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From 2000 to 2009, the city of Grand Rapids, Mich. lost 2.1 percent of its population, according to census data. That statistic is not refuted. Does that population loss merit a label of a “dying city?”
That’s an entirely different question.
In January, Newsweek listed Grand Rapids as one of its top 10 dying cities. It’s one of three Michigan cities to make the dubious list. But residents of the west Michigan city – Grand Rapidians? – did not appreciate the designation.
Citizens went on the offensive Thursday, responding with a lip-dubbedYouTube video set to the tune of Don MacLean’s “American Pie” that highlights some recent vibrant civic additions and hundreds of residents.
The video has become a gathering point for civic pride in the city and online, a development not unlike the good feelings Eminem’s Chrysler commercial conjured in Detroit following the Super Bowl.
Following the release of the video, Newsweek distanced itself from the “dying” remarks. On its Facebook page, saying that it had picked up the content from mainstreet.com and does not agree with the remarks.
“It uses a methodology that our current editorial team doesn’t endorse and wouldn’t have employed. It certainly doesn’t reflect our view of Grand Rapids,” the magazine wrote in a statement.
Eventually, the Wisconsin Supreme Court may have the final say over a law that restricts the collective bargaining of public employees. For now, the controversial legislation has been struck down.
A Dane County judge ruled Thursday that Republican lawmakers violated the state’s open meetings act when they passed the bill on March 9. In her 33-page ruling, Judge Maryann Sumi wrote, “transparency in government is most important when the stakes are high.”
Republicans should try to pass the legislation again, opines the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, this time with a “more reasonable approach.” The ruling is a big boost to Wisconsin Democrats and their efforts to recall Gov. Scott Walker, says the Washington Post.
Elsewhere in the Midwest today:
Amid the backdrop of declining population, Detroit Public Schools have altered their consolidation plan after receiving community input. Meanwhile, towns throughout Michigan’s Upper Peninsula are struggling to survive, writes the Associated Press.
Also in Michigan, Gov. Rick Snyder is expected to sign a $46 billion state budget, a move that comes without the usual high-profile wrangling, reports our partner station Michigan Radio. In Ohio, lawmakers see township consolidation as one way money could be saved in the future, Ideastream reports.
WBEZ says that lobbyists for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel are already in Springfield representing his interests in the state capitol. The new mayor has limited time for action – the legislature adjourns Tuesday. Across Illinois, unemployment rates are dropping in metro areas, says the Chicago Tribune.
The number of homes in the foreclosure process declined nationally during the first quarter of 2011, but they still account for 28 percent of all sales. In Ohio, foreclosed properties sold for an average of $75,397, says the Akron Beacon Journal.
All across Michigan, homeowners are mopping up from torrential rains. But in downtown Ann Arbor, there is snow. Movie snow, that is.
Why? It’s for the movie Five Year Engagement. The film has been shooting all over the area for the past weeks, according to On Line Vacations, one of our favorite sites for tracking movie productions. AnnArbor.com says the production company sought permission from the city to take over sidewalks and streets downtown this week.
“Parking for the production team’s trucks on South Ashley, between William and Washington streets, was requested from today at 3 p.m. to Friday at 12 p.m. On Thursday, between 11 a.m. and 9 p.m., the team’s trucks will be parked on North University, between Thayer and Fletcher. And on Thursday (beginning at 4 p.m.) and Friday (ending at 6 a.m.), South Main St., between Liberty and Washington, will be closed for filming, as will two alleys between Main and Ashley, and Liberty Street between Main and Ashley.”
The Real Seafood Company, a downtown fixture, told patrons on its Facebook page that it has canceled sidewalk seating due to the movie shoot, “as the movie is set in winter.”
It’s part of what Changing Gears calls the film factory that’s revved up in our region. And, if you’re going to have an engagement in these parts that lasts five years, at some point, presumably, it’s going to snow.
To be sure, this isn’t the kind of snow that falls on Broadway stages and television Christmas specials. This movie snow is basically fabric wrapped around a backing. And in the case of the big snow pile at the corner of Liberty and Main Streets downtown, it’s styrofoam, which has been painted to look like dirty snow.
