Three Looks at The Midwest Economy, From Changing Gears

Changing Gears is all about the reinvention of the Industrial Midwest. As you’re relaxing over the Thanksgiving holiday, check out three big topics that we looked at this fall. 

EMPTY PLACES: From factories to city blocks, our region has thousands of empty places, but people are coming up with ideas to fill them. Kate Davidson explored blotting — neighbors taking over vacant lots next door to spruce up the neighborhood. Niala Boodhoo looked a former meatpacking plant that’s now an indoor farm. Meanwhile, contributor Dustin Dwyer tried to measure the social and economic cost of emptiness.

Memorabilia from the now defunct AutoWorld in Flint

MAGIC BULLETS: Communities across the Midwest are search for Magic Bullets — big ideas that can rescue a town or an industry. Davidson offered a look back at magic bullets over the years. Some people think batteries could create thousands of jobs, but Dwyer found there’s skepticism. Many places would like to copy Cleveland’s success in health care, which Bobkoff says could be tough. Boodhoo explored the contribution small business can make to the economy (answer: it’s small).

MANUFACTURING: Movies and TV have painted a bleak picture of factory life. We found just the opposite. Think there are no jobs in manufacturing? There are plenty, for temporary workers, Davidson found. What are they talking about, when they talk about advanced manufacturing? Bobkoff explained. He also talked to Ron Bloom, the man who led the auto industry bailout. How do ideas become reality? Boodhoo profiled Battelle, an influential but little-known Ohio company.


Recap: Everything You Need To Know About the Midwest Economy’s Magic Bullets

History is filled with searches for Magic Bullets.

Economically speaking, those are quick-fix endeavors that promise to fix sour economies, provide jobs and bring prosperity to communities and regions. Changing Gears reporter Kate Davidson wrote earlier this week that, “Some have soared; many have backfired.”

Communities across the Midwest are employing a new round of Magic Bullets in attempts to rescue themselves from the Great Recession. All sound promising, but which ones stand up under further scrutiny?

Here’s a look back at Changing Gears coverage from the past week:

Continue reading “Recap: Everything You Need To Know About the Midwest Economy’s Magic Bullets”

Magic Bullets: Can Small Businesses Rebuild Our Economy?

All week, our Magic Bullets series has focused on big ideas that political leaders say can boost the economy. One you hear mentioned often is small business. But can small businesses really grow enough to help the overall economy? That’s what I set out to find out.


The way politicians tell it, small business IS the backbone of the economy. President Obama has said this many, many times – especially the idea that small business is “the key for us to be able to put a lot of folks back to work”.

It’s not just Obama. Warm feelings about small business come at all levels of governance, and on both sides of the aisle. Michigan’s Republican Gov. Rick Synder is the darling of the state small business community. Earlier this summer, at the Small Business Association of Michigan’s annual meeting, he urged members to “Talk about the jobs you’re creating, even if it’s one”, because, he  that would be the “backbone of the reinvention of Michigan”.

Continue reading “Magic Bullets: Can Small Businesses Rebuild Our Economy?”

Magic Bullets: Healthcare for Ailing Cities?

The Cleveland Clinic helps set Cleveland apart as a medical city.

Detroit is the latest metro area vying to become a medical destination. The hope is that its hospital systems can draw patients from outside its region, helping the local economy. In short, Detroit wants to be more like Cleveland. But Cleveland could be tough to copy.


Continue reading “Magic Bullets: Healthcare for Ailing Cities?”

Magic Bullets: Can Battery Plants Charge Up Midwest Jobs?

From Changing Gears contributor Dustin Dwyer.

GRAND RAPIDS — Three years ago, the advanced battery industry in the United States existed only in the imagination. Plenty of people believed electric cars would be the next big thing. and they would be powered by lithium ion batteries – the same kind of batteries that are in cell phones and laptops. But in 2008, almost all of the lithium ion batteries in the world were made in Asia.


The electric Nissan Leaf

Randy Thelan, who heads the economic development office in Holland, Mich., a small town on the shores of Lake Michigan, thought that could change. Thelan had heard one his local companies, Johnson Controls might be getting into the battery business.

“It wasn’t like we were making a direct pitch that we knew they were building a factory,” he said. “It was just sort of planting the seed, and suggesting to their leadership, keep Holland in mind as you guys are looking to invest and add to their capacity.”

While Thelan was working his angle for Holland, the state of Michigan was about to make a big commitment to the new future in batteries.

In December 2008, former Mich. Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed a new law to offer up to $335 million in tax incentives for battery companies in Michigan. Within a year, Holland landed that Johnson Controls battery plant.

The next year it landed another one for LG Chem. And now, just down the road in Muskegon, Michigan, another lithium ion battery plant is going up. Thelan estimates these companies and their suppliers will have created about 750 jobs by the end of the year.

“But ultimately, by 2020, we believe this is a 10,000 job, $2 billion opportunity for West Michigan and we’re well on our way,” he said.

Not everyone is on board with those job projections. Continue reading “Magic Bullets: Can Battery Plants Charge Up Midwest Jobs?”

Obama, Werewolves and Silver…Er…Magic Bullets

Curtis Sullivan says silver bullets are for killing werewolves.

While we’re on the subject of magic bullets, please indulge this brief sidebar.

Schisms happen.  There was once a tremendous split between the (now) Roman Catholic Church and the (now) Eastern Orthodox Church.  Today there’s also a Great Schism in the bullet world.

Namely, between those who say magic bullet and those who say silver bullet — both parties referring to an economic quick fix.

On one side, you have President Obama, who may be the highest profile proponent of the term silver bullet. While pitching his jobs plan to a recent joint session of Congress he said, “It should not be nor will it be the last plan of action we propose. What’s guided us from the start of this crisis hasn’t been the search for a silver bullet. It’s been a commitment to stay at it, to be persistent, to keep trying every new idea that works.” Continue reading “Obama, Werewolves and Silver…Er…Magic Bullets”

A Very Brief History of the Midwest Magic Bullet

Memorabilia from the now defunct AutoWorld in Flint

History is full of the search for magic bullets, those quick tickets to jobs and economic prosperity. Cities across our region have put great hopes and resources into magic bullets.  Some have soared; many have backfired. This week, we’re bringing you stories of magic bullets past and present. We start with this look back.[display_podcast] Continue reading “A Very Brief History of the Midwest Magic Bullet”

Coming Next Week: Magic Bullets in the Midwest

Next week, Changing Gears reporters will tackle a subject that’s long been a part of the Midwest mind frame: magic bullets.

By magic bullets, we mean the big ideas and big projects that politicians and government officials say their cities and states must embrace, in order to boost the economy. But what is their track record? Should we really be shooting for the stars, or trying to create jobs one at a time?

Kate Davidson kicks things off Monday with a look at the history of magic bullets (remember AutoWorld in Flint? How about the Chicago Olympic bid?)

Later in the week, Niala Boodhoo tackles small business, and whether big programs actually help companies grow. Dan Bobkoff looks at a subject dear to Cleveland’s heart: health care.

Contributor Dustin Dwyer will examine the race to build battery plants and whether that fledgling industry is actually creating the jobs that mayors and governors hope.

Find our reports on Michigan Radio, WBEZ Chicago and ideastream Cleveland. And check back here for special features related to our Magic Bullets series.

Contribute to our coverage: What are past magic bullet ideas that fell flat?