Midwest Memo: Big Profits For Ford, Heading Down The Rabbit Hole In Wisconsin

Party like it’s 1998 Ford is reporting its highest annual earnings in over a decade. The Wall Street Journal says the auto industry’s profits are part of its new math: sell fewer cars, make more money (subscription required).

Curiouser and curiouser Keeping track of Wisconsin politics gets more complicated by the day. While the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board is still busy counting recall petitions against Gov. Scott Walker, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that two of the governor’s former aids have been charged with illegal campaigning. The charges are part of an ongoing “John Doe” investigation of Walker’s staff during his time in county government. Despite the investigation and the recall threat, Walker’s poll numbers are rising.

Meanwhile, in actual economic news, the Wisconsin Assembly voted to ease the way for a proposed Iron ore mine in the state’s northern region. Republicans say it will create jobs. Democrats say the changes could lead to environmental harm.

190 Acres of transformation In Cuyahoga County, Ohio, a 190-acre industrial site represents, in microcosm, the changes facing the Midwest. Officials in the town of Beachwood are hoping to rezone the property as the industrial sector declines and other sectors grow. Officials say they want to see the property used for health care, retail and residential investment.

Obama talks higher ed President Obama will be in Ann Arbor, Mich. today to talk about his ideas for higher education funding.

Emanuel: Chicago Tax Repeal Key To Ford Jobs

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has introduced a measure to repeal the city’s head tax on company employees. And he says the proposed repeal is why Ford is agreeing to create 1,100 more jobs in the Windy City.

 Photo by Slobodan Stojkovic via Flickrobs in his city.

Chicago charges $4 per person per month to companies with 50 or more employees in the city. The mayor, who proposed the repeal to city council this week, calls it a “job killer,” according to our partner station WBEZ.

He said the proposed repeal, which would reduce city revenue by $23 million, is already making the city more attractive to companies like Ford.

As part of a new contract with the United Auto Workers, the company is pledging to add 12,000 jobs nationwide. Government officials said earlier this week that the company would add 1,100 jobs at the Chicago Assembly Plant, and possibly 900 more at a stamping plant.

Workers are voting on the contract now. Continue reading “Emanuel: Chicago Tax Repeal Key To Ford Jobs”

Midwest Memo: Ford Reaches Agreement With UAW, Wisconsin Aims to be Energy Industry Leader, Coal at Crossroads

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. UAW and Ford reach tentative deal. The United Auto Workers union has reached a tentative agreement with Ford Motor Co., announced Tuesday, that calls for $6,000 in signing bonuses and the creation of 5,750 new jobs at plants in the United States. Workers could vote on the agreement by the end of the week. “The American auto industry is on its way back,” UAW President Bob King said in a statement, adding the jobs will be added by the end of 2012. Crucial to the deal was consensus on entry-level wages of approximately $17 per hour. The tentative agreement means that Chrysler is the only automaker of the Big Three without a deal.

2. Coal at a crossroads. Coal produces nearly half the electricity used in the United States, but benefits associated with coal are outweighed by pollution and health problems that cause more economic harm than good, according to a recent study from the American Economic Review. Our partner station Ideastream begins a multi-part series today examining the economic impact of coal and its future in the Midwest. First up in the series: the natural gas boom has given coal added competition. Coal’s share of the nation’s electricity production was at its lowest level in more than 30 years through the first quarter of 2011.

3. Wisconsin announces microgrid project. On Monday, Wisconsin officials announced a new project that aims to make the state a national center for energy microgrids, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. By using energy storage devices and battery systems, microgrid “energy islands” maximize the use of energy from renewable sources, according to the newspaper, and could help if main power grids are disrupted. Several Milwaukee-area companies and the state’s four largest engineering schools are among the participants in the project.

Midwest Memo: Steelmaker Leaving Cleveland for Chicago, UAW Negotiations Continue, Obama Campaigns in Ohio

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Goodbye Cleveland, hello Chicago. A Cleveland-area steelmaker could receive more than $1 million in financial incentives to move its headquarters to downtown Chicago, Crain’s Chicago Business reported this morning. JMC Steel Group Inc. could bring 50 new employees in the move. Chicago’s Community Development Commission will hear a proposal to provide $1.1 million in incentives Tuesday. Crain’s writes the approval would “represent another victory for Mayor Rahm Emanuel,” who has touted several job victories since taking office.

