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On Friday, Caterpillar’s Progress Rail Services said it was closing its 62-year-old Electro-Motive Canada operation in London, Ontario, the subject of a union lock out since the beginning of the year. Now, it looks like some of the plant’s 475 jobs could be headed for Indiana, reports the Globe and Mail in Toronto.

Caterpillar held a jobs fair in Muncie, Ind., over the weekend, that drew thousands of applicants. Some job seekers showed up at 4 a.m., five hours before the company began letting people in the door. In all, about 3,000 people turned out, according to the Muncie Free Press.

The Muncie plant, which assembles locomotives, underwent a $50 million renovation last year and became the first new locomotive plant in the United States in years.

The New Year’s lock out of the Canadian Auto Workers union came after the CAW refused to accept deep concessions that would have cut hourly pay in half.

The move comes just as Indiana is implementing its new Right to Work law, signed by Gov. Mitch Daniels last week. The law prevents unions from charging mandatory dues, even if they represent a workforce.

In explaining the shutdown, Billy Ainsworth, the CEO of Progress Rail, said in a letter to employees that all the company’s facilities “must achieve competitive costs, quality and operating flexibility to compete and win in the global marketplace, and expectations at the London plant were no different.”


Politics is front of mind here in the Midwest. We’re also thinking about what to wear, watch, and where our friends went. Here’s a roundup of our top Changing Gears stories this week.

WiSCONSIN: Niala Boodhoo went to Madison, where she showed us how union members are still protesting a year after Gov. Scott Walker eliminated public employee collective bargaining rights. She reported on how they’re faring.

RIGHT TO WORK: Indiana is now the nation’s 23rd Right to Work state, only two months after Gov. Mitch Daniels made the legislation one of his top priorities. Will Michigan be next?

MIDWEST MIGRATION: Our Public Insight team has been tracking the stories of people who’ve left our states. There’s still time for our exiles to call us and leave messages for the folks back home. Meanwhile, read much more on our dedicated page.

T-SHIRTS: If you seek a Midwest t-shirt, look about you. Dustin Dwyer found our states are chock full of small companies making t-shirts that represent our region.

DIY DETROIT: Have you found that all those documentary films about Detroit are starting to look the same? Dustin offers you a how-to kit for making your own Detroit documentary.

Finally, a shout out to Troy “Trombone Shorty,” who sings the Changing Gears theme. He’s been immortalized by the New Orleans Jazz Fest.


Call it the Timex of assembly plants. Chrysler’s Belvidere, Ill, factory takes a licking and keeps on ticking.

Dodge Dart at the Detroit Auto Show

On Thursday, the carmaker said it will add 1,800 jobs at Belvidere, in northwestern Illinois, not far from the Quad Cities area. Some of the workers will make the new Dodge Dart, a revival of the 1970s nameplate, which Chrysler unveiled at the Detroit Auto Show. Others will produce the Jeep Liberty and Compass.

For Belvidere, and surrounding Boone County, the jobs are welcome. The area, where one in five people work in manufacturing, had a 14.4 percent unemployment rate in December, far higher than the national average.

Belvidere, which opened in 1965, has 2,700 workers, and has built a wide variety of cars for Chrysler, ranging from the small Plymouth Horizon and Dodge Omni to the big Imperial and New Yorker sedans and the Dodge Neon subcompact.

It lost 1,000 workers in 2008, not long before Chrysler got a bailout from the Obama administration and went through bankruptcy.

At one point, there was a single shift of workers at the factory, which seemed like it might be on the industry’s endangered list.

But Illinois gave the company a $68 million package of tax breaks and other incentives last year, and Chrysler is investing $700 million in the factory for improvements leading up to production of the Dart. New workers at the plant will be paid entry level wages of about $15 an hour, compared with the $28 an hour that veteran workers receive. They are expected to be hired by this summer.


flickr user trevor.patt

The Michigan Central Depot is a must-have shot for any documentary about Detroit.

Detroit is a city that fascinates a lot of people.

