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Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Michigan governor wants infrastructure investment. In a speech to the state Legislature today, Gov. Rick Snyder said Michigan can no longer delay investment in its transportation infrastructure. He proposed a $120 registration fee hike per year on passenger vehicles that would generate $1 billion in annual revenue. Snyder also wants to replace the state’s 19-cents-per-gallon tax on gasoline with a wholesale tax on fuel, according to our partner station Michigan Radio. “By investing in the means to move people and products with speed and efficiency, we can compete with other states and countries for business and jobs – and we can win,” Snyder said in written remarks.

2. Cleveland school board makes cuts. Over the protests of residents and teachers who packed a high school auditorium, Cleveland’s school board voted to make $13.1 million in budget cuts Tuesday in order to comply with a state requirement to balance its budget. Among the cuts: preschool, spring sports and busing for high school students. Board members said the cuts came as a result of a decrease in state aid and the rehiring of 300 teachers this fall. “Do we have the ability to print money? I don’t think we do,” board member Eric Wobser told The Plain Dealer.

3.Groupon overhauls sales staff. On Wednesday, Groupon CEO Andrew Mason told investors the Chicago-based company is replacing the bottom 10 percent of its sales staff of 4,800 employees. The goal is to win stronger deals from merchants and ensure continued growth, according to the Chicago Tribune. The move comes as Groupon readies for an initial public offering expected to raise $10 to $11.4 billion. Analysts have grown concerned that the company has failed to win enough repeat customers. Repeat customers increased in the second quarter, but numbered 16 million among 143 million subscribers, according to a regulatory filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.


Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Michigan governor wants infrastructure investment. In a speech to the state Legislature today, Gov. Rick Snyder said Michigan can no longer delay investment in its transportation infrastructure. He proposed a $120 registration fee hike per year on passenger vehicles that would generate $1 billion in annual revenue. Snyder also wants to replace the state’s 19-cents-per-gallon tax on gasoline with a wholesale tax on fuel, according to our partner station Michigan Radio. “By investing in the means to move people and products with speed and efficiency, we can compete with other states and countries for business and jobs – and we can win,” Snyder said in written remarks.

2. Cleveland school board makes cuts. Over the protests of residents and teachers who packed a high school auditorium, Cleveland’s school board voted to make $13.1 million in budget cuts Tuesday in order to comply with a state requirement to balance its budget. Among the cuts: preschool, spring sports and busing for high school students. Board members said the cuts came as a result of a decrease in state aid and the rehiring of 300 teachers this fall. “Do we have the ability to print money? I don’t think we do,” board member Eric Wobser told The Plain Dealer.

3.Groupon overhauls sales staff. On Wednesday, Groupon CEO Andrew Mason told investors the Chicago-based company is replacing the bottom 10 percent of its sales staff of 4,800 employees. The goal is to win stronger deals from merchants and ensure continued growth, according to the Chicago Tribune. The move comes as Groupon readies for an initial public offering expected to raise $10 to $11.4 billion. Analysts have grown concerned that the company has failed to win enough repeat customers. Repeat customers increased in the second quarter, but numbered 16 million among 143 million subscribers, according to a regulatory filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.


Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Groupon scales back IPO expectations. Downsizing its initial expectations, Groupon said Friday that it expects to raise between $480 million and $540 million from its initial public offering. Originally, the Chicago-based company had expected to raise at least $750 million. In an filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Groupon said it expected pricing between $16 and $18 per share in its IPO pricing, according to the Chicago Tribune. That range would give Groupon a value between $10.1 billion and $11.4 billion, less than half initial expected valuations between $20 and $30 billion.

2. Columbus mayoral candidates spar. Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman sees a city with an improving crime rate and an “enviable job-creation record,” according to the The Columbus Dispatch. His counterpart in November’s upcoming mayoral election sees an economy that could be doing much better. In a debate Thursday night, Coleman, a 12-year incumbent, said he has created or saved 90,000 jobs in Ohio’s capitol while Jr. questioned why public money was being used to finance the purchase of Nationwide Arena, a deal he called “morally reprehensible.”

3. Wisconsin teachers under scrutiny. Wisconsin lawmakers approved a bill Thursday that allows school officials to use standardized test scores to help determine whether teachers should be disciplined or fired. It passed, 17-16, on a party-line vote. Previously, school officials could use test scores as a means to evaluate teachers, but not to fire or suspend them. The bill, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, also eliminates a cap on the number of teaching days in the Milwaukee Public Schools school year.


Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Illinois’ deficit may grow. Despite budget cuts and tax increases, the state of Illinois’ budget deficit will reach $5 billion next year, according to a report released today by a government watchdog group. The Civic Federation says added pension and debt costs are causing an increase from this year’s $4.6 billion figure. “In spite of a tax increase, we’re actually losing ground under this budget,” said Laurence Msall, president of the non-partisan budgetary think tank, tells the Chicago Sun-Times.

