses since last July, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. And it’s the only state that’s lost jobs for the last six months in a row.

Rolling the dice The Detroit Free Press revealed over the weekend that a whopping 22 new casinos are being proposed in the state of Michigan. The paper finds plenty of skepticism whether that many casinos could succeed.

Nuclear option Partner station Michigan Radio reports on the effort to save a planned nuclear research facility at Michigan State University.

Cleveland art Cleveland’s new Museum of Contemporary Art will open in October.

Importing workers CNN reports that some manufacturers who can’t find skilled workers in the U.S. have started importing them.

Police cuts Two Chicago police precincts closed yesterday. The Chicago Tribune says it’s part of a move that should save the city $10-12 million. Chicago is working to close a $636 million budget gap.

Recovery People in Ohio, Illinois and Indiana are starting the recovery process after this weekend’s deadly storms.

Midwest Memo: A Casino For A Capitol, Locked Out Workers And Tourism Developments

Here are the stories making news across the Midwest today:

Bettting on jobs The Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians is announcing plans for a new $245 million casino in downtown Lansing. The Lansing State Journal says the casino will create 2,200 jobs. The casino would need to be approved by the federal government and the city of Lansing. Casino backers will be hoping to avoid the kinds of delays that proposed casinos in Ohio have faced.

Locked out The New York Times finds that while union strikes have been on the decline, lockouts by management have been rising. One of the lockouts mentioned in the story is at the Cooper Tire & Rubber factory in Findlay, Ohio, where workers have been locked out since November.

More ways to draw tourists The new Greater Cleveland Aquarium opened over the weekend. The Henry Ford museum in Dearborn is getting a facelift. And, if you live in Chicago, the libraries will once again be open on Mondays!

Midwest Memo: More Casino Jobs, High Speed Rail, Debtors in Jail

Casino Jobs in Cleveland: Want to work at the new Horseshoe Casino? They’re hiring again, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The casino, located on four floors of the old Higbee  Department store, will be filling 40 different kinds of jobs, with 750 new positions open. The work ranges from security officers and slot machine supervisors to chefs. It’s the second wave of hiring for the Horseshoe, which hired its first 650 people in September. The casino hopes to open in late March.

High Speed Rail: Consultants have until today to submit their proposals to study how to solve a crucial problem for high speed rail between Detroit and Chicago, reports our partner station Michigan Radio. At issue is a railroad bottleneck between northwest Indiana and Chicago. A high volume of passenger and freight traffic already overwhelms the existing rail lines and threatens to put the brakes on high speed trains. Once a winning consultant is chosen, it will probably take about two years to lay out a solution.

Debtors to Jail: With a slow economy, the number of debtors going to jail in Illinois is on the rise, reports our partner station WBEZ. It’s illegal in Illinois to throw a debtor in jail for not being able to pay, but some creditors are getting around that. A collection agency can file a lawsuit which might require a court appearance. If the debtor doesn’t appear at the hearing, a warrant can be issued for their arrest. Legal aid attorneys have said this is more of an issue in rural parts of the state.






Midwest Memo: Upper Peninsula Enjoys Mining Surge, Scott Walker Wastes No Time Plotting Wisconsin Recall Strategy

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Upper Peninsula’s mining boom. The mining industry in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan is enjoying a renaissance more than a century after its best days passed. New technology demands are creating demand for gold, silver, copper and nickel, the Detroit Free Press reports today. Foreign companies are finding them in abundance in both new and reopened ore mines. Mineral rights on more than 1 million acres have been leased for prospecting. But many of the mines are near rivers and Lake Superior, sparking concern among environmentalists. “I’m not anti-mine. I’m anti-mining pollution,” one advocate tells the newspaper.

2. Busy finale ahead for Illinois legislators. The Illinois state legislature could end its fall session Tuesday with a flurry of activity. Lawmakers are expected to vote on several pieces of legislation that have garnered attention for months, including a bill that would expand the Earned Income Tax Credit, which extends larger refunds to working families. Our partner station WBEZ reports the legislature could also tackle a package of tax incentives designed to keep CME Group and Sears based in in the state. Both have been wooed in recent months by Indiana and other competitors. A vote on legislation that would expand gambling in the state could also take place.

