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Mixed data from the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago this week:

On Tuesday, the Fed said its monthly economic activity index fell in August. Three of the four categories that comprise the index were negative, and it decreased to -0.43 after finishing positive at +0.02 in July.

Production-related indicators still finished August in positive territory at +0.01, but the rate fell significantly from July’s +0.26.

One day earlier, the Fed’s Midwest Manufacturing index increased 0.6 percent in August to a seasonally adjusted level of 85.0. Revised data showed the index had increased 0.3 percent in July. Regional output in August rose 7.6 percent year over year, and national output increased 4.2 percent.


Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Ford stops controversial ad campaign. Ford has curtailed an ad campaign that featured an indirect rebuke of the federal bailout of the auto industry. The Detroit News reports the White House had “questions” about the marketing campaign, which featured a “real person” explaining his decision to buy a Ford instead of a car from a company bailed out by the government – a shot at rivals General Motors and Chrysler. “This thing is highly charged,” a source tells the newspaper. Ford “never meant it to be an attack on the policy.”

2. Ways to close Chicago’s budget gap. Chicago’s City Hall watchdog agency has proposed more than $2.8 billion in spending cuts and revenue increases, according to our partner station WBEZ. Ideas include a city income tax, tolls on Lake Shore Drive and privatizing trash collection, among others. The proposal from Inspector General Joe Ferguson includes 63 ideas to help Chicago contend with a projected $635 million deficit in 2012. Among the more controversial cuts is the possibility of laying off more than 700 firefighters and more than 300 police officers to save $190 million.

3. Critics: Ohio too cozy with industry. When the state of Ohio decided to set air-pollution standards on shale-gas wells earlier this year, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency sought advice from Chesapeake Energy, a drilling company. That’s one example of a too-cozy relationship between Ohio officials and industry, critics charge. Their concerns have mounted as gas-shale has boomed. “These agencies have an open-door policy with industry that they don’t with the public,” Teresa Mills, director of an environmental advocacy group tells The Columbus Dispatch.


In 2006, Moshe Davis thought he found the right site to expand the Orthodox Jewish elementary school he ran in Chicago.  An abandoned building that formerly housed an audio electronics company in Evanston seemed like the perfect new home.

He bought the building knowing the property was zoned for industrial use, but assumed the community would change that. It didn’t. Four years later, a lawsuit the school filed against Evanston is ongoing.

At the heart of the conflict is a dilemma that municipalities all across the Midwest have confronted throughout the recession: Do communities jump at the first chance – any chance – to fill vacant buildings or do they wait for the return of a tax-yielding business?

In Evanston, the answer is clear. The city’s attorney tells our partner station WBEZ the city must “consider the tax ramifications for land-use applications.” And while some neighbors concerned about property values want to see an empty building filled, others in the town prefer to hold out hope that manufacturing  will someday return.

“Just because it’s vacant doesn’t mean it doesn’t have the potential to become a viable commercial property at some point,” says Michelle Hays, a resident who lives 1.5 moles away from the property.

Five years later, Davis wonders how long he must wait.

He has searched for a buyer. But he purchased the building just before the real-estate crash. He has sunk millions into the building and maintenance, tens of thousands on property taxes. And his students still attend classes in their overcrowded Chicago facility.


Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Changing face of office space. Sixty-six acres of land with 1 million square feet of office space located close to O’Hare Airport traditionally shouldn’t have trouble selling in Cook County, Illinois. The fact the former United Air Lines corporate site has lingered on the market for two years not only reflects a stalled real estate market, but the changing needs of corporate office environments. Our partner station WBEZ examines the changing corporate campus culture, as well as the move of several suburban headquarters toward downtown Chicago.

2. Ohio home sales rise. Home sales rose throughout Ohio in August, according to data from the Ohio Association of Realtors. Sales increased 22 percent year over year, and 10 percent from July. “Throughout the state, we experienced a significant uptick in activity in August for the second consecutive month,” the president of the association tells The Columbus Dispatch. In the Columbus area, sales were up more than 15 percent from the previous August.

