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Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Unemployment rises in Ohio. Unemployment rates climbed in 84 of Ohio’s 88 counties in June, providing more evidence the economy has slowed. It’s the first time since early 2010 the Buckeye State’s unemployment rate rose. The state rate climbed to 8.8 percent in June, up from 8.6 percent in May, according to Cincinnati.com. Manufacturing jobs declined by approximately 3,000 in June, but government jobs diminished more. More than 7,000 were lost last month.

2. Loan program starts in Michigan. Michigan will be the first state eligible for small-business loans given by a federal government program to businesses investing in clean energy or located in economically troubled areas, according to the Associated Press. Details of the plan, part of President Obama’s “Start-Up America” initiative, are expected to be announced this afternoon. The initiative combines private institutional investors and federal funds to invest in targeted companies.

3. Gary, Ind. endures property-tax nightmare. One in three homeowners in Gary, Ind., has missed a property-tax payment. Worse, the city only collects 72.4 percent of its expected revenues, the lowest percentage of any Indiana city. Our partner WBEZ examines a wave of property-tax problems affecting Gary and the consequences of the shortfall, such as keeping police on their beats and providing basic education functions.


Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Unemployment rises in Ohio. Unemployment rates climbed in 84 of Ohio’s 88 counties in June, providing more evidence the economy has slowed. It’s the first time since early 2010 the Buckeye State’s unemployment rate rose. The state rate climbed to 8.8 percent in June, up from 8.6 percent in May, according to Cincinnati.com. Manufacturing jobs declined by approximately 3,000 in June, but government jobs diminished more. More than 7,000 were lost last month.

2. Loan program starts in Michigan. Michigan will be the first state eligible for small-business loans given by a federal government program to businesses investing in clean energy or located in economically troubled areas, according to the Associated Press. Details of the plan, part of President Obama’s “Start-Up America” initiative, are expected to be announced this afternoon. The initiative combines private institutional investors and federal funds to invest in targeted companies.

3. Gary, Ind. endures property-tax nightmare. One in three homeowners in Gary, Ind., has missed a property-tax payment. Worse, the city only collects 72.4 percent of its expected revenues, the lowest percentage of any Indiana city. Our partner WBEZ examines a wave of property-tax problems affecting Gary and the consequences of the shortfall, such as keeping police on their beats and providing basic education functions.


Our Changing Gears road trip continues. Yesterday, I was in Kohler, Wisconsin. Today, I went down state in Illinois to Decatur.

Corn being grown across the street from Archer Daniels Midland Co. headquarters in Decatur (Niala Boodhoo)

 

 

DECATUR – Driving south from Chicago, it only takes about 25 miles to hit the corn fields. For the next 150 miles to Decatur, it’s a sea of yellow corn tassels, a head tall.

At night, the central Illinois darkness is broken only by the lights of the corn and soy processing facilities at Archer Daniels Midland Company.

At dawn, the truck and rail traffic starts rolling into the yards of ADM, one of the largest food processing companies in the world.

Its global sales were $62 billion last year. Its headquarters are in Decatur, as well as some of its largest processing facilities.

Its operations are so large that to tour all their plants, I had to get in a car.

ADM doesn’t grow crops, like those surrounding its operations in Decatur. It buys and sells crops – wheat, corn, soy and cocoa, from all over the world. Some of those crops are brought to processing plants, where they’re turned into products like corn syrup, vegetable oil, animal feed, or ethanol.

“This is the center of agriculture, and I joke a little, it’s the center because we’re here,” said Mike Baroni, a vice-president with ADM. “But if you look around, when you drove from Chicago you saw some of the most fertile land in the world, and corn and soybeans as far as the eye can see.

The company started its first plant in Decatur in 1939. Thirty years later, it moved its headquarters to Decatur, too.

Baroni said the company thinks of Decatur as its home: “We’ve been here a long time,” he said, adding that as far as he knows, the company has no plans to leave Decatur.

