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Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Water playing greater role in Midwest economy? Our partner station WBEZ continues look at the importance of Great Lakes water in the region’s economy. It reports today that the Great Recession dramatically slowed the population exodus from the region, and now, water shortages elsewhere in the U.S. could lead to a population resurgence in the Midwest. In cities across the West, long droughts have taken a toll. Water levels in Lake Mead are at their lowest levels since the lake’s inception in the 1960s. Midwest communities are capitalizing. A marketing campaign for the city of Erie, Pennsylvania notes, “One fifth of the world’s fresh water, potable, not saltwater, is right here in our back yard.”

2. Perils of outsourcing. Replacing government employees with private workers who make less money has become a popular move in recent years for politicians grappling with strained budgets. But such outsourcing comes with hidden costs, says The New York Times, which profiled Michigan’s efforts to deal with that issue today. The state wants to lay off 170 nursing assistants at a veterans’ hospital in Grand Rapids and replace them with workers who make $10 per hour. A legal dispute is under way, and The Times reports that it highlights the pitfalls of such decisions and that taxpayers “end up paying for the cuts in more indirect ways.”

3. Toledo casino will compete with Detroit. In April, the Hollywood Casino will open in Toledo, Ohio, just north of downtown on the Maumee River. It means jobs and a larger tax base for the city. In Detroit, it means competition. The Detroit Free Press reports that Detroit casino operators will not disclose how many of their customers come from northeast Ohio, but they have taken notice of Toledo’s plans. A Lansing-based casino analyst tells the newspaper that gamblers from Ohio and Ontario comprise 20 to 30 percent of the Detroit client base. And the Toledo casino will not only try to draw from its home base, it’s operators are seeking to lure clients from southeast Michigan.

Groupon, the Chicago-based daily discount company, went public today at  a price of $20 a share. (Yes, that only got you one share.)

Groupon CEO Andrew Mason, by Getty Images

Within a few minutes of trading on Nasdaq, the price for Groupon (trading symbol GRPN) had soared to nearly $28 a share, for an overall value of about $18 billion.

That, points out Mashable, would make it the second most valuable technology company to go public since Google did so in 2004. It also gives Groupon a higher value than Xerox, The Gap and Nordstrom’s, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Given Groupon’s tortured path to its initial public offering, Mashable asks, “Is Groupon really worth $18 billion?” You can take its poll here. 

The Groupon public offering was larger than many analysts anticipated, according to the Chicago Tribune, which reported.

“Groupon priced its IPO late Thursday, raising $700 million and garnering a valuation of $12.76 billion. Pricing for the IPO came in above Groupon’s initial anticipated price range of $16 to $18, which would have resulted in a valuation between $10.1 billion and $11.4 billion.

Groupon raised the number of shares it is selling from 30 million to 35 million, but this still represents just 5.5 percent of the company and is considered a small float compared with typical IPOs. In its regulatory filings, the company had cautioned that the relative scarcity of its stock could lead to volatility in the share price, given the imbalance between supply and demand. Groupon’s underwriters have the option of selling an additional 5.25 million shares.”

In a blog post, Groupon CEO Andrew Mason seemed a little humbled by the latest development for a company that has grown in leaps and bounds over the past few years, but not without growing pains.

“Our IPO is a small milestone on our journey, but one that warrants a few words of thanks,” he wrote. “Thanks to my cofounders—Eric Lefkofsky and Brad Keywell. Thanks to shareholders. Thanks to our employees. Thanks to our board of directors. And last, but not least, thanks to our customers and merchant partners. I feel incredibly grateful to serve as CEO of Groupon. With our IPO behind us, I couldn’t be more excited about what lies ahead.”

Do you buy Groupons? What’s been your experience? Have you bought any Groupon shares? 
















All over our region, the past is still present, in the form of empty buildings, property, even corporate campuses. The cost to our cities, in lost tax revenue, and in blight, is enormous.

But entrepreneurs, businesses and government agencies are taking steps to fill in those empty spaces. Throughout November, Changing Gears will take a look at reusing our empty places and the challenges involved. Our first report, from Dustin Dwyer, will air this Wednesday.

