Midwest Memo: Ohio’s $900 Million Gas Plant, Ill. Primary And A Mining Bill That Won’t Quit

Gassed up Ohio will get a new $900 million natural gas processing plant, as the state’s boom in shale-gas drilling continues.

You’re next, Illinois Mitt Romney’s poor showing in Alabama and Missisippi seems to have heightened the importance of next week’s primary in Illinois. The Chicago Tribune reports the Romney campaign just bought another $1.35 million in ads in the Chicago market.

Politics behind consent Yesterday was a big day in the city of Detroit, as Michigan governor Rick Snyder released a proposed consent agreement to handle the city’s budget crisis. Partner station Michigan Radio takes a look at the politics behind the proposal.

Mining a new strategy Even though a controversial piece of legislation to allow mining in northern Wisconsin failed to get enough votes, and the company that wanted the mine has pulled out, some state Republicans are still fighting for the cause.

Ohio gets the bronze The Labor Department reports that Ohio had the third-largest increase in jobs in January. Only New York and Texas saw more jobs created in the first month of the year.

Camera-ready Partner station WBEZ looks into Chicago’s volatile, but growing film industry.

Midwest Memo: Bye Bye G-8, Wisconsin Is Udderly Amazing And A Super Vote

Later, G-8er After months of planning in Chicago, city leaders found out yesterday they won’t be hosting the G-8 summit after all. Partner station WBEZ reports the decision could save the city from major protests.

Mo’ money, mo’ housing Huntington Bank is pledging $100 million in loans to help build or remodel low-income housing in Michigan. Bank officials hope the commitment generates confidence in the economy and spurs more bank lending.

Minding in the mine vote A controversial piece of legislation that would open up mining in northern Wisconsin could come up for a vote today in the state Senate.

Got milk? Yes. Wisconsin dairy cows had a record year last year. One out of every eight gallons of milk produced in the United States came from the udder of a Wisconsin cow.

Super duper You might have heard something about a vote happening today. Partner station WCPN Cleveland looks at how crossover voters could affect the very tight GOP primary race in Ohio.

Midwest Memo: High Tech High Schools, Jet Jobs And Right To Work In Court

New high (tech) schools Five giants of the tech world are teaming up to open six new high schools in Chicago. Students at the high schools will stay for six years, and leave with an associates degree in a high tech field.

Jet jobs Michigan Governor Rick Snyder says the state could lose 600 jobs if the Air Force moves its A-10 fighter planes away from the Selfridge Air National Guard base.

Signature move Opponents of Michigan’s emergency manager law say they have enough signatures to put the issue on the ballot, and let voters decide whether the law should stand. Partner station Michigan Radio reports the signatures will be turned in today for certification.

Mine on the mind Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is hitting the road to help promote a controversial mining bill. The bill would open up a new mine in northern Wisconsin. The bill passed the state Assembly, but it now appears to be headed for a close vote in the Senate.

Right to Work in court Opponents of Indiana’s new Right to Work law will get their day in court. Attempts to overturn Right to Work have failed in other states. But activists say Indiana’s law was passed in a hastily, and it contains provisions not found in other Right to Work laws. Both sides will make their case at a preliminary hearing on Monday.

Drilling down into the numbers A new study says shale gas and oil will add $5 billion to Ohio’s economy over the next two years. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports the study was commissioned by the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, on behalf of the Ohio Shale coalition. The study predicts the boom in shale drilling will happen about 10 times faster than previous studies predicted.

Midwest Memo: Lighting Up The Economy, Speedy Job Training And A Compromise In Wisconsin

The big question A blog post at the Harvard Business Review asks, “Just How Important Is Manufacturing?”

Bright future The National Resources Defense Council says Ohio has become a leader in making high efficiency light bulbs. It says the industry has created 1,500 jobs in the state. The Columbus Dispatch has the story.

The long (distance) con European investors who thought they were helping Detroit’s struggling housing may have actually been victims of a scam. The Detroit News reports that at least a dozen overseas investors say they bought homes in Detroit, but the homes were never repaired, and tenants were never found.

Faster ed Why are community colleges so important to manufacturers? Speed.

Final resort After much debate and disagreement over a controversial plan to open up mining in northern Wisconsin, lawmakers are trying a new approach: compromise.

Midwest Memo: GM’s Record Year, R&D Decline In Chicago And Wisconsin Politics Are Wisconsin Politics

That’s a lot of clams GM made $7.6 billion last year. It was a record profit.

Mixed foreclosure news New foreclosure data is in. The numbers are down in Ohio and Michigan. But they’re up in Illinois.

Research and Decline R&D jobs dropped 43% in Chicago between 2000 and 2010, according to a new study. Crain’s Chicago Business has the write-up.

Collegial process The Columbus Dispatch reports Ohio’s 37 colleges and universities have agreed on a construction wish list for this year’s state budget. Governor John Kasich called the unified process “unprecedented.”

