Where Did Everybody Go? – A Changing Gears Special

Former Detroiter Alex Ozark on the Hyundai-Kia proving grounds in California / Credit: Charla Bear

Many of us have friends or family members that have moved away from the Midwest.

In the Changing Gears special “Where Did Everybody Go?” we’re talking with some of those people who have moved out of the region – asking them why they left, what they found, and if they’ll ever come back.

We also take a look at what their departure means for the region.

You can listen to some of those stories here.

Part I: What’s So Great About Austin? Plenty, According To Former Midwesterners

Part II: The Appeal Of Portland

Part III: Detroit Coney Dogs On The Sunset Strip

Part IV: A Generation Moves Off The Farm

You can listen to the hour long Changing Gears special “Where Did Everybody Go” Sunday, 9 pm ET, on Michigan Radio; Monday, 10 am CT, on WBEZ Chicago; or Tuesday, 8 pm, on ideastream Cleveland.

Midwest Migration: What’s So Great About Austin? Plenty, According To Former Midwesterners

This week Changing Gears is taking a closer look at the Midwest Migration, and we’re talking with people who have left the region. Reporter Peter O’Dowd met with some of those former Midwesterners living in Austin, Texas, and brings us this report:

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The Brookings Institution reports that 20-somethings fled Detroit and Chicago at the end of the last decade for places like Seattle and Portland. Cities they thought were cool. “Cool” has become a selling point for young professionals. And perhaps no city has it figured out better than Austin, Texas. Over the next few days Changing Gears will profile people who have left the Midwest, and that’s where we go next – to the home of music festivals known around the world.

John Livingston at the Pour House in Austin, Texas / Credit: Peter O'Dowd

John Livingston and his friends say Austin has a soul, and on a gorgeous Friday night in March you can see why.

Livingston is a lot like any other 24-year old. He and his friends still like to party, and on this night, they’re doing it on the north side of town.

Not long ago, Livingston and four others moved to Austin from Bloomington, Indiana.

It was January 2010. College was coming to an end. The friends were drinking at their favorite hang-out, and wondering what to do next in life. It was pretty clear that Bloomington – a city of 80,000 and home to Indiana University – didn’t have what they wanted.

“We just started thinking of places to go – something different, something new. By the end of the night we were all just chanting Austin. We wanted to go to Austin. We were all about Austin,” says Livingston.

Continue reading “Midwest Migration: What’s So Great About Austin? Plenty, According To Former Midwesterners”

Changing Gears Wins A Regional Edward R. Murrow Award

For many of us in journalism, Edward R. Murrow is an icon.

Edward R. Murrow

He was a ground breaking foreign correspondent, investigative reporter and program host who had an enormous influence on our profession from the 1940s through the 1960s. You might also know him as the central character in the movie, “Good Night and Good Luck.”

So, it’s with great pride that we let you know that Changing Gears has won a regional Murrow Award from the Radio Television Digital News Association, for our series on manufacturing. (This is the same series that was awarded a National Headliner Award.)

We were the winner in the audio news series category in RTDNA’s Region 7, which includes entries from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio.

Winners from each region go on to compete in the national Murrow Awards, which will be announced this summer.

Thanks to members of the Changing Gears team — Dan Bobkoff, Kate Davidson, Niala Boodhoo,  our former colleague Pete Bigelow, and our colleagues Sarah Alvarez, Meg Cramer and Dustin Dwyer.

Midwest Memo: Gas Fuels Manufacturing Jobs, Preschool Gets Cut And Blagojevich’s Fiscal Legacy

Gassed up The New York Times reports that the boom in natural gas in the United States could lead to a ‘Manufacturing Renaissance’ in the country. The natural gas expansion is due mainly to the new, controversial drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing, or “tracking.”

Preschool not a priority Ohio saw a big drop in public preschool enrollment over the past decade, and no other state cut more money from its preschool program during that time, according to the Columbus Dispatch. The numbers come from a report by the National Institute for Early Education Research. The report also has some negative news for Indiana and Illinois.

Still feeling it Forbes takes a look at the Rod Blagojevich legacy on fiscal issues in Ilinois, and tells the story of how the former governor could be to blame for a proposed rate hike from the Chicago Transit Authority.

Arsenal of research The U.S. Army is opening a new $60 million lab in the Detroit suburb of Warren. WDIV TV takes a tour of the new facility.

Nom nom nom Wisconsin will get three new cheese plants.

Changing Gears Wins A National Headliner Award

Last fall, Changing Gears devoted a month of reports to exploring how manufacturing has changed. We’re happy to let you know that we won a National Headliner Award for that series. 

Changing Gears took home the third place award for Broadcast Radio Networks and Syndicators. We had good company: the other winners in our category were Bloomberg Radio and CBS Radio. (See the entire list of winners, including our partner WBEZ Chicago.)

Congratulations to all the members of the Changing Gears team: Chicago reporter Niala Boodhoo, Cleveland reporter Dan Bobkoff, Ann Arbor reporter Kate Davidson, and Sarah Avarez, our Public Insight Network Analyst. (Pete Bigelow, who was Changing Gears’ Web editor when the series ran, is now with AOL Autos.) Thanks also to teammates Dustin Dwyer and Meg Cramer.

