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.

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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: Job Growth Falters, Home Prices Plummet in Detroit

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Unemployment rate edges up in June. A monthly report from the U.S. Labor Department showed the nation’s economy added just 18,000 jobs in June and the unemployment rate rose a tenth of a point to 9.2 percent. Economists were disappointed with the report, and suggested higher energy prices, weak consumer confidence and other problems were to blame. “Unless hiring picks up, there is a reason to be concerned about whether we can grow at 2.5 percent for the rest of this year,” economist John Canally told The New York Times.

2. Detroit home prices sharply decline. Weighed down by a large stock of inventory, home prices in Detroit fell 19.8 percent during the first half of 2011 compared to the same period one year earlier, according to our partner station Michigan Radio. Alex Villacorta of Clear Capital says home prices are expected to dip another 4 percent by the end of 2011.

3. A steel mill’s second act. Bored this weekend and looking for something unusual to do? The Dave Matthews Band Caravan kicks off a three-day concert tonight in Chicago on the 600-acre former site of a giant steel mill once operated as U.S. Steel’s South Works facility on the mouth of the Calumet River. Once a brownfield site, our partner station WBEZ reports that more than 200,000 concertgoers are expected this weekend. Next year, the site is slated for redevelopment.

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.

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