But from a distance, and with the magic that cinematographers can do with their lenses, it kind of, sort of, looks like snow. At least it does if you squint and use your imagination.
Spotted any movie magic in your area lately? Tell us where, when and what.
After a bruising couple of years, companies around the Midwest are planning to expand, rehiring workers and in some casing, adding new ones. But some also have used the recovery as an opportunity to hint that they might move elsewhere. In response, cities, states and local communities have come up with significant financial incentives aimed at convincing these companies to stay put.
In Illinois, Motorola Mobility Holdings Inc. is getting $100 million in financial incentives to keep its corporate headquarters in Libertyville. Company officials said they had considered moving the headquarters to more “tech-friendly” locales like the Bay Area or Austin, Texas. Most of that $100 million in incentives comes from tax credits spread out over the next decade. In return, Motorola Mobility is keeping its 3,000 jobs at the Illinois based headquarters and will invest about $600 million over the next tree years on research and development.
Caterpillar Inc. made similar headlines last month when its CEO, Douglas Oberhelman, wrote an open letter to Illinois Governor Pat Quinn. The letter outlined his concerns about the business environment in Illinois and mentioned that he was considered moving the Peoria, IL based company elsewhere. Not long after that letter was published, Oberhelman said he received e-mails, letters, packages, and even a hand delivered request from more than 30 states inviting Caterpillar to move. Shortly after that, Oberhelman met with Quinn, and later announced “Caterpillar is here to stay.”
Still, Oberhelman continues to lobby Quinn to make Illinois more “business-friendly.” Oberhelman argues Illinois needs to offer more incentives to businesses to keep up with ultra business friendly states like Texas. Incidentally, it was Texas who sent the lone hand delivered offer to lure Caterpillar away.
Two years ago, NCR Corp. announced it was moving its headquarters from Dayton, OH to a suburb of Atlanta, GA. Georgia had enticed the world’s top ATM provider through $60 million in incentives. The move was a huge blow to hard-hit Dayton, made only worse by competitor Diebold’s decision to look for a home elsewhere. The ATM and bank security system manufacturer ultimately announced this past April that it would be staying in Ohio, accepting $56 million in tax breaks, grants, and loans from the state. The company said it will use that money to build a new $100 million world headquarters in the Akron area.
It’s costing Ohio a bit more to keep American Greetings Corp. The greeting card maker will be getting $93.5 million in incentives over the next 15 years. Ohio Governor John Kasich even signed the tax reform legislation making the deal possible at the company’s Cleveland area headquarters. It’s still unclear if the company will be moving its headquarters within Ohio.
It took the help of outside financiers to keep Goodyear Tire & Rubber in the Akron area. Akron, Summit County, and Ohio had been saving up for years to pitch in for the tire makers $160 million new headquarters to help keep it in state. Most of the money for that project ($98 million, to be exact) came from a New York based private-equity firm. That was just a few weeks ago, and construction is already under way. Local officials say this means Goodyear stays, and more jobs for construction workers.
But these sorts of corporate moves aren’t just happening between states. Within Ohio, breakfast restaurant chain Bob Evans Farms Inc. recently decided to move its headquarters from Columbus to New Albany. That move upset Columbus officials, who had offered the company incentives to stay. It also caused Ohio Valley Bank to pull out of Columbus, too. In the Miami Valley alone, Ohio spent more than $1.3 million in state funded tax credits to keep existing jobs.
Around the Midwest, the economic recovery is finally starting to show. Automakers like General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler are announcing that they plan to hire and rehire thousands of autoworkers, bringing employment among the U.S. automakers backnear pre-recession levels. GM also plans to invest $2 billion in 17 of its plants nationwide.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and Ohio’s John Kasich (both Republican) say financial incentives are worth it if it means keeping thousands of jobs in state. They say it’s a critical part of keeping the Midwest on track for a complete economic recovery. But critics of such incentive programs say these aren’t new jobs. They say states like Ohio and Illinois are too broke to afford paying this much just to keep the same jobs and should instead by focusing on creating new jobs.
What do you think of incentives to keep companies in states and communities? Is it money well spent, or should communities act differently in a time of tight budgets?
