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Wah Wah Shell has chosen Pittsburg for a new $2 billion plant to process natural gas. The Wall Street Journal says the plant is expected to create thousands of jobs. Ohio leaders were hoping the plant would be built in their state.

Whoopsie Two weeks ago, a state press release in Indiana promoted the MBC Group as an example how the state’s new Right to Work law is creating jobs. One problem: the president of the MBC Group says Right to Work played no role in his company’s decision to expand.

Big money The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports on the “staggering” amount of money being spent on the Scott Walker recall campaign. The amount is more than double the amount previously spent on any statewide campaign in Wisconsin.

Calling all angels The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that angel investing in Wisconsin reached over $61 million last year.

Immigrant entrepreneurs Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel announced a series of workshops to help immigrants launch small businesses.

Primed for the primary Partner station WBEZ reports that Newt Gingrich was in Illinois yesterday. Other candidates will be in the state today, as the Illinois primary race gets going.

Damage done It’s only property A tornado ripped through the small Southeast Michigan village of Dexter yesterday. No one was hurt.

Until now, Right to Work laws have been the subject of legislative debate. But in Minnesota and Ohio, the issue faces the prospect of being put before voters this fall.

Map Courtesy EasterdayConstruction.com

Right to Work laws prohibit unions from collecting dues in a workplace, even when they represent its workers. Earlier this winter, Indiana became the first state in the Great Lakes to adopt a Right to Work, and the 23rd in the nation to do so.

Now, unions and other Right to Work opponents are vowing to go directly tio voters to plead their cause. Here’s a look at their strategy: 

Minnesota: The Republican-controlled legislature has begun considering an amendment to the state constitution that would add Right to Work provisions. The step is taking place over the objections of the state’s Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton.

On Monday, Right To Work opponents staged a protest at the capitol, filling hallways outside a committee hearing where the initial work took place. Regardless, a state Senate committee approved the measure, sending it on to a second committee.

It must still pass there, win Senate approval and go on to the House. A similar measure has been stalled in the lower chamber, and it isn’t clear whether the bill could pass. But because the measure would amend the constitution, it requires a referendum in November, so the legislature would not have the final say.

Ohio:The same group that fought Ohio’s law restricting public employee bargaining rights has vowed to take on the Right to Work issue. Our partner station ideastream reported on the efforts by We Are Ohio to keep a Right to Work law from taking effect in the state.

Meanwhile, in Indiana, Gov. Mitch Daniels contends the state’s new Right to Work law is already show results. Daniels told reporters on Monday that three companies have already decided to locate or expand in Indiana since the law was passed. Another 31 companies have expressed interest in coming to the state.

“I probably underestimated how important an addition to our already excellent business climate [right-to-work] was going to be,” Daniels said.

 

 

Mt. Fuji, as seen from the bullet train/photo by Micki Maynard

A year ago, people in the Midwest were realizing the damage that the massive earthquake and tsunami had done to Japan. And, while the region affected by the earthquake is starting its long recovery, everyone here has learned some permanent lessons.

1) We are all connected. To borrow a phrase from the Symphony of Science, the earthquake on the coast of Japan reminded us of how closely linked everyone is on earth. The earthquake disrupted parts and vehicle production for automakers overseas and in the United States for months — and had a significant impact on the Midwest.

In the Midwest, our Niala Boodhoo found that 160,000 people in the Great Lakes states worked directly for Japanese based companies. She reported on the impact for Morning Edition.

All across the region, companies, charities and even chefs stepped forward to help people affected by the disasters in Japan, sending everything from portable toilets to gas tanks and of course, cash. At Takashi, in Chicago, an all-star team of restaurant owners from around the city stepped up to cook a meal whose proceeds benefited the American Red Cross. 

2) Recovery is not instantaneous. We live in a world of the 24-hour news cycle, where word of events happening in one place can be beamed around the world within seconds via Twitter and Facebook. But the comeback for Japanese companies has been a step by step process.