In some cases, it’s as simple as taking a building — like  Union High School in Grand Rapids, Mich. (my

Union Square condominiums, in Grand Rapids, Mich. Photo by Micki Maynard


mother’s alma mater) — and finding a new use for it, such as condominiums. In others, it requires patience and cutting through lots of red tape.

We’d love to hear from you. What’s the best re-use that you’ve seen of a previously empty building? Let us know. Have you bought empty property? How do you plan to use it?

If you’ve got pictures, include them in your answers or send them to us at Please include the location and how we can get in touch with you.

Michelle Koles makes lunches at the Can Do Kitchen, one of the smaller organizations getting into business "incubating."

Business incubators are a trumpeted, but yet unproven way to give entrepreneurs and their projects a higher chance of success.  Foundations and governments are lining up dollars to support incubators in their communities.

Some of the larger incubators around the region were profiled by Niala Boodhoo earlier this week. But there are also more grassroots efforts springing up, incubators that seem themselves to be small enough to be supported.

Marcy Kates lives and works in Holt, Michigan. Two months ago she left her job as a program officer for the state’s AmeriCorps program and opened IncuBake, an incubator kitchen and commercial kitchen space. Kates used her savings and her credit cards to open the kitchen, inspired by being unable to find low-cost commercial space for her own catering.

“I started this project to be a job creator, “ said Kates. Even so, she intentionally stayed away from a nonprofit model, wanting more flexibility and not really wanting to fundraise. That meant using her savings and her credit card to start the business, which is now about 15 percent full but, Kates says, growing steadily.

Kates is providing many of the services larger incubators advertise, like counseling. “I meet with every new person when they come in and we go over their business plan.” She calls it “brainstorming,” but it’s a meeting to discuss marketing strategy, pricing, and retailing. “I spend more time on that than anything, other than mopping the kitchen floor,” Kates said. After these conversations she and some potential clients have found they just aren’t yet likely to become successful, and she discourages them from renting.

For four years, the Can Do Kitchen has been running a nonprofit version of the same project in Kalamazoo. The kitchen is a project of the nonprofit Fair Food Matters. “We want to increase the amount of locally produced food in the marketplace,” said Lucy Bland, who runs the kitchen.

And they hope to support local businesses in the process. The kitchen costs between $15 and $35 an hour to rent, more, on average, than Kates’ kitchen. The Can do Kitchen provides marketing support for its clients, and business counseling. They have 12 regular users right now, and have graduated two businesses so far, companies that were doing well enough to move on to storefronts or their own commercial kitchens.

There is no data on how many of these smaller incubators exist around the region, or whether nonprofit or business models may make them more successful. What research continues to show is that running a successful business is very difficult. The rule of thumb that 50 percent of businesses fail to survive for five years is consistently borne out by United States Small Business Association Statistics. The risk factors to small-business success are almost too numerous to count, and even the most well-resourced incubator would be hard pressed to control for them all. Even so, smaller entrepreneurs, like Kates, are trying their luck and hoping other small businesses can share in their success.

This story was informed by the Public Insight Network

Inform our coverage: What support do you think small businesses need to be successful?

From Changing Gears contributor Dustin Dwyer.

GRAND RAPIDS — Three years ago, the advanced battery industry in the United States existed only in the imagination. Plenty of people believed electric cars would be the next big thing. and they would be powered by lithium ion batteries – the same kind of batteries that are in cell phones and laptops. But in 2008, almost all of the lithium ion batteries in the world were made in Asia.

The electric Nissan Leaf

Randy Thelan, who heads the economic development office in Holland, Mich., a small town on the shores of Lake Michigan, thought that could change. Thelan had heard one his local companies, Johnson Controls might be getting into the battery business.

“It wasn’t like we were making a direct pitch that we knew they were building a factory,” he said. “It was just sort of planting the seed, and suggesting to their leadership, keep Holland in mind as you guys are looking to invest and add to their capacity.”

While Thelan was working his angle for Holland, the state of Michigan was about to make a big commitment to the new future in batteries.

In December 2008, former Mich. Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed a new law to offer up to $335 million in tax incentives for battery companies in Michigan. Within a year, Holland landed that Johnson Controls battery plant.