ADM has almost 4,500 workers in Decatur. While many of them work in the processing plant, the company also runs one of the largest private trading floors in the country and does a lot of scientific research.

That varied workforce should dispel any misconceptions people have about Decatur, the City Manager Ryan McCrady told me.

“We have a rich history of industry, so I think a lot of folks think we’re a dusty, old, blue collar city,” McCrady said. “It’s quite the contrary.”

When you talk about employers in Decatur, three names loom large: ADM, Caterpillar and Tate & Lyle, the British food giant that bought Decatur’s homegrown Staley Company in 1988. (Interesting side note: today’s Chicago Bears were started as the Decatur Staleys in 1919, then moved to Chicago as the Chicago Staleys in 1920, where the NFL franchise was officially started.)

But Tate & Lyle is moving some research operations to the Chicago area.

And Caterpillar’s employment has been more cyclical. Over the past few years, it has laid off, and since rehired, hundreds of Decatur workers.

ADM’s been steady. Last fall, it bought a building in downtown Decatur to consolidate 300 IT, audit and accounting workers.

McCrady says that was a big deal.

“First of all, to have all that many more people in your central business district is going to be great for commerce,” he said. “But bigger than that was a sign of ADM’s commitment to Decatur by buying this building, especially in this age of downsizing.”

The unemployment rate in Decatur has dropped below 9 percent – better than Chicago’s jobless rate. McCrady says Decatur sales tax revenues are up 10 to 15 percent over the past year. That’s a faster rate of growth than Illinois as a whole.

With job prospects good in Decatur, welding classes are full at Richland Community College – even at midnight.

“Everybody seems to be in more of a hiring mode,” said Douglas Brauer, a vice-president with the college.

In the welding lab at Richland Community College (Niala Boodhoo)

For spring semester the school started offering welding classes at midnight, to accommodate students who were working full-time. The class was full, so they offered it again this summer.

Richland Community College is literally in ADM’s backyard. When it was built, ADM built a pipeline to the campus to send steam. That has powered the college’s heating and cooling systems for the past 20 years.

I stepped outside with Andy Perry, who also works at Richland. He explained that we were standing directly north of one of the production facilities for Archer Daniels Midland, as well as northeast of Tate & Lyle.

“So on a given day, when some of those production facilities are giving off you steam and other elements,  we can smell the products from here,” he said.

But Perry says nobody in Decatur minds.

“Really,” he said, “it’s the smell of money.”

The world’s population is expected to reach 7 to 10 billion people by 2050. That means the demand for agricultural products – everything ADM produces – is supposed to double. That can only mean good things for Decatur, which likes to call itself the heart of agribusiness.

Correction: an earlier version of this story contained an invalid figure for the world’s population. It is approximately 6.7 billion, according to the World Bank.


Our Changing Gears road trip continues. Yesterday, I was in Kohler, Wisconsin. Today, I went down state in Illinois to Decatur.

Corn being grown across the street from Archer Daniels Midland Co. headquarters in Decatur (Niala Boodhoo)

 

 

DECATUR – Driving south from Chicago, it only takes about 25 miles to hit the corn fields. For the next 150 miles to Decatur, it’s a sea of yellow corn tassels, a head tall.

At night, the central Illinois darkness is broken only by the lights of the corn and soy processing facilities at Archer Daniels Midland Company.

At dawn, the truck and rail traffic starts rolling into the yards of ADM, one of the largest food processing companies in the world.

Its global sales were $62 billion last year. Its headquarters are in Decatur, as well as some of its largest processing facilities.

Its operations are so large that to tour all their plants, I had to get in a car.

ADM doesn’t grow crops, like those surrounding its operations in Decatur. It buys and sells crops – wheat, corn, soy and cocoa, from all over the world. Some of those crops are brought to processing plants, where they’re turned into products like corn syrup, vegetable oil, animal feed, or ethanol.