2. Groupon IPO still uncertain. U.S. regulators are scrutinizing documents related to Groupon’s upcoming IPO more thoroughly than expected, which is delaying the offering. The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday that the Chicago-based daily deals company remains committed to the offering, but the timing is still unclear. On Friday, Groupon amended its offering documents to report reduced revenue from 2010 to $312.9 million from $713.4 million, the newspaper reported.

3. Fracking fuels Ohio boom. State regulators and industry officials may be debating the practice of hydrofracking, but across Ohio, the shale-gas boom is already taking off. Energy company workers are clogging courthouse hallways across eastern Ohio to research documents that determine who owns property, according to The Columbus Dispatch. “I’m told that, even back in the coal days of the 1950s and 1960s, it was never as busy as this,” the Harrison County recorder tells the newspaper.


In 2007, entrepreneur Brad Keywell co-founded a company that intended to build a critical mass of online consumers and leverage their collective purchasing power with local merchants. The company, originally called The Point, was a quick failure.

“You could have called it ‘What’s the point?,’” he joked Friday, while delivering the keynote address at the University of Michigan’s “Entrepalooza,” a two-day seminar on entrepreneurship at the Ross School of Business.

Forced to retreat and reinvent the company’s business plan, he and two partners simplified the concept and re-launched as Groupon. Since then, the Chicago-based company has seen its workforce mushroom from 37 employees to 3,600 and grown from 152,000 subscribers to approximately 115 million. Forbes Magazine recently called it the fastest-growing company in history.

Per Securities and Exchange Commission regulations, Keywell could not comment on the company’s upcoming initial public offering, tentatively slated for October or November, nor its recent decision to delay the IPO due to what it termed “market volatility.” But in general remarks, he attributed the company’s position to its willingness to embrace failure.

“The surest thing you will experience in life is failure,” he said. “But talking about that is a taboo. We take classes in accounting and everything else. How much time do we spent talking about failure? Zero, usually.”

Keywell graduated from Michigan in 1991 and earned his J.D. from the university’s law school in 1993. In addition to Groupon, he has co-founded Lightbank, a venture fund that invests in disruptive technology businesses, Echo Global Logistics, a transportation management firm and MediaBank LLC., a tech firm that provides integrated tech platforms.

While noting that more than half of the companies currently among the Fortune 500 were started either in a recession or bear market, he lamented that U.S. policies and businesses were primarily concerned with risk avoidance during the most recent downturn. He believes they should instead concentrate on intelligent risk-taking.

That position left Keywell in a quandary recently. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn asked him to serve as chairman of the state’s Innovation Council. “My reaction was that I’m happy, but I don’t know how much government can do, other than get out of the way,” he said. “Cheerlead, connect and get out of the way.”

In his closing remarks, he said current conditions make now the “best time in the history of the human race,” to start a business, noting that capital markets are more efficient, real-time data is available and technology is cheap or often free. Groupon, he noted, started on WordPress.

Since he believes failure is inevitable, he said that entrepreneurs should not view their business success as win or lose, as much as “win or learn.” He defined a three-step entrepreneurial business process as: taking risk, inevitably failing and then, hopefully, emerging stronger.

Keywell advised would-be entrepreneurs in the audience to avoid a common mistake in writing their business plans.

“Too many entrepreneurs write business plans to convince themselves how they’ll defy gravity,” he said. “The best thing you can do is have an idea and convince yourself it’s not a good idea. You’ll save yourself the aggravation. … Write down your idea and beat it up.

“Precious few (ideas) get through that process.”


Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Foreclosures spike in Michigan. Foreclosure filings in Michigan had slowed during the first half of 2011, but jumped 36 percent from July to August, according to new data. Daren Bloomquist of RealtyTrac tells our partner station Michigan Radio that banks had noticed a decline in the number of repossessed hopes they were trying to sell, and therefore “more willing to push properties into the foreclosure.”

2. Public vs. private workers. A study that compares the compensation of public and private workers in Ohio says that the total compensation for public employees is worth 43 percent more than their private-worker counterparts. Amid the backdrop of controversial collective bargaining legislation known as SB5, the compensation study has become controversial itself says our partner Ideastream. Amy Hanauer, spokesperson for a left-leaning think tank, says the study is “preposterous” and cites a Rutgers University study that determined the total compensation is “pretty much a wash.”

3. Groupon IPO regains momentum. Groupon will seek to hold its initial public offering in October or November, sources told The New York Times on Wednesday. One week after the daily-deals website postponed the IPO to wait out market volatility, the company’s renewed interest comes as part of “a resolution between the company” and SEC regarding CEO Andrew Mason’s critical memo that was leaked last month about the company’s health.


Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Foreclosures spike in Michigan. Foreclosure filings in Michigan had slowed during the first half of 2011, but jumped 36 percent from July to August, according to new data. Daren Bloomquist of RealtyTrac tells our partner station Michigan Radio that banks had noticed a decline in the number of repossessed hopes they were trying to sell, and therefore “more willing to push properties into the foreclosure.”

