When General Motors went into Chapter 11 protection three years ago, it closed factories all over the Midwest. 

One of them was the Grand Rapids Metal Center, a 2 million square foot stamping plant in Wyoming, Mich. Once the biggest employer in that Grand Rapids suburb, it was the first site sold by Motors Holdings, the company created to liquidate GM’s unwanted locations.

Now, new owners are trying to give the 75-year-old factory a new identity, reports Lindsey Smith at our partner Michigan Radio. They’ve demolished most of what was once they’re and re-branded the location as Site 36 (the factory’s address was 300 36th Street).

The developers would like to attract a global company, but they know there’s limited cache to trying to peddle a former GM plant. Thus, the new name.

Can it work? Many communities around the region are trying to find their own solutions, from Janesville, Wis., to Wixom, Mich., and Dayton, Ohio.

Small businesses are gems in our region, and the Fraiche bakery near Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., is a jewel in the eyes of its customers.

But, according to the Chicago Tribune, a dispute with a departing chef has turned into a lawsuit, all over the recipe for a cinnamon bomb. (You can see it here.)

In court papers, Fraiche owner Susan Davis Friedman alleged that the chef, who was not named, quit the restaurant, then returned a few days later and took a pair of ringed binders that contained a series of recipes.

They included the cinnamon bomb, a donut like muffin that ranked as No. 87 on Time Out Chicago’s List of the top 100 things its reporters ate in 2011.

The lawsuit alleges that the chef, Maryann Huppert, who helped develop the recipes with the restaurant, told a manager that Friedman would have to sue to get the recipes back. “If she wanted the recipes, why didn’t she make copies?” The lawsuit claims the chef told the manager. 

According to the Tribune, “The lawsuit states the recipes “were developed, assembled tested and honed over the course of 3 ½ years. That work cannot be readily reproduced. The damage to Fraiche’s goodwill from the inability to offer these items would be irreparable because it cannot be measured in money damages.”

Huppert, speaking separately with the Tribune’s Evanston edition, contends she brought the recipes from home. They were all taken from cookbooks and websites, she claims, and could easily be executed by any competent pastry chef.

“The whole thing is just ridiculous,” Huppert said in an interview with the paper, adding that she plans to turn over the recipes. “They told me to come get my stuff, and then they sued me to get it back.”

I interviewed Friedman a few years ago, for my New York Times story on Whoopie Pies. If the cinnamon bomb is anything like Fraiche’s whoopies, it’s easy to understand why there’s such a culinary fuss.

 

This week Changing Gears is taking a closer look at the Midwest Migration, and we’re talking with people who have left the region. Reporter Peter O’Dowd met with some of those former Midwesterners living in Austin, Texas, and brings us this report:

The Brookings Institution reports that 20-somethings fled Detroit and Chicago at the end of the last decade for places like Seattle and Portland. Cities they thought were cool. “Cool” has become a selling point for young professionals. And perhaps no city has it figured out better than Austin, Texas. Over the next few days Changing Gears will profile people who have left the Midwest, and that’s where we go next – to the home of music festivals known around the world.

John Livingston at the Pour House in Austin, Texas / Credit: Peter O'Dowd

John Livingston and his friends say Austin has a soul, and on a gorgeous Friday night in March you can see why.

Livingston is a lot like any other 24-year old. He and his friends still like to party, and on this night, they’re doing it on the north side of town.

Not long ago, Livingston and four others moved to Austin from Bloomington, Indiana.

It was January 2010. College was coming to an end. The friends were drinking at their favorite hang-out, and wondering what to do next in life. It was pretty clear that Bloomington – a city of 80,000 and home to Indiana University – didn’t have what they wanted.

“We just started thinking of places to go – something different, something new. By the end of the night we were all just chanting Austin. We wanted to go to Austin. We were all about Austin,” says Livingston.

A lot of people these days are all about Austin and its reputation for constant cultural festivity. The city is home to Austin City Limits and South By Southwest. If you’re even remotely into music, you already knew that. So Livingston and his buddies stumbled home that night with visions of central Texas in mind.

“The next morning we woke up and really started thinking about it and the logistics and it was a good idea. It still is a good idea,” says Livingston.

They had no jobs lined up and the economy was still lousy, but they found the cost of living in Austin was comparable to Bloomington. And it didn’t actually take very long for Livingston to find a job in tech support for a video game company called Blizzard Entertainment. His buddy, Travis Carrico, got the same gig.