The next year it landed another one for LG Chem. And now, just down the road in Muskegon, Michigan, another lithium ion battery plant is going up. Thelan estimates these companies and their suppliers will have created about 750 jobs by the end of the year.

“But ultimately, by 2020, we believe this is a 10,000 job, $2 billion opportunity for West Michigan and we’re well on our way,” he said.

Not everyone is on board with those job projections.

“In terms of direct jobs, I would think there’d be something closer to the neighborhood of four to five thousand jobs,” said Dave Hurst, an analyst for Pike Research. He tracks the electric vehicle industry. And, when he says he expects to see 4,000 to 5,000 jobs, he means nationwide.

In his view, the jobs numbers in Holland and elsewhere are being oversold. But, he adds, ” I think the importance of the industry is not being oversold. I definitely think this is a critical industry to both Michigan and the upper Midwest.”

The bad news: if you’re sitting in a town in the Midwest and you haven’t heard about a new battery plant in the works, you probably won’t. The industry that didn’t even exist three years ago is now firmly set. It’s in Holland. It’s in Detroit. And it’s in Indianapolis, around the EnerDel plant. But that doesn’t mean everyone else is just giving up.

In Northeast Ohio, the economic development office called Nortech has developed a roadmap for tapping into the new advanced battery industry. Batteries for electric cars play only a small role in the roadmap.

Wind turbine in downtown Cleveland

Instead, officials are focused on much larger batteries that can store excess power created by wind turbines and solar panels. Nortech estimates $49 million has already been invested in the region.

And Illinois is playing a key role in battery research. The federal government’s Argonne national labs, along with universities in Illinois, has developed much of the technology that goes into lithium ion batteries.

Matthew Summy of the Illinois Science and Technology Coalition says he doesn’t mind if most of the jobs from that research have gone to other Midwestern states.

Says Summy: “We need all parts of this region to function and to outperform so that we’re producing the kind of innovation that just 50 years ago, or even 25 years ago, the Midwest was known for.”

Are you involved in the advanced battery industry? How do you feel about its outlook?

One mile south of Detroit Metropolitan Airport, a field of oriental mustard seed plants is part of an aviation-biodiesel experiment.

ROMULUS, Mich. – The runways at Detroit Metropolitan Airport rank as some of the nation’s busiest, handling some 452,000 takeoffs and landings each year along with more than 32 million passengers.
The land adjacent to them, on the other hand, sits mostly unused. Other than creating a buffer for noise-prevention and security reasons, that land has little useful value.
Officials at Detroit Metro and three other Michigan airports are hoping to change that. They’ve partnered with a Michigan State University researcher to grow oriental mustard seed and other plants on that property. Those plants will be harvested and processed into aviation-grade biodiesel that’s then used at the facility.
The project is believed to be the first of its kind in the Midwest, and it’s attracting attention from airlines, government agencies and even a former high-profile Ford Motor Company executive.

In the short term, it’s an experiment to see whether researchers can create an alternate fuel source grown in close proximity to airport users. In the long term, officials believe the biofuel industry in general and aviation-grade biodiesel in particular can make a significant economic impact in Michigan.

“It is going to take a concerted effort by farmers, by industry, by airlines and engineers and developers in order to see this all come to fruition,” said Dennis Pennington, a bioenergy educator from the MSU Extension leading the project, which is funded by a $476,000 state grant.

For now, the three-acre plots at Detroit Metro, Willow Run in Ypsilanti, Grand Rapids and Muskegon airports are primarily for demonstration. But even on a small scale, they have attracted the eyes of groups that could influence where the fledgling aviation biodiesel industry is headed.

Representatives from Delta Air Lines, Detroit’s primary carrier, the Air Transport Association, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative are among the dozen or so groups acting as stakeholders in the project.

Wayne County EDGE, an economic development arm of the county that houses Detroit Metro, is also involved.  It promotes the creation of an “aerotropolis” in the 11-mile stretch between Willow Run Airport and Metro Airport. It envisions a transportation hub that pools the area’s aviation, rail and highway resources. And, the possibility of attracting a fuel refinery or other companion biofuel businesses on or near airport grounds is intriguing.

“We want to become a region known for energy excellence,” said Azzam Elder, deputy CEO of Wayne County.

