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Windmills on the Lakes? The AP reports the federal government will announce a new plan today to speed up development of offshore wind farms on the Great Lakes. The government has signed agreements with five of the eight Great Lakes states to clear up the regulatory requirements for wind power projects in the Lakes. Proposed projects have faced opposition from groups worried that wind turbines will spoil views on the Lakes. Three states have not signed on to the new plan: Ohio, Indiana and Wisconsin.

Chicago’s debt Yesterday, Chicago Mayor announced a $7.2 billion plan to update the city’s infrastructure, without raising taxes. Reuters reports the city will take on new debt to pay for the plan. Chicago already has a higher debt burden than Los Angeles or New York.

Skeptical city council Detroit City Council members got a look at a new proposal from the state to resolve the city’s financial crisis, and it didn’t go well, according to partner station Michigan Radio. The two sides have five days to reach a deal, before the governor is forced to impose a restructuring plan, which would likely include the appointment of an emergency manager. But as Michigan Radio reports, “it’s clear the two sides are still a long way apart.”

Yay! The Michigan economy is at a six-year high, according to the Detroit News.

NATO … more like “NO-DOUGH,” amiright? The Chicago Tribune reports that the federal government usually covers all of the security costs related to hosting a NATO summit. But in Chicago, the government is only covering half the cost. Corporate donors are picking up the rest of the tab.

Ready to flow Ohio is getting its first liquefied natural gas station.

chicagomayorsoffice on livestream.com. Broadcast Live Free

Big news out of Chicago this morning: mayor Rahm Emanuel is announcing a three-year, $7 billion plan to rebuild the city’s infrastructure. The Mayor’s office says the plan will create 30,000 jobs, and it won’t require a tax hike.

The mayor will deliver a speech to announce the plan coming up at 11 a.m. Central time. You can watch the speech live right here.

That’s billion, with a “b” The New York Times reports on a new $7 billion plan to rebuild Chicago’s infrastructure. The Times says Mayor Rahm Emanuel will announce the plan during a speech today. He says the improvements will be paid for without raising property or sales taxes. As many as 30,000 jobs could be created.

School shortfall Partner station WBEZ reports the Chicago Public Schools district is facing a $700 million dollar deficit this year. The deficit came about because of rising pension costs. Officials say they were able to avoid painful cuts in the past few years, but this year those cuts are coming.

Church appeal Cleveland’s Bishop may appeal a Vatican decision to keep open 13 Cleveland-area churches. The bishop’s spokesman tells partner station WCPN Ideastream that attendance has fallen, and the churches create a financial burden for the diocese. The Vatican sent an order two weeks ago to reopen the churches.

Not over yet The booms are back in Clintonville, Wisc.

Sarah Alvarez contributed to this story.

Unemployment numbers in the Midwest are bad. Not as bad as when the recession was at its worst, but there are still a lot of people looking for jobs. Even so, we keep hearing that some employers can’t find enough skilled workers. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder says in his state alone, there are more than 77,000 job openings that can’t be filled.

Wendy Whitmore. Credit: Preeti Upadhyaya

There is really only one way to bridge that gap. People need training. And the way people are getting that training is changing.

Wendy Whitmore is the CEO of EMR Approved, a company in Chicago that works with doctors and hospitals that are making the switch to electronic medical records.

Four years ago, EMR Approved didn’t exist. Back then, Wendy Whitmore was running SSG Consulting, an IT consulting firm that wasn’t doing so well.

So she decided to try something new, and she took 12 of her employees with her.

Whitmore still runs SSG Consulting, and some of her employees straddle both businesses, but what they’re doing now is totally new.

According to Whitmore, they didn’t have many other options. “At that point, what are you going to do? Do you want to continue to have a job and do something a little different or do we need to work toward shutting it down?”

That transition wasn’t easy. It took about two years for EMR Approved to get on track, and those years were filled with a lot of uncertainty.

Penny Smith had been working for Whitmore since 2002, and she decided to stay when Whitmore turned her old IT company into the new IT company it is today.