Its story is not a simple one, though it has sometimes been a dramatic one. So maybe it’s not surprising that we seem to hear every week about a new documentary film being made about Detroit.

Changing Gears hasn’t had a chance to see all of these documentaries, but we’ve heard about an awful lot of them.

And we’ve noticed some patterns that we thought could be helpful in case you ever decide to make a documentary about the Motor City.

So, here is our DIY guide for how to make a Detroit documentary:

Opening shot:
An abandoned building sits desolate in the morning light. Tufts of yellowed grass sprout up among the cracked concrete and bent steel. The grass blades wave weakly with the wind, as if in surrender.

Once the shot establishes, you can add a voice-over, and possibly some sad music.

Suggested locations:

Act One: “Paris of the Midwest”
After you visually establish that Detroit is a rotting mess of industrial decay, you’ll need to remind your audience of the glory days. Be sure to refer to Detroit as the Motor City as much as possible.

You should also use phrases like “put the world on wheels,” “gave rise to the middle class” and “Paris of the Midwest.” You can even get archival footage of Detroit on YouTube.

Once that’s established, you’ll want to cue up some ominous music. It’s time to show people the city’s rapid and depressing decline. In the past, if you were making a documentary about Detroit, now would be the time to show footage from the 1967 riots.

But using the riots as a way to describe Detroit’s decline has fallen somewhat out of fashion. You can still mention the riots, but be sure to mention that other cities had riots too, and that the city’s downfall can’t be blamed on this one set of events. Still, you’ll have to blame the decline on something, so here’s a list of possible scapegoats:

  1. Corporations
  2. Globalization
  3. The Federal Government
  4. The State Government
  5. Unions
  6. Racism
  7. Disinvestment
  8. The declining social fabric of America
Act Two: The Post-Apocalyptic Hell-Scape
This is the part of Detroit documentaries that gets people most excited, so don’t hold back. Some choose to skip the other parts of the story completely and just do an entire documentary on this. Either way, you’ll need lots more shots of abandoned places.

This time, visit some neighborhoods on the outskirts of downtown. You can get shots of empty blocks, crumbled houses and graffiti. Pay special attention to the places where vegetation has started growing up through concrete. In a Detroit documentary, you can never have too many of those shots.

It’s also important to put a human face on this part of the story. You should try to find someone with big, watery eyes who’s old enough to remember the good days in Detroit. If you’re lucky, they’ll tell you about bullets being shot through their window, drugs taking over their street and the inevitable hopelessness that every poor soul left in Detroit can’t help but feel.

If you’re really lucky, they’ll ask you to stop taping so they can cry. It goes without saying that this person should be extremely poor and preferably black.

End the act with a long, lingering pause, so that your audience can fully feel the visceral, unending misery that is life in today’s Detroit.

Act Three: A Glimmer Of Hope
This act is sometimes optional in Detroit documentaries. In other documentaries it’s the entire focus (but those are usually the boring documentaries). Anyway, the hopeful storyline should start off with a shot of downtown Detroit, this time with actual people in it, to show that life goes on despite all the horror.

Then you’ll want to cut to a project or business that is emblematic of what’s going right in the city. Here are some suggestions:

Don’t worry if most of the people you interview are white. Young white people who want to rebuild Detroit are totally in right now.

But try not to mention any of the really big companies downtown like GM, Compuware, the hospitals or anything related to Dan Gilbert. Your audience doesn’t want to hear about boring, big companies and their polished PR machine.

You should also avoid politics and politicians because that’s even more boring. A good rule of thumb is: If the person wears a suit, don’t put them in your documentary. Try to focus on people in a form-fitting t-shirts, thick-rimmed glasses and faded jeans.

There should be lots of references in this act to Detroiters’ work ethic.  Use words like “grit,” “blue-collar” and “hardscrabble” as much as possible. This is also a good time to use a shot of the Joe Louis fist sculpture.