The Complexities

Getting there with regard to aviation-grade biofuels is complicated, however.

Biofuels is a broad term that includes soybean, corn ethanol, algae or other plants, like Pennington’s oriental mustard seed. Each source brings its own set of challenges in the growing, refining and delivery processes.

Whichever is selected, it must be processed into a standardized biodiesel that arrives at airports compatible with current fuel systems. And it must be used by all airlines — jet fuel is purchased by airports in bulk and shared among users. At Detroit Metro, approximately 300 million gallons of Jet A, essentially kerosene refined from crude oil, are pumped each year.

Investing in the infrastructure to make all that happen is expensive. Even a small refinery costs approximately $20 million. And the market is fragmented. Many entrepreneurs are waiting to see the results of experiments like Pennington’s to see which structure emerges as the most cost-competitive with gasoline before making large-scale investments.

They may now have more incentive. In August, President Obama announced that the Departments of Agriculture, Energy and Navy would invest as much as $510 million over the next three years in public-private partnerships to create drop-in aviation and marine biofuels, funding that stems from Obama’s efforts to diminish the country’s reliance on foreign oil. Ultimately, that’s the sort of investment needed for biofuels to find a niche, Pennington believes.

“Policy drives where this industry is going,” he said.

Focus on marginal land

Biodiesel accounts for approximately 2 percent of the nation’s overall 60-billion gallon annual diesel consumption. Market share is increasing: The government has mandated the production of 800 million biodiesel gallons in 2011 and 1 billion in 2012, through the Renewable Fuel Standards program.

It’s a nice jumpstart for a fledgling industry. Right now, the biggest challenge in taking advantage of it is ensuring the biodiesel cost structure is competitive with the rack price of regular diesel.

An aircraft departs Detroit Metro Airport to the south, flying past a field of plants that could one day provide its fuel.

On Friday, Jet A sold for about $3.06 per gallon in the Chicago market, according to the Oil Price Information Service. Biodiesel prices are volatile and can vary greatly based on the plant source. But a generally accepted industry rule of thumb is that biodiesel is a niche product that costs approximately 10 percent more per gallon — and that’s after a federal subsidy.

The significance of Pennington’s project is that it addresses the biggest component of those costs.

Jim Padilla, co-founder of The Power Alternative, a southeast Michigan-based company that focuses on biodiesel plant construction and process innovation, says that 80 percent of overall costs come from the crops and land used to grow them.

In many cases, like the growing of corn for ethanol, that land is also used in food production. Combined demand between fuel and food drives up prices. That’s why Padilla is enamored with Pennington’s experiment. None of the land in the aviation biofuel project is otherwise used for farming.

“With respect to that cost, one of the ways you decouple yourself from the agriculture market is to decouple yourself from food production,” says Padilla, a former executive with Visteon and Ford.

Pennington has focused on farming marginal land, or acreage that’s never been farmed for food. Airport sites make attractive options. Muskegon County Airport has 1,500 acres used for approach protection, according to airport manager Marty Piette. Together, Detroit Metro and Willow Run hold 1,700 acres suitable for use, according to the Wayne County Airport Authority.

In addition to airport property, Pennington has also farmed sites along highways, behind rest areas and vacant urban lots. Padilla is growing crops on a former Superfund site in Detroit.

In Michigan, there are approximately 4.5 million acres of marginal land not being farmed, Padilla said. It would be inconceivable to suggest every available acre could be utilized, but he uses the figure to illustrate the untapped potential of land that does not compete with food crops. What sort of dent could Michigan’s unused land put in meeting fuel demand?

Using mustard seed, Pennington says it would take roughly 200,000 acres to supply enough crops for a processing plant that makes 50 million gallons per year. On 4.5 million acres, that could yield 1.125 billion gallons per year — roughly the same amount of biodiesel that flows through the U.S. each year.

If a burgeoning industry could tap just a fraction of that potential, it would create “infrastructure to handle it, crush it and get it into a plant to refine it into a fuel,” Pennington said. “That’s job creation and economic development.”

Federal government subsidies help biodiesel close the cost gap by approximately $1 per gallon. Their funding levels have been uneven, which hurt production this year and pointed prices upward. But in the long run, Padilla said there would be an economic payoff on that investment.

