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Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Big Three sales rise. Detroit automakers posted gains in annual sales Tuesday, although some leaps were not as large as anticipated. Chrysler showed the most significant improvement. Sales of its light vehicles rose 27 percent in October, year over year. Ford sales rose 6 percent overall and General Motors increased 1.7 percent, under expectations of a 5-to-7-percent increase. According to the Detroit Free Press, sales of the 2012 Ford Focus were largely unchanged over the year, but sales fell below the model’s chief competitor, the Chevrolet Cruze.

2. Pittsburgh seeks incoming residents. Upon winning $100,000, reality-show contestant Matt Kennedy Gould once dissed Disney World and proudly declared, “I’m going to Pittsburgh!” He’ll have some company. A promotional arm of the city is offering a $100,000 prize in a contest that aims to woo potential Pittsburgh residents. Officials seek what they call “experienced dreamers,” a euphemism for people 45 and older who are seeking a fresh start in a new city to “realize their dreams.” In New York City, the contest has some appeal. The blog Brokelyn notes, Pittsburgh boasts an unemployment rate below the national average and “the beer is really cheap.”

3. Toyota will export Siena. For the first time, Toyota will begin exporting the Siena from its U.S. assembly plant in Princeton, Ind. Shipments to South Korea are scheduled to begin in November. “We hope to continue boosting exports from our North American operations,” said Yoshimi Inaba, president of Toyota’s North American operations. In a written release, the company said it has exported several models of U.S.-made vehicles since 1988, and that overall, those exports increased 30 percent in 2010 to approximately 100,000 units. Sienna exports to South Korea are forecast at 600 annual units.


Midwestern manufacturing activity continued to inch up – albeit a fractional amount – in September compared with August, according to data published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago last week. More importantly, when compared with last year, regional manufacturing in September rose 7.2% from a year earlier. National output increased 4.3% in that same period..

Fast forward to January 2013, when our next president will be inaugurated. What’s your best (and worst) case scenario for manufacturing?

That’s the question we posed to the four panelists who will speaking at a manufacturing breakfast in Chicago on Thursday sponsored by Changing Gears/WBEZ and Crains Chicago Business.



Jan Allman, Ford Motor Co.

Jan Allman

Chicago Assembly Plant Manager, Ford Motor Company

“Manufacturing - and the auto industry in particular – has a key role to play in strengthening our economy and creating jobs. In fact, a recent Los Angeles Times article said that [the] ‘carmakers’ rebound is driving jobs in the U.S. The industry that once needed bailing out could be the one to stave off recession.”

“It’s hard to predict the future for the manufacturing sector as a whole, but by following our One Ford business plan, we expect Ford to be in a strong position as we celebrate our next presidential inauguration. Thanks to our recent UAW-Ford national contract agreement, we will be adding 12,000 jobs in our U.S. manufacturing facilities by 2015 and we will be busy investing more than $6 billion in our U.S. plants.”



Marty Ozinga, Ozinga Ready Mix Concrete

Marty Ozinga

Executive Vice President, Ozinga Ready Mix Concrete, Inc.

“Inauguration Day 2013 is less than fifteen months from now.  On the one hand, a lot can happen in fifteen months on the other, it is here before we know it. So much of what it will look like will depend upon the attitudes that those of us in leadership have between now and then.  I am continually impressed by the spirit of the American entrepreneur, perhaps especially in the Midwest. In spite of an incredibly difficult economy, people in business are working harder than ever to adapt to a new reality and respond appropriately for the future.”

“I am confident and even optimistic that the manufacturing sector in the Midwest is headed for better days. But the leadership issue cannot be overstated. Strong leadership is critical at all levels of a business organization, in the public sector and in the not-for-profit world. If individuals, organizations, communities and our government, don’t take the necessary steps of leadership, in fifteen months, it won’t just be the Midwest manufacturers that will be in trouble.”


Marc Shulman, Eli's Cheesecake Co.

Marc S. Schulman

President, Eli’s Cheesecake Company

“Hopefully January of 2013 will be warm and the Bears will marching to the Super Bowl. Good Chicago football and good weather really help people buy more Eli’s Cheesecake & Desserts.”

“For our desserts, it is all about consumer confidence and taking the opportunity to celebrate and have a treat—personally, for your family or for your business. Jobs are critical to that celebration. An economy creating jobs is a good one for a company like ours.”