One example is the automobile industry, which is vitally important to our region. Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Mitsubishi and Subaru all have factories and employees in our states.

In March 2011, the same month as the earthquake, Japanese automakers held 40 percent of American sales, according to statistics from Autodata, Inc. By June, with parts and vehicle deliveries disrupted, that fell to 30 percent of the market.

Last month, Japanese automakers held 37.8 percent, their highest share since the earthquake, but they are not yet back to where they were.

3) Diversify your production base. Over the past year, Japan’s currency has been at an all time high against the U.S. dollar. That, plus the disruptions caused by the earthquake, is causing a number of auto companies to hasten the shift of production from Japan to the United States.

Toyota told journalists in Toronto last month that it is looking at shifting Lexus and Prius production east from Japan, due to the super-strong yen.

That’s on top of a $400 million expansion that’s taking place at Toyota’s Princeton, Ind., plant, which will become its only global location for the Highlander, a sport utility vehicle. And, Toyota’s new plant in Blue Springs, Miss., which opened in November, is already up to its full component of 2,000 workers.

Honda is expanding in Ohio, where it’s building a new engine and transmission family. It also will build the NSX sports car, which returns in 2015 for the first time in a decade, at a new facility in Marysville.

4) Know your nukes. The weeks-long crisis at Japan’s nuclear power plants caused many Midwesterners to realize that our region also relies in part on nuclear energy. There are 24 nuclear power plants around the Great Lakes, including 11 reactors in Illinois.

Michigan has four, Wisconsin has three and Ohio has two. There are none in Indiana. Meanwhile, the U.S. Energy Information Administration offers an in-depth look at each state’s nuclear power status. Here are their entries for MichiganIllinoisOhio, and Wisconsin.

 

 

A tale of two legislatures The Wisconsin state legislature is wrapping up its current session, and the two pieces of legislation that were the top priorities for Republicans at the start of the year aren’t getting done. Indiana lawmakers are also wrapping up their current session. The state’s Republican leaders had a little more success, reports partner station WBEZ.

Confirmed culprit State regulators in Ohio concluded on Friday that earthquakes near Youngstown were almost certainly caused by a waste-water well drilled by the natural gas industry. Partner station WCPN Ideastream reports the regulators announced new rules on future wells to hold the waste from fracking.

So, what now? Partner station Michigan Radio reports the review team that’s examining Detroit’s finances dodged a possible contempt-of-court charge by disbanding a sub-committee that met in private. A judge ruled the review team must hold its meetings in public. The review team has already found that Detroit will probably run out of cash by this summer.

Read all about it The Chicago Reader is up for sale, according to Crain’s Chicago Business.

The elevated park A proposal would turn an unused 2.7 mile stretch of Chicago’s elevated rail line into a public park.

Charging up, or powering down? Crain’s Detroit Business looks at hiccups in the market for electric vehicles, and wonders whether Michigan’s many new battery plants will survive. Changing Gears has looked at this question before.

Re-reconsidering housing Partner station WBEZ says the city of Chicago spent 13 years revamping its public housing program. Now the new plan is being reconsidered because of tough economic times in the city.

Peoria pandering? Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel promoted partnerships with Peoria during a visit yesterday. Emanuel says the frequent friction between his city and the rest of the state represent “the politics of the past,” according to the Peoria Journal Star.

Less college = less cost Looking for a solution to cut the cost of college? Indiana has an idea: Prohibit colleges from requiring more than 120 credit hours to get a degree. Gov. Mitch Daniels is expected to sign the restriction into law soon.

Minor detail A historic and beloved ferry based out of Ludington, Mich. may be forced to cancel its service, all because of a little arsenic, mercury and other chemicals it’s been dumping in Lake Michigan.

A Hail Mary pays off Partner station WCPN Ideastream reports that Catholics in NE Ohio appear to have won a rare victory. The Vatican has reversed its decision to close 13 churches in the area.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We admit it, we’ve been a little poll-obsessed lately. But last week, a poll caught our attention that had nothing to do with the upcoming GOP primaries in Michigan and Ohio. The poll was done by Public Policy Polling and it basically ranks U.S. states based on popularity.