We’re happy to announce that Pete Bigelow, an award winning editor and writer, is joining the Changing Gears team next week. Starting Monday, Pete will become our editor for the Web and social engagement. He’ll be responsible for everything on ChangingGears.info, will direct our social media and become our connection with the community across the industrial Midwest.
Pete has spent the past four years in Ann Arbor, Mich., home of our partner Michigan Radio. He served as the sports editor of The Ann Arbor News, and more recently, covered the Michigan Wolverines football beat for AnnArbor.com. Prior to Michigan, he covered the Denver Broncos and the NFL for The Daily Times-Call in suburban Denver.
Pete shared first prize for sports coverage this year in the Associated Press Michigan competition.
Though his background is primarily in sports, Pete says he is excited about the opportunity to branch beyond the box scores at Changing Gears. He lives in Dexter, Mich. with his wife, Ericka, two-year-old daughter Eliza. And, the Bigelows are expecting twin boys in August.
Look for Pete to introduce himself when he comes on board next week. Meanwhile, you can follow Pete on Twitter @PeterCBigelow.
Our thanks to Ida Lieszkovszky for taking charge of ChangingGears.info during the past few months. She’s on Twitter @IdaZL. We know we’ll be hearing more from her in the future.
GARY, Indiana – What happens when your local library shuts its doors? That’s a question Midwestern towns from Evanston, Ill., to Troy, Mich., are asking as local libraries are targeted in budget cuts. I went to Northwest Indiana, where the Gary Library Board has just decided to close its main branch, to find out the impact on a local community.
Gary has five library branches. The other four have names, like Kennedy, or Du Bois. This one is simply called the “main library”.
There was steady rain on the Saturday morning when I went to check it out. From the outside, the concrete slab exterior makes it hard to realize it’s actually a library – until you step inside.
There, the muted quiet and musty scent of stacks of books are familiar.
But we all know libraries aren’t just for books anymore. Inside the reference room, I found Craig and Zachariah Boyd, a father and son who often spend Saturday mornings here.
Craig said this is the only branch nearby that he knows is open on Saturdays. He takes advantage of the wireless Internet at the library and does work – and brings Zach to do his homework, too.
“I just want to teach him a good work ethic,” said Craig Boyd.
Father and son sit quietly in the reference room for hours – Craig on his laptop, Zach first with schoolwork, then books and games. When Craig’s done, Zach gets to go to the children’s section as a reward.
But Craig worries about what will happen to other children when the library closes on Dec. 31. Like many communities, the Gary Public Library Board decided it couldn’t afford to keep all of its branches open.
When it shuts, half of the system’s 60 employees will be out of work.
The system now has five branches because it was created when the city had 180,000 people.
Today, Gary’s population is 80,000.
Four other branches across the city will stay open – but many of the main library patrons don’t have their own transportation, so they’ll have a hard time getting there.
Seniors citizens walk here for computer classes.
The charter school down the street uses this as its school library.
And unemployed people come here to look for jobs – like Michael Jenkins.
“I’m not too computer savvy,” said Jenkins, who also doesn’t have access to a computer. He does have a commercial driver’s license and is looking for Chicago companies to target for work. That’s why he’s flipping through the Yellow Pages.
“It’s not just like closing a gas station,” said Jenkins of the impact of the library’s closing. “The library becomes a part of the community. You close a library, you’re closing down part of the community.”
Upstairs, part of that community is on the second floor.
Public meeting spaces are hard to find in Gary.
The library’s auditorium is used this Saturday morning by a local chapter of Phi Delta Kappa, a sorority for teachers.
And across the hall, there’s a meeting of a chapter of the National Federation for the Blind.
Raymond Harris brought his wife Ella to that meeting, where they found out about the library’s future.
“How can you close a main library? It’s just ridiculous,” said Raymond Harris.
But libraries all over the country are facing budget cuts. If they’re not shutting down entirely, they’re at least trimming hours.
The most extreme case may be Detroit – where an $11 million budget shortfall means at least 10 of its 23 local branches may close. (The Detroit News has been doing some extensive coverage of the situation there – you can see it here.)
The country’s best funded libraries are in Ohio, where money comes directly from the state. But even there, next year’s budget will be cut at least 5 percent. (By the way, if you’re curious about specific funding throughout Ohio, check this out.)
