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In the past week, Chicago has been awash with members of the national political press corps, who waxed enthusiastically about its lakefront, deep dish pizza and friendliness.

Chicago Skyline/photo by Micki Maynard

Now, with the Illinois primary over (Mitt Romney won, by the way), all those journalists are on planes out of town.

And that might be the last time they think about Chicago until this fall’s general election – unless they’re back to cover the NATO summit in May.

The situation sums up Chicago’s challenge in being considered a world class city, writes Phil Rosenthal of the Chicago Tribune.

“We want the world to think well of us all,” he says in his column today. “A greater problem, perhaps, is that too many people don’t think of us, well, at all.”

Rosenthal talked to Rowan Bridge, a BBC Radio producer who has also lived in Washington, D.C. “I don’t think most people in the U.K.have any idea where Chicago is,” Bridge told Rosenthal.

“Most people in England think the United States consists of three cities — New York, Washington D.C., and Los Angeles — because they’re the ones that run the media, they’re the ones where the celebrities hang out, they’re the ones where the politicians are.”

This week, a delegation led by Gov. Pat Quinn and Amy Rule, the wife of Chicago Mayor Rahm, is in Brussels, drumming up excitement at NATO about all the things Chicago has to offer. They’re bound to mention parks and performances and Garrett’s Popcorn and its great chefs.

But all this sparked a discussion on the Changing Gears team: what makes a city a world class city? Here are a few criteria that we came up with.

International activity. To be world-class, a city has to be the international center of something — the place you have to go in your field, where all things stem from. Think of global financial capitals such as New York, London and Hong Kong, or political capitals such as Washington and Beijing.

Chicago is a player in many fields, from airlines to the legal world to food, but it does not seem to be the go-to place in any one area. (If you disagree, tell us in comments).

Culture. Los Angeles is clearly an global entertainment capital. So is London. Paris is the center of the art and fashion worlds. Milan matters when it comes to music, Rome and Shanghai for all those things put together.

Chicago has a theater scene, and a food scene, and a music scene, and plenty of movies are made there. And when Oprah did her show there, Chicago drew people from all strata of global society. All those things are elements of a global city, but again, Chicago doesn’t inarguably lead in any of them (although I know I’ll get an argument from some foodies).

Location. The Tribune’s Rosenthal hits on this in his column this morning and our Changing Gears team agrees. Chicago’s location between the two coasts simply hurts its world class candidacy.

When people come to the U.S. from overseas, they can work in visits to a variety of places just by sticking to the east and west coasts. Getting to Chicago takes effort. Visitors from anywhere outside the Midwest have to fly there, where it’s possible to drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco or Las Vegas, or take a train from New York to Washington.

There’s one thing that Chicago has in spades when it comes to a world class city: pride of place. Almost everyone who’s from Chicago or lived there has warm feelings about it, especially NPR’s Scott Simon, a faithful cheerleader who even named one of his books, “Windy City.”

But when it comes to world class status, as Rosenthal puts it in his column this morning, “that’s not enough.”

What are your views about Chicago? Does it deserve to be considered a world class city? What does it need to do to get there?

CDO woes no mo’ Five Wisconsin school districts have settled a lawsuit with an investment firm over the sale of collateralized debt obligations. The school districts say the firm sold them CDOs without disclosing the risks involved. The districts will get $22 million from the firm, according to the Wall Street Journal. And they won’t have to pay the $154 million they still owe the firm.

Et tu legislature? Ohio governor John Kasich’s plan to tax oil and gas companies seems to be stalled in the state legislature. Partner station WCPN Ideastream reports that Kasich’s own Republican colleagues are the reason for the holdup.

No protest permit Partner station WBEZ reports the city of Chicago has turned down a permit request from people who plan to protest the upcoming NATO summit. The city had previously approved a permit for the same protest route one day earlier. Protesters asked to switch the day after the G-8 summit was canceled in the city.

Gambling go-ahead Partner station Michigan Radio reports last night the Lansing city council voted to approve a new $245 million casino. The casino would be built in the city’s downtown. It still needs federal approval.

Not the Abba song, right? Wisconsin governor Scott Walker talked to Greta Van Susteren of Fox News last night. He said the recall against him is a “Waterloo” for unions.