Small power plants, big effect? The closure of four small, little-used power plants is stoking speculation that energy prices in Ohio could rise. The Cleveland Plain Dealer says the common sense analysis would say that the change should have little effect on prices. But, the new world of online auctions for power prices “don’t necessarily make common sense.”

Bus cuts Detroit will cancel early-morning bus service in an effort to save cash.

Mining bill advances A special committee has been disbanded, and a controversial piece of mining legislation has been put on the fast track in the Wisconsin Senate, proving once again that nothing is simple in Wisconsin politics these days. The bill would loosen regulations to help open an iron mine in northern Wisconsin.

Questions Emerge About Wisconsin Mining Bill, Detroit Suburbs Rejects Mass Transit, Housing Shows Slight Uptick

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Who wrote Wisconsin mining bill? New details are emerging on who helped write a bill that overhauls Wisconsin’s mining laws. Last week, state Republicans declined to provide details on who authored the legislation. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported today that five Republican legislators, their staffs, representatives from the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce business lobby and officials from the mining company Gogebic Taconite all participated. Earlier this year, Gogebic Taconite demanded changes in mining legislation so the company could move forward with plans to open a $1.5 billion mine in a forested area of Iron and Ashland Counties.The Journal Sentinel reports that details of Assembly Bill 426 had been “kept under wraps for months,” leading to questions from environmentalists about who authored the legislation.

2. Detroit suburb rejects mass transit. The city council of one town in southeast Michigan rejected a proposal Monday to build a federally funded transportation center within its borders. The center in Troy, considered a key piece to a mass-transit system in metro Detroit, was voted down, 4-3. Opponents called the $8.5 million center a “waste of tax dollars,” according to the Detroit Free Press, although Troy would not have footed the bill. Earlier, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder sent a letter urging the council to support the proposal. Monday was the final day for a decision in order to complete the project by the Oct. 1, 2013 deadline set by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

3. Housing shows slight improvement. The homebuilding industry is showing modest improvement headed into 2012, according to analysts. The Associated Press reports that apartment construction and permits “surged” in November, jumping 9.3 percent from the previous month. It’s the highest level since April 2010. Still, the market remains troubled. Builders broke ground on a seasonally adjusted rate of 685,000 homes last month, but economists say a healthy housing market would produce 1.2 million homes each year. “While beginning to improve, a strong, sustained recovery in the housing market, especially the important single-family sector, is still a ways off,” Steven Wood, chief economist at Insight Economics, tells the AP.

Midwest Memo: Environmental And Business Interests Clash In Ohio And Wisconsin, Sara Lee Returns To Chicago

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Ohio officials scrutinize fracking finding. Ohio officials are closely watching the fallout from an Environmental Protection Agency finding that hydrofracking might have caused groundwater pollution in Wyoming. The finding, announced Thursday, could have significant ramifications in Ohio, where leaders have haggled over how to regulate the burgeoning industry. The industry has contended that fracking is safe, but the EPA detected hydrocarbons likely associated with fracking chemicals in the groundwater of a Wyoming town where residents say their well water reeks of chemicals. “All of the rhetoric from the industry has been there’s no way that this can happen,” Trent Doughtery, a lawyer for the Ohio Environmental Council, tells The Columbus Dispatch. “This shows that it has happened, and we need to protect the people in Ohio.”

2. Wisconsin Republicans envision mining boom. Wisconsin Republicans proposed legislation Thursday that would encourage construction of iron ore mines and reduce environmental restrictions. Sponsors of the bill tell the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel its passage could create thousands of jobs. The newspaper reports the bill would scale back water protections and waste rock disposal, as well as mandate that the Department of Natural Resources accelerate its review process. Mining emerged as a significant state issue this year when Gogebic Taconite announced it would construct a new mine that would employ 700 workers. Advocates decried the sweeping rollbacks of environmental protections. The bill will gets its first hearing Wednesday, according to the newspaper, and could be voted upon in January.

3. Sara Lee headquarters back in Chicago. Six years after leaving, Sara Lee is returning part of its corporate headquarters to Chicago. The food and beverage company was headquartered in the city for more than 60 years before a 2005 consolidation brought it to suburban Downers Grove. Next year, the company will split into two publicly traded companies, and one will occupy a building on South Jefferson that will be renovated at a cost of $60 million, according to our partner station WBEZ. A $6.5 million subsidy, a first under Mayor Rahm Emanuel, helped bring the deal to fruition.

Midwest Memo: Michigan Mining Company Lays Off 600, Chinese Students Wisconsin Bound, Iconic Cleveland Building Sold

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Mining company lays off 600 workers. A mining company in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula will temporarily shut down part of its operations and lay off approximately 600 employees. Cliffs Natural Resources, which operates the Empire Mine in Marquette County, said production is expected to drop from 4.6 million tons in 2011 to 2.7 million tons in 2012, according to the Marquette Mining Journal. The drop comes because steel producer ArcelorMittal will take a blast furnace down for maintenance in the second quarter. A company spokesperson said the layoffs will last “several months” until the furnace goes online again.