2. Ford faces UAW strike. A Wednesday deadline looms on contract talks between United Auto Workers officials and Detroit automakers, although representatives on both sides say the discussions could be extended. UAW president Bob King tells our partner station Michigan Radio that a strike is not a “goal” of the talks, but others believe a strike could happen at Ford. Gary Walkowicz, a bargaining committeeman, says union members deserve to receive cost-of-living adjustments surrendered during the recession.

3. Obama will speak in Ohio. President Obama will continue the campaign for his $447 billion jobs bill in Columbus, Ohio, today. He’ll emphasize part of his proposal that marks $25 billion for school building and renovation while speaking at Fort Hayes Arts and Academic High School. It’s part of Obama’s plan to fight for the American Jobs Act on the turf of his Republican counterparts. The Ohio visit, in House Speaker John Boehner’s home state, comes four days after Obama visited House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s district in Richmond, Va.

Sandusky: A City on a Roller-coaster

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Most people when they hear of Sandusky think Cedar Point: the amusement park that has been bringing millions of people to Northern Ohio for 140 years. Despite its tourism, the city is on a roller coaster of its own. As Changing Gears kicks off this week, we also start a series about Sandusky, a place we’ll follow as it wrestles with the problems affecting the whole region.

Photos: Adee Braun

Continue reading “Sandusky: A City on a Roller-coaster”

The Future of the Automobile Industry

Senior Editor Micki Maynard appeared on The Diane Rehm Show on NPR stations Monday to discuss the future of the automobile industry.

The show featured a number of callers from the Changing Gears region, who had interesting stories and opinions on federal assistance for General Motors and Chrysler. Other guests included David Shepardson, the veteran Washington automotive reporter for the Detroit News.

Did you listen to the program? Let us know your thoughts on the industry’s future.

From the Senior Editor: Obama’s Victory Lap

This week and next, President Obama is taking a victory lap. But is it too soon?

On Friday, the president was set to visit General Motors and Chrysler plants in Detroit. Next week, he’ll be in Chicago to visit the Ford Motor factory.

At the two Detroit plants, workers literally owe their livelihoods to the president, whose administration provided the carmakers with more than $60 billion to assure their survival. You can argue the Ford workers should be grateful as well, since Ford’s future would have been threatened had its two Detroit rivals gone into liquidation.

I talked about the automobile industry’s situation on NPR’s Morning Edition with my good friend Don Gonyea, who spent many years on the car beat when he was based in Detroit. This is a story of deep interest to the Changing Gears region, and its outcome will play a huge role in determining the future of the Manufacturing Belt. Continue reading “From the Senior Editor: Obama’s Victory Lap”

Volt and Leaf: Auto Companies Changing Gears?

General Motors is finally giving some of the most important details about the Chevrolet Volt. It’s a plug-in hybrid car that goes on sale late this year.

G.M. says the Volt will cost $41,000 (buyers may be eligible for a $7,500 federal tax credit for alternative fuel vehicles). The automaker also will offer leases on the Volt for $350 a month, since its sticker price puts it in the range of a small BMW or a Lexus.

G.M. has been talking about the Volt for a long time. Here’s a story I did for the New York Times in November 2008.  Back then, G.M. used the Volt as the centerpiece of its efforts to win a federal bailout from Congress. Those efforts failed, and G.M. went through a government-sponsored backruptcy a year later. Continue reading “Volt and Leaf: Auto Companies Changing Gears?”

From the Senior Editor: Carmakers, One Year Later

A year ago this month, a new version of General Motors emerged from a government sponsored bankruptcy, only weeks after the new version of Chrysler came to live with federal help. On July 7, NPR’s Neal Conan invited me on Talk of the Nation to discuss what things look like now.

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In short, things are better. Auto sales are rebounding modestly from the awful levels of last year. But the industry is a long way from the boom days of the mid-’00s, and Detroit companies still have far to go. How does each company look now — and what role with they play as the manufacturing belt transforms itself? The auto industry’s story is a crucial part of Changing Gears.

Continue reading “From the Senior Editor: Carmakers, One Year Later”