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.
The Federal Reserve Board of Chicago is out with its Midwest manufacturing index for February, and the numbers are something of a milestone.
The Chicago Fed uses 2007 as a baseline, meaning 100 on its index, which the Fed calls “a composite of 15 manufacturing industries that uses hours worked data to measure monthly changes in regional activity.” (We like to think of 100 as basically full staff.)
In February, the manufacturing index, which covers Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan, stood at 91.7. The number for automobile manufacturing was even better — 92.2 — while steel manufacturing stands a tad behind, at 90.5 percent.
But that’s an important number, as we’ll explain.
Since the index goes up about a half a percentage point to a point per month, you might extrapolate that the region will be back to 100 by the end of the year. Of course, there’s no way to really nail that, given high gas prices and other economic factors.
Whether you think the recession is over or not, it’s been hard on many people in the Midwest and the country. So, our Changing Gears team went out to find some people whose circumstances have forced them make some tough choices that are, perhaps, working out for the better. Here are three stories of the Plan B.