“This is the center of agriculture, and I joke a little, it’s the center because we’re here,” said Mike Baroni, a vice-president with ADM. “But if you look around, when you drove from Chicago you saw some of the most fertile land in the world, and corn and soybeans as far as the eye can see.

The company started its first plant in Decatur in 1939. Thirty years later, it moved its headquarters to Decatur, too.

Baroni said the company thinks of Decatur as its home: “We’ve been here a long time,” he said, adding that as far as he knows, the company has no plans to leave Decatur.

ADM has almost 4,500 workers in Decatur. While many of them work in the processing plant, the company also runs one of the largest private trading floors in the country and does a lot of scientific research.

That varied workforce should dispel any misconceptions people have about Decatur, the City Manager Ryan McCrady told me.

“We have a rich history of industry, so I think a lot of folks think we’re a dusty, old, blue collar city,” McCrady said. “It’s quite the contrary.”

When you talk about employers in Decatur, three names loom large: ADM, Caterpillar and Tate & Lyle, the British food giant that bought Decatur’s homegrown Staley Company in 1988. (Interesting side note: today’s Chicago Bears were started as the Decatur Staleys in 1919, then moved to Chicago as the Chicago Staleys in 1920, where the NFL franchise was officially started.)

But Tate & Lyle is moving some research operations to the Chicago area.

And Caterpillar’s employment has been more cyclical. Over the past few years, it has laid off, and since rehired, hundreds of Decatur workers.

ADM’s been steady. Last fall, it bought a building in downtown Decatur to consolidate 300 IT, audit and accounting workers.

McCrady says that was a big deal.

“First of all, to have all that many more people in your central business district is going to be great for commerce,” he said. “But bigger than that was a sign of ADM’s commitment to Decatur by buying this building, especially in this age of downsizing.”

The unemployment rate in Decatur has dropped below 9 percent – better than Chicago’s jobless rate. McCrady says Decatur sales tax revenues are up 10 to 15 percent over the past year. That’s a faster rate of growth than Illinois as a whole.

With job prospects good in Decatur, welding classes are full at Richland Community College – even at midnight.

“Everybody seems to be in more of a hiring mode,” said Douglas Brauer, a vice-president with the college.

In the welding lab at Richland Community College (Niala Boodhoo)

For spring semester the school started offering welding classes at midnight, to accommodate students who were working full-time. The class was full, so they offered it again this summer.

Richland Community College is literally in ADM’s backyard. When it was built, ADM built a pipeline to the campus to send steam. That has powered the college’s heating and cooling systems for the past 20 years.

I stepped outside with Andy Perry, who also works at Richland. He explained that we were standing directly north of one of the production facilities for Archer Daniels Midland, as well as northeast of Tate & Lyle.

“So on a given day, when some of those production facilities are giving off you steam and other elements,  we can smell the products from here,” he said.

But Perry says nobody in Decatur minds.

“Really,” he said, “it’s the smell of money.”

The world’s population is expected to reach 7 to 10 billion people by 2050. That means the demand for agricultural products – everything ADM produces – is supposed to double. That can only mean good things for Decatur, which likes to call itself the heart of agribusiness.

Correction: an earlier version of this story contained an invalid figure for the world’s population. It is approximately 6.7 billion, according to the World Bank.


This week, the Changing Gears team is on the road, looking at modern-day company towns around our region. We’re telling the stories of towns that still rely on one big company, or one industry, and how they’re coping during the recession. On one of Kohler's main streets, just between Kohler Co. main offices and The American Club (Niala Boodhoo)

I sat down this morning with Alison Cuddy, host of 848 on our partner station WBEZ in Chicago, to talk about our series.

Here’s our lineup for the week. If you live in one of our company towns, we’d love to hear from you.

KOHLER: Niala Boodhoo visits Kohler, WI, which was created by The Kohler Company, the home fixtures company that is still its biggest employer.

