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It’s been more than a week since Japan was ravaged by the first of a series of earthquakes as well as a tsunami. The harm from those natural disasters is still unfolding, as the world watches what happens to several damaged nuclear reactors in Japan. But in the Midwest, companies are trying to figure out what the events in the island nation will mean for businesses here.
Changing Gears reporter Niala Boodhoo filed a report for NPR’s Morning Edition looking at Japan’s economic ties to the Midwest. There are about 160,000 people in the Great Lakes region working for Japanese businesses, from Caterpillar Inc, which employs more than 5,000 people in southern Japan and Tokyo, to smaller companies like ITA, which counts 18 people on its payroll.
CHICAGO – There are billions of dollars in business that flow every day between the Midwest and Japan. As Japan tries to recover from the devastating natural disaster there, companies located in the Midwest are starting to assess out how this will affect business here. Here, this report on how deep the economic ties are between our region and the island nation.
Think of economic ties between the Midwest and Japan and household names like Toyota or Honda immediately come to mind.
In all, there are more than 160,000 people across the Great Lake states that directly work for Japanese businesses. To give you an idea, that’s almost two and half times the entire U.S. labor force for General Motors.
And there are many large American corporations – think Caterpillar in Peoria – that in turn are employing Japanese workers there.
Now that’s it’s been a week since the earthquake and tsunami, those companies are trying to figure out where they stand.
“We Toyota people here in North America, we have a lot of friends in Japan,” said Mike Goss, a general manager with Toyota North America.
Toyota has 10 plants in the United States and another four in Canada and Mexico. Every year those facilities buy about $25 billion from suppliers – many of those based in the region, Goss pointed out:
“In Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Illinois and Kentucky – we do have a huge impact. What we’re hoping we can is minimize any kind of shutdowns but really the only way we can take a first step on that is the truly assess the situation in Japan,” he said.
In Toyota’s case, even as they’ve just started those assessments, some operations on the U.S. side have already been curtailed.
About 15 to 20 percent of the parts needed to build Toyota cars here in the U.S. come from Japan.
Goss said there were some parts already in the pipeline built and shipped before the earthquake. But, for now, the company plans to stop overtime work to enable those parts coming in to last longer.
Caterpillar Inc. is based in Peoria, Illinois, but about a quarter of its annual $40 billion of sales and revenue comes from its Asia-Pacific region.
Caterpillar has 5,000 employees at a two big manufacturing facilities in southern Japan and an office in Tokyo that serves as country headquarters.
Spokesman Jim Dugan say initial reports are that Caterpillar’s Japanese workers and facilties are ok – and now, Caterpillar is focused most on helping with the relief effort.
“Corporately, as well as our dealers, we’ll provide a range of assistance in the form of equipment, sometimes expert operators,” Dugan said. “Equipment and those operators are often used in the rescue and recovery efforts after a natural disaster.”
Dugan says the company already donated more than $1 million worth of equipment, generators and its employees’ time to helping Japan recover.
Takeda is Japan’s biggest drug company. Its North American operations are based in Deerfield, just outside of Chicago – more than 1600 people work there. The company has been able to account for all its Japanese workers. Business operations at its manufacturing facilities and research and development labs in Western Japan are continuing. And its US employees say clinical trials here and regular sales and marketing works is going fine.
Michael Moskow is a senior fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. He says it’s important to take a longer view.
“When you look at natural disasters like this, they tend to not change the longer term trend of economic development, whether it would be in Japan or the Midwestern part of the United States,” said Moskow, who is also the chairman of the Japan-American Society of Chicago.
Moskow says it’s hard to predict how long Japan’s business sector will take to recover from this. As it does, there will be business opportunities in construction and other rebuilding efforts. Eventually, he sees business there stabilizing.
So, that means even the slowdown in production at American plants like Toyota’s could be made up later on.
Sears & Roebuck has been a dominant retailer in the Midwest since it was founded in Chicago almost a 120 years ago. It’s hung on while other brands – like Marshall Field’s, Montgomery Ward – and mostly recently Borders – have disappeared or stumbled. Although its stores have winnowed, there’s still a Sears in every corner of the Great Lakes. Changing Gears is a public media project looking at our regional economy. In this story, reporter Niala Boodhoo looks at what’s next for Sears.
The watchword of American retail has always been the idea that the customer’s always right – right? That phrase is often credited to Marshall Fields, whose stores are gone from Chicago but not forgotten. So I went to the Chicago Loop to ask shoppers how they feel about another old retail brand that’s still around – Sears.
One of the first people I encountered was Mario Brownlow, a college student from Hyde Park.
When I asked him the last time he shopped at Sears, he paused:
“I haven’t shopped in Sears, in hmm, probably like three years.”
I stopped Brownlow just outside the Sears store on the corner of State & Madison. This used to be the home of the biggest department stores. Now, people come here to shop for bargains. A Target is set to move into the famous Carson Pirie Scott building across the street. And Wal-Mart plans to build a small neighborhood store nearby.
Brownlow’s arms are full of bags from Old Navy and Macy’s. Today, he’s shopping for shirts and pants. He’s thinking his next stop is the Express. I asked him, why not shop at Sears?
“I don’t know, I just haven’t,” he said, adding his last purchase at Sears was a microwave. Sears, he thinks, just doesn’t “jump” out at him like other retailers.
That’s pretty much the problem with Sears these days. The Great Recession’s been tough on virtually every retailer – especially across our region. Lately, things have started looking up for almost everybody – but Sears. In most recent financial results, sales at Sears stores were 4.5 percent worse than last year. Macy’s, Target, JCPenny – and even Kmart, which Sears also owns, all reported positive growth.
