Midwest Memo: Rahm’s In Charge, Ohio Steel Bounces Back And We’re Hosting A Call-In Show

Tune in Today at 3 p.m. ET/2p.m CT, Changing Gears is hosting a live call in show on “Hidden Assets” of the Midwest economy. Michigan governor Rick Snyder will be joining us for the show, and we’ll have a live chat here at changinggears.info.

Rahm in charge Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel won approval from City Council yesterday to move ahead with his $7.2 billion infrastructure plan. The vote wasn’t even close, which prompted the Chicago Tribune to say the mayor is “firmly in control.”

Mo’ money, mo’ physics Officials at Michigan State University are getting some good news. The state’s Senate delegation says MSU’s planned Facility for Rare Isotope Beams will get an extra $8 million in federal funds. The facility is expected to be a leader in the study of particle physics. The extra $8 million still puts the facility $25 million below what MSU leaders had hoped for from the government.

Real steel The New York Times reports on $1.5 billion worth of investment in Ohio’s steel industry. After a painful recession, the Times says Ohio’s still industry is bouncing back, thanks to the state’s booming natural gas market and increased demand for new vehicles.

Cliffs Natural Resources Scraps Plans for UP Nugget Plant

Cliff's Empire Mine in Michigan's Upper Peninsula

If you’ve been following our coverage of iron mining in the region, this might interest you.  Cliffs Natural Resources, North America’s biggest iron ore supplier, is scrapping plans to build an iron nugget plant in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

A nugget is just a little clump of very pure iron.  Big deal?  Well, here’s why the new nugget technology matters … and why Cliffs spent years studying it in cooperation with Kobe Steel of Japan.

Remember, the iron-rich regions of Michigan and Minnesota:

1) provided the iron ore

2) that made the steel

3) that helped the industrial Midwest become the industrial Midwest.

However, miners extracted so much high-grade ore, for so long, that mostly low-grade ore remains today.  Companies like Cliffs spend a lot of time and money processing that ore — essentially upgrading it into a product that contains more iron.  That product, called a pellet, is what they ship to steelmakers.

Nuggets have a far higher iron content than the pellets typically produced in the region.  They look like Junior Mints, but they’re almost 100% iron.  Very pure.  Which could make them very valuable to the next generation of steelmakers.

Check out our recent piece on a groundbreaking nugget plant in Minnesota.  Mesabi Nugget hasn’t reached full capacity yet, but it has produced more than 200,000 tons of iron nuggets.

As for Cliffs Natural Resources, the company decided a nugget plant in Michigan would not be commercially viable.  However, spokesman Dale Hemmila says that won’t prevent Cliffs from investing $60 million to extend the life of its Empire Mine to 2015.

The Empire and Tilden open pit mines are essential to the economy of the UP.  We reported earlier on one “company town” that relies on the economic oxygen of the mines.  If you’ve never been to Ishpeming, now’s your chance.

Can Technology Breathe New Life into the Midwest’s Old Iron?

Plant manager Jeff Hansen says Mesabi Nugget is a pioneer

The industrial Midwest might not be the industrial Midwest if it weren’t for the iron-rich regions of northern Minnesota and Michigan. These iron ranges have long supplied domestic steelmakers, depleting the highest quality ore along the way. Now, a plant in Minnesota is testing a process to dramatically upgrade the low-grade ore that remains.[display_podcast] Continue reading “Can Technology Breathe New Life into the Midwest’s Old Iron?”

In Granite City, Illinois, Economic Recovery Can Be Complicated Endeavor

For more than 130 years, the economy in Granite City, Ill. has been steel.

In 2008, the 30,000 residents of this small town along the Mississippi River saw what happened when their economic backbone bent. U.S. Steel temporarily shuttered a mill that employed 2,200.

Now, the steel industry is back. The mill has re-opened. Officials say it is “fully staffed” at 2,200 employees and a union representative tells our friends at St. Louis Public Radio that “its future is probably more secure now than it’s been in a long time. And these are good-paying jobs.”