“Those types of jobs don’t exist in Indiana,” says Carrico. But they do here, and that’s just the type of work Carrico wanted.

It’s a pretty classic story: A few ambitious kids move to Austin and love it. So what’s the deal with this city?

Ryan Robinson is the city of Austin’s demographer. “How can you engineers and manufacture that?” he asks. “At the heart of our success is the fact we attract more highly skilled college educated individuals than any other city in the country. It’s our golden goose.”

Golden is a good word for it. The last Census showed half a million people moved here in the past decade. That growth spawned jobs in retail, healthcare, real estate and technology. Austin’s job growth over the past year ranked third in the country. The city’s unemployment rate is about 6 percent. Robinson says 60 percent of its population growth came from Latinos, another 25 percent from Asians.

“Cities that are not diversifying are not growing, but it goes way beyond that,” Robinson says. “Socio-economic diversification, cultural diversification, lifestyle diversification. Simply put, we are a far less homogenous place today than we were 30-40 years ago.”

Robinson says Austin’s diversity and vibrancy emerged over time. The University of Texas is here, and had a lot to do with the burgeoning culture. But Robinson says Austin’s boom has led to a worrisome socio-economic divide – an underclass of under-educated, minority workers. He says it threatens to stall the city’s rise if not tended to.

What can you possibly say to a city that’s losing its educated, young creative class about what you’ve been able to do here? Robinson’s not sure what to tell them.

“It’s all organic,” he says. “It’s the gifts that history gives you. There’s only so much you can do to make that magic happen.”

Sometimes it can feel like everyone loves Austin’s magic. After spending some time here, it gets kind of weird when the only complaint most people have is about the terrible, terrible, terrible traffic. In some ways, it’s the most tangible sign that Austin hasn’t been able to keep up with its growth.

Matt Sadler is a comedian who grew up in a military family. He has lived everywhere, but settled in Austin and loves it. He’s proud of the city, but he can throw a stone or two. “Driving in Austin, Texas, is an effing nightmare,” Sadler says. “Would I give another city advice about how to be more like Austin? I’m not sure I would. Austin doesn’t necessarily have it figured out.”

As with most things, what’s charming and quirky can quickly become tiresome. Before I came to Austin I cast a poll on Facebook to see what my network of 20- and 30- somethings knew about the city. People had mostly good things to say, but I did find one person who complained that Austin is obsessed with being cool.

The city is full of hipsters drinking old-school beers and liberals protesting every injustice. Criticizing Austin’s vibe is definitely not cool. I asked Matt Sadler about this.

“Ask anyone who has been here 10 years, and they’ll tell you how cool it was 10 years ago, ask someone who lived here 20 years and they’ll tell you how much cooler it was 20 years ago. With the population boom we’ve got a lot of douchebags. We’re douchebag heavy right now,” he says.

Long-time residents of any growing city tend to be skeptical of newcomers. The gang from Bloomington appreciates the energy of this place. John Livingston says Austin is just more interesting than Indiana.

“This is the place where the fun is. This is where things are changing. This is where people are coming up with new ideas and growing those and everything,” he says.

When you’re young, change is what you want. Forward momentum and good music. At Travis Carrico’s apartment we listened to an Australian band called Tame Impala. Carrirco saw them live when they came to Austin.

“That’s what I expected when we moved down here – to see a show that probably wouldn’t be playing back home. I was really impressed with them,” Carrico says.

It hasn’t been all good. Carrico recently lost his job at Blizzard Entertainment, proof that Austin isn’t totally immune to recession. But he has no plans to come home to look for work.

Carrico didn’t finish college, but he is confident that he is better off looking for work in Austin than Indiana.

“I’ve never wanted to work a factory job…I don’t know if I was afraid of that, or if i wanted to distance myself from it, because that’s all I knew of manufacturing industry – the image today of the Rust Belt, these empty factories turning to rust, just rusting away,” he says.

Instead he’ll stake his future to this quirky, rhythmic city a thousand miles from home.

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

Vacancy is easy to see, hard to quantify

DETROIT – Forty square miles.  That’s how much of Detroit lies vacant, nearly a third of the city.  You could fit Miami or San Francisco inside all that emptiness.  At least, that’s what we’ve heard for years.  The thing is, it might not be true.

This is a story about a number – an estimate, really – and how it became a fact illustrating Detroit’s decline. I’ve read about 40 square miles in the Detroit Free Press, the Detroit News, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian and The Washington Times. I’ve heard it on Fox and I’ve said it on the radio. That’s why Margaret Dewar called me out.

