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.
Last year, everyone in the auto industry was chuffed about Detroit’s comeback.
American Landscape, by Sheeler
The carmakers were enjoying a healthy rebound from the bankruptcies at General Motors and Chrysler. And for a while, at least, Chrysler outsold Toyota to make the Detroit Three the Big Three again.
But this year, Detroit’s market share has been slipping, and that has ramifications all across the Midwest.
In fact, the auto companies have fallen back to the market share level they held in 2009, as GM and Chrysler were struggling. In a piece for Forbes.com, I look at what happened to the Detroit companies during the first quarter.
The Federal Reserve Board of Chicago is out with its Midwest manufacturing index for February, and the numbers are something of a milestone.
The comeback in steel is good for places like Gary, Indiana/photo by Micki Maynard
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.
Jennifer Knightstep was a researcher in the media archives at General Motors until she was laid off in 2008. Her first reaction was fear.
“I panicked for a few minutes, and then I tried to think of what I wanted to do next,” she says. “There’s not a big demand for archivists in Metro Detroit or anywhere else for that matter.”
So instead of trying to get a similar job, Knightstep decided to go in a new direction.
“I thought maybe I should start trying to do what I really wanted to do, which was be a writer.”
When she filed for unemployment, she learned about No Worker Left Behind, a program in Michigan that offered up to $10,000 in tuition for degrees in emerging industries. NWLB was scaled back in 2010 following federal funding cuts.
When most people think about growing fields, freelance writing is not the first job that comes to mind, but Knightstep made it work.
“I don’t even know what street Canada is on,” Al Capone once said. But Canada’s prime minister, Stephen Harper, is determined to make sure he puts Canada on the map with one key global power: Japan.
Map courtesy of About.com
If he accomplishes his goal, it could have ramifications for the automobile industry, agriculture and the Midwest in general.
Harper opened negotiations this weekend with Japan on a free trade agreement. Negotiators were careful to caution against any quick resolution, because it can take years to negotiate such deals, and Japan isn’t known for speedy decision making.
But, a Canada-Japan trade agreement would join one between Japan and Mexico — and leave the United States as the only North American country without one. Continue reading →
Victor Gregory teaches high schoolers about cars. He worries when they take on debt after graduation.
Americans owe close to a trillion dollars in student loan debt. Changing Gears has been reporting on that debt, a lot of which comes from attending private, for-profit schools. They’re the fastest growing part of higher education, popular for non-degree technical training. Call them career colleges, technical schools or trade schools … just don’t call them cheap.
So I’m at Cobra’s the Grind, eyes-avoiding-buttocks, walking up dimly lit stairs to meet the manager. Steve is a big guy; he started here as a bouncer. He lays his gun down next to us as we talk. He had different life plans after graduating high school in 2006. Continue reading →
The ad makes it clear that Chrysler is sticking with its strategy to promote the Motor City as a way to promote its vehicles.
After declaring that “it’s halftime in America, the ad’s narrator, Clint Eastwood, says:
People are out of work and they’re hurting. And they’re all wondering what they’re going to do to make a comeback. And we’re all scared because this isn’t a game. The people of Detroit know a little something about this. They almost lost everything. But we all pulled together. Now, Motor City is fighting again.
The ad got us thinking: When people say Detroit, oftentimes what they mean is “the auto industry” or “metro-Detroit.” So, what exactly are we talking about when we talk about Detroit?
Matt Ghazal runs a Buy Here-Pay Here business in West Michigan. He's trying to change the sector's reputation.
In the Midwest, it’s hard to get around without a car. These days, people are holding onto them longer. The average vehicle is almost 11 years old and used cars prices are on the rise. All this adds to the pressure on the bottom rung of consumers: people with bad credit. For many, the only way to finance a car is at a Buy Here-Pay Here lot. Here, dealers loan to deep subprime customers at interest rates up to 25%.
Job training, streamlined Ohio governor, John Kasich says this year, job training is “going to be, probably my seminal issue.” The Columbus Dispatch says streamlining Ohio’s current job training programs is at the top of the governor’s to-do list. Right now, Kasich says the state has 77 training programs across 13 agencies.
Radically local consumerism Residents in Chagrin Falls, Ohio decided to “occupy” their locally-owned hardware store over the weekend to help generate some business. USA Today says by 10 a.m., the store was jammed with a “cash mob.”
This is where we used to live It’s official, the former site of one of the country’s most violent and infamous public housing projects has been bought by Target. Crain’s Chicago Business reports Target bought the former Cabrini-Green property for $8.8 million.