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Party like it’s 1998 Ford is reporting its highest annual earnings in over a decade. The Wall Street Journal says the auto industry’s profits are part of its new math: sell fewer cars, make more money (subscription required).

Curiouser and curiouser Keeping track of Wisconsin politics gets more complicated by the day. While the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board is still busy counting recall petitions against Gov. Scott Walker, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that two of the governor’s former aids have been charged with illegal campaigning. The charges are part of an ongoing “John Doe” investigation of Walker’s staff during his time in county government. Despite the investigation and the recall threat, Walker’s poll numbers are rising.

Meanwhile, in actual economic news, the Wisconsin Assembly voted to ease the way for a proposed Iron ore mine in the state’s northern region. Republicans say it will create jobs. Democrats say the changes could lead to environmental harm.

190 Acres of transformation In Cuyahoga County, Ohio, a 190-acre industrial site represents, in microcosm, the changes facing the Midwest. Officials in the town of Beachwood are hoping to rezone the property as the industrial sector declines and other sectors grow. Officials say they want to see the property used for health care, retail and residential investment.

Obama talks higher ed President Obama will be in Ann Arbor, Mich. today to talk about his ideas for higher education funding.


Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has introduced a measure to repeal the city’s head tax on company employees. And he says the proposed repeal is why Ford is agreeing to create 1,100 more jobs in the Windy City.

 Photo by Slobodan Stojkovic via Flickrobs in his city.

Chicago charges $4 per person per month to companies with 50 or more employees in the city. The mayor, who proposed the repeal to city council this week, calls it a “job killer,” according to our partner station WBEZ.

He said the proposed repeal, which would reduce city revenue by $23 million, is already making the city more attractive to companies like Ford.

As part of a new contract with the United Auto Workers, the company is pledging to add 12,000 jobs nationwide. Government officials said earlier this week that the company would add 1,100 jobs at the Chicago Assembly Plant, and possibly 900 more at a stamping plant.

Workers are voting on the contract now.

The proposed repeal “has been a significant piece in our ability to win those jobs at that Ford plant and add a third shift in the Ford plant in the city of Chicago,” the mayor said.

Currently, Ford employs 3,500 people at its Chicago plants. Removing the head tax would save the company $168,000 a year at those factories. If Ford were to add the additional 2,00 jobs, it would not have to pay an additional $96,000 annually.

Meanwhile, Ford might get even more help from the state of Illinois. The Chicago Tribune reported today company officials are in talks with Gov. Pat Quinn’s office about an incentive package. The governor declined to be specific, saying the negotiations are continuing.


Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. UAW and Ford reach tentative deal. The United Auto Workers union has reached a tentative agreement with Ford Motor Co., announced Tuesday, that calls for $6,000 in signing bonuses and the creation of 5,750 new jobs at plants in the United States. Workers could vote on the agreement by the end of the week. “The American auto industry is on its way back,” UAW President Bob King said in a statement, adding the jobs will be added by the end of 2012. Crucial to the deal was consensus on entry-level wages of approximately $17 per hour. The tentative agreement means that Chrysler is the only automaker of the Big Three without a deal.

2. Coal at a crossroads. Coal produces nearly half the electricity used in the United States, but benefits associated with coal are outweighed by pollution and health problems that cause more economic harm than good, according to a recent study from the American Economic Review. Our partner station Ideastream begins a multi-part series today examining the economic impact of coal and its future in the Midwest. First up in the series: the natural gas boom has given coal added competition. Coal’s share of the nation’s electricity production was at its lowest level in more than 30 years through the first quarter of 2011.

3. Wisconsin announces microgrid project. On Monday, Wisconsin officials announced a new project that aims to make the state a national center for energy microgrids, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. By using energy storage devices and battery systems, microgrid “energy islands” maximize the use of energy from renewable sources, according to the newspaper, and could help if main power grids are disrupted. Several Milwaukee-area companies and the state’s four largest engineering schools are among the participants in the project.


Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Goodbye Cleveland, hello Chicago. A Cleveland-area steelmaker could receive more than $1 million in financial incentives to move its headquarters to downtown Chicago, Crain’s Chicago Business reported this morning. JMC Steel Group Inc. could bring 50 new employees in the move. Chicago’s Community Development Commission will hear a proposal to provide $1.1 million in incentives Tuesday. Crain’s writes the approval would “represent another victory for Mayor Rahm Emanuel,” who has touted several job victories since taking office.

2. Ford faces UAW strike. A Wednesday deadline looms on contract talks between United Auto Workers officials and Detroit automakers, although representatives on both sides say the discussions could be extended. UAW president Bob King tells our partner station Michigan Radio that a strike is not a “goal” of the talks, but others believe a strike could happen at Ford. Gary Walkowicz, a bargaining committeeman, says union members deserve to receive cost-of-living adjustments surrendered during the recession.