“Wait, this can’t be true.”

Dewar is a professor of urban and regional planning at the University of Michigan. She thinks there’s tons of vacant land in Detroit. Just not 40 square miles, dramatic as it sounds.

“It’s too good a number to let go of,” she said. “It’s such a wonderful number, it’s so shocking.”

It makes the 139 square mile city sound so empty: an abandoned city. It’s true a million residents have left Detroit. But now, some people who’ve been using 40 square miles are rethinking the number.

So let’s rewind to early last year. That’s when I heard city official Karla Henderson speak at a public meeting of the Detroit Works Project, tasked with reimaging the city. She talked about opportunity, but she also quantified the challenge:

“Forty square miles of vacant land. So vacant land area is overwhelming for the city of Detroit,” she said. “The size and population of San Francisco would fit into the current vacant land in the city of Detroit.”

The message from Detroit last year. Screenshot/Detroit Works Project presentation

The statistics were stark. Some residents there were already anxious about the fate of their neighborhoods and their homes.

Last week I asked Henderson to revisit the vacant land numbers.

“You’ve been hearing recently 40 square miles,” she said. “We estimate there’s about 37 square miles.  I do want to put a caveat on that, that that does include our parks.”

Parks like Belle Isle and Rouge Park. By this estimate, seven square miles of parks are counted as vacant land. Plus two square miles of cemeteries. That’s nine square miles of caveats.

Karla Henderson now oversees part of the Detroit Works Project and she acknowledges this distinction got “lost in the message.”

Dan Kinkead is part of the Detroit Works technical planning team. He’s an architect and urban designer with Hamilton Anderson Associates. Kinkead says 25 is a good number to describe the city’s vacant land. That includes 19 square miles of purely empty land, five square miles of land with vacant residential structures, and another square mile of underutilized industrial land. No parks.

It’s similar to what geo-spatial analyst Rob Linn found over at Data Driven Detroit.

“My figure is 21.39 square miles,” he said. “Just a hair over half of the 40 square mile figure.”

Which is a departure, because his boss has been citing 40 square miles for years.

Around here, demographer Kurt Metzger is known as the data guru. In 2009, his group did an important residential survey; everyone still uses its data today. Teams drove the city block by block, literally counting every house and residential lot.

They found about a third were vacant or had structures that needed to be torn down.

Metzger figured if a third of residential properties were vacant, it confirmed this idea that 30-35% of the city was too (more or less 40 square miles). The idea was already out there. But where did it come from?

“I have no idea,” Kurt Metzger told me last week. “There are a lot of numbers that we keep pushing back on, but I don’t know where that original number came from.”

While Detroit is largely residential, the new figures adjust for commercial and industrial property. Another problem with the conventional wisdom is that 30% of the city is roads: sweeping boulevards, streets, alleys, and a massive freeway system. So there’s less buildable land than is often conveyed.

Still, not everyone buys into 20 square miles of vacant land.

“In my own experience driving around, it just seems like a lot more than that,” said John Gallagher, a veteran reporter at the Detroit Free Press.

Gallagher often uses 40 square miles in his stories about land use. He says it’s reasonable given the population decline, the industrial decline, the housing survey, and the sometimes staggering return to nature.

“There’s a phrase from Willa Cather’s book My Ántonia, ‘stifled by vegetation,’” he said. “And sometimes in the height of summer, when you drive down these streets with no homes, and the trees and the weeds and the tall grass, that’s how I feel sometimes.”

In Detroit, thousands of buildings are slated for demolition. So whatever the number, the city’s vacant land is a huge challenge. If it doesn’t add up to the size of San Francisco, looks like it’s still as big as Manhattan.

Carla Danley / Credit: Chris Lehman

If you wanted to start life over in a new place, would you choose somewhere with a chronically high unemployment rate and struggling schools, or one that’s known as a haven for slackers? The latter is one way to describe Portland, Oregon.

It seems like everyone is talking about Portland these days. Part of that has to do with the success of Portlandia, a sketch comedy show that pokes fun at Portland’s young hipster crowd. As one character explains, “Portland is a city where young people go to retire.”

But not everyone who moves to Portland is a twenty-something slacker. The city still draws out-of-state transplants, including highly educated professionals.

More than half of all Oregon residents were born somewhere else. As part of our Changing Gears project, reporter Chris Lehman introduces us to two families who moved to Portland from the Midwest.