“Obviously, that provides a little heartburn for people,” Padilla said. “But there’s a couple things around that. One, is the multiplier effect to fuel that’s being produced locally. Two, is that’s effectively 1 billion gallons we’re not importing. It’s domestic content. And domestic content equals domestic jobs.”

Why Detroit works

A chance meeting led to Detroit Metro’s involvement in Pennington’s project.Officials at the Wayne County Airport Authority wanted to explore using some of the acreage surrounding the airport — in what way, they weren’t sure. A consultant recommended biofuels as an option to Michelle Plawecki, who manages DTW’s noise-mitigation program.
She knew nothing about biofuels. So she attended a green-energy conference at Henry Ford Community College, at which Pennington happened to be speaking. Intrigued by his presentation, she approached him afterward.

Officials believe a nascent biodiesel industry could one day provide jobs in the Detroit aerotropolis region.

“Aviation as an industry is interested in developing alternate sources of jet fuel,” Plawecki said. “There’s a lot of land near the airports in urban areas, and if that could be used to create a renewable natural resource, wouldn’t that be wonderful?”

In many ways, Michigan in general and Detroit Metro are ideal places for the experiment.

Agriculture ranks as the second-largest component of the state’s economy. Conventional supply chains already in place. And Michigan’s two-fold winters offer a two-fold benefit: some crops used for biodiesel can be grown in the winter months when farmers and their fields are otherwise idled, and cold weather typically means better performance for biodiesels.

From an entrepreneurial standpoint, southeast Michigan also was intriguing. In December 2010, the Michigan state legislature passed laws that created the aerotropolis as a regional authority that melds jurisdiction from two counties and seven municipalities surrounding Detroit Metro and Willow Run Airport. Tax incentives are available to companies settling within its borders.

When Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder traveled to Asia earlier this month on a trade mission, the aerotropolis and its energy potential was a fixture in his recruitment efforts. Much of that was focused on advanced-battery technology, but biofuels were also part of the conversation, according to Elder.

Citing the two interstates and two airports within the aerotropolis borders, he said, “we are definitely in a great position to encourage the businesses of biofuels and refineries, that’s the easy part for us. If you can move cars, you should be able to move fuel.”

Twenty-five years from now, the aerotropolis region could employ 64,000 more workers and add more than $10 billion of economic activity, according to a study completed by Jones Lang LaSalle, one that the authority officials like to tout.

Whether that growth actually happens or remains a pie-in-the-sky prediction like so many other reclamation projects around Detroit remains in question. But the fact that a biofuel contribution has the potential to touch multiple industries — from farming to engineering to aviation research and development — makes it an intriguing proposition.

“The question then becomes, ‘Can we get a critical volume?,’” Pennington said. “We burn an awful lot of fossil fuels in the U.S. every year. I don’t have a silver bullet or magic answer. But I certainly believe we have got to come up with some kind of alternative.”

Last week, officials in Dayton, Ohio gave unanimous approval to a plan to adopt an “immigrant friendly” economic approach.

They hope the campaign brings a two-fold benefit to the city and its dwindling population, which at approximately 142,000 residents, is at its lowest number in nearly a century. One, the officials hope immigrants can boost that sagging number. Two, they believe immigrants will bring economic benefits.

They’re not the only ones in the Midwest who believe immigrants can become economic drivers.

In Michigan, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder has encouraged highly educated immigrants to settle in the state. It’s an unusual position for an elected official in a state that’s lost more than 300,000 residents in the past decade and still holds a stubborn 11.2 percent unemployment rate.

“We’ve been in a recession for a decade,” Snyder tells Dan Rather Reports. “How do we really reinvent ourselves? One of the keys to how we build ourselves is immigration.”

Steven Tobocman, a former Democratic state lawmaker who recently authored Global Detroit, a report that formed the base of Snyder’s immigration policy, says that 32.8 percent of Michigan’s high-tech firms formed over the past 10 years have been founded by immigrants. Only six percent of Michigan residents are foreign born.

A study from the Small Business Administration notes that immigrants are three times more likely than native residents to start businesses and six times more likely to start high-tech businesses.