DECATUR: Niala goes to Decatur, IL, where the scent of the agriculture products processed by ADM is in the air.

ISHPEMING: Kate Davidson heads way north, to Ishpeming, MI. It’s still possible to get a mining job here, although no one knows what the future holds.

NORWALK: Dan Bobkoff tells the story of Norwalk Furniture, which was saved by 12 townspeople who invested to keep it open.

ORRVILLE: Dan wraps up the week in Orrville, OH, where you may have heard of Smuckers, but probably don’t know about the family owned businesses that help keep the economy moving.


This week, the Changing Gears team is on the road, looking at modern-day company towns around our region. We’re telling the stories of towns that still rely on one big company, or one industry, and how they’re coping during the recession. On one of Kohler's main streets, just between Kohler Co. main offices and The American Club (Niala Boodhoo)

I sat down this morning with Alison Cuddy, host of 848 on our partner station WBEZ in Chicago, to talk about our series.

Here’s our lineup for the week. If you live in one of our company towns, we’d love to hear from you.

KOHLER: Niala Boodhoo visits Kohler, WI, which was created by The Kohler Company, the home fixtures company that is still its biggest employer.

DECATUR: Niala goes to Decatur, IL, where the scent of the agriculture products processed by ADM is in the air.

ISHPEMING: Kate Davidson heads way north, to Ishpeming, MI. It’s still possible to get a mining job here, although no one knows what the future holds.

NORWALK: Dan Bobkoff tells the story of Norwalk Furniture, which was saved by 12 townspeople who invested to keep it open.

ORRVILLE: Dan wraps up the week in Orrville, OH, where you may have heard of Smuckers, but probably don’t know about the family owned businesses that help keep the economy moving.


Bailouts and bankruptcies behind them, Detroit’s automakers are now facing talks on new national contracts. The United Auto Workers kicked off the ceremonial opening of negotiations at Chrysler today, and will do the same at Ford and General Motors later this week.

UAW President Bob King says he doesn’t want to put any of the companies at a disadvantage.
“We want them to be competing on the basis of product, design and quality,” he said, according to Bloomberg.

Auto talks open at Chrysler, by Jeff Gilbert, WWJ Detroit

Contracts expire in September. During the last major negotiations, in 2007, the auto industry was on the verge of a devastating decline in sales that would lead to federally sponsored restructurings at Chrysler and G.M., part of an industry bailout that cost $82 billion.

This time, the Detroit automakers are each profitable again. G.M., Ford and Chrysler combined to earn more than $6 billion in the first quarter. Last year, GM earned $6.17 billion. Ford had net income of $6.56 billion in 2010, the most in 11 years. (Chrysler, now part of Fiat, did not report 2010 results.)

But competitive pressures remain.

The union wants workers, who granted concessions since the last contract that are worth up to $30,000 apiece, to share in some of those profits, in the form of pay increases for entry level workers, and more profit sharing money for all workers. They also want the car makers to re-open some of the factories closed when the auto industry was at its deepest point.

The companies note that entry level workers — called two-tiers — earn about the same wages as their counterparts at non-union, foreign-owned factories in the Midwest and South. They want UAW members to pay a greater part of their health care expense, which still costs them hundreds of millions of dollars a year, even though responsibility for administering health care programs has been shifted to outside trusts.

These negotiations have a different tone than talks in the past. G.M. and Chrysler workers gave up the right to strike as part of the bailout agreements, and also agreed to binding arbitration. There are no such restrictions at Ford, leading some experts to predict the UAW may focus its efforts there, figuring the ability to strike gives the union more influence.

The auto industry’s presence has shrunk dramatically in recent decades. There are only 112,000 UAW represented hourly workers left at the three Detroit companies, down from a peak of about 1 million hourly workers in 1978. But because the companies have closed so many out lying plants, its factories now are concentrated mainly in the Midwest.

I talked to Robin Young of Here and Now about the contract negotiations.