2. Public vs. private workers. A study that compares the compensation of public and private workers in Ohio says that the total compensation for public employees is worth 43 percent more than their private-worker counterparts. Amid the backdrop of controversial collective bargaining legislation known as SB5, the compensation study has become controversial itself says our partner Ideastream. Amy Hanauer, spokesperson for a left-leaning think tank, says the study is “preposterous” and cites a Rutgers University study that determined the total compensation is “pretty much a wash.”

3. Groupon IPO regains momentum. Groupon will seek to hold its initial public offering in October or November, sources told The New York Times on Wednesday. One week after the daily-deals website postponed the IPO to wait out market volatility, the company’s renewed interest comes as part of “a resolution between the company” and SEC regarding CEO Andrew Mason’s critical memo that was leaked last month about the company’s health.


Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Cleveland casino hiring. Today marks a milestone in the development of Cleveland’s Horseshoe Casino. After spending hundreds of millions of dollars to refurbish a downtown building, the gambling company is now seeking employees. It is filling 500 positions for dealers – no experience necessary – in positions that will pay as much as $40,000 per year, according to The Plain Dealer. A professor from nearby John Carroll University predicted the jobs would have a multiplier effect on the region. “This is the evidence that it wasn’t just hoopla or overstatement,” LeRoy Brooks told the newspaper. “They’re actually putting up the capital, the training costs.”

2. Sun power, meet sunflower. A Wisconsin energy company is building one of the largest solar projects in the state, and allowing individual investors to buy a stake in the project. The Convergence Energy Solar Farm began construction last year on 14 acres, and will be the state’s second-largest solar farm when completed. “We’re really striving to build local economies,” Steve Johnson, the company’s VP of business development told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “It’s providing an opportunity for people who want to invest in solar and put a little more clean energy on the grid.”

3. Groupon may postpone IPO. Chicago-based Groupon may postpone its upcoming IPO, a delay it attributed to market volatility, according to The Wall Street Journal, which first reported the development. That may not be all. Marketwatch reported today that the company may be skirting the “quiet period” required by businesses once they file papers with the Securities and Exchange Commission, and opines that Groupon CEO Andrew Mason appears “hell-bent on becoming the poster child for business schools and budding entrepreneurs on how not to go public.”


Financial analysts have expressed skepticism over Groupon’s business model and some of its accounting practices in recent weeks, as the Chicago-based company’s prepares for an upcoming initial public offering.

Groupon CEO Andrew Mason has taken umbrage at the criticism. This week, he labeled it “insane” and “hilarious” in a three-page memo distributed to employees Thursday.

“We’ve bitten our tongues and allowed insane accusations … to go unchallenged publicly, it’s important to me that you have the context necessary to brush this stuff off,” Mason wrote in the memo, first reported by Reuters.

He defended the use of the controversial accounting tactic ACSOI, a measure that does not include online marketing expenses, stock-based compensation and other items, even as the company reported in its latest IPO filing that it had stopped using it.

Mason said U.S. revenue should rise 12 percent in August from the previous month and that marketing expenses would decline 20 percent.

The Chicago business community is closely watching the run-up to the Groupon IPO. Local investors and others in the city’s tech community see a successful Groupon as a potential anchor for a vibrant community of entrepreneurs, startups and tech companies.


Three must-read stories about the Midwest economy to start your weekend.

Groupon Glow Fading? Doubts are rising about the success of an upcoming initial public offering by Groupon, the company that offers discounts at a wide range of businesses. Crain’s Chicago Business says analysts are wondering whether Groupon, which posted a second quarter loss, can get the price for its stock that it hoped when it announced the offer in June. The shares are supposed to go on sale next month.

“I’m sure they could price an IPO, (but) I don’t know if they could get the valuation they’re talking about,” Darren Fabric, managing director of Chicago-based Ipox Capital Management, told Crain’s. “The lower the volatility and the more speculative the market, the more Groupon will be helped. And those conditions aren’t there right now.”

Another Chicago company, Trustwave Holdings, put off its I.P.O. earlier this week, Crain’s says.

 

Cameras Cover Detroit: Smile the next time you’re in downtown Detroit. Law enforcement officials now can view images from 350 cameras around the central business district as part of a coordinated effort to protect people who live, play and work downtown, the Detroit News reports.

Photo submitted by Joshua Mango

For the past six months, Detroit Police officials have been able to access the images from 18 downtown businesses such as General Motors Co., Ilitch Entertainment, the city’s three casinos  and Compuware.

Underemployment in Focus: National unemployment numbers focus on people who are looking for jobs, but can’t find them. But John Russo, head of the Youngstown State University Center for Working-Class studies, says the 9.2 percent unemployment rate doesn’t tell the whole story.

He says the complete unemployment figure  is about 26 percent. Russo counts people working part-time but who want to be working more, people who stopped looking for a job, people on disability or who filed early for Social Security and people living on government assistance. Hear the story from our partner station ideastream.