Charging up, or powering down? Crain’s Detroit Business looks at hiccups in the market for electric vehicles, and wonders whether Michigan’s many new battery plants will survive. Changing Gears has looked at this question before.

Re-reconsidering housing Partner station WBEZ says the city of Chicago spent 13 years revamping its public housing program. Now the new plan is being reconsidered because of tough economic times in the city.

Peoria pandering? Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel promoted partnerships with Peoria during a visit yesterday. Emanuel says the frequent friction between his city and the rest of the state represent “the politics of the past,” according to the Peoria Journal Star.

Less college = less cost Looking for a solution to cut the cost of college? Indiana has an idea: Prohibit colleges from requiring more than 120 credit hours to get a degree. Gov. Mitch Daniels is expected to sign the restriction into law soon.

Minor detail A historic and beloved ferry based out of Ludington, Mich. may be forced to cancel its service, all because of a little arsenic, mercury and other chemicals it’s been dumping in Lake Michigan.

A Hail Mary pays off Partner station WCPN Ideastream reports that Catholics in NE Ohio appear to have won a rare victory. The Vatican has reversed its decision to close 13 churches in the area.


From Changing Gears contributor Dustin Dwyer.

GRAND RAPIDS — Three years ago, the advanced battery industry in the United States existed only in the imagination. Plenty of people believed electric cars would be the next big thing. and they would be powered by lithium ion batteries – the same kind of batteries that are in cell phones and laptops. But in 2008, almost all of the lithium ion batteries in the world were made in Asia.

The electric Nissan Leaf

Randy Thelan, who heads the economic development office in Holland, Mich., a small town on the shores of Lake Michigan, thought that could change. Thelan had heard one his local companies, Johnson Controls might be getting into the battery business.

“It wasn’t like we were making a direct pitch that we knew they were building a factory,” he said. “It was just sort of planting the seed, and suggesting to their leadership, keep Holland in mind as you guys are looking to invest and add to their capacity.”

While Thelan was working his angle for Holland, the state of Michigan was about to make a big commitment to the new future in batteries.

In December 2008, former Mich. Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed a new law to offer up to $335 million in tax incentives for battery companies in Michigan. Within a year, Holland landed that Johnson Controls battery plant.

The next year it landed another one for LG Chem. And now, just down the road in Muskegon, Michigan, another lithium ion battery plant is going up. Thelan estimates these companies and their suppliers will have created about 750 jobs by the end of the year.

“But ultimately, by 2020, we believe this is a 10,000 job, $2 billion opportunity for West Michigan and we’re well on our way,” he said.

Not everyone is on board with those job projections.

“In terms of direct jobs, I would think there’d be something closer to the neighborhood of four to five thousand jobs,” said Dave Hurst, an analyst for Pike Research. He tracks the electric vehicle industry. And, when he says he expects to see 4,000 to 5,000 jobs, he means nationwide.

In his view, the jobs numbers in Holland and elsewhere are being oversold. But, he adds, ” I think the importance of the industry is not being oversold. I definitely think this is a critical industry to both Michigan and the upper Midwest.”

The bad news: if you’re sitting in a town in the Midwest and you haven’t heard about a new battery plant in the works, you probably won’t. The industry that didn’t even exist three years ago is now firmly set. It’s in Holland. It’s in Detroit. And it’s in Indianapolis, around the EnerDel plant. But that doesn’t mean everyone else is just giving up.

In Northeast Ohio, the economic development office called Nortech has developed a roadmap for tapping into the new advanced battery industry. Batteries for electric cars play only a small role in the roadmap.

Wind turbine in downtown Cleveland

Instead, officials are focused on much larger batteries that can store excess power created by wind turbines and solar panels. Nortech estimates $49 million has already been invested in the region.

And Illinois is playing a key role in battery research. The federal government’s Argonne national labs, along with universities in Illinois, has developed much of the technology that goes into lithium ion batteries.

Matthew Summy of the Illinois Science and Technology Coalition says he doesn’t mind if most of the jobs from that research have gone to other Midwestern states.

Says Summy: “We need all parts of this region to function and to outperform so that we’re producing the kind of innovation that just 50 years ago, or even 25 years ago, the Midwest was known for.”