“Was I taking a risk? Yeah, but I knew it was somewhat calculated as well,” says Smith.

Penny Smith. Credit: Preeti Upadhyaya

Now Smith works in business development at EMR Approved, but she had to go through six months of training and certification to get there. Training like that is a lot of work, and it’s not cheap. Whitmore spent more than $100,000 to retrain her 12 employees.

But she accomplished something that a lot of people are trying to do: Break in to growing industries, like health care, by learning new things, like how to work with electronic medical records.

In 2009, the US government spent $18 billion on retraining programs. That money is distributed by state agencies.

They are trying to do the same thing that Whitmore did, which is basically like trying to predict the future.

Retraining takes time, and those agencies want to make sure that there are jobs waiting at the other end of those programs, six months or even a year from now.

Whitmore explains that there is an element of guesswork involved, “But we do know that the baby boomer generation is aging, and we do know that health care is getting a lot of attention,” she says. “We’ve got to stick our pin in the map somewhere.”

Jeff Smith is an economist at the University of Michigan. He says it’s a lot harder for government agencies to make strategic decisions like that on a big scale. That’s because it’s not easy to make predictions.

It comes down to this: How can you use information about labor market demand to plan a retraining strategy?

Smith says, “It’s a hard task, I think harder than you might think at first blush to try to figure out what there is actually demand for, in some sort of quantitative way, and then apply that information to your training program or community college course offerings.”

So to help figure out where that demand is, Michigan is trying something new, a business driven model. That model is being used by Michigan Works, the state agency that hands out federal funding for retraining programs.

Tyne Lucas is the Career Transition Coordinator at the Michigan Works drop-in center in Washtenaw County.

“Our new customer is the business,” says Lucas, “and that doesn’t change what we do for job seekers, because if we’re making sure that we’re providing the businesses and the employers what they’re looking for, we’re doing a good job for the job seekers as well.”

Michigan Works is trying to build the workforce that employers need by asking them exactly what they want.

“We try to make a perfect match. We’re a match making agency for employers and job seekers,” says Lucas.

And when you can match job seeker skills to employer needs, everybody wins.

This story was informed by the Public Insight Network. If you want to learn how to be a part of our network, click here.

Amazon’s deal Amazon will build a $150 million distribution center in southern Indiana. The decision to build came after Indiana agreed to let the retailer go two more years before forcing it to collect Indiana sales tax. BussinessWeek reports the distribution center could eventually have 1,000 jobs.

Ask Snyder Partner station Michigan Radio reports that governor Rick Snyder will take questions from Detroiters today. The governor says he wants people to know the facts about the state’s negotiations to fix the cities finances. Many Detroiters worry they’ll lose local control.

Judge assists A judge in Michigan says the state was wrong to cut off about 11,000 families from welfare assistance last year. The families were cut off because of a new federal five-year limit on receiving benefits. But the families were still eligible for the benefits under state law.

Still planning to protest An official with the Chicago Police says there’s been no drop in interest from protesters since the announcement that Chicago would not host the G-8 Summit. He says just as many protesters are planning to show up for the NATO meeting.

Ready for tourists Cleveland has a new five-year plan to attract more tourists to the city. Partner station WCPN Ideastream takes a look at the ideas.

The good mob Reuters looks at a new trend in local boosterism: cash mobs.

Chicago suburbs, by flikr user Scorpions and Centaurs

New numbers on house prices in the U.S. are out today, and they’re not great. Prices are still falling in most of the 20 cities included in the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indeces. Detroit was one of only three cities where prices increased from January 2011 to January 2012. The other two were Denver and Phoenix.

Prices in Chicago, Cleveland and Minneapolis continue to fall. Chicago is down 36 percent compared to its peak in 2006. Cleveland is down 28 percent. Minneapolis is down 35 percent.

Detroit’s numbers may have been a bit brighter over the past year, compared to other Midwest cities in the index, but house prices in Detroit are still far below all other cities in the index. Detroit’s house prices have dropped 46 percent since the peak.