We’d like to hear your thoughts on unions and what they mean to you. Please take our survey and add any comments below.


From Pullman in Chicago to Firestone in Akron, big employers used to loomed large in everyone’s daily lives. But what does the modern company town look like? The Changing Gears team hit the road to find out. All this week, we’re looking at how these places are coping.

KOHLER – At the peak of summer, and its busy tourist season, Kohler, Wisconsin, is, in a word, lovely.

It also feel luxurious, whether you’re on one of its world class golf courses or at its five-diamond rated resort hotel, the only one in the Midwest. At the Kohler Waters Spa, you can even soak in a tub which – no joke – cost $10,000, because it has its own specially-composed, “vibra-acoustic” music that you can hear underwater.

So it’s easy to go there and not realize that this town, which is almost a century old, is still about the thing it was founded for – plumbing.

Kohler’s “Wall of China” at its Design Center (Niala Boodhoo)

“Everything that can be Kohler is Kohler,” explains Christine Loose, resident manager of the American Club and Inn at Woodlake.

Both are run by The Kohler Company, which gave the village its name. The main attraction is the Kohler-owned golf courses nearby. One of them, Whistling Straits, hosted the 2010 PGA Championships.

At the American Club, summer rates start at $360 a night. As each class of room improves, so does the plumbing.

“Our tile is Kohler, our plumbing is Kohler, our furniture is Kohler,” Loose said. “If we make it, it’s in the guest room.”

The Kohler Company is a $5 billion global business with four families of companies. Its largest is selling bath and kitchen fixtures. Curious about how big they are? Next time you’re in a bathroom, check the tub, sink or toilet for the Kohler name – if it has it, it was probably made in Wisconsin.

They also sell other furniture, as well as engines, mostly for lawn mowers or generators.

John Michael Kohler started the company in 1873. He went into bath fixtures when he coated a hog scalder with enamel and marketed it as multipurpose hog scalder, horse trough or bathtub.

John Michael’s son, Walter Kohler, moved the factory outside of Sheboygan because he said it was too crowded. (The population at the time in Sheboygan was, according to the 1910 U.S. census: 26,398.)

On one of Kohler’s main streets, just between Kohler Co. main offices and The American Club (Niala Boodhoo)

The family hired famed Central Park designer Frederick Olmsted to help create the village. Today,  the houses are still tidy. Its village lawns are as immaculate as a golf course, and along its main street, in front of The American Club, hanging baskets of pink petunias provide a perfect frame to the picture.

That’s why resident Roelle Murphy laughingly uses terms like “Beaver-Cleaver” land to describe the town.

“When we originally moved here back in 1994 I looked at my husband and said, ‘Oh my god, you moved me to Stepford’,” she said, laughing. That lasted only about a week.

Now, Murphy describes the village as a “wonderfuly, family-oriented community,” where people know and care for each other. Everyone goes to the high school football game on Friday nights, and all the kids who live in Kohler, including the children of company president David Kohler’s children, attend the one-building school.

Murphy used to work at Kohler. Her husband still does. About one in 3 people in the village work for the company. In Sheboyan County, it’s 1 in 10 – making Kohler the county’s largest employer.

Factory employees are represented by the United Auto Workers. I caught up with Local 833 President Dave Boucher during the union’s annual retiree picnic.

Many of the retirees I spoke with started working at Kohler even before the famous strike of 1954.

(Read a Time magazine story from 1958 about the strike)

Kohler co. retirees at their annual UAW Local 833 picnic (Niala Boodhoo)

Each of them were able to support their families on one Kohler salary.

Today, the average factory wage at Kohler is about $22 an hour (The company says that’s one of the highest wage rates in the industry). But under a new contract approved last December, temporary hires will make about $14 an hour, and have less benefits, to do the same factory work.

The UAW has half the members it used to in the area. Boucher told me something many said at the picnic – the Kohler Company would have stopped manufacturing in Wisconsin a long time ago if it hadn’t been family run and privately held.