You can listen to our series here. The stories included:  Continue reading “Changing Gears Wins A National Headliner Award”

The Controversial Economic Report That Challenges Everything We Think We Know About U.S. Manufacturing

Job losses in manufacturing from 2000 - 2010 were devastating in almost every state. And a new report claims that productivity gains in manufacturing were not as strong as advertised. Credit: The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation

Economic reports are not usually the kind of thing that gets the heart racing. But earlier this week, a non-profit think-tank called The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation put out a report that amounts to a bombshell.

The report is titled “Worse Than the Great Depression: What the Experts Are Missing About American Manufacturing Decline.”

We first read about the report in the Washington Post. The basic claim is that manufacturing in this country is not doing nearly as well as advertised. At Changing Gears, we’ve made a lot out of the productivity gains in manufacturing over the past couple of years. According to everything we’ve heard, manufacturing productivity has led the way out of the recession, and Midwest manufacturing has been a major driver of growth.

But the ITIF report provides a blunt challenge to that story line. Some of the claims in the report are controversial, and not widely accepted. But even the federal government now says there could be problems with how it measures manufacturing productivity.

And that could have big implications for the policies our leaders consider in the future.

Continue reading “The Controversial Economic Report That Challenges Everything We Think We Know About U.S. Manufacturing”

Meet The Machine That Makes Most Of The Things In Your Life

Instructor Steve Henkelman programs a CNC machine at Grand Rapids Community College. Credit: Dustin Dwyer

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This month, we’re taking a look at some of the hidden assets of the industrial Midwest – the parts of our economy that don’t often get noticed when we talk about our strengths.

We found one hidden asset right smack in the middle of our manufacturing sector. It’s a machine that’s in literally thousands of factories across the Midwest. And, though, you might not have heard of it before, the CNC machine – and the people who operate it – are at the core of our economy.

CNC stands for computer-numerically-controlled. And what the computerized machine does is it machines things. That sounds ridiculous unless you know that machine is not just a noun. It’s also a specific manufacturing process.

It’s when you cut away a material. It’s basically commercial sculpting.

“Machining is at, or very close to, the foundation of manufacturing,” says Peter Zelinski, senior editor at Modern Machine Shop magazine.

Zelinski says, even if you’ve never heard of it, CNC machining is essential to your life.
Continue reading “Meet The Machine That Makes Most Of The Things In Your Life”

Midwest Memo: Fracking Taxes, Manufacturing Grants And Head Start Problems In Detroit

Taxing the fracking Bloomberg reports that Ohio Gov. John Kasich has a new proposal to tax oil and gas drilling in his state. Taxes on the new kinds of drilling, known as “fracking,” could raise $1.02 billion for the state by 2016, according to the report.

$1 billion for manufacturing President Obama plans to be in Virginia today to promote a new $1 billion grant program to fund innovation in manufacturing. The plan requires approval from Congress.

Turning it around Wisconsin added jobs last month. But previous months’ figures were revised, creating a more mixed jobs picture.

Head Stop The federal government will stop sending $50 million a year to the city of Detroit to administer Head Start programs. The Detroit Free Press says the decision follows reports that city officials mishandled the money. Now, the government will try to find other organizations to run Head Start in the city.

Lower funds for higher ed Michigan is losing about $4 million in federal higher education funds. The loss is because the state cut its own budget for higher education, according to the Gannett news service.

Can You Imagine Life In The Midwest 100,000 Years From Now?


The goal of Changing Gears is to talk about the transformation of our economy in the Midwest, and to prepare ourselves for a brighter future. The time scale we’re usually talking about is in range of decades, maybe a century or two.

But, this morning, we found ourselves thinking about what life could be like in the Midwest 100,000 years from now. The inspiration came from the animation created above by New Scientist.

We’re not scientists around here, but it seems there are some good reasons to be bullish about how the Midwest could fare over the long, long term. We’ve got all this water around us. We do pretty well at growing our own food. And, even though our manufacturing economy has taken a beating in the last few decades, our culture of making things has to be worth something in the grander scheme.

Just for a moment, forget what the next 10 years will look like in the Midwest. Forget about what will happen in your lifetime. Tell us what you think the Midwest will look like a thousand years from now. Then 10,000 years. Then 100,000.

Then, think about what things we can do now to make a difference.

Midwest Memo: Workers Need More Skills, Detroit Needs More Money And Wisconsin Needs Faster Internet

Collared The Presidential candidates are all out talking about creating more manufacturing jobs. The National Journal looks at what that’ll take. The magazine says we’ll need more blue-collar workers with white-collar training.

Detroit’s ticking clock Detroit leaders have been furiously trying to cut costs to avoid being taken over by an emergency manager. But the Detroit News says the city is still dangerously low on cash, and could run out of money by April.

Pension predicament The new tax on worker pensions in MIchigan is either confusing people, or angering them, according to the Detroit News. The pension tax was created last year to offset a reduction in Michigan’s business tax. The change took effect in January.

Broadband dreams Wisconsin ranks 43rd in the nation for access to high-speed broadband internet.The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel takes a look at how to change that, and finds Chattanooga, Tenn. may be the model to follow.

Guardian angels Crain’s Chicago Business says angel investors are focused in on Chicago tech companies, hoping to find the next Groupon.

This is a new one In an interview with the Associated Press, Ford chairman Bill Ford Jr. says he’s worried about selling too many vehicles.