2. Historic Cleveland property has new owner. One of Cleveland’s historic downtown landmarks was purchased today by a Canadian hotel and resort company during a foreclosure auction. Skyline International Development Inc. was the sole bidder for the Arcade, and purchased it for $7.7 million – the minimum bid, according to The Plain Dealer. The current site was renovated a decade ago for $60 million, but went into foreclosure in April 2009 when its Chicago-based owner defaulted on a $33.3 million mortgage. An attorney for the new owners said this is Skyline’s first U.S. real estate holding, but did not comment on the firm’s plans for the Arcade. With the property selling for the minimum, its creditors, including Bank of America, the city of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County, will not recoup any of their investments.

3. Chinese students Milwaukee bound. Hundreds of Chinese students could attend the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in coming years thanks to a recruiting agreement the school’s chancellor signed today in Beijing. An agreement with a Chinese education network will boost the university’s international profile and help lure Chinese companies to Milwaukee, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. It would also boost the school’s out-of-state tuition coffers. China is the city’s third-largest trading partner, according to the newspaper. The agreement runs for five years. “You could think of myriad ways these students could connect to help Milwaukee employers in China,” said Tim Sheehy, president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce.

Midwest Memo: Upper Peninsula Enjoys Mining Surge, Scott Walker Wastes No Time Plotting Wisconsin Recall Strategy

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Upper Peninsula’s mining boom. The mining industry in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan is enjoying a renaissance more than a century after its best days passed. New technology demands are creating demand for gold, silver, copper and nickel, the Detroit Free Press reports today. Foreign companies are finding them in abundance in both new and reopened ore mines. Mineral rights on more than 1 million acres have been leased for prospecting. But many of the mines are near rivers and Lake Superior, sparking concern among environmentalists. “I’m not anti-mine. I’m anti-mining pollution,” one advocate tells the newspaper.

2. Busy finale ahead for Illinois legislators. The Illinois state legislature could end its fall session Tuesday with a flurry of activity. Lawmakers are expected to vote on several pieces of legislation that have garnered attention for months, including a bill that would expand the Earned Income Tax Credit, which extends larger refunds to working families. Our partner station WBEZ reports the legislature could also tackle a package of tax incentives designed to keep CME Group and Sears based in in the state. Both have been wooed in recent months by Indiana and other competitors. A vote on legislation that would expand gambling in the state could also take place.

3. Walker plots recall strategy. A possible recall election may not take place until next summer, but Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is wasting no time in campaigning to keep his job. Walker is running television ads defending his 11-month record and Republican volunteers are going door to door canvassing likely voters. USA Today reports Walker’s office is trying to learn from the only two successful gubernatorial recalls in U.S. history. They believe California Gov. Gray Davis (2003) and North Dakota Gov. Lynn Frazier in 1921 both started campaigning too late to save their jobs. “There’s this momentum that builds, and once it builds it’s very difficult for things to reverse,” David Schecter, a political scientist at Cal State Fresno, tells the newspaper.

Midwest Memo: Michigan Governor Off to Asia on Trade Mission, Wisconsin may Ease Mining Laws

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Michigan governor’s trade mission. Gov. Rick Snyder and an entourage of administration and business officials head to Asia this weekend as part of his first trade mission while in office. Snyder will spend two days in Tokyo, one day in Beijing, one day in China and one in Seoul, according to our partner station Michigan Radio. He will emphasize the state’s business tax structure and workforce in his attempts to entice overseas leaders to invest in Michigan, though downplays any expectation of immediate results. “I don’t have high expectations there,” he said. “This is more about starting the relationships and then looking six months, a year out.”

2. Manufacturing’s one key trait. In a short essay for Bloomberg Business Week, General Motors CEO Daniel Akerson writes the key to saving the American manufacturing industry is adaptability. In the wake of bankruptcy, he points toward an agreement the United Auto Workers made to lower wages at a plant in Lake Orion, Mich., as one that hailed the arrival of a more flexible cost structure. “If you don’t prize adaptability, whether it’s industrial relations or it’s in how you view, perceive, and react to your competition, you’re going to be a dinosaur,” he said.

3. Wisconsin could ease mining laws. A special legislative committee in Wisconsin will examine proposals to minimize state laws that regulate the mining industry, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “We need to focus, one, on the environment and, two, on job creation,” Republican State Sen. Neal Kedzie told the newspaper. Regulation became an issue recently when Gogebic Taconite announced it would delay plans for an iron-ore mine near Hurley until state laws eased. Gogebic said the mine would employ 700 workers.