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.
Three stories making news across the Midwest today:
1. Dayton seeks immigrant influx. Among industrial Midwest cities seeking to stop a population hemorrhage, Dayton, Ohio hardly stands alone in its attempts to attract highly educated immigrants. What’s unusual in Dayton is that the city wants the rest of the immigrants too. City Manager Tim Riordan tells our partner station WBEZ that welcome all immigrants regardless of skill or wealth will create “a vibrancy” in the city. Dayton’s population sank 14.8 percent over the past decade to 141,527 in the 2010 U.S. Census, a steep decline from its all-time high of 262,000 in the 1960s. Currently, foreign-born residents account for 3 percent of the city’s residents. But Riordan says newcomers are already building foundations in the western Ohio city.
2. Chrysler sales skyrocket. Driven by rising consumer confidence, Chrysler reported today that sales rose 45 percent in November year over year. Brand sales rose 92 percent thanks to increased demand for the 200 and 300 sedans, and Jeep sales increased 50 percent from November 2010. General Motors and Ford are both expected to release monthly sales numbers later today. “Consumer confidence is really what’s going to underpin us as we go into 2012, so we’re really pleased to see that showing up,” GM’s Don Johnson tells our partner Michigan Radio. Industry sales appear to be on pace for 13 million units in 2011.
3. Ohio courts Sears. Two days after Illinois lawmakers jilted Sears Holdings Corp. in its attempt to win tax incentives worth $100 million from the state, the Chicago-based company has a new suitor. Ohio has offered Sears incentives worth four times that amount to relocate its headquarters and 6,200 jobs to the Buckeye State. Texas is another state aggressively courting the company, according to the office of Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn. His counterpart, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, declined to confirm or deny an offer to Sears, joking with The Columbus Dispatch that, “we are somewhere between $0 and $400 million.”
Last week, officials in Dayton, Ohio gave unanimous approval to a plan to adopt an “immigrant friendly” economic approach.
They hope the campaign brings a two-fold benefit to the city and its dwindling population, which at approximately 142,000 residents, is at its lowest number in nearly a century. One, the officials hope immigrants can boost that sagging number. Two, they believe immigrants will bring economic benefits.
They’re not the only ones in the Midwest who believe immigrants can become economic drivers.
Over the past decade, the Great Recession has perhaps punched Michigan workers the hardest.
Michigan was the only state in the country to lose population in that time span. More than 300,000 residents fled the state. Its peak unemployment rate of 14.1 percent ranks as one of the highest in the U.S. More than 1 in 5 residents in Detroit, its largest city, remain in search of work.
So it’s inexplicable to many in Michigan that one of the lynchpins in Gov. Rick Snyder’s plan to put people back to work is encouraging an influx of immigrants. Snyder touted those plans in an exclusive Dan Rather Reports segment that aired earlier this week.
“I think it’s important for our future,” Snyder told Rather. “We’ve been in a recession for a decade. How do we really reinvent ourselves? One of the keys to how we build ourselves is immigration.”
It’s been a relevant issue in the state’s past. One century ago, immigrants comprised 33 percent of Detroit’s population during its nascent boom years. For a more contemporary example, Snyder gazes beyond Michigan’s borders toward Silicon Valley, and notes 47 percent of its residents are foreign born.
“I am focused on finding more and better jobs for Michiganders,” he tells Rather. “Encouraging legal immigration for advanced-degree people is consistent with that. They’re job creators.”
A study from the Small Business Administration shows immigrants in Michigan are three times as likely as native-born residents to start businesses, and six times as likely to start high-tech businesses. Snyder, a Republican, would like to tap that entrepreneurial spirit.
A new experiment I’m trying here – sharing online some interesting background or side stories that I find in the course of reporting a bigger story, like the one I just did about Latinos across the Midwest. One of my biggest frustrations as a public radio reporter is how much research we do that doesn’t end up on air. Here, in a new section I’m calling Niala’s Notebook, I’ll highlight some interesting smaller stories (or as we say in the biz, angles) that don’t end up in larger stories.
“Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has formed a task force to nurture high-tech businesses, an initiative that grew out of his recent Asia trip and a decision to more forcefully inject himself into a critical economic sector. Mr. Ravenstahl hopes that bringing representatives of education, business and the nonprofit community together will yield a more unified approach to attracting and growing high-tech ventures…”
CHICAGO – Cities across the Midwest are full of immigrant stories. Previous generations filled the factories, building cars, furniture and steel. Now that those jobs are disappearing, cities like Detroit, Cleveland and Pittsburgh are hoping another wave of immigrants will help reinvigorate the economy. Changing Gears is a new public media project looking at the reinvention of the industrial Midwest. In this story, we look at the role immigrant entrepreneurs are playing in our economy.