So much for pancakes this year Maple syrup producers in Wisconsin say this is their worst year in memory, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Because of the warm weather, sap only ran for one day in some places. Usually, it runs for weeks.

Vote vote vote If you live in Illinois, it’s primary day. Here’s a guide, from partner station WBEZ.

It’s hard to find a rock star who speaks more directly to the Midwest than Bruce Springsteen. Over the years, his gritty, blue-collar themed music has highlighted the struggles of the working class in songs like “Youngstown” and “We Take Care Of Our Own” from his newest album, Wrecking Ball.

Bruce Springsteen, 2007, The Palace of Auburn Hills/photo by Micki Maynard

Now, The Boss’ 1982 album Nebraska, considered by critics to be one of his best, has inspired a theater group in Chicago.

Next month, the Tympanic Theater Company debuts Deliver Us From Nowhere: Tales From Nebraska. It’s an evening of 10 short plays from 11 different playwrights and 10 different directors, each inspired by a song from the album. The show runs April 26 to May 20.

Here’s how the company describes it: “The evening is filled with lost souls and terrifying characters such as specters, murderers, and supernatural dogs, as well as an ensemble of musicians performing original music based on the plays themselves, with a different musician playing every weekend of the run.”

Sound like something you’d want to see? You can find more information here.

Meanwhile, do you have a favorite from Nebraska — or a favorite Springsteen song?

A rendering of the proposed Kewadin Lansing Casino. Photo courtesy of Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians.

Next week, the city council in Lansing, Mich. is expected to vote on a proposal for a $245 million casino for the city’s downtown.

The proposal is just the latest in what’s starting to look like a casino-boom in the Midwest. Both Toledo and Cleveland have new casinos opening in May. The Detroit Free Press reported last week that there are no fewer than 22 casino proposals in Michigan right now. And Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel is still holding out hope for Illinois leaders to approve gambling in his city.

At first glance, it’s easy to see why casino gambling is such a hot topic right now. Casinos bring hundreds of millions of dollars in new investment, including construction jobs and long-term jobs for dealers, waiters, cooks and others.

Also, research has shown that regions in economic stress are more likely to use gambling as an economic development tool. Here in the Midwest, there’s been plenty of economic stress.

But it’s not exactly a settled issue whether casino gambling actually creates economic development.

So why all the interest?

First, consider the research. Casino gambling can be a contentious issue, and, as with all contentious issues, there is a lot of conflicting information on both sides. But it seems clear that casinos can create economic development. Just look at Las Vegas.

But not every region that gets a casino turns into Las Vegas. Just look at Gary, Ind.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston took a look at this issue in 2006, as New England states were considering more casinos. The bank concluded:

In general, whether a casino will benefit or harm a local economy hinges on whether the casino is likely to attract tourists to the region … Casinos that cater to a local market generally do not bring outside money into the economy through the spending of their patrons. In fact, such casinos may have no net ancillary economic impacts. Residents patronizing such casinos may simply substitute gambling for other goods and services.

This is a huge point to consider. If everyone who spends money at a casino would have otherwise spent that money at a local restaurant or movie theater, then there’s no real economic benefit from the casino. It’s just moving entertainment spending – and jobs – from one place to another.

It’s the out-of-towners who make the difference.

So, to really get a sense of whether casinos can improve the Midwest economy, you have to consider not just how much money is being spent at the casinos, but where that money is coming from.

The answer, in many cases, is that the money is just coming from other Midwest cities.

When our own Dan Bobkoff looked into the plans for a new casino in Cleveland, he found that business leaders weren’t hoping to take tourists away from Las Vegas. They were hoping to keep their own residents from going to Detroit and Pittsburg.

And, as partner station WBEZ has reported, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel is very clear about why he wants a casino in the Windy City: to keep Chicagoans from spending their gambling dollars in Indiana.

“I can’t continue to afford Chicago to have gambling … in Hammond, Ind. and lose 20-25 million a month,” Emanuel said, according to WBEZ.

This helps explain why you hear mayors talk about casinos a lot more than governors. Thirty years ago, if people in Lansing wanted to gamble, they’d go to Las Vegas or Atlantic City. Now they can go to Detroit or Mt. Pleasant. Chicagoans can go to Indiana.