As the documentary comes to a close, bring in a montage of images, this time showing buildings that are occupied, streets that have people on them and vegetation that is green. You might show one of those abandoned buildings as a callback, but this time include some sign of life – like a flower in bloom.

End the film with a quote from someone in your third act. Have them say something like: “The auto companies built this town. The [insert scapegoat here] brought it down. But us Detroiters have a hardscrabble, blue-collar, gritty work-ethic. We’ll build this city again.”

Cut to black.

Then prepare your pitch to Sundance.

Note to Detroit’s documentary filmmakers: We kid because we love.


michiganawesome.myshopify.com

The Michigangster tee from Michigan Awesome

The story of the economic transformation in the Midwest is a story about new jobs, new industries and economic growth.

But it’s also a story about how we regain our swagger.

And part of regaining our swagger is reminding ourselves what we love about where we live. There are now countless official PR and advertising campaigns aimed at doing just that. But there’s also a growing movement of young entrepreneurs who want us to wear our local pride. Wear it like a shirt.

The explosion of new businesses selling custom-designed t-shirts is not a local thing. And the growth of the “t-shirt economy” has been going on for at least the last several years.

But here in the Midwest, selling t-shirts with a local message isn’t just a business plan. It’s a transformative idea. Whenever you see one of these shirts on the street, you’re seeing a person that’s invested in the survival, growth and reinvention of our region. At the very least, they’re willing to invest $15 in it.

And wherever you live in the Midwest, there’s a now a t-shirt to show your local pride. Here’s a list of some of the t-shirt companies we’ve found:

Jupmode has mostly university apparel, but there are some designs that show off plain-old local pride. Here’s one that brings back the nearly century-old slogan: “You will do better in Toledo.”

cleclothingco.com

If you live in Cleveland, there’s the CLE Clothing Co.

Detroit has all kinds of options for t-shirt pride. There’s Pure DetroitMade in DetroitDown With Detroit, the Detroit Shirt Co. and Ink Detroit.

There are also two t-shirt companies based in West Michigan that have designs for just about anywhere in Michigan: The Mitten State and Michigan Awesome.

On the other side of the Lake, Chicago is home to one of the biggest players in the t-shirt business today. Threadless doesn’t really sell local t-shirts, but the company is probably the biggest success story in the Midwest t-shirt business.

Chicago is also home to Great To Be Here. Its sole focus is on local shirts, but the designs aren’t limited to the Midwest.

If both of those companies have too broad of a focus for you, you might be interested in Chicago L-Shirts. The company only sells designs that have to do with Chicago’s transit system.

In Milwaukee, there’s Brew City Brand Apparel and the Milwaukee Shirt Guys, where you can get t-shirts to either Support Scott Walker or Recall Scott Walker, depending on your preference.

UPDATE: Thanks to your comments here and on facebook, we can also tell you about Love MichiganThe Blonde CollectiveDetroit GTHigh Five ThreadsYooper Steez and Great Lakes Shirts.

We’re sure there’s more Midwest t-shirt companies out there, so help us fill up the list. Which company has your favorite shirt for showing off local pride?


Honda, like Toyota, has suffered through a lot in the past year — sluggish sales, the Japanese tsunami and earthquake, and floods in Thailand. But it’s vowing to get its mojo back and plans to do so by  revving up its American production.

This morning, Honda said it will invest $98 million at its engine plant in Anna, Ohio, the one you’ve probably driven by Interstate 75. The investment comes on top of a $120 million investment at Honda’s transmission plant in Russells Point, Ohio.

The money is going to build a new engine and transmission family called “Earth Dreams.” The transmission plant will make what are called Continuously Varying Transmissions, or CVTs, which don’t have gears but shift up and down smoothly, and the engine plant will produce parts for those transmissions.

“Earth Dreams” will be available for the first time in the United States on the 2013 Honda Accord, which will be built at Honda’s assembly plant in Marysville, Ohio.

Honda’s goal is to increase its sales this year by 20 percent, and it has aggressive plans over the next few years for both its Honda and Acura lineups. Its push is getting kicked off during the Super Bowl this weekend, which, just in case you haven’t seen it, will feature this familiar looking ad.