That’s not unnoticed in Dayton, where officials say they have already seen those sorts of benefits. Now they want to promote the city as immigrant friendly and envision the creation of an international marketplace.

“One reason the American dream is still alive is that people keep coming to us who believe in it,” University of Dayton professor Linda Majka tells the Dayton Daily News. “Dayton has the opportunity to get this right.”

Part of the benefits for immigrants in Dayton would include the creation of a municipal identification card for city residents who do not have another form of ID. Another portion of the campaign is a recommendation that police check immigration status only for suspects of serious crimes.

The initiatives in Detroit and Dayton run against the national grain, where many states are mulling proposals to toughen immigration laws – legal or otherwise — in some cases because local workers are fearful they’ll compete with immigrants for scarce jobs.

In Alabama, an immigration law considered by many as the toughest in the nation, recently went into effect. Business owners say significant portions of their workforces have fled the state. The exodus includes many who were legally documented workers.

“We believe that all our employees are legal, but they have told us, ‘We’re not going to stay in a place we’re not welcome,’” said Norm Moore, chief executive of Woerner Development Inc., which is part of the state’s $2.9 billion agriculture industry.

“They came here for the same reasons that most of our ancestors came here – for better opportunity,” Moore told the Mobile Press-Register. “We’ve always accepted people who want to better their lives, and now we’re doing something different.”

Proponents of the Alabama law believe it will add 1,100 jobs in the state by next spring.

Steve Jobs’ death last week has reminded everyone firsthand the notion 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. It sounds obvious, but when we’re talking about actual products, that translates into actual jobs, and actual economic activity, it’s something worth exploring. That’s why I was so interested to learn more about Battelle Memorial Institute.

Battelle Memorial Institute (Niala Boodhoo)

Columbus, Ohio – Innovation can strike in a variety of ways.

Take Emery OleoChemical in Cincinnati. The company started making candles in 1840. Today, it uses the same tallow to make things like glycerin, which goes into soap, detergent and makeup. And it uses technology that mimics what happens in a lightning strike to make the stuff. Mark Durchholz, one of the company’s regional business directors, explained how it works:

“We discharge electricity at very high voltage across oxygen and we make ozone gas,” he said.

A few years ago, the company realized it could use this same technology to branch out into a whole new business. By adapting this technology, the company has created three new product lines – now they’re making materials that make foam, not just from crude oil, but from soy.

The idea for all of this was basically handed to Emery – by Battelle Memorial Institute.

If you’ve never heard of Battelle, not to worry. Neither had Emery OleoChemical – despite the fact that both have been around for more than 100 years, and Batelle is just 100 miles away in Columbus, Ohio.

Battelle has a tradition of silence about the work it does.

“We actually respect the privacy of our companies,” said Battelle’s Spencer Pugh, when I asked him to provide me examples of some of its clients. “I really can’t tell you the names of companies we work for.”

Pugh can talk about a few of the things Battelle does takes credit for: the technology behind the bar code, cruise control, compact discs – and even Xerox copies.

Woody Cook, Battelle National Security, next to a pool that is used to test underwater robotic devices (Niala Boodhoo)

Battelle’s a nonprofit. Companies hire Battelle because all it does is scientific research. Last year, its research and development budget was $6.5 million. Battelle has 22,000 employees in 130 laboratories around the world.

It uses this network to help its clients perfect technology. Sometimes, it gets share of the profits – like it did, back before Xerox went public. That’s how it funds the rest of its research.

Battelle’s Columbus campus is just across the street from Ohio State University. Across 50 acres and in 20 buildings, scientists are trying to improve military jet fuel efficiency, perfect underwater robots and develop a new fuel source out of things like sawdust.

Because Battelle has developed a prototype to create fuel out of sawdust, so they wouldn’t let me take a picture of it. I can describe the contraption as invoking my childhood memories of Mike Mulligan’s Steam Shovel, minus the steam.

“Our technology is focused on going from biomass all the way to a fuel that can be blended directly with gasoline that all of us use during the normal course of our days,” said Zia Abdullah, who is leading Battelle’s bioenergy program and the sawdust project.