3. Obama will speak in Ohio. President Obama will continue the campaign for his $447 billion jobs bill in Columbus, Ohio, today. He’ll emphasize part of his proposal that marks $25 billion for school building and renovation while speaking at Fort Hayes Arts and Academic High School. It’s part of Obama’s plan to fight for the American Jobs Act on the turf of his Republican counterparts. The Ohio visit, in House Speaker John Boehner’s home state, comes four days after Obama visited House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s district in Richmond, Va.


Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Goodbye Cleveland, hello Chicago. A Cleveland-area steelmaker could receive more than $1 million in financial incentives to move its headquarters to downtown Chicago, Crain’s Chicago Business reported this morning. JMC Steel Group Inc. could bring 50 new employees in the move. Chicago’s Community Development Commission will hear a proposal to provide $1.1 million in incentives Tuesday. Crain’s writes the approval would “represent another victory for Mayor Rahm Emanuel,” who has touted several job victories since taking office.

2. Ford faces UAW strike. A Wednesday deadline looms on contract talks between United Auto Workers officials and Detroit automakers, although representatives on both sides say the discussions could be extended. UAW president Bob King tells our partner station Michigan Radio that a strike is not a “goal” of the talks, but others believe a strike could happen at Ford. Gary Walkowicz, a bargaining committeeman, says union members deserve to receive cost-of-living adjustments surrendered during the recession.

3. Obama will speak in Ohio. President Obama will continue the campaign for his $447 billion jobs bill in Columbus, Ohio, today. He’ll emphasize part of his proposal that marks $25 billion for school building and renovation while speaking at Fort Hayes Arts and Academic High School. It’s part of Obama’s plan to fight for the American Jobs Act on the turf of his Republican counterparts. The Ohio visit, in House Speaker John Boehner’s home state, comes four days after Obama visited House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s district in Richmond, Va.


After a bruising couple of years, companies around the Midwest are planning to expand, rehiring workers and in some casing, adding new ones. But some also have used the recovery as an opportunity to hint that they might move elsewhere. In response, cities, states and local communities have come up with significant financial incentives aimed at convincing these companies to stay put.

 

Motorola Mobility is getting $100 million from Illinois to keep its headquarters in the state. Photo by Tom Magliery via Flickr.

In Illinois, Motorola Mobility Holdings Inc. is getting $100 million in financial incentives to keep its corporate headquarters in Libertyville. Company officials said they had considered moving the headquarters to more “tech-friendly” locales like the Bay Area or Austin, Texas. Most of that $100 million in incentives comes from tax credits spread out over the next decade. In return, Motorola Mobility is keeping its 3,000 jobs at the Illinois based headquarters and will invest about $600 million over the next tree years on research and development.

Caterpillar Inc. made similar headlines last month when its CEO, Douglas Oberhelman, wrote an open letter to Illinois Governor Pat Quinn. The letter outlined his concerns about the business environment in Illinois and mentioned that he was considered moving the Peoria, IL based company elsewhere. Not long after that letter was published, Oberhelman said he received e-mails, letters, packages, and even a hand delivered request from more than 30 states inviting Caterpillar to move. Shortly after that, Oberhelman met with Quinn, and later announced “Caterpillar is here to stay.”

Still, Oberhelman continues to lobby Quinn to make Illinois more “business-friendly.” Oberhelman argues Illinois needs to offer more incentives to businesses to keep up with ultra business friendly states like Texas. Incidentally, it was Texas who sent the lone hand delivered offer to lure Caterpillar away.

Two years ago, NCR Corp. announced it was moving its headquarters from Dayton, OH to a suburb of Atlanta, GA. Georgia had enticed the world’s top ATM provider through $60 million in incentives. The move was a huge blow to hard-hit Dayton, made only worse by competitor Diebold’s decision to look for a home elsewhere. The ATM and bank security system manufacturer ultimately announced this past April that it would be staying in Ohio, accepting $56 million in tax breaks, grants, and loans from the state. The company said it will use that money to build a new $100 million world headquarters in the Akron area.

It’s costing Ohio a bit more to keep American Greetings Corp. The greeting card maker will be getting $93.5 million in incentives over the next 15 years. Ohio Governor John Kasich even signed the tax reform legislation making the deal possible at the company’s Cleveland area headquarters. It’s still unclear if the company will be moving its headquarters within Ohio.

It  took the help of outside financiers to keep Goodyear Tire & Rubber in the Akron area. Akron, Summit County, and Ohio had been saving up for years to pitch in for the tire makers $160 million new headquarters to help keep it in state. Most of the money for that project ($98 million, to be exact) came from a New York based private-equity firm. That was just a few weeks ago, and construction is already under way. Local officials say this means Goodyear stays, and more jobs for construction workers.