 


Eric Treiber, Chicago White Metal Casting

Eric Treiber

President/CEO, Chicago White Metal Casting, Inc.

“Best Case scenario for Midwestern manufacturing on Inauguration Day 2013? The Senate comes under the control of policy makers who truly understand that manufacturing is the economic engine that drives our country, and the House remains in control of those who at this time are aggressively supporting responsible manufacturing all across America (i.e., leaders such as Mr. Boehner, Mr. Cantor, Mr. McCarthy, and Mr. Roskam).  As for the president, it makes no difference to me if it is a man or a woman, a Democrat or a Republican.”

“I only ask that it is a person who had some prior business experience before turning to politics, and that they can grasp the concept of how job creation in the private sector really happens, as well as being able to understand the policies and legislation that need to be enacted in order to foster such growth.”

Worst Case scenario for Midwestern manufacturing on Inauguration Day 2013? “The complete opposite of the above.”

Join Changing Gears, WBEZ and Crain’s Chicago Business on Thursday to hear more from these panelists.



Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Sales up at Ford, forecast down. Ford’s third-quarter sales rose 14.1 percent year over year to $33.1 billion, the company said Wednesday morning. But the automaker’s global production plan of 1.37 million vehicles is below the 1.44 million anticipated by analysts, and investors had sold off Ford shares in morning trading, according to the Detroit Free Press. The gap came as a result of “a lower outlook in South America, Asia Pacific and Europe,” Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas wrote.

2. Cook County plans layoffs. Cook County executives unveiled a budget that called for more than 1,000 layoffs to help narrow a projected $315 million deficit, according to our partner station WBEZ. Saying “there’s been nothing easy about this,” board president Toni Preckwinkle said hospital funding and the county’s jail population would be reduced in additional savings measures. She is also trying to convince the county’s union workers to accept furloughs to save $40 million instead of layoffs.

3. Wisconsin public employee pay freeze ahead? Wisconsin state employees may face a pay freeze over the next two years if lawmakers support a proposal from Gov. Scott Walker. The new proposal comes months after Walker required public workers to pay more for their pensions and health insurance while also eliminating almost all collective bargaining. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports another change in the proposed legislation would award overtime only for actual hours worked, after a newspaper investigation revealed how prison guards gamed the overtime system to boost their pay.

 


Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Ford deal official. In a final tally, the United Auto Workers announced today that 63 percent of production workers and 65 percent of skilled-trade workers voted in favor of ratifying a four-year contract with Ford. “I believe UAW Ford workers understood the importance of each and every vote,” UAW Vice President Jimmy Settles said in a written statement. Earlier this month, UAW workers approved a new contract with General Motors by similar margins. Chrysler is the only Big Three automaker without a new contract, although voting began Tuesday on a tentative agreement.

2. Great Lakes crucial to economy. Cargo shipping throughout the Great Lakes supports 227,000 jobs and channels billions into the U.S. and Canadian economies, according to a report released Tuesday. “This report bears out what we’ve long known – that the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway is crucial to the U.S. economy,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told WBEZ, our partner station. In July, Changing Gears reporter Kate Davidson examined the economic impact of Great Lakes shipping – and found a dredging backlog threatened to cripple the regional shipping industry.

3. Milwaukee lakefront plan unveiled. An “ambitious” plan to redevelop Milwaukee’s lakefront was unveiled Tuesday at a public hearing,calling for better pedestrian access to waterfront attractions and room for several blocks of development. The plan, submitted by Milwaukee County’s Long-Range Lakefront Planning Committee, endorsed tearing down freeway ramps, terracing O’Donnell Park and bulldozing the Downtown Transit Center, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “Let’s take downtown and take it to the lake and vice versa,” Parks Director Sue Black said of the pedestrian portion of the plan.


Consider the United Auto Workers tentative agreement with Ford as good as ratified.

While voting does not end until later today, all signs point to approval for the four-year contract that offers $6,000 signing bonuses but no annual cost-of-living adjustments. In a Tuesday morning update, the UAW Ford Department said 63.2 percent of voters had approved the deal, with 78 percent of Locals reporting results.

Voting ends Tuesday night. But it would take a huge reversal in voting trends for the ratification to fail. The Detroit Free Press reports there is still “major opposition” to the deal at two assembly plants in Louisville, Ky., where approximately 5,000 votes have yet to be counted.

But it would take near-unified opposition to put the deal in jeopardy. Right now, 16,691 have voted for the deal, while 9,698 had voted against it.