And it’s a lot more irritating for mayors to see that money going right next door, instead of all the way across the country. Casinos in more cities means more cities want casinos.

The mayors and city council members that are backing casino proposals in the Midwest aren’t really trying to build a tourist empire. They’re just sick of seeing money leave the city.

They’re trying to hold on to what they got.

It doesn’t make a difference if they make it or not.

They’ve got [their own residents] and that’s a lot [for economic development].

They’ll. Give. It. A. Shot.


Chicago has roughly 2.8 million people. And last year, 531 million rides were taken on the Chicago Transit Authority — or 189 rides per person in the city.

Chicago/photo by Micki Maynard

That’s the highest number of subway and bus rides on the CTA in the past 20 years, according to numbers that came out today. It doesn’t beat the old record of 540 million rides, but if the pace keeps up, there could be a new record set in the near future.

The 2011 number was up 3 percent from 2010. The CTA attributes that to higher gasoline prices, and to improvements in the system, like adding LED signs at bus stops announcing when buses are coming.

CTA numbers show that ridership on the “L” light rail system was up 5.2 percent, while bus ridership rose 1.4 percent. The biggest jump by any transit line was the Blue Line, were the number of rides was up 8 percent. (We know where you can get a Blue Line t-shirt.)



Decision time in Detroit Today, MIchigan Governor Rick Snyder is expected to announce the details of a new consent agreement with the city of Detroit. Partner station Michigan Radio says the agreement would give broad, budget-cutting powers to the city’s elected officials, without appointing an emergency manager. Without drastic cuts, leaders are worried Detroit could run out of cash by this summer.

A deal gone sour The executive of Cuyahoga County is looking into a possible lawsuit over a land deal that cost the county $45 million. Some of the people involved in the deal have been convicted of corruption.

We’re number 9! A new ranking puts Chicago ninth among the world’s most competitive cities. Chicago ranked behind cities including New York, London, Singapore, Paris and Hong Kong. It ranked just ahead of Boston, according to the Chicago Tribune.

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.

Fact: For-profit schools cost more than community colleges.  Fact: For-profit students borrow more, then default more than students from public colleges.  Fact:  All this explains why I ended up at the strip club in Detroit.

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.

“Not this,” he says.  “I mean, I don’t mind it now but I didn’t think I’d be here.  I thought I would’ve been in a shop, turning a wrench.”

He wanted to work on cars.  So he got a diploma in automotive technology at Lincoln College of Technology in Indianapolis.  It’s part of a big for-profit chain.  The program was about a year and roughly $25,000, not including housing.  An associate’s degree from community college would’ve cost less than ten grand.

“My mom was actually talking to me about it, but I wouldn’t listen, I was stubborn,” he says.  “Whoever takes their mom’s advice, until you f*** up?  I regret it.”

He didn’t find a car job, but he says he did rack up about 30 thousand dollars in debt.

Victor Gregory taught Steve’s auto class back at Dearborn High School.  He also  teaches at the local community college.  That’s partly why the cost of for-profit training worries him.  He’s actually barred some schools’ recruiters from his classroom if they can’t demonstrate good student results.

“I do not want my students going out in the field and becoming balled and chained to a bank.  And having to park the whole idea of having a better life, just so they can pay their debts,” he says.

Victor Gregory doesn't want his students "becoming balled and chained to a bank."

The big question is return on investment: What do students get for the cost?  The private, for-profit sector of higher education is so broad, it can be hard to generalize.

But take the big, publicly traded company Universal Technical Institute Inc., or UTI.  It has a campus outside Chicago.  The median cost of its 15 month auto tech certificate program is $30,000.  According to the school, the median federal loan debt for that program is about $14,000.

Tom Riggs is Senior Vice President of Operations for UTI.  He says its graduation rates are drastically better than at many community colleges.

“We graduate in the high 60%, sometimes 70% of our students who start, graduate,” he says.  “If you look at community college programs and certificate programs, a lot of their numbers are in the low 20s.”

Some students are drawn to short intense training.  They get hands their hands on metal, and then they can start earning money.  Riggs says employment rates coming out of school are also high.

“There are students out there who four year university isn’t the right thing for them,” he says.  “And they have tremendous talent and passion around the things that we do, and we are the right place for them.”