Lehman met up with Marie Montalbano and Ted Layman. Layman is a social worker and Montalbano teaches special education students in the Portland Public School district.

Before they were married, Layman was living in small town Athens, Ohio. Montalbano was living in Chicago. Montalbano thought Athens was too small. For Layman, Chicago was, “A great place to visit and enjoy, but the noise, the congestion of people,” was too overwhelming.

“So we knew we would have to find a place that was a good compromise and a good fit,” says Montalbano.

That place was Portland, with big city amenities and a small-town vibe. The emphasis on local food, the mild winters, and the proximity to mountains and the ocean appealed to them.

Layman says they didn’t necessarily see all that when they first visited Portland, but, “We did see a woman with her turtle on a leash walking it across the street. And that definitely had this like, oh my god, this is so Portland.”

But unconventional pet care wasn’t the deciding factor. For that, we turn to Forest. He’s Layman’s 15-year-old son and in the end, it was Forest who played a key role in getting the family to move to Portland.

Forest Spiritdancer, Ted Layman, and Marie Montalbano / Credit: Chris Lehman

Forest takes his education seriously.

“I have very strong ideals about how children and kids and students should be equally respected and given more broad aspects in like learning and being able to pursue their own interests,” he says.

He figured the local public school system back in Athens, Ohio wasn’t going to cut the mustard. So he launched a nationwide search for the perfect high school. Two of his top choices were in Portland.

He carefully crafted an application essay. It was good enough to land a spot in the exclusive Metropolitan Learning Center. It’s a public school, but Forest says in a lot of ways it doesn’t feel like one.

“It’s totally different from my old middle school,” he says.

For example, he’s on a first-name basis with his teachers. He says classes rarely follow a textbook, leaving plenty of breathing room for student creativity. Forest likes to get to school early to hang out with friends and catch up on schoolwork before classes begin. He says the Metropolitan Learning Center is turning out to be just the kind of student-oriented education he was looking for.

Detroit native Carla Danley was also looking for something new. “I think a lot of times when you think about people leaving the Midwest to go to other parts, it might be a story about job opportunities or an improved economy elsewhere,” she says. But Danley was looking for a nicer place to live.

She wouldn’t have found economic opportunity in Portland anyway. Repeated statewide budget cuts have shuttered schools. The unemployment rate has been above the national average since the mid-90′s.

But Danley already knew how bad Oregon’s economy was. She figured – correctly – that her skills as a nurse would land her a job anyway.

“I really embrace the beauty of the wilderness of Oregon. And I think that’s very different from places I’ve lived in the Midwest,” says Danley.

Danley also likes to get around without a car and she figured Portland’s bicycle-friendly reputation would suit her just fine. It did. Carla’s not here alone. She met her husband back east, and for a while they lived together in Detroit, where she grew up.

“Then I said to my husband, thank you so much for coming to Michigan and not divorcing me, because Michigan is sort of an acquired taste,” she says. “You love it if you’re from there, and not so much if you’re not.”

Her husband uses a wheelchair, and it was important for both of them to have easy access to public transportation. Their new neighborhood has light rail and frequent bus service.

But Danley says despite the good public transit, natural beauty, and abundant cultural offerings, there is something the city lacks.

“As a black person, life is a little tougher in Portland than it is east of the Mississippi. There isn’t really a sort of rich, diverse black community in a way that I’m accustomed to,” says Danley.

Just 6 percent of Portland residents are African-American, compared to 83 percent in Detroit. And Danley is not the only one to notice the homogenous nature of her adopted city.

Jack Ohman is a nationally syndicated political cartoonist with the Oregonian newspaper in Portland. He’s also a Midwest native. “Portland is still not a diverse town, unless you count different shapes of beards as diversity,” he says.

Ohman agrees with Carla Danley on this: What the city lacks in diversity it makes up for in natural beauty. Ohman remembers when he flew out to Oregon for his job interview.

“I had never seen the Pacific Ocean. And it was the most beautiful day in the history of the Pacific Northwest. And once you see that, you’re not going back. You’re not gonna go back to Detroit. You’re not gonna go back to Columbus. You’re not going back to Minneapolis,” he says.

But the mid-90′s is when something else started to happen, especially in Portland.

Ohman explains that, “all of sudden it was just this renaissance, where it was just the coolest place in the world to live. And I had not really experienced that before. Living in the Midwest, it was never the coolest place in the world to live.”