Ener1

An advanced battery made by EnerDel, a division of Ener1

The name Ener1 may not be familiar to you.

But the company does have some of your money.

Indiana-based Ener1 is one of the major players in the new advanced battery economy that we reported on back in October. Advanced battery manufacturing has received well over a billion dollars in federal, state and local investment. The biggest chunk for Ener1 came in the form of a $118.5 million grant as part of the Obama administration’s stimulus program (the company was called EnerDel at the time).

Not surprisingly, Ener1′s bankruptcy has led to some vigorous finger-pointing in Washington.

But what will the bankruptcy mean for the battery industry in the Midwest, and the jobs it created?

The answer: Not much.

Back in October, when Changing Gears reported on the advanced battery industry, we talked to analyst Dave Hurst of Pike Research.

Today we called him back for a follow-up.

Hurst says he wasn’t at all surprised by Ener1′s bankruptcy filing. Its main customer, Think Global, went into bankruptcy in June. Ener1′s stock was delisted from the Nasdaq in December.

“They did not diversify fast enough to be able to survive,” Hurst says.

Ener1 says it will make it through bankruptcy with all of its divisions and jobs intact. The company says the bankruptcy process is more about restructuring debt obligations.

Still, Hurst says he doubts the company will remain viable in the automotive industry.

“It’s tough to see a strong business-model to be honest,” he says. “Basically they have to find a market that’s here now.”

The problem, Hurst says is the electric vehicle industry isn’t taking hold as quickly as people expected. Ener1′s CEO admitted as much in the press release that announced the bankruptcy.

Hurst says, if EnerDel is to survive, it’ll have to win business outside the auto industry, in things like energy storage for the electric grid or small batteries for power tools.

And he says Ener1 isn’t the only battery company that could be in trouble.

“Not all the ones that are out there now are going to survive,” Hurst says. “There’s just too much battery capacity for how many vehicles are coming.”

One of Ener1′s competitors, A123 Systems, laid off hundreds of workers in Michigan last year.

But ultimately Hurst believes these are just the growing pains of a new industry. There may be bankruptcies. There may be mergers and consolidations. But he says, battery manufacturing isn’t going away.

As plants start to ramp up,” Hurst says, “You’re going to see a lot more growth.”


The rebound in manufacturing is making news all over the country, especially here in the Midwest.

Last fall, in one of our best-received series, Changing Gears devoted a month of reports to exploring how manufacturing has changed. The plants of today are not your father’s factories, and the workers they are employing are not the same people who worked in plants a generation ago.

Ford's Rouge plant, by Charles Sheeler

Here, to refresh your memory, is our series on Midwest Manufacturing.

TEMPS: Think there are no jobs in manufacturing? Kate Davidson found there are plenty — for temporary workers. Staffing agencies that provide workers to manufacturing plants are finding that they can’t keep up with the demand.

ADVANCED MANUFACTURING: Here in the Midwest, you often hear the term “advanced manufacturing. But what it is? And why do we need to remain leaders in this field? Dan Bobkoff explained in this story.

RON BLOOM: One of the most controversial men in manufacturing during the past few years was Ron Bloom, the Obama administration official who helped oversee the $82 billion bailout to Detroit’s automakers. Bloom recently moved back to Pittsburgh, and he has plenty to say about the role of manufacturing in our national economy. Bobkoff talked to him for Changing Gears.

BATTELLE: Steve Jobs’ death last fall reminded us that everyone has ideas, and very few become actual products. That’s because ideas need a push – and in some cases, a big one, from from science, to become reality. That’s especially true for manufacturers. Niala Boodhoo told the little-known story of Ohio’s Battelle Memorial Institute.


Chicago Fed

Line graphs are usually nothing to get excited about. But this particular graph released today by the Chicago Fed tells the story of manufacturing over the last decade. Represented in that one bold line are the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people in the Midwest. The bold line shows the jobs that were lost, the factories that were shut down and the products we no longer make. We can learn a lot from where that line has been, and where it seems to be headed.