Detroit News columnist Daniel Howes writes today that an affirmation of the contract paves the way for a “New Detroit,” chiefly with the creation of 12,000 jobs and competitive footing with the global automotive economy.

“The case for whether the New Detroit is for real, or just a repackaged version of the same ol’ dysfunctional Motor City, depends on hourly workers at Ford Motor Co.,” he writes. “It’s that simple.”

 

 


Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Illinois still strong business center. Reports of Illinois’ demise have been greatly exaggerated. At least that’s the conclusion of Crain’s Chicago Business, which examined the business climate of the state and its neighbors in the wake of headlines about rising corporate taxes and companies threatening to relocate. The crux of the analysis: Illinois’ workforce, market size, capital available for investment and transportation infrastructure outweighs rising taxes and the state’s budget deficit, which puts it in better position than neighboring states.

2. Ford-UAW contract gains ground. Sixty-two percent of voters now support the tentative agreement between Ford and the United Auto Workers, according to the UAW Facebook page. Several large local unions voted over the weekend on the deal and moved it closer to ratification. Voting ends Tuesday. Last week, initial votes had showed weak support for the agreement, which offers signing bonuses but does not restore cost-of-living increases.

3. Wisconsin home sales up, prices down. In September, existing home sales in Wisconsin rose 17.7 percent year over year, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Sales in the Milwaukee area were particularly strong, growing 26.8 percent from September 2010. The media sales price fell 1.5 percent, however, to $134,900. It was the smallest decline this year, and considered good news by members of the Wisconsin Realtors Association. New listings are down 17.4 percent this year, the newspaper reported, while an inventory backlog remains.


Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Mixed Chicago foreclosure news. The number of foreclosure filings in the Chicago area fell in September, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the crisis is dissipating. Our partner station WBEZ reports it’s merely getting dragged out. Ed Jacob, head of a city non-profit that helps people stay in their homes, says banks are taking more time to make sure their foreclosure paperwork is in order, and a backlog has been created that may take two to three years to process. “It’s a slow slog,” he tells the station. “It’s like we’re running through quicksand or we’re running through mud.”

2. Ohio examines municipal collaborations. Founded seven years ago, a group examining consolidation and collaboration among Ohio municipalities is finally gaining some traction. Many officials discussed the topic at a regional conference held in Akron on Thursday, according to our partner station Ideastream. “We’ve identified about 250 efforts of some kind, and then over half of those efforts have actually culminated in some ongoing collaboration,” John Hoombeck, director of the Center for Public Administration and Public Policy, tells the station. The highest numbers of collaborations have come in public-safety areas. Economic development ranks second.

3. Ford contract in jeopardy. With a little more than a third of voting completed, Ford workers are narrowly supporting the automaker’s tentative contract with the United Auto Workers union. As of 11:30 a.m. on Friday morning, 50.8 percent of voters supported the contract. According to the UAW Ford Department, 6,271 workers had voted in favor of the deal, while 6,085 had rejected it. Thirty-six percent of votes had been received, with voting set to end Tuesday. The numbers represented a swing  from earlier results, in which 53.2 percent of the counted votes had nixed the deal.


The mood of several workers at Ford’s engine plant in Brook Park, Ohio, sums up the mixed feelings of the company’s workers nationwide: In a tentative contract agreement Ford struck with the United Auto Workers union last week, workers feel they’re not getting enough back to compensate for concessions in previous contracts.

The contract is faltering in early voting across the country, with 54.6 percent of voters so far rejecting the deal. Thursday afternoon, the UAW Ford Department said 3,256 workers had voted yes and 3,915 had voted no. Voting on the four-year deal is expected to end Tuesday.

Results from the Cleveland-area Brook Park plant were not yet known, but an early survey of workers showed results titled against the deal, and anger toward bonuses given to executives had risen.

“I gave up $20,000 a year,” between a lack of raises and moving from skilled trades to production,” Erich Ockuly, a Brook Park worker, told The Plain Dealer. “All that so Alan Mulally could make $24 million.”

Elsewhere, employees at a Chicago Ford plant overwhelmingly rejected the contract. UAW Local 551 reported Thursday morning that 77 percent of 2,317 votes cast went against the agreement, which offered a $6,000 signing bonus but no cost-of-living adjustment. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has endorsed the contract, saying it would create 1,100 new jobs in Chicago, according to our partner station WBEZ.