Raymond Harris thinks the state of Indiana should intervene for this library.
“I think our state is closing us out,” he said, simply. “They don’t care whether Gary lives or Gary exists. I don’t think they even know we are here.”
Gary’s library system is typical of most systems – the money comes from local property taxes. And that revenue has plummeted with the housing market downturn. The situation in Indiana has been further complicated by a property tax cap that was passed by Indiana voters last fall – meaning that even if the local library authority wanted to ask for more money, it can’t.
“When people hear the word ‘property tax’ cap they think it’s a good thing, but they don’t think about how it will shift public services they’ve come accustomed to,” said Susan Akers, the executive director of the Indiana Library Federation.
The president of the Gary Public Library Board, which voted 4 to 3 to shut down the main branch, is Tony Walker.
“It was just impossible to continue on when you are going to lose 50 to 60 percent of your tax revenue in a year,” said Walker.
That meant cutting about $3 million from the $5 million budget. An outside consulting firm analyzed the data, and pointed out the choice was either to close the main library branch or close the other four spread out across Gary.
Walker knew the decision wouldn’t be popular, especially during an election year. He’s running for the Gary City Council, though, and said he didn’t think it made sense to postpone the vote until after the election.
“I’m running for is Gary City Council, whose total focus is going to be what to take away from people,” he said. “So, if I’m signing up to run for that type of job there is no sense in running from it now.”
The elections were last week. Tony Walker lost.
And those who were elected are left to reconcile an $11 million budget shortfall – and to figure out what other services to cut for Gary to survive.
Here’s a slideshow of my Saturday morning at the library, where I met folks like Mary Jenkins, who is organizing a petition to protest the main branch’s closing:
Michigan may be getting more federal dollars to modernize its railway system. U.S. Transportation officials will be in Detroit today to make an announcement, probably about Michigan and New York splitting the $2 billion dollars in high speed rail funds Florida recently declined.
MOVE Detroit want to get 1,100 people to move into downtown Detroit by November 11, 2011. What’s the best way to get young people to move downtown? Throw some loft parties!
Michigan Governor Rick Snyder didn’t get a very warm welcome at this year’s Blossomtime Parade from some attendees. Protestors followed the governor throughout the event, chanting “shame” and “traitor” for passing a law that gives more power to emergency managers.
Students studying the arts are not fated to a starving artist lifestyle. In fact, there’s a good chance they’ll find a job not long after graduating from college, according to a new study by the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project.
McDonald’s sales figures were up by six percent in April. The Oak Brook,
Illinois-based company saw strong sales of McCafe drinks and breakfast items nationwide.
High gas prices and poor emissions standards are leading the State Line Energy Plant in Hammond, Indiana to close. The coal plant started working in the 1950’s, and will likely shut down next year.
A new report shows that Illinois Governor Pat Quinn’s budget proposal is out of balance by more than $2 billion. The report says Quinn is overestimating some state revenues.
Meanwhile, despite facing an $8 billion budget gap, Ohio may end up with a budget surplus. Lawmakers say currently there is an $840 million surplus in the budget, but by the end of this fiscal year that may grow to as much as $1.5 billion.
The Ohio Education Association has decided to invest heavily in efforts to combat the state’s recently passed collective bargaining law. The law limits union members collective bargaining rights. The unions are trying to overturn that law via a referendum this November.
TravelCenters of America LLC reported losses in the first quarter of this year, but not as much as in the same quarter last year. The Westlake, Ohio based company lost$16.7 million during the first three months of 2011, but during the same period last year the company lost $41.2 million.
The two are closely related. In nearly 22 years as mayor, Daley made the beautification of the city a top priority in his efforts at economic redevelopment. If Chicago looked attractive, tourists and business travelers would be more likely to come, and residents would feel better about their city, or so he reasoned.
Changing Gears reporter Niala Boodhoo looked at Daley’s approach to beautification and his other efforts to spur development on the eve of Chicago’s mayoral election in February.
On Monday, the public has been invited to bid farewell to Daley at City Hall from 1 pm to 4 pm. He’ll be succeeded next Monday by Rahm Emanuel, the former Congressman and White House Chief of Staff.