Zia Abdullah, Battelle Energy (Niala Boodhoo)

Abdullah plans to have a system that is commercially viable, and available for widespread use, by 2015. That’s pretty fast in the scientific world, and represents several million dollars of investment – much of which is coming from a U.S. Department of Energy grant.

The problem with research and development for experimental products like this is that it takes time, and investment – something many companies simply can’t afford to do anymore.

“You don’t always know when you start out which ones will pay off and which ones won’t,” said Pugh, when I asked him why he enjoys working at Battelle, where they have the time and energy to devote years of investment into figuring out what works. “Here, there’s a lot of investment in ideas and a very rigorous weeding out process as we find ideas that work and will be successful in the marketplace.”

But that’s the very principle Battelle was founded on back in 1929.

During World War I, Steel tycoon Gordon Battelle was frustrated with how long it took for inventions to go from the lab to the battlefield. When he died young – at age 40, after a routine appendectomy – he left money in his will to found a nonprofit organization dedicated to scientific research.

Today, the only company that’s won more major R&D 100 awards – insiders call them the “Oscars of innovation” – is G.E.

Pugh says Battelle will work with any company, no matter what its size. He said something I heard often at Battelle – that inspiration and innovation isn’t so much about the idea, or when inspiration strikes. It’s more about the role science plays in getting an idea out of someone’s head – to the manufacturing floor – and into our economy.

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Cleveland counts on small growth. In the past, economic development approaches in Cleveland have centered around big-ticket items. A new stadium. A new arena. The Medical Mart and Convention Center. That strategy is changing. Under Cuyahoga County’s new governing structure, executive Ed FitzGerald will target small-and-medium-sized business growth rather than large-scale projects. Our partner station Ideastream examines a proposal for a $100 million economic development fund that FitzGerald calls “a major commitment to business development.”

2. Tennessee GM plans will re-open. The contract agreement between the United Auto Workers and General Motors calls for the hiring of an additional 6,400 employees. Approximately 1,700 will be located at the company’s plant in Spring Hill, Tenn. The plant was initially shuttered in June 2009, but in a move that’s considered rare among industry insiders, the plant will re-open as GM seems to gain market share from Toyota. According to an Atlanta Fed analyst, the re-opening is one such reason “Tennesee could be viewed as a leader of the pack in automotive manufacturing strength,” throughout the nation.

3. Business school applications down. As prospective students grow leery of accumulating massive amounts of student debt, applications to most Chicago-area business schools have fallen. Crain’s Chicago Business reported Monday that applications at Loyola University’s Graduate School of Business have fallen 9.5 percent this year, applications at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management declined 5.6 percent. Applications at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business dropped 3.0 percent. DePaul was the only university in the Chicagoland region to buck the trend, noting a 13 percent jump.

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Mixed Midwest real estate news. Home sale prices in Michigan increased significantly over the past three months, according to a new report from Clear Capitol. “Michigan overall is actually up even more so than the Midwest Region,” said Alex Villacorta, a Clear Capitol spokesperson. Villacorta tells Michigan Radio that prices are up 8.5 percent on a quarter-over-quarter basis, but cautions prices could decline by more than 3 percent in Michigan this winter. Elsewhere in the region, distressed sales in northeast Ohio pushed the decline in area home prices to almost double the national rate, according to Crain’s Cleveland. Prices in the Cleveland area fell 7.9 percent in August compared to a year earlier.

2. Milwaukee streetcar’s street fight continues. Two Milwaukee alderman asked Congress to kill a streetcar line in the city by giving its $54.9 million in federal funds to the cash-strapped city bus system. The alderman and opponents of the streetcar line, said Wednesday that the city could not afford to operate the streetcar. Their efforts face long odds, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. House rules may ban such a financial shift, and the city’s council has already voted to start final engineering on the $64.6 million streetcar project.

3. Closer confines in Chicago. The Chicago Sun-Times reports today the Chicago Police Department will have some company in its headquarters. The Chicago Fire Department is moving in late next month as part of cost cutting ordered by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a source tells the newspaper. Moving boxes have already arrived, and the fire department will abandon its lease on two floors at 10 W. 35th Street. “Everyone hopes everyone will get along,” the source tells The Sun-Times.