In Detroit, voting was more mixed. Sixty-six percent of production workers and 64.5 percent of skilled-trade workers voted yes on the deal, according to UAW Local 228, which represents 1,740 hourly employees at Ford’s axle plant in Sterling Heights. Earlier this week, Ford workers at a stamping plant in Wayne, as 51.5 percent rejected the contract, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Changing Gears senior editor Micki Maynard discussed the flagging support of the Ford contract during a Wednesday evening appearance on PBS NewsHour.

“The Ford workers, I think they feel they deserve more,” she said. “Their company didn’t take a federal bailout, and it really isn’t in bad shape at all. It’s in the most profitable position of any of the car companies.”

That is reflected in the contract agreement: Ford workers are faced with a better deal than their counterparts at General Motors and Chrysler. Ford workers would receive a $6,000 signing bonus, while GM workers will receive a $5,000 bonus; Chrysler workers would receive $1,750 upon ratification and $1,750 after the company hits certain financial targets.

(Here’s a handy chart that compares the basics of the three UAW contracts, courtesy of the Free Press).

If Ford workers reject the contract Tuesday, the company could lock out workers, the union could strike or the two sides could return to the negotiating table.


Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. First UAW rejects Ford deal. UAW Local 900, which represents workers at three Detroit-area auto plants, has narrowly rejected a tentative contract agreement with Ford, the Associated Press reported today. Local 900 was the first to vote on the agreement reached last week, and 51.1 percent of 2,582 voters nixed the deal. More votes are scheduled this week and next week. Bill Johnson, bargaining chairman of the Michigan Assembly Plant, tells the AP that workers are angry the contract does not restore some items lost in previous concessions.

2. Michigan State creates economic development center. The U.S. Economic Development Administration has given Michigan State University a $915,000 grant to create an economic development center that will focus on innovative ways to generate Michigan jobs. MSU will partner with other colleges, local and regional governments, private businesses and other groups to identify innovative ideas and practices. Rex LaMore, the head of the initiative, said many economic development practices have become outdated in what has become a knowledge-based economy.

3. Construction begins on Chicago rail project. Fourteen Amtrak, 78 Metra and 46 freight trains vie for rail space each day near 63rd and State Street in Chicago. On Tuesday, workers broke ground on a $133 million project aimed at breaking that bottleneck. U.S. Senator Dick Durbin tells our partner station WBEZ that the project allows for expanded Amtrak service around the Midwest, and will create more than 1,500 jobs. But one union laborer who watched Tuesday’s groundbreaking was skeptical of that number. “They say they’re going to hire from the community, but I’ve been hearing this for years,” Bob Israel tells the station. “It’s just a dog-and-pony show. Trust me.” The project, called the Englewood Flyover, is due to be completed in 2014.


Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Midwest counties lead nation. Several counties in the Midwest are among the country’s biggest beneficiaries of increased employment and wages, according to new data released from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Elkhart County in northern Indiana had the largest percentage increase in employment from March 2010 to March 2011 among the nation’s largest 322 counties, growing its workforce by 6.2 percent. Indiana’s overall employment increased 1.9 percent in the same time span. The next-largest increase belonged to Ottawa County in western Michigan, which grew at 4.7 percent. Peoria County, Illinois showed the largest year-over-year increase in average weekly wages, with a gain of 18.9 percent.

2. Illinois seeks Amazon taxes. Amazon.com has agreed to pay sales taxes in California. Officials are hoping that deal means the online retailer will agree to do the same in Illinois, according to a report in Crain’s Chicago Business today. The Illinois Retail Merchants Association has sent Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos a letter, saying “the tide is turning” and encourages the company to begin collecting Illinois sales tax immediately. Under the California agreement, Amazon agreed to go to Washington D.C. and lobby for national legislation that regulates how internet retailers should be taxed.

3. Big Three post sales gains. Strong sales of trucks and sport utility vehicles buoyed Chrysler in September, when sales rose 27 percent. The automaker led an impressive month for Detroit’s Big Three. Despite a struggling economy, General Motors posted sales gains of 20 percent and Ford’s sales rose 9 percent. “There is no double dip downturn going on around here,” Dodge brand president and chief executive Reid Bigland told The Plain Dealer in Cleveland. At General Motors, the Chevrolet Cruze continued to be the company’s best-selling car, although the sales of the Lordstown, Ohio-built Cruze dipped below 20,000 units for the first time in five months.