3. Walker plots recall strategy. A possible recall election may not take place until next summer, but Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is wasting no time in campaigning to keep his job. Walker is running television ads defending his 11-month record and Republican volunteers are going door to door canvassing likely voters. USA Today reports Walker’s office is trying to learn from the only two successful gubernatorial recalls in U.S. history. They believe California Gov. Gray Davis (2003) and North Dakota Gov. Lynn Frazier in 1921 both started campaigning too late to save their jobs. “There’s this momentum that builds, and once it builds it’s very difficult for things to reverse,” David Schecter, a political scientist at Cal State Fresno, tells the newspaper.

Midwest Memo: Obama Chides China, New Detroit Dock Boosts Michigan Tourism, New Owners For Gary Casinos

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Obama chides China. Using uncharacteristic blunt language, President Obama said America had enough of China’s currency manipulation and encouraged the global power to abide by “the same rules as everybody else.” At the closing news conference of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, Obama told reporters, “Enough’s enough,” and that “we don’t want them taking advantage of the United States.” The comments came one day after Obama held face-to-face talks with President Hu Jintao, according to Reuters. Obama and other U.S. leaders have grown weary of China keeping its currency value artificially low, thus hurting American companies and jobs.

2. Detroit dock brings tourist upswing. When a $21.5 million dock opened in Detroit earlier this summer, critics doubted the facility would see much use. Although only two cruise ships visited the port this past summer, according to the Detroit Free Press, cruise-ship operators have scheduled 23 visits in 2012. The uptick is expected to bring 2,500 new visitors and an increase in Michigan tourism dollars. Calling it a “significant win” for the region, W. Steven Olinek, deputy director of the Wayne County Port Authority, told the newspaper, “in future years we hope to play an even greater role in the re-emerging Great Lakes cruise industry.”

3. Gary casinos have new owner. New Mayor-elect Karen Freeman-Wilson says new ownership for two bankrupt casinos in Gary, Ind. is good for both the casinos and the city. “Investment in their structure will attract more gamers,” she said. Freeman-Wilson tells our partner station WBEZ that money is needed for infrastructure improvements, especially fixing city streets. Attendance has dropped at Northwest Indiana casinos, according to recent numbers, a falloff that comes even before a proposed Chicago casino heightens competition. Wayzata Investment Partners in Minnesota has taken over at the Majestic Star Casinos, which owe the city up to $15 million.

Midwest Memo: Toledo Casino Competes With Detroit, Water Shortage In West Could Be Economic Springboard For Midwest

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Water playing greater role in Midwest economy? Our partner station WBEZ continues look at the importance of Great Lakes water in the region’s economy. It reports today that the Great Recession dramatically slowed the population exodus from the region, and now, water shortages elsewhere in the U.S. could lead to a population resurgence in the Midwest. In cities across the West, long droughts have taken a toll. Water levels in Lake Mead are at their lowest levels since the lake’s inception in the 1960s. Midwest communities are capitalizing. A marketing campaign for the city of Erie, Pennsylvania notes, “One fifth of the world’s fresh water, potable, not saltwater, is right here in our back yard.”

2. Perils of outsourcing. Replacing government employees with private workers who make less money has become a popular move in recent years for politicians grappling with strained budgets. But such outsourcing comes with hidden costs, says The New York Times, which profiled Michigan’s efforts to deal with that issue today. The state wants to lay off 170 nursing assistants at a veterans’ hospital in Grand Rapids and replace them with workers who make $10 per hour. A legal dispute is under way, and The Times reports that it highlights the pitfalls of such decisions and that taxpayers “end up paying for the cuts in more indirect ways.”

3. Toledo casino will compete with Detroit. In April, the Hollywood Casino will open in Toledo, Ohio, just north of downtown on the Maumee River. It means jobs and a larger tax base for the city. In Detroit, it means competition. The Detroit Free Press reports that Detroit casino operators will not disclose how many of their customers come from northeast Ohio, but they have taken notice of Toledo’s plans. A Lansing-based casino analyst tells the newspaper that gamblers from Ohio and Ontario comprise 20 to 30 percent of the Detroit client base. And the Toledo casino will not only try to draw from its home base, it’s operators are seeking to lure clients from southeast Michigan.