Turns out, the Midwest didn’t do so hot. No Midwestern states were in the top 10, and Illinois had one of the lowest scores of all states. But buried deep in the data, we noticed that opinions of states varied hugely depending on who was being polled. And, since we spend a lot of time in the Midwest talking about how to attract young people, we wondered how the poll results would be different if you just looked at people aged 18-29. So we put together some charts. As you can see, the results are a little surprising. Tennessee? Really?


Although the political spotlight is on Michigan’s Feb. 28 primary right now, there’s another good political story bubbling in the Great Lakes states.

Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar

Richard Lugar, who turns 80 in April, has been one of Indiana’s U.S. senators as long as a lot of people have been alive. He was first elected to the Senate in 1977, and he’s served as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee twice. Before he was elected to the Senate, he was mayor of Indianapolis.

But Lugar, a Republican, may face a stiff challenge from within his own party. The Chicago Tribune reports that the Club for Growth, an influential conservative group, is endorsing Lugar’s primary opponent, Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock. 

The Club’s president, Chris Chocola, questioned some of the votes that Lugar has taken on fiscal issues in Washington.

Lugar voted in favor of a Congressional bailout for Detroit automakers, and more recently, the Indiana senator opposed a ban on earmarks that was pushed for by Republicans in the Senate.

Lugar’s internal polling shows him well ahead in the Indiana race, according to the Tribune. But if he were to face a tough challenge, or even lose the Senate race, it could be a blow to President Barack Obama. He has cited Lugar as one of his good friends when he was in the Senate, even though the pair are from different parties.

 


On the hook The State of Michigan paid $420,000 to the bondholders of a Pontiac movie studio, according to The Detroit News. The studio couldn’t make the payment on its own, and, under an agreement with Governor Jennifer Granholm, the bonds are guaranteed by the state. But with the cutback in state incentives for filmmaking, no projects have filmed at the studio since December.

Santorum’s surge Rick Santorum is not only leading Mitt Romney in Romney’s home statea new poll shows Santorum is ahead in Ohio as well.

The Fracking Factor A plan to use coal to make natural gas in Indiana may be a bust, according to the Indianapolis Star. A utility executive in Indiana says the boom in shale-gas production, or “fracking” has brought down the cost of natural gas, and the coal-to-gas plan no longer makes sense. Governor Mitch Daniels had touted the coal-to-gas plant as a way to help consumers and boost the economy in Southern Indiana.

Boeing’s big order Chicago-based Boeing has finalized the details of the largest order in its history.

Kohl’s says no to downtown The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that retailer Kohl’s has decided against building a new company headquarters in downtown Milwaukee.

Cincinnati jobs Ohio Governor John Kasich announced yesterday that two new companies are moving to the Cincinnati area.

We’re shocked – shocked! A former city alderman, turned political science professor says he’s done the calculations and Chicago is, in fact, the most corrupt city in the country.


Toyota said Wednesday it plans to move production of the Highlander, a mid-sized SUV, out of Japan next year and into its plant in Princeton, Ind.

It will spend $400 million to expand its operations there, and once that’s completed, the plant will supply Russia and Australia along with North America. Toyota also builds the Highlander in China for the Chinese market only, but it says Highlander will no longer be built in Japan after 2013.

The investment will add 400 new jobs at the Princeton plant, which employs 4,800 people. The factory, which is southern Indiana, builds the Highlander, Sequoia SUV and the Sienna minivan. Toyota says it plans to build about 50,000 more Highlanders a year there.

“That’s great news for this region, for our American customers, and for the U.S economy,” Yoshi Inaba, Toyota’s North American chief executive, said in a speech to the Economic Club of Chicago. Every new auto job, he said, creates three and a half “spin off” jobs to support those workers.