“They would have tailed it years ago,” he said, as he ticks off the list of other manufacturers who have left the area. Still, while he’s happy that they are still here, and he says he doesn’t begrudge the company’s newest division, hospitality, he wonders if those jobs pay enough to support a family.

Current company chairman Herb Kohler, Jr. is responsible for the company’s most recent foray into golf and hospitality.

Company “Director of Wellness” Jean Kolb tells the story:

“The story goes, Mr. Kohler had a meeting with top executives and talked about what we were going to do with the American Club,” she told me. “And Mr. Kohler said, ‘I want to turn it into a five diamond resort hotel’ and the executives looked at each other and said, ‘We don’t know anything about the hospitality business. We do plumbing and bathtubs!’.”

The resort opened in 1981. It received its coveted AAA five-diamond award in 1986, something that it has had continuously since then.

Kolb says its golf course, the resort – and especially its Design Center, where you can have bathroom and kitchen blueprints modified for free – all reflect the company’s mission of “gracious living”.

This story was informed by the Public Insight Network

This is part of a five-part series we’re doing on modern company towns. Do you live in a company town? If so, how are you doing? Feel free to weigh in on the comments. Tomorrow, I’ll be reporting from the heart of Illinois’s agribusiness industry, and home of food giant ADM – Decatur.

UPDATE: An earlier version of this story contained incorrect information from the company about when The American Club resort received its five-diamond status.


From Pullman in Chicago to Firestone in Akron, big employers used to loomed large in everyone’s daily lives. But what does the modern company town look like? The Changing Gears team hit the road to find out. All this week, we’re looking at how these places are coping.

KOHLER – At the peak of summer, and its busy tourist season, Kohler, Wisconsin, is, in a word, lovely.

It also feel luxurious, whether you’re on one of its world class golf courses or at its five-diamond rated resort hotel, the only one in the Midwest. At the Kohler Waters Spa, you can even soak in a tub which – no joke – cost $10,000, because it has its own specially-composed, “vibra-acoustic” music that you can hear underwater.

So it’s easy to go there and not realize that this town, which is almost a century old, is still about the thing it was founded for – plumbing.

Kohler’s “Wall of China” at its Design Center (Niala Boodhoo)

“Everything that can be Kohler is Kohler,” explains Christine Loose, resident manager of the American Club and Inn at Woodlake.

Both are run by The Kohler Company, which gave the village its name. The main attraction is the Kohler-owned golf courses nearby. One of them, Whistling Straits, hosted the 2010 PGA Championships.

At the American Club, summer rates start at $360 a night. As each class of room improves, so does the plumbing.

“Our tile is Kohler, our plumbing is Kohler, our furniture is Kohler,” Loose said. “If we make it, it’s in the guest room.”

The Kohler Company is a $5 billion global business with four families of companies. Its largest is selling bath and kitchen fixtures. Curious about how big they are? Next time you’re in a bathroom, check the tub, sink or toilet for the Kohler name – if it has it, it was probably made in Wisconsin.

They also sell other furniture, as well as engines, mostly for lawn mowers or generators.

John Michael Kohler started the company in 1873. He went into bath fixtures when he coated a hog scalder with enamel and marketed it as multipurpose hog scalder, horse trough or bathtub.

John Michael’s son, Walter Kohler, moved the factory outside of Sheboygan because he said it was too crowded. (The population at the time in Sheboygan was, according to the 1910 U.S. census: 26,398.)

On one of Kohler’s main streets, just between Kohler Co. main offices and The American Club (Niala Boodhoo)

The family hired famed Central Park designer Frederick Olmsted to help create the village. Today,  the houses are still tidy. Its village lawns are as immaculate as a golf course, and along its main street, in front of The American Club, hanging baskets of pink petunias provide a perfect frame to the picture.

That’s why resident Roelle Murphy laughingly uses terms like “Beaver-Cleaver” land to describe the town.