The average decline for the index as a whole is 34 percent.

What do you see where you live? Are prices bottoming out?

We don’t often send birthday wishes to architects, but Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe is special to the Midwest. On what would have been his 126th birthday, he’s being honored with a Google Doodle that brings to mind his famous saying, “less is more.”

Chicago sunrise over two of Mies' Black Boxes/photo by Micki Maynard

Much of his best-known work was built in the 1950s and 1960s, when urban identities were an active topic. Mies was instrumental in designing the campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology, which includes some of the best examples of his Chicago portfolio.

I lived in a Mies designed apartment building in Chicago, one of the Four Black Boxes that sit at the bend on Lake Shore Drive. Even more than 50 years after it was built, it is a modern marvel.

Mies also played a big role in Detroit, too, helping create what is now known as Lafayette Park.

Here’s a video from WDET on Mies’ contribution in the Motor City.

WDET Presents: Mies van der Rohe (The Detroit – Berlin Connection) from WDET on Vimeo.

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A view of downtown Chicago, from a map drawn in 1893. Credit: Big Map Blog

Want to see how much Chicago has changed since 1893? The folks over at Big Map Blog have scanned this incredible bird’s eye view of the city drawn by Peter Roy.

The blog lives up to its name by scanning maps at high resolution, so you can zoom in and see what was going on in your neighborhood 119 years ago.

(Not from Chicago? The Big Map Blog has lots of historic maps from around the Midwest.)

It’s a mess, basically Efforts to avoid a financial meltdown in the city of Detroit are turning into a confusing legal situation. Partner station Michigan Radio reports a judge says the state can’t enter into its proposed consent agreement with the city until he decides whether the state’s review team broke open meetings laws. And there’s some disagreement over when the actual deadline is to reach a deal.

Wasteland BusinessWeek reports on how Ohio has become a dumping ground for the chemical-laced wastewater brine that’s a byproduct of new natural gas drilling in the U.S. BusinessWeek says Ohio has 176 storage wells for the “fracking” fluids. In comparison, Pennsylvania has just six such wells.

Romney is helping business The Toledo Blade reports on how an Ohio company has benefited from a political gaffe. Ohio Art Co., the maker of Etch-A-Sketch, has seen its stock more than double since a Mitt Romney aide referenced the toy in an interview on CNN. The statement has turned into one of the biggest gaffes of the GOP primary, but Ohio Art Co. isn’t complaining. Sales of Etch-A-Sketch toys are on the rise, and company executives are trying to manage requests for media interviews.

O-H-I Am Pandering President Obama visited Ohio State University yesterday. He promised to increase drilling in the United States, but he says he draws the line at drilling in Ohio Stadium. The President also made some hand signs that won’t play well in Ann Arbor.

Hogan out Partner station WBEZ reports on the resignation of University of Illinois president Michael Hogan.

Chicago secession? A landfill operator is trying to secede his 86 acres of property from the city of Chicago, and join the suburb of Dolton. The move is an attempt to get around the city’s ban on landfills.

Last fall, Accuweather forecasters predicted a weather so bad in the Midwest that people in Chicago would want to move. As we all know, that didn’t happen. Not by a long shot.

Instead of snow, we're getting this/photo by Micki Maynard

Now, according to the Chicago Tribune, the weather prediction company has come up with a reason it was so off base: the Japanese tsunami.

“We’re wrong sometimes, we can admit it,” meteorologist and AccuWeather.com news director Henry Margusity said Wednesday. “It was not exactly the best forecast.”

He theorizes on his blog that drifting debris from the tsunami last March seems to be sending warm weather aloft over the Pacific, which in turn is wafting warmer breezes here. Because the Pacific is the world’s largest ocean, it has a great deal of impact on global weather.

“If you match up where that debris field is right now with where the warmer than normal water temperatures are, they match up perfectly,” he said.

That also means we’re in for a warmer than normal summer, which could affect Midwest agriculture, businesses and our lifestyles.

Are you buying it?