Daley is far from alone in using beautification as an approach to attracting visitors and business. Last week, Holland, Mich., kicked off its annual Tulip Festival, which attracts more than 500,000 a year to the town on Lake Michigan. The festival, which began in 1927, runs through Saturday.
Farther afield, Ottawa, Ontario, is celebrating its own tulip festival through May 23. The Canadian capital is awash in tulips each year, thanks to the gift of 100,000 tulip bulbs from The Netherlands marking the close association between Holland and Canada during World War II.
And New Yorkers look forward to the annual displays of tulips and other flowers on Park Avenue and at Rockefeller Center. This year’s tulips were orange, planted in honor of the Netherlands.
Does your Midwest city make an effort to spruce up its downtown? What does it plant — and do you think it makes a difference
Send your pictures to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll post them here.
It’s rare that a Detroit anchorman gets an interview with the president. But Stephen Clark of WXYZ-TV sat down with President Barack Obama at the White House this week, and grilled the president on the top issues facing people in Michigan and across the region.
Clark told the president that while the unemployment figures may be dropping, many people in Michigan say they do not feel there are many more job opportunities. Obama said he gets thousands of letters each day from families still looking for work.
“I mean they’ve done all the right things, they’re retraining, they are out there hitting the streets, knocking on doors, looking for work,” the president said. “The economy has grown, we’ve actually seen 2 million private sector jobs created over the last 13 months but it’s not happening as fast as people would like and certainly not as fast as I would like.”
Much of the interview focused on rising energy prices. Obama said there’s no silver bullet. “Families day to day are driving to work and they’re just watching their paychecks get whittled away,” the president said. “They need some relief.”
Obama said the growing economy has increased demand for oil world wide, whle unrest in places like Libya has “spooked the world oil market.”
He said his administration is already working with automakers in Detroit to increase fuel efficiency standards and alternative fuel vehicles to help reduce the demand for oil. He also said the U.S. has to continue oil production, adding that it must be done in a safe way to avoid any future disasters like last year’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion.
Obama said the economy, which was shedding jobs, is now growing and adding jobs. He said his administration will keep working to create long-term jobs until every American who wants a job can get one.
Obama and his wife, Michelle, visited Chicago today to tape one of the final episodes of “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” That episode is set to air on Monday.
Here is Clark’s interview with the president. (Feedback for Clark? Find him on Twitter @sclarkwxyz. He convenes a Twitter group each newscast called #Backchannel.)
CHICAGO – Would you like some fries with that? That’s the phrase many are perfecting for April 19, which McDonald’s has dubbed National Hiring Day. Here’s a quick story on where the jobs will be here in our region.
McDonald’s got its start here in the Midwest, and it has a substantial presence throughout the Great Lakes states. That’s why 10,000 of the 50,000 new workers the company wants to hire will be based across Illinios, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin.
On a recent weekday morning at the McDonald’s on Chicago Avenue & State Street in downtown Chicago, business is steady. It’s 11 a.m., and people are ordering everything from coffee to crispy chicken sandwiches.
Owner-operator Nick Karavites and his family own this location and 18 others in the Greater Chicago area.
“Fifty thousand is a lot of people,” Karavites said. The Karavites need about 100 workers for their 19 restaurants, and are looking for everyone from cashiers to kitchen staff. Across the country, the fast food chain needs all levels of workers, including managers.
As the employment market improves, job seekers can get more selective about where they work. That’s part of the idea behind promoting the day, said company spokeswoman Nicole Curtin.
Karavites said pay at their restaurants averages $9 an hour, and that all of their workers can participate in a McDonald’s Insurance program.
McDonald’s says the company needs the employees because of how good business is. The company’s sales last year were up five percent.
Many reported on the National Hiring Day as McDonald’s attempt to get over the idea of the “McJob”, which Merriam-Webster actually defines as “a low-paying job that requires little skill and provides little opportunity for advancement.”
Coming up, I hope to do a little more reporting on McDonald’s and its Hamburger University, where owner-operators and managers, and yes, restaurant workers, go for training. It’s actually one of the oldest corporate training programs out there and this year celebrates its 50th anniversary.
In the meantime, let us know: Have you worked at McDonald’s?