“When we originally moved here back in 1994 I looked at my husband and said, ‘Oh my god, you moved me to Stepford’,” she said, laughing. That lasted only about a week.

Now, Murphy describes the village as a “wonderfuly, family-oriented community,” where people know and care for each other. Everyone goes to the high school football game on Friday nights, and all the kids who live in Kohler, including the children of company president David Kohler’s children, attend the one-building school.

Murphy used to work at Kohler. Her husband still does. About one in 3 people in the village work for the company. In Sheboyan County, it’s 1 in 10 – making Kohler the county’s largest employer.

Factory employees are represented by the United Auto Workers. I caught up with Local 833 President Dave Boucher during the union’s annual retiree picnic.

Many of the retirees I spoke with started working at Kohler even before the famous strike of 1954.

(Read a Time magazine story from 1958 about the strike)

Kohler co. retirees at their annual UAW Local 833 picnic (Niala Boodhoo)

Each of them were able to support their families on one Kohler salary.

Today, the average factory wage at Kohler is about $22 an hour (The company says that’s one of the highest wage rates in the industry). But under a new contract approved last December, temporary hires will make about $14 an hour, and have less benefits, to do the same factory work.

The UAW has half the members it used to in the area. Boucher told me something many said at the picnic – the Kohler Company would have stopped manufacturing in Wisconsin a long time ago if it hadn’t been family run and privately held.

“They would have tailed it years ago,” he said, as he ticks off the list of other manufacturers who have left the area. Still, while he’s happy that they are still here, and he says he doesn’t begrudge the company’s newest division, hospitality, he wonders if those jobs pay enough to support a family.

Current company chairman Herb Kohler, Jr. is responsible for the company’s most recent foray into golf and hospitality.

Company “Director of Wellness” Jean Kolb tells the story:

“The story goes, Mr. Kohler had a meeting with top executives and talked about what we were going to do with the American Club,” she told me. “And Mr. Kohler said, ‘I want to turn it into a five diamond resort hotel’ and the executives looked at each other and said, ‘We don’t know anything about the hospitality business. We do plumbing and bathtubs!’.”

The resort opened in 1981 and has continuously maintained its coveted AAA rating since then.

Kolb says its golf course, the resort – and especially its Design Center, where you can have bathroom and kitchen blueprints modified for free – all reflect the company’s mission of “gracious living”.

This is part of a five-part series we’re doing on modern company towns. Do you live in a company town? If so, how are you doing? Feel free to weigh in on the comments. Tomorrow, I’ll be reporting from the heart of Illinois’s agribusiness industry, and home of food giant ADM – Decatur.


Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Wisconsin reports job growth. Citing a resurgent tourism industry, Wisconsin officials reported a gain of 12,900 private-sector jobs from May to June. It’s the largest one-month gain in the Badger state in nearly eight years, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. But the state’s unemployment rate nonetheless ticked upward from 7.4 percent in May to 7.6 percent in June. Gov. Scott Walker noted that Wisconsin’s growth accounted for nearly half of the nation’s job creation.

2. U.S. sells stake in Chrysler. Italian automaker Fiat purchased the U.S. government’s remaining stake in Chrysler on Thursday, a move that ends federal involvement with the automaker. Fiat paid $560 million to the Treasury Department in exchange for its 98,000 shares, according to our partner Michigan Radio. The government had helped rescue the automaker from bankruptcy, with Chrysler receiving $12.5 billion. Of that amount $11.2 has been repaid.

3. Is high-speed rail dead? That’s the opinion of The Urbanophile’s Aaron M. Renn, who argues that a poorly executed federal plan combined with Republican resistance at state levels has crippled the future of high-speed rail in the U.S. More than $8 billion in funds were provided in President Obama’s stimulus package, but major initiatives still aren’t off the ground. “It’s time to take a major gut check on high speed rail in America and re-think the direction,” Renn writes.