One reason yearly tuition is lower at public schools is they get public support.  But David Deming of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education says for-profits get a different kind of public support.  Their revenues come overwhelmingly from federal financial aid dollars.  In other words, from student grants and loans.

“For-profit schools are not allowed to take any more than 90% of their total revenue from federal financial aid.  That’s the maximum and quite a few schools are relatively close to the maximum,” he says.

For-profit students later default on their federal loans more often than those who attended public schools or private schools that are not-for-profit.

Still, it’s not hard to find technical school graduates who are employed and paying back those taxpayer dollars.  I just went down the street to Suburban Chevrolet of Ann Arbor, where Andrew Marihugh works.  He recently graduated from UTI.

“I was told it was one of the best in the country,” he says.

He’s repaying $25,000 in loan debt from his training there.

“It was worth it,” he says.  “I think it was worth it.  There’s a lot of people that went to school there and there’s a lot of them that didn’t know how to even change oil.”

Marihugh is now an oil change technician, also called a lube tech.  That’s the most entry level position here.  He’ll work his way up.  And in ten years, he’ll have worked off his debt.

*This story was informed by the Public Insight Network. Add your story here.










Chicago skyline, by flickr user bryce_edwards

President Obama shook up his home town yesterday when the White House announced it’s moving the G-8 summit from Chicago to Camp David instead.

Today, the President tried to soothe some ruffled feathers. His decision to shift the summit wasn’t a slap at Chicago’s preparations, he told an afternoon news conference. Rather, he’s never had world leaders come to Camp David, and wanted the opportunity to talk in a relaxed setting.

“We’re still going to be showing up with a whole bunch of world leaders,” Obama said, referring to the NATO summit that will still be held there. “I always have confidence in Chicago ability to handle security, whether it’s Taste of Chicago or Lapalooza or most championships.”

(The president was referring to Lollapalooza, the annual alt-music festival that’s held in Grant Park. Chicagoans on Twitter immediately took notice. Tweeted Peter Sagal: “Lapalooza? LAPALOOZA?”)

From the beginning, scheduling both the G-8 and NATO summits in Chicago back-to-back was all about putting the city on a global stage. No city had hosted both since London in 1977. Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the former White House chief of staff, lobbied his old boss to get the summits.

But now that the President has decided to move the G-8 summit, and leave Chicago with the less-prestigious and less-contentious NATO summit, what does it mean for the city? Since it was all about the city’s image anyway, it means whatever people say it means.

Here’s our guide to how people have reacted:

Later, G-8er After months of planning in Chicago, city leaders found out yesterday they won’t be hosting the G-8 summit after all. Partner station WBEZ reports the decision could save the city from major protests.

Mo’ money, mo’ housing Huntington Bank is pledging $100 million in loans to help build or remodel low-income housing in Michigan. Bank officials hope the commitment generates confidence in the economy and spurs more bank lending.

Minding in the mine vote A controversial piece of legislation that would open up mining in northern Wisconsin could come up for a vote today in the state Senate.

Got milk? Yes. Wisconsin dairy cows had a record year last year. One out of every eight gallons of milk produced in the United States came from the udder of a Wisconsin cow.

Super duper You might have heard something about a vote happening today. Partner station WCPN Cleveland looks at how crossover voters could affect the very tight GOP primary race in Ohio.

“There’s something wrong” Wisconsin leads the nation in private sector job losses since last July, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. And it’s the only state that’s lost jobs for the last six months in a row.

Rolling the dice The Detroit Free Press revealed over the weekend that a whopping 22 new casinos are being proposed in the state of Michigan. The paper finds plenty of skepticism whether that many casinos could succeed.

Nuclear option Partner station Michigan Radio reports on the effort to save a planned nuclear research facility at Michigan State University.

Cleveland art Cleveland’s new Museum of Contemporary Art will open in October.

Importing workers CNN reports that some manufacturers who can’t find skilled workers in the U.S. have started importing them.

Police cuts Two Chicago police precincts closed yesterday. The Chicago Tribune says it’s part of a move that should save the city $10-12 million. Chicago is working to close a $636 million budget gap.

Recovery People in Ohio, Illinois and Indiana are starting the recovery process after this weekend’s deadly storms.