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.
This morning, the White House Council on Environmental Quality announced that it’s reached an agreement that will speed up the permitting process for offshore wind energy in the Great Lakes. The agreement comes in the form of a memorandum of understanding with five of the eight states that border the Great Lakes.
On a conference call this morning, officials said the total potential for wind energy in the Great Lakes is about equal to building 700 nuclear power plants. They said wind on the Great Lakes could power millions of homes.
The MOU includes nine federal agencies, and the states of Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania. Not included are Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin, though they can sign on later.
But what’s actually in the memorandum of understanding? Very little, but what’s there could still make a difference.
Skeptical city council Detroit City Council members got a look at a new proposal from the state to resolve the city’s financial crisis, and it didn’t go well, according to partner station Michigan Radio. The two sides have five days to reach a deal, before the governor is forced to impose a restructuring plan, which would likely include the appointment of an emergency manager. But as Michigan Radio reports, “it’s clear the two sides are still a long way apart.”
NATO … more like “NO-DOUGH,” amiright? The Chicago Tribune reports that the federal government usually covers all of the security costs related to hosting a NATO summit. But in Chicago, the government is only covering half the cost. Corporate donors are picking up the rest of the tab.
In a fight over mittens, the gloves have come off.
Michigan and Wisconsin are tussling over which state can rightly lay claim to using mittens in their public-relations and tourism campaigns.
Michiganders, who have long nicknamed the state’s lower peninsula “The Mitten,” for its similar shape to a hand, have taken good-natured umbrage to a new campaign launched by Wisconsin’s Department of Tourism, which uses a knit-brown mitten to represent the shape of the state.
Wisconsin began using the new image in tourism campaigns on Dec. 1, and tells the Detroit Free Press it follows up on an earlier seasonal campaign that used an image of a leaf shaped like the state in the fall. A Wisconsin Department of Tourism spokesperson tells the newspaper that people in Wisconsin consider their state mitten-shaped as well.
Dave Lorenz, who manages public relations for the state of Michigan, tells the Free Press that, “We understand their mitten envy. But there is only one mitten state, only one Great Lakes state.”
“They’ve been the antithesis of collaboration and now are singularly focused on creating jobs, many times by trying to pirate them away from neighboring states,” Wilson writes. “That’s when they’re not weakening environmental regulations to create a more business friendly climate.”
“What states do you consider part of the Midwest?”
It was a simple question we asked Monday on Twitter. We were caught by surprise with the number of complex and disparate answers. Geographical boundaries are apparently open to wide interpretation.
Reader responses were – pun intended here – all over the map. It seemed everyone had their own, particular definition of the Midwest.
Some of you drew the Midwest along industrial lines while others drew it along agricultural boundaries. Some considered states in the Great Plains and Great Lakes their own distinct regions. Others lumped them together.
Some of you ardently advocated for Pennsylvania’s inclusion and Nebraska’s omission – and vice versa. Some people considered state lines irrelevant.
The Great Lakes states (and Ontario) have something significant in common: water. But beyond Lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie and Ontario, the states and province seem to go their separate ways.
On Monday, WBEZ’s Front and Center project and Changing Gears took a look at whether the Great Lakes states and province can cooperate politically. Guests included Richard Longworth, of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs; Indiana Congressman Scott Reske and Carol Coletta, president of ArtsPlace, a cultural group pushing economic transformation through the arts.
Listen to the program, and let us know: how can our states (and province) cooperate?
You’ve been hearing our reports on the economic transformation of the industrial Great Lakes. Now we’d like some input from you.
How do you think the economy is faring in the Great Lakes region? Please take our survey.
Your views will be kept confidential and we will never share your personal information. But you can help us understand the quality of life in the Great Lakes, and guide our partner stations Michigan Radio, WBEZ Chicago and ideastream Cleveland as we cover these stories.
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.
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.
Three stories making news across the Midwest today:
1. Ford deal official. In a final tally, the United Auto Workers announced today that 63 percent of production workers and 65 percent of skilled-trade workers voted in favor of ratifying a four-year contract with Ford. “I believe UAW Ford workers understood the importance of each and every vote,” UAW Vice President Jimmy Settles said in a written statement. Earlier this month, UAW workers approved a new contract with General Motors by similar margins. Chrysler is the only Big Three automaker without a new contract, although voting began Tuesday on a tentative agreement.
2. Great Lakes crucial to economy. Cargo shipping throughout the Great Lakes supports 227,000 jobs and channels billions into the U.S. and Canadian economies, according to a report released Tuesday. “This report bears out what we’ve long known – that the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway is crucial to the U.S. economy,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told WBEZ, our partner station. In July, Changing Gears reporter Kate Davidson examined the economic impact of Great Lakes shipping – and found a dredging backlog threatened to cripple the regional shipping industry.
3. Milwaukee lakefront plan unveiled. An “ambitious” plan to redevelop Milwaukee’s lakefront was unveiled Tuesday at a public hearing,calling for better pedestrian access to waterfront attractions and room for several blocks of development. The plan, submitted by Milwaukee County’s Long-Range Lakefront Planning Committee, endorsed tearing down freeway ramps, terracing O’Donnell Park and bulldozing the Downtown Transit Center, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “Let’s take downtown and take it to the lake and vice versa,” Parks Director Sue Black said of the pedestrian portion of the plan.