Ohman says it’s around that time that Portland started to feel like Portlandia.

“I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that the political culture here has established this kind of ‘Amsterdam without drugs’ vibe to Portland,” he says.

Ohman says that Portlanders bear little resemblance to the characters in the television series. You know…the ones who ask to see the pedigree of the chicken they’re ordering for dinner.

But most Portlanders have embraced their city’s namesake television series. It’s one of the many things that helps set their city apart. And after decades of embracing quirkiness and livability, Portland continues to be a magnet for people looking to make a change.

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

You can read more stories about the Midwest Migration at http://midwestmigration.tumblr.com

It’s tax time, and today is the last day before the filing deadline. If you spent your weekend filling out your tax forms, you have come face-to-face with your 2011 finances. Now is a time for reflection and reckoning – it’s also a time for planning. What will this year look like for you?

Credit: Flikr user 401k

Over the next two weeks, Changing Gears will be sharing stories about how people are planning ahead in a tough economy, and how their expectations have changed in light of the recession.

You can read some of the stories about changing expectations on our tumblr page: http://chgears.tumblr.com.

You can also tell us about your own experiences. How are you planning for what comes next? Are you coming up on a milestone like retirement, marriage, or a new career? How have your plans changed since the start of the recession? Follow this link to share your story.

The Pew Center on the States checked all 50 states to find out which ones are evaluating their tax incentive programs. Credit: Pew Center on the States.

Tax incentives have become the weapon of choice among states battling for new business investments. Niala Boodhoo reported in December that offering incentives has become a sort of strategy game for Midwest states hoping to one-up each other as everyone fights to grow jobs. But, as Niala reported, these are games with millions of dollars in tax breaks and thousands of jobs on the line.

Now, the Pew Center on the States is taking a look at incentives from a different angle. The Pew Center tried to figure out whether anyone is actually checking to see whether the incentives are worth it.

Turns out, a lot of states do very little follow-up once they approve incentives programs.

From the Pew Center’s release on the study:

States that have conducted rigorous evaluations of some incentives virtually ignore others, or evaluate infrequently. Others regularly examine these investments, but not thoroughly enough.

Michigan and Wisconsin are both called out for heavily scrutinizing incentives for the film industry, while ignoring other incentive programs:

Massachusetts, Michigan, New Mexico and Wisconsin have studied their film tax credits in recent years but have not reviewed other types of incentives in the same detail.

Michigan made news when Governor Rick Snyder announced the state would get out of the incentives game, and focus instead on helping small startups. But Michigan still has some incentives programs. It’s just not evaluating them rigorously, according to the Pew Center.

Indiana and Illinois fare even worse in the study. Both are listed among the 26 states the Pew Center says are “Trailing Behind.” According to the study, both states “did not publish a document between 2007 and 2011that evaluated the effectiveness of a tax incentive.”

So, none of the tax incentive programs in Indiana and Illinois have been evaluated, according to the Pew Center.

The Associated Press says Illinois, in particular, has drastically increased its tax incentives. It made headlines last year by offering $330 million to keep Sears and two financial exchanges from leaving the state.

But Illinois officials defended their policies to the AP:

Marcelyn Love, a spokeswoman for Illinois’ Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, defended the agency’s evaluation process. She said companies applying for tax breaks through Illinois’ primary incentives program have to have an outside audit showing they created the promised jobs before they receive the credit. The program, called EDGE, is only for companies threatening to leave the state.

The Pew Center report focuses not on individual awards, but on incentives programs as a whole. The researchers looked for any sign that the states have stopped and evaluated their programs, and whether those evaluations actually had an effect on policy.

By those criteria, a few Midwest states did well in the report. Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Missouri were all listed as “Leading the Way” on tax incentive evaluations.

Iowa is listed as one of only four states in the country that have fully integrated those evaluations into the policy-making process. What that means is there’s actually something called the Iowa Legislative Tax Committee. The committee is relatively new, but its job is to review all of the state’s tax incentives every five years, and report those findings to state legislators so they can decide whether to change the programs.

According to the Pew Center:

“The more time legislators spend understanding how these things work, the better,” says state Sen. Joe Bolkcom (D), co-chair of the committee. “If we know how they work, we’ll make better decisions.”

Sounds like a worthy goal.

The Carbon Green BioEnergy Refinery in Lake Odessa, Mich. Photo courtesy of Carbon Green BioEnergy

The ethanol refinery for Carbon Green Bioenergy rises up out of the cornfields outside Lake Odessa Michigan.