Are you involved in the advanced battery industry? How do you feel about its outlook?


Next week, Changing Gears reporters will tackle a subject that’s long been a part of the Midwest mind frame: magic bullets.

By magic bullets, we mean the big ideas and big projects that politicians and government officials say their cities and states must embrace, in order to boost the economy. But what is their track record? Should we really be shooting for the stars, or trying to create jobs one at a time?

Kate Davidson kicks things off Monday with a look at the history of magic bullets (remember AutoWorld in Flint? How about the Chicago Olympic bid?)

Later in the week, Niala Boodhoo tackles small business, and whether big programs actually help companies grow. Dan Bobkoff looks at a subject dear to Cleveland’s heart: health care.

Contributor Dustin Dwyer will examine the race to build battery plants and whether that fledgling industry is actually creating the jobs that mayors and governors hope.

Find our reports on Michigan Radio, WBEZ Chicago and ideastream Cleveland. And check back here for special features related to our Magic Bullets series.

Contribute to our coverage: What are past magic bullet ideas that fell flat?


Next week, Changing Gears reporters will tackle a subject that’s long been a part of the Midwest mindframe: magic bullets.

By magic bullets, we mean the big ideas and big projects that politicians and government officials say their cities and states must embrace, in order to boost the economy. But what is their track record? Should we really be shooting for the stars, or trying to create jobs one at a time?

Kate Davidson kicks things off Monday with a look at the history of magic bullets (remember AutoWorld in Flint?) Later in the week, Niala Boodhoo tackles small business, and whether big programs actually help companies grow. Dan Bobkoff looks at a subject dear to Cleveland’s heart: health care.

We’ll also look at whether the race to build casinos and battery plants is actually having the economic impact that mayors and governors hope.

Find our reports on Michigan Radio, WBEZ Chicago and ideastream Cleveland. And check back here for special features related to our Magic Bullets series.

Contribute to our coverage: What are past magic bullet ideas that fell flat?


Throughout his economic development trip to Asia, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has had an unlikely ally.

Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander.

The sure-fire Cy Young award winner isn’t actually traveling with the governor – he’s busy helping the Tigers contend for the American League pennant. But Snyder has been chatting about Verlander and his team’s success with his Japanese counterparts before meetings turn to the subject of bringing business investment to Michigan. He’s been giving gifts of Detroit Tigers hats.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder

“I presented several of them to different people today,” he tells MLive.com. “I gave one to the Japanese commissioner of baseball. And they love the Tigers. They know all about Verlander and how the season’s going.”

Will Snyder and his entourage find similar success on his overseas visit? The Detroit Free Press reports Wayne County officials are pitching a 1,000-acre site that straddles Plymouth and Northville ownships to battery suppliers in hopes of creating a “cluster of high-tech battery makers and suppliers” in western Wayne County.

“There’s a lot of emphasis this trip on battery development and energy,” Robert Ficano, the county’s CEO, told the newspaper.

Snyder sold the virtues of a revamped tax structure to his Japanese hosts on Sunday and Monday, saying it has made Michigan’s business climate friendlier to outside investment, and that a two-year balanced budget has increased the state’s fiscal stability.

“We have been busy reinventing Michigan, breaking some bad habits of the past and embracing new opportunities for our future,” he said in a written release. “We have come to open new doors for trade and business between our state and Japan. We see many great opportunities ahead for all of us to do more business together.”

His trip began Sunday, and includes stops in Japan, China and South Korea. On Monday morning, he said Japanese firms employ more than 32,000 Michiganders and that he’s intent on growing the relationships that create those jobs during the course of his visit.

This is his first official overseas visit as governor, but it’s hardly a new strategy in the Midwest. In June, Changing Gears reporter Dan Bobkoff examined Toledo, Ohio, and the efforts of the city’s leaders to court investments from China. Former Missouri Gov. Bob Holden is now chairman of the U.S. Midwest China Association, an advocacy group that believes in a regional approach to wooing Chinese business.

And under Ficaro, Wayne County, already operates four offices in China: Chonquing, Wohan, Nanjing and Beijing.