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.
Not tracking incentives Few states are doing a good job tracking their business tax incentives. That’s according to a new report from the Pew Center on the States. The AP has a writeup. Among Midwest states, Pew says Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Missouri are “leading the way.” Michigan and Ohio have “mixed results.” And Illinois and Indiana “trail behind.” The full report is here.
Revved up for RVs PBS Newshour reports on the rebounding RV industry in Indiana. The town of Elkhart was struggling just a few years ago because of a downturn in RV sales. Elkhart turned to electric vehicle maker Think to help boost jobs. Now, Think is in bankruptcy, and the RV companies are hiring again.
Part-time farmer Howard Haselhuhn at his West Michigan hops farm. Credit: Lindsey Smith
This month, we’re looking into some of the hidden assets of the Midwest – the parts of our economy that don’t often get noticed when we talk about our strengths (the first part of the series is here). Agriculture is one of the biggest drivers of local economies in the Midwest – it accounts for billions of dollars worth of exports and thousands of jobs. There’s been a lot of concern about whether enough young people are going into farming these days. But the ag industry goes well beyond being just farming – and plenty of young people are interested in that.
At Navy Pier, a special meeting of the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences’s FFA chapter is being called to order. Ringed around the room, one by one, chapter officers check in during the traditional opening ceremony. It ends when President and Senior Jennifer Nelson asks her fellow FFA members: “Why are we here?”
The students stand and chant in unison: “To practice brotherhood, honor agriculture opportunities and responsibilities, and develop those qualities of leadership that an FFA member should possess.”
These students are part of the 17,000 FFA members in Illinois alone. Membership in the organization overall has increased 20 percent since 2000, to more than half a million members across the country. But there’s a reason why FFA no longer calls itself Future Farmers of America.
Tomorrow, Niala Boodhoo will have the second of our two part series on hidden assets in the industrial Midwest (part one is here). Niala’s story focuses on agriculture. It’s one of the biggest industries in our region, but many older farmers are having trouble finding someone to take over the land once they retire. It’s a problem our colleagues at Harvest Public Media have been tracking closely. Here’s a video they produced about one farmer in Kansas:
There’s a lot more to talk about for the future of agriculture. Be sure to check back here tomorrow to catch Niala’s story, and find out why FFA is growing in popularity, even in cities like Chicago.
The goal of Changing Gears is to talk about the transformation of our economy in the Midwest, and to prepare ourselves for a brighter future. The time scale we’re usually talking about is in range of decades, maybe a century or two.
But, this morning, we found ourselves thinking about what life could be like in the Midwest 100,000 years from now. The inspiration came from the animation created above by New Scientist.
We’re not scientists around here, but it seems there are some good reasons to be bullish about how the Midwest could fare over the long, long term. We’ve got all this water around us. We do pretty well at growing our own food. And, even though our manufacturing economy has taken a beating in the last few decades, our culture of making things has to be worth something in the grander scheme.
Just for a moment, forget what the next 10 years will look like in the Midwest. Forget about what will happen in your lifetime. Tell us what you think the Midwest will look like a thousand years from now. Then 10,000 years. Then 100,000.
Then, think about what things we can do now to make a difference.
Now, another industry finds itself in a similar position: agriculture. It’s a big business all across the Midwest. In Michigan, agriculture is said to be the state’s second largest industry and is still growing.
But, Jim Byrum of the Michigan Agri-Business Association says agriculture producers can’t find enough people to fill jobs now, and he’s even more worried about the future.
“The industry demand is pretty solid, and it’s an increasingly severe problem,” Bryum says. Continue reading →
Three stories making news across the Midwest today:
1. Agriculture potential expands in Michigan. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow met in Western Michigan on Monday to discuss ways to grow Michigan’s agriculture industry. Vilsack anticipated this will be the best year for farm income in U.S. history, and Stabenow said Michigan can grow its second-largest industry into biotechnology, reports our partner station Michigan Radio. As a farmer told them at their meeting, “agriculture is doing things,” in Michigan, he said. “Industry is not.”
2. President plans Detroit visit. In what will be his eighth visit to Michigan since becoming president, Barack Obama will join union members during Labor Day festivities in Detroit next week. Organizers do not believe the President will walk in the city’s annual parade, but expect he will make a speech at a to-be-determined site afterward, according to the Detroit Free Press. Obama may use the visit as an opportunity to highlight the government’s intervention in the auto industry in 2009.
3. Rock Hall shows some Respect. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum will honor Aretha Franklin this November, during the venue’s 16th annual American Music Masters this November. Franklin was the first woman inducted into the Hall in 1987, and wrote in a statement that she is “thrilled and delighted to be honored.” The exhibit, “Lady Soul: The Life and Music of Aretha Franklin” will be a week-long celebration and work in conjunction with the museum’s ongoing “Women Who Rock” series.
On a three-day bus tour through the Midwest this week, President Obama expressed confidence the region’s fragile economy would show gradual improvement over the next year.
Depending on the vantage point, that has different meanings.
In Iowa, the unemployment rate hovered at 6.0 percent in June,” a rate that “is much higher than Iowans are comfortable with,” said David Swenson, who teaches economics at Iowa State University, during a roundtable discussion Wednesday on PBS News Hour.
In Michigan, such a figure would be cause for relief. The state holds the Midwest’s highest current unemployment rate at 10.5 percent. It also endured the region’s highest peak unemployment rate, reaching 14.1 percent in September 2009.