3. Construction activity on upswing? Following four consecutive months of declines, the Architectural Billings Index surged upward in August. The ABI score rose to 51.4 in August after posting a 45.1 in July, a gain that caught some analysts by surprise. “It’s possible we’ve reached the bottom of the down cycle,” AIA chief economist Kermit Baker said. The ABI is an economic indicator of construction activity. The Midwest regional average was 49.0, highest of the four regions covered in the data.


In 2007, entrepreneur Brad Keywell co-founded a company that intended to build a critical mass of online consumers and leverage their collective purchasing power with local merchants. The company, originally called The Point, was a quick failure.

“You could have called it ‘What’s the point?,’” he joked Friday, while delivering the keynote address at the University of Michigan’s “Entrepalooza,” a two-day seminar on entrepreneurship at the Ross School of Business.

Forced to retreat and reinvent the company’s business plan, he and two partners simplified the concept and re-launched as Groupon. Since then, the Chicago-based company has seen its workforce mushroom from 37 employees to 3,600 and grown from 152,000 subscribers to approximately 115 million. Forbes Magazine recently called it the fastest-growing company in history.

Per Securities and Exchange Commission regulations, Keywell could not comment on the company’s upcoming initial public offering, tentatively slated for October or November, nor its recent decision to delay the IPO due to what it termed “market volatility.” But in general remarks, he attributed the company’s position to its willingness to embrace failure.

“The surest thing you will experience in life is failure,” he said. “But talking about that is a taboo. We take classes in accounting and everything else. How much time do we spent talking about failure? Zero, usually.”

Keywell graduated from Michigan in 1991 and earned his J.D. from the university’s law school in 1993. In addition to Groupon, he has co-founded Lightbank, a venture fund that invests in disruptive technology businesses, Echo Global Logistics, a transportation management firm and MediaBank LLC., a tech firm that provides integrated tech platforms.

While noting that more than half of the companies currently among the Fortune 500 were started either in a recession or bear market, he lamented that U.S. policies and businesses were primarily concerned with risk avoidance during the most recent downturn. He believes they should instead concentrate on intelligent risk-taking.

That position left Keywell in a quandary recently. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn asked him to serve as chairman of the state’s Innovation Council. “My reaction was that I’m happy, but I don’t know how much government can do, other than get out of the way,” he said. “Cheerlead, connect and get out of the way.”

In his closing remarks, he said current conditions make now the “best time in the history of the human race,” to start a business, noting that capital markets are more efficient, real-time data is available and technology is cheap or often free. Groupon, he noted, started on WordPress.

Since he believes failure is inevitable, he said that entrepreneurs should not view their business success as win or lose, as much as “win or learn.” He defined a three-step entrepreneurial business process as: taking risk, inevitably failing and then, hopefully, emerging stronger.

Keywell advised would-be entrepreneurs in the audience to avoid a common mistake in writing their business plans.

“Too many entrepreneurs write business plans to convince themselves how they’ll defy gravity,” he said. “The best thing you can do is have an idea and convince yourself it’s not a good idea. You’ll save yourself the aggravation. … Write down your idea and beat it up.

“Precious few (ideas) get through that process.”


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.


What makes a city powerful?

According to The Atlantic, cities bring together talented, ambitious people, whose ideas and

Chicago's lakefront

innovations make it a place of economic growth. And, one of the world’s most powerful is right here in the Midwest.

Chicago ranks No. 4 on The Atlantic’s list of the world’s 25 most economically powerful cities, second only to New York in the United States (it also ranks behind Tokyo and London). The list is part of The Atlantic’s new Cities page, which debuted today. It looks at issues facing urban areas around the world.

The Global Economic Power Index, developed by the Martin Prosperity Institute, reflects three key  dimensions of economic power—economic, financial, and innovative.

Economic Power is measured as economic output or gross regional product. Financial Power is based on the Global Financial Centers Index, which ranks the banking and financial power of cities across the world. Innovation is based on patent activity.

The Atlantic says Chicago’s annual economic output is $460 billion, while its global economic power score is .915, a batting average that anyone in baseball would dream of having. Its financial center ranking is 678, while its innovation score is 7.