The station profiled Granite City this morning, examining its past, its Great Recession devastation and its rebirth. But Granite City’s story isn’t a simple redemption story. The landscape is more complicated.

Continue reading “In Granite City, Illinois, Economic Recovery Can Be Complicated Endeavor”

Midwest Memo: Ohio’s Steel Industry Surges, Indiana Ponders Effect of Chicago Casino, Detroit’s Health Care ‘Overkill’

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Too much health-care? One sector has outperformed all others in bucking the trend of job loss throughout the country: Health care added 800,000 jobs throughout the recession. Oakland County, Michigan, located in suburban Detroit, has been among the municipalities looking at heath care as a potential economic savior, and hopes to add a $600 million hospital that could bring 3,000 jobs. But Marketplace asks, is it overkill? Dennis McCafferty, a union and business representative, says there are six hospitals within a 30-minute drive of the proposed Oakland County site that have an average occupancy of 55 percent.

2. Indiana eyes Chicago casino. Throughout his push for approval of a Chicago casino, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has lamented the potential $20 to $25 million in monthly revenue that has instead gone to places like Hammond, Ind. But if a casino is built in Chicago, it’s no certainty that money would automatically be diverted to the Windy City’s coffers. Our partner station WBEZ spoke with gamblers in the area, and reports it’s no shoo-in that Chicago will come out ahead in the gambling turf fight.

3. Ohio steel industry surges. Calling it a rebirth may be a stretch, but the steel industry in northeast Ohio has seen a resurgence in activity in the past two years. “Youngstown looks less like a graveyard,” reports our partner station Ideastream. A $650 million plant for steel-pipe producer V & M Star is leading the way. U.S. Steel is investing in a $100 million project near Lorain. A Cleveland State University professor says a change in Ohio’s business tax structure that lowers the burden on manufacturers is the reason for the uptick.

Midwest Memo: Steelmaker Leaving Cleveland for Chicago, UAW Negotiations Continue, Obama Campaigns in Ohio

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Goodbye Cleveland, hello Chicago. A Cleveland-area steelmaker could receive more than $1 million in financial incentives to move its headquarters to downtown Chicago, Crain’s Chicago Business reported this morning. JMC Steel Group Inc. could bring 50 new employees in the move. Chicago’s Community Development Commission will hear a proposal to provide $1.1 million in incentives Tuesday. Crain’s writes the approval would “represent another victory for Mayor Rahm Emanuel,” who has touted several job victories since taking office.

2. Ford faces UAW strike. A Wednesday deadline looms on contract talks between United Auto Workers officials and Detroit automakers, although representatives on both sides say the discussions could be extended. UAW president Bob King tells our partner station Michigan Radio that a strike is not a “goal” of the talks, but others believe a strike could happen at Ford. Gary Walkowicz, a bargaining committeeman, says union members deserve to receive cost-of-living adjustments surrendered during the recession.

3. Obama will speak in Ohio. President Obama will continue the campaign for his $447 billion jobs bill in Columbus, Ohio, today. He’ll emphasize part of his proposal that marks $25 billion for school building and renovation while speaking at Fort Hayes Arts and Academic High School. It’s part of Obama’s plan to fight for the American Jobs Act on the turf of his Republican counterparts. The Ohio visit, in House Speaker John Boehner’s home state, comes four days after Obama visited House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s district in Richmond, Va.

Changing Gears Presents Reinventing Pittsburgh: Part 1

Changing Gears is spending the next few years looking at ways to reinvent the Midwest economy. Today, we kick off our first week-long series: Reinventing Pittsburgh. Once, it was the Steel City, just as Detroit was the Motor City. But while Detroit struggles to find its new identity, Pittsburgh is undergoing an enormous transformation, shifting to an economy that includes technology, medicine, education and yes, steel.

Can Pittsburgh be a model for the Great Lakes region? Later this week, we’ll be looking at how Detroit and Gary, Indiana, are following Pittsburgh’s lead. But first, we look at where Pittsburgh was.

Continue reading “Changing Gears Presents Reinventing Pittsburgh: Part 1”