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.
Flint Plan: Michael Brown, the emergency manager of Flint, Mich., unveiled his plan yesterday for reducing an $11.3 million deficit. Not surprisingly, one of his top priorities is to overhaul bargainingagreements with city unions, something an emergency manager is allowed to do under Public Act 4, passed last year by the Michigan Legislature. Brown also wants to reopen the city jail, which closed in 2008.
Wisconsin Candidates: Democrats are raising their hands for the opportunity to challenge Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who appears to face an almost certain recall election this fall. Former Dane County chief executive Kathleen Falk said the 1 million signatures submitted by opponents to Walker on Monday convinced her to run. State Senator Tim Cullen of Janesville also plans to enter the race.
Toyota Milestone: It may be hard for car buffs to believe, but Toyota’s plant in Princeton, Ind., will turn 14 years old this year. And this week, it built its 3 millionth vehicle. The factory, in southwest Indiana, makes the Sienna minivan, which was the best selling family van in the United States last year. It has 4,100 workers and an annual payroll of $288 million.
Rock Hall: Dead Heads, listen up: the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland will celebrate the Grateful Dead this spring with an exhibit called The Long Strange Trip. It opens April 12, giving you plenty of time to launder your tie-dye t-shirts and get out your Jerry Garcia ties.
African-American Influence: The number of African-American households earning $75,000 or more grew by 64% between 2000 and 2009 — 12% faster than the overall population’s earning growth, a new survey by the Nielsen Co. shows, according to Crain’s Chicago Business. African-American women, particularly, are boosting their earning power. The percentage of black women who attended some college or earned a degree increased to 53%, compared with 44% for black men. Though the numbers are national, they signal a socioeconomic shift for cities with significant black populations, such as Chicago and Detroit, Crain’s said.
Detroit Light Rail Aftershock: Business leaders in Detroit are feeling the aftershock of the government’s abrupt decision this week to cancel a light rail project, the Detroit News said. The leaders say they were not consulted by the Transportation Department, which scrapped the $500 million project in favor of high-speed buses. Given the time and effort that city businesses and leaders committed to the project, they were owed a discussion before the announcement was made, the Detroit Downtown Development Partnership said in a letter released today.
New Cleveland Flights: Delta Air Lines is adding 10 new daily flights between Cleveland’s Hopkins International Airport and LaGuardia Airport in New York City. According to the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, the flights begin July 11. The first will be at 6:45 a.m. and the last at 7 p.m. The Delta service joins five flights a day by American Airlines, and 12 a day by United Airlines, which assumed Continental Airlines’ hub in Cleveland when the airlines merged last year. Delta said its creation of a LaGuardia hub is the largest single airline expansion in New York in more than 40 years.
Illinois Vote: The Illinois Senate is set to vote today on an incentives package meant to keep the CME Group (better known as the Chicago Mercantile Exchange) and Sears in the state. The vote follows the Illinois House’s approval of the package on Monday. Barring a last minute glitch in the political process, listen for a report from Changing Gears’ Niala Boodhoo on the incentives situation tomorrow.
Michigan Liquor: The State of Michigan is considering changes to the state’s liquor laws, which restrict sales on Sunday and allow local governments to set limits on who can get liquor licenses. The Detroit News reports the Liquor Control Rules Advisory Committee is looking at “anything and everything,” according to one state official. The review is not open to the public, however, and the News says that’s causing some consternation among groups that want the state to take a conservative approach to reforming liquor laws.
Arts Money: Sixty-six arts and cultural organizations in Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County will be sharing nearly $14 million in grants for 2012. Our partner ideastream is among five organizations getting grants of $1 million or more from Cuyahoga Arts and Culture. The group gets its funding from a tax on cigarette sales. Dan Bobkoff reported earlier this year on the unique way the grants are funded.
Casino Jobs in Cleveland: Want to work at the new Horseshoe Casino? They’re hiring again, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The casino, located on four floors of the old Higbee Department store, will be filling 40 different kinds of jobs, with 750 new positions open. The work ranges from security officers and slot machine supervisors to chefs. It’s the second wave of hiring for the Horseshoe, which hired its first 650 people in September. The casino hopes to open in late March.
High Speed Rail: Consultants have until today to submit their proposals to study how to solve a crucial problem for high speed rail between Detroit and Chicago, reports our partner station Michigan Radio. At issue is a railroad bottleneck between northwest Indiana and Chicago. A high volume of passenger and freight traffic already overwhelms the existing rail lines and threatens to put the brakes on high speed trains. Once a winning consultant is chosen, it will probably take about two years to lay out a solution.
Debtors to Jail: With a slow economy, the number of debtors going to jail in Illinois is on the rise, reports our partner station WBEZ. It’s illegal in Illinois to throw a debtor in jail for not being able to pay, but some creditors are getting around that. A collection agency can file a lawsuit which might require a court appearance. If the debtor doesn’t appear at the hearing, a warrant can be issued for their arrest. Legal aid attorneys have said this is more of an issue in rural parts of the state.
Three must read stories about the Midwest economy today.
1. The Chicago Mercantile Exchange is saber rattling: The Chicago Sun Times says the Merc is threatening to take its corporate base out of Illinois over 2.2% increase in state business tax. The CME has been based in Chicago for over a hundred years, and says it won’t abandon the city. It is considering, however, incorporating elsewhere to avoid the higher taxes.
2. Wisconsin recall count now nine: Recalls against three Wisconsin Democrats have been certified by the state reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, bringing the list of endangered lawmakers to nine.
Population loss across the Midwest is contributing to a lot of empty seats in the region’s baseball stadiums. Baseball teams in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Detroit and Pittsburgh are having a hard time filling seats, despite lowered prices and various attempts to get fans back to watching the ball game live. Eric Wellman of WCPN 90.3 recently filed this report on how the Cleveland Indians are using new social media tactics to get fans to fill the many empty seats.
China isn’t ready to infringe on America’s growing electric car industry – yet. According to a new study by the management consulting firm PRTM, there are several hurdles ahead for China, such as the high cost of shipping heavy electric car parts. Still, China has already spent five times more than the U.S. on their electric car industry.
Michigan may be nearing a budget deal. Lawmakers drafted an early version of the state budget this weekend that included language limiting embryonic stem cell research and state universities. Governor Rick Snyder supports embryonic stem cell research, and Michiganders recently voted in support of it too.
If you need gas for the Easter holiday, you might want to fuel up now, because prices are supposed to go even higher. The average gas price in Michigan is expected to jump between $4.05 and $4.15 a gallon. As you can see from this picture, gas prices in Chicago are well passed the $4.00 a gallon mark.
General Motors cars and trucks are getting more expensive. The Detroit based car company says it will raise the prices of its vehicles by about $123 dollars to make up for jumps in the cost of oil and metal starting May 2nd. GM is the third company recently to announce an increase in auto prices, joining Toyota and Ford.
In other auto news, electric cars have won the favor of the Obama administration. Now, hydrogen fuel cell cars are trying to do the same. Supporters say hydrogen powered cars are ready for the mass market, but U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu disagrees. Since there’s not federal funding backing up the research, these cars – such as the Honda FCX Clarity – costs about $600 a month to lease.