But these sorts of corporate moves aren’t just happening between states. Within Ohio, breakfast restaurant chain Bob Evans Farms Inc. recently decided to move its headquarters from Columbus to New Albany. That move upset Columbus officials, who had offered the company incentives to stay. It also caused Ohio Valley Bank to pull out of Columbus, too. In the Miami Valley alone, Ohio spent more than $1.3 million in state funded tax credits to keep existing jobs.

Around the Midwest, the economic recovery is finally starting to show. Automakers like General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler are announcing that they plan to hire and rehire thousands of autoworkers, bringing employment among the U.S. automakers backnear pre-recession levels. GM also plans to invest $2 billion in 17 of its plants nationwide.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and Ohio’s John Kasich (both Republican) say financial incentives are worth it if it means keeping thousands of jobs in state. They say it’s a critical part of keeping the Midwest on track for a complete economic recovery. But critics of such incentive programs say these aren’t new jobs. They say states like Ohio and Illinois are too broke to afford paying this much just to keep the same jobs and should instead by focusing on creating new jobs.

________________________________________________________________________________
What do you think of incentives to keep companies in states and communities? Is it money well spent, or should communities act differently in a time of tight budgets?

 

 

A trip around the floor of the Chicago Auto Show reveals two conflicting messages: horsepower and fuel economy.

Chevrolet is allowing show visitors to take test drives of the plug-in Volt, only a few yards from the stage where it unveiled the Camaro ZL1 super-charged convertible. Ford has mounted an F-series pickup truck equipped with a fuel-efficient Ecoboost engine atop a sign for the Ford Mustang. And Dodge is promising a gutsy “man van” that will appeal to men who normally would not be caught dead in minivans, even as it declares, “cars can be fuel efficient without being neutered.”

It might seem confusing, but there’s a good reason for both approaches.

Automakers are slowly climbing out of the worst industry sales in decades. Last year, they collectively sold 11.5 million cars in the United States, up from a devastating 2009 that saw General Motors and Chrysler go through bankruptcy.

January sales were hotter than anyone expected, thanks to what some in the industry say was a price war started by G.M. and joined by Toyota. And there’s great desire among executives to see those stronger sales continue. That’s where hot cars and trucks come in. Even if buyers don’t take home the latest models, they might purchase something else. And, 25% of people who attend auto shows go car shopping within the year, industry statistics show.

But there are no guarantees, especially as fuel prices rise. James Farley, group vice president at Ford, said $4 to $5 a gallon gasoline is not a question of if, but when. Bob Carter, head of the Toyota division, says his company expects gas prices nationally to top $3.50 this summer (gas already sells for more at many high-priced Chicago stations).

Automakers have watched several times in the past as high prices and fuel shortages stopped sales in their tracks. So they want to be able to have both kinds of vehicles in their lineups.

Visitors to the Chicago show, which opens to the public on Friday, will get to see plenty of automobiles. The show spans 1.2 million square feet, making it the biggest in the United States, and the roominess guarantees that visitors can move about easily even on the most crowded days.

Are you going to the Chicago show? Did you go to the Detroit auto show? What do you look for in a show? Let us know in the comments section, and feel free to post your own car pictures here and on our Facebook page.

Meanwhile, here’s the piece I wrote for Friday’s NY Times about the Chicago show.

Detroit automakers are preparing to send bonuses to workers around the region. And this year even some temporary workers will get a share of growing profits.

Terri Houldieson is technically a temp. At Ford, she’s what’s known as a long-term supplemental employee. But she’ll still get a piece of the company’s $6.6 billion profit from last year. Ford says workers like Houldieson will receive, on average, about $2,000 each, depending on how much they worked in 2010. That’s compared to an average payment of $5,000 for regular employees – the most from Ford in a decade.

Houldieson is 25. She works as a left side seatbelt installer at Ford’s Chicago Assembly Plant. Chatting on her break, she said it was great to be recognized.

“We’ve all put work in and it just shows they respect us too. Kind of like a pat on the back.”

Ford employs a couple thousand long term temps. Many of them work at the assembly plant in Chicago and another in the Twin Cities, which Ford plans to close.

Terri Houldieson has only worked at the Chicago plant since October, so she doesn’t know how much she’ll get. But she hopes it’s enough to buy new clothes for her boys, and maybe some expensive shoes to protect her feet during those long hours on the floor.

GM has yet to release the terms of its expected profit sharing. Chrysler announced it would give its workers a “performance award” of about $750. The company isn’t calling this profit sharing because there aren’t actually any profits yet. A Chrysler spokesman said that while the company values the contributions of its supplemental staff, the bonus is restricted to regular employees.