The refinery was built in 2006. Mitch Miller, the CEO of the company, says a lot of refineries were popping up then.

“Five years ago, ethanol was a craze,” he says. “It was the next best thing.”

Now, not so much. Refineries aren’t being built. Politicians aren’t stopping by with platoons of reporters.

Seriously, when is the last time you heard anyone talk about ethanol?

Here’s the crazy thing though: When the ethanol hype went away, the ethanol industry got bigger than ever.

Miller leads me on a tour of the refinery, pointing out a storage bin as big as an office building. From there, the corn is broken down, starch turns into sugar, and well, the very simple version is that it’s basically like distilling moonshine. Chemically-precise, 200 proof moonshine.

Inside another massive room, there’s a dryer – just like your clothes dryer, except that it’s big enough to drive a truck through. The dryer is used to prepare the leftover corn mash for animal feed.

Miller says there’s plenty of demand to keep this massive plant busy.

“This was built as a 40 million gallon plant,” he says. “We’re running at 50 million gallons per year. So we have not reduced capacity at all.”

If you still have any doubt about how big ethanol has gotten, consider that last year, for the first time ever, more corn in this country was used to make ethanol than to make livestock feed.

“Ten years ago, we were using about eight times as much corn to feed livestock and poultry as we were to make ethanol,” says University of Missouri agricultural economist Ron Plain. “And now we’re using more corn to make ethanol. So it’s a dramatic change.”

Five years ago, the federal government projected that in 2012, ethanol production would reach 11.2 billion gallons, and it would use up 30 percent of the nation’s corn supply. The actual numbers last year were 13.9 billion gallons, and 40 percent of the corn supply.

Ethanol exceeded expectations by a long shot.

But it didn’t happen because of E-85, the blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline that starred in political speeches and TV commercials. It happened because ethanol makes up about 10 percent of almost every gallon of gasoline sold in this country. You use it every time you fill up your tank.

Ethanol advocates hope the next step is a 15 percent blend, known as E-15. The EPA already approved it for use in all vehicles built after 2001.

E-15 faces some challenges though.

“I’m a pro-ethanol guy,” says Craig Hoppen, president of J&H Oil Co., a company that owns 36 filling stations in West Michigan.

But Hoppen says, he doesn’t think E-15 will make a huge dent in the market anytime soon. He says most gas station owners will put E-15 in more expensive, specialized pumps, like they do for E-85. And that will keep it from growing, like it did for E-85.

“It’s a higher number today than it was then.” Hoppen says of ethanol. “Is it a real up-and-coming business? No, no, it’s still a niche business.”

Plenty of people will be happy if ethanol stops growing. Many environmentalists say ethanol isn’t much cleaner than gasoline, when you consider what it takes to raise corn. And livestock farmers aren’t happy that corn prices have almost tripled in the past six years, which has made feed more expensive for them.

Hopes that corn stalks, or switchgrass, could replace corn as the feedstock for ethanol have mostly come up empty.

So for now, ethanol will continue to be made from corn. And maybe the biggest expansions in the industry are behind us. Then again, ethanol projections have been wrong before.

Changing Gears is collecting stories about how people are planning ahead in a tough economy, and we’d like your help. What’s on your mind as you plan for what comes next?

Tax forms shelved at a US Post Office. Credit: stevendepolo / Flikr

You can follow this link to share your thoughts.

We want to hear from you – whether you’re planning for retirement, saving for a home, sending kids to college, or just starting a career. If you’re retired, have you had to make some adjustments?

Are things different from what you expected? Tell us what kinds of choices you’re making.

The Midwest is home to tens of thousands of Polish-Americans. Now, here’s your chance to take part in a great Detroit tradition: Polish American Night at Comerica Park.

The Detroit Tigers are giving their Facebook fans the chance to vote for the polka band that will perform on Friday evening, June 1.

(Or basically, what our headline says.)

You can see videos and vote for these five polka masters: The Natural Tones; The Kielbasa Kings; The Big Daddy Orchestra; The Misty Blues and The Steve Drzewicki Band.

If you think Polish American Night is retro, we went to the Chicago White Sox version last season, and it was delightful. Great music, a festive atmosphere, and lessons in Polish baseball history. (We had no idea Stan Musial is Polish.)

Our favorite polka band isn’t among the choices, but put on your dancing shoes and enjoy The Brave Combo.