Now, look at the slightly thinner line. That line is manufacturing for the country as a whole. See how it didn’t dip nearly as far as the bold line in 2009? That tells you how much harder we got hit in the Midwest.

But we can learn a lot from the rise of those lines as well. Even though many, many people in the Midwest are still out of a job, our manufacturing sector is improving dramatically. We had it much worse than the rest of the nation when things got bad. But over the past two years, Midwest manufacturing has improved at better than twice the rate as the rest of the country.

The Chicago Fed also provides a set of data with a longer view of things. In that data, we can see that our manufacturing sector is now more productive than its been since September of 2008. But that number is still worse than it had been for the previous ten years. So, things are bad. But at least we’ve made it back to where we were in 1997.

The economic transformation of the Midwest has been the story of our lives for at least the past three years. Depending on where you live, the transformation has been going on for a lot longer. But as the economy transforms, one thing isn’t changing: This is a region that makes things.

The line proves it.


If you’re a baseball fan, you already know that the ground shook last week when the Detroit Tigers signed slugger Prince Fielder. His nine-year, $214 million contract cost the Tigers as much as Ford plans to spend on a new engine plant in Brazil.

Prince Fielder at his first Detroit Tigers press conference

But Crain’s Detroit Business says the Tigers — and Detroit — can afford the former Milwaukee Brewers star.

That word comes from Chris Ilitch, the son of Tigers’ owner Michael Ilitch, and the president of Illitch Family Holdings, Inc., the family’s group of companies that includes pizza giant Little Caesar’s Enterprises.

Those companies, including the Tigers, the Detroit Red Wings, and Detroit’s Motor City casino, generate about $4 billion in annual revenue.

In 2010, the latest year for which information is available, the Tigers had annual revenue of $192 million, according to Forbes.com.

Crain’s says the Tigers’ upcoming payroll, is likely to surpass $110 million to $120 million in salaries and bonuses, as well as benefits.

The payroll includes $63 million alone this season to three players: Fielder ($23 million), American League batting champion Miguel Cabrera ($21 million) and Justin Verlander, the winner of the Cy Young and Most Valuable Player awards, who will earn $20 million.

“That spending is typical of markets larger than Detroit, but it isn’t thought to be financially stressful for the wealthy Ilitches, baseball insiders say,” according to Crain’s. Those salaries are “high-stakes bets on winning a World Series, which would provide the team millions in new revenue.”

Crain’s says the team is saving money in 2012 by not re-signing aging outfielder Magglio Ordonez, who was paid $10 million last season but who also has broken his ankle the past two seasons. Also off the payroll is second baseman Carlos Guillen, who got $13 million in 2011.

Together, their contracts have the same value as Fielder’s pay this season., Crain’s said. He also gets $23 million in 2013 before the team elevated it to $24 million annually over the final seven seasons. There also are several million dollars in potential bonuses in the deal.

Ticket prices are not going up for 2012, but If Fielder leads the team to a World Series, the team can expect a revenue bounce from a boost in season-ticket sales, suite sales, new corporate sponsorships, merchandise, and other things, Crain’s said.

Teams typically raise ticket prices after winning the series, and that bounce continues for several years. As Chris Ilitch put it, “There are opportunities to create revenue.”

What About Milwaukee?

As Tiger fans look forward to greeting their new star at the Tigers’ home opener on April, 5, how is Fielder’s departure playing across Lake Michigan?

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel looks at that today in the story headlined, “Brewers Focus on What They Have, Not On What they Lost.” Not only is Fielder gone, but slugger Ryan Braun could face a 50-game suspension over alleged steroids use, which he has denied.

On Sunday, the team, which won its division title last year, held its annual “On Deck” fan fest to promote the upcoming season. Asked what he might tell fans in need of a pep talk for 2012, effervescent outfielder Nyjer Morgan told the paper, “Don’t panic. Everything is going to be okay. We’re all professionals.”

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