Other American cities on the list include Boston, at No. 6 and Washington, D.C., which ranked 10th. Our neighbors in Toronto ranked No. 12.

There’s a wealth of other statistics on the new Atlantic Cities page. Did you know the median income for Chicago is nearly $60,000? But it’s under $50,000 in Detroit, while Cleveland’s median income is about $45,000.

What do you think of The Atlantic ranking? Would you put other cities on the power list?


What makes a city powerful?

According to The Atlantic, cities bring together talented, ambitious people, whose ideas and

Chicago's lakefront

innovations make it a place of economic growth. And, one of the world’s most powerful is right here in the Midwest.

Chicago ranks No. 4 on The Atlantic’s list of the world’s 25 most economically powerful cities, second only to New York in the United States (it also ranks behind Tokyo and London). The list is part of The Atlantic’s new Cities page, which debuted today. It looks at issues facing urban areas around the world.

The Global Economic Power Index, developed by the Martin Prosperity Institute, reflects three key  dimensions of economic power—economic, financial, and innovative.

Economic Power is measured as economic output or gross regional product. Financial Power is based on the Global Financial Centers Index, which ranks the banking and financial power of cities across the world. Innovation is based on patent activity.

The Atlantic says Chicago’s annual economic output is $460 billion, while its global economic power score is .915, a batting average that anyone in baseball would dream of having. Its financial center ranking is 678, while its innovation score is 7.

Other American cities on the list include Boston, at No. 6 and Washington, D.C., which ranked 10th. Our neighbors in Toronto ranked No. 12.

There’s a wealth of other statistics on the new Atlantic Cities page. Did you know the median income for Chicago is nearly $60,000? But it’s under $50,000 in Detroit, while Cleveland’s median income is about $45,000.

What do you think of The Atlantic ranking? Would you put other cities on the power list?


Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Foreclosures spike in Michigan. Foreclosure filings in Michigan had slowed during the first half of 2011, but jumped 36 percent from July to August, according to new data. Daren Bloomquist of RealtyTrac tells our partner station Michigan Radio that banks had noticed a decline in the number of repossessed hopes they were trying to sell, and therefore “more willing to push properties into the foreclosure.”

2. Public vs. private workers. A study that compares the compensation of public and private workers in Ohio says that the total compensation for public employees is worth 43 percent more than their private-worker counterparts. Amid the backdrop of controversial collective bargaining legislation known as SB5, the compensation study has become controversial itself says our partner Ideastream. Amy Hanauer, spokesperson for a left-leaning think tank, says the study is “preposterous” and cites a Rutgers University study that determined the total compensation is “pretty much a wash.”

3. Groupon IPO regains momentum. Groupon will seek to hold its initial public offering in October or November, sources told The New York Times on Wednesday. One week after the daily-deals website postponed the IPO to wait out market volatility, the company’s renewed interest comes as part of “a resolution between the company” and SEC regarding CEO Andrew Mason’s critical memo that was leaked last month about the company’s health.


Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Foreclosures spike in Michigan. Foreclosure filings in Michigan had slowed during the first half of 2011, but jumped 36 percent from July to August, according to new data. Daren Bloomquist of RealtyTrac tells our partner station Michigan Radio that banks had noticed a decline in the number of repossessed hopes they were trying to sell, and therefore “more willing to push properties into the foreclosure.”

2. Public vs. private workers. A study that compares the compensation of public and private workers in Ohio says that the total compensation for public employees is worth 43 percent more than their private-worker counterparts. Amid the backdrop of controversial collective bargaining legislation known as SB5, the compensation study has become controversial itself says our partner Ideastream. Amy Hanauer, spokesperson for a left-leaning think tank, says the study is “preposterous” and cites a Rutgers University study that determined the total compensation is “pretty much a wash.”

3. Groupon IPO regains momentum. Groupon will seek to hold its initial public offering in October or November, sources told The New York Times on Wednesday. One week after the daily-deals website postponed the IPO to wait out market volatility, the company’s renewed interest comes as part of “a resolution between the company” and SEC regarding CEO Andrew Mason’s critical memo that was leaked last month about the company’s health.