Analysts say that’s partially because younger shoppers like Brownlow are more apt to hit spots they think are trendier – like Express or H&M, in this case right next door to the Sears. So the chain competes with other retailers who just do apparel. But Sears also still sells lots of other stuff.
That’s why Gary Wands came in on his day off – to look at high-end televisions.
He said he didn’t find much.
“You know, they had some closeouts for TVs that looked appealing,” said Wands, but ultimately, he felt the selection was too small, adding: “You know for stuff like that, I’ll go to Best Buy.”
Analyst Paul Swinand says that Sears is just in a “tough position”.
“They have all sorts of people nipping at their heels,” said Swinand, who studies the retail industry for Morningstar. His office is just around the corner from the State Street Sears. He says the department store’s diverse offerings may draw customers looking for convenience, but it’s a challenge to keep them:
“Your products have to be at least as good and nearly as well priced,” he said. “So if you’re in the TV business and Best Buy is cheaper, and has a better assortment, you’re always going to struggle in the TV business.”
The same goes for fashion, he said: “If you’re trying to do fast fashion and you’ve got JCPenny and H&M at faster fashion and better prices, you’re going to struggle in the fashion business.”
Sears’s bedrock business – what made them famous from the beginning – was its catalog that offered everything.
Remember those More for Your Life commercials?
Sears has used its versatility as its selling point for years – although its latest marketing has been its Shop Your Way program that focuses on the company’s online presence.
Like many companies, Sears has looked to the Web for revival.
Its new CEO, Lou D’Ambrosio is from that world, instead of retailing. Sears wouldn’t make D’Ambrosio available for this story. In an email they sent to me after the broadcast deadline of the story had passed, spokeswoman Kimberly Freely said Sears was a company that has “long been established as the cornerstone of Americana”, adding, “Over the years, we’ve evolved with our customers to continually keep up with the ever-changing aspects of their lives”.
John Melaniphy is a Chicago-based industry consultant. He thinks Sears has to do a lot of work to remain a part of the retail landscape here.
“I think the economy, and retailing changed, and Sears didn’t follow,” he said. “Sears did not change.”
There is one bright spot. Melaniphy’s done shown that the company’s brand is valuable to immigrants – whose numbers are growing in our region and in our country.
That includes Shilpa Shah and her coworker Meena Patel, who visit the State Street Sears almost every other day on their lunch hour. They’re not just loyal to this store but also to other Sears in the suburbs.
“They have good deals, and also the customer service is good,” said Shah, who works for the State Bank of India. Added Patel: “They have good quality of stuff, too.”
Swinand, the Morningstar analyst, said he thinks it’s not so much about reinvention for Sears, but focusing on the fundamentals.
“I think if they’re going to go another hundred years, they’re have to start with the basics of retailing,” he said. “Having products people want at competitive prices when people want them, having clean stores and helpful associates.”
After all, it’s the customers you want to keep happy – because they’re always right.
Welcome to the live chat for the Changing Gears call-in special, “Hard Labor.” You can hear the show starting at 2 pm ET/1 pm CT at Michigan Radio, WBEZ Chicago and Ideastream Cleveland as well as Wisconsin Public Radio‘s IdeasNetwork. Members of the Changing Gears team also are here to answer your questions.
If you missed our call-in special, “Power & Performance,” you can hear the show at our partner site: ideastream.
Below, you can also re-read our live chat on leadership in the Midwest. And, as always, use the comments section to tell us what you think.
February 16th, 2011
Throughout the Midwest, Chicago is known as the city everyone wants to come to – but that’s a huge change from 22 years ago, when Mayor Richard M. Daley took office. The city’s even changed dramatically from when I lived here before, in the late 1990s. This is the last of our three-part series on leadership, where I look at the region’s – and arguably, the country’s – most famous Mayor: Richard M. Daley.
Tourists visiting Chicago have a fairly standard list of attractions to hit: The Magnificent Mile, the Art Institute, Navy Pier – and nowadays, Millennium Park.
Richard Daley pushed hard for the 25-acre park to built near the lakefront, which is used year-round – it has an ice rink in the winter.
“It’s like our Central Park,” said Chicagoan Mary Claire, who calls it the “jewel of the city”.
Bill Carpenter has a longer perspective. He started working downtown when he was 18.
“I remember when this was all railroad tracks, and it was pretty ugly,” said Carpenter, as he warmed up inside the skate shop. Back then, at quitting time, everyone left. Carpenter said Mayor Daley changed it – he calls Daley’s someone who was “born into” the job.
Richard Michael Daley took office in April 1989. He was first mayor elected since the death of Mayor Harold Washington two years before. (To see a list of all of Chicago’s mayors throughout time, click here)
By the time Daley became Mayor, the city was mired in political and racial turmoil.
Ed Glaeser is a urban economist with Harvard University. He looks at big picture stats like per capita income to measure Daley’s legacy. In 1989, Chicago’s per capita income was almost 11 percent below the national average. From 1970 to 1990, the city’s population fell 17 percent.
Flip forward 20 years, and Glaeser said the city’s richer than the rest of the country. Population, while declining over the past decade, is still overall on the upside, Glaeser said. And crime has gotten better.
While Daley may be most famous for economic accomplishments like Millennium Park Glaeser thinks Daley’s biggest economic legacy may less glamorous, but no less important: Daley took care of the basics.
“It’s important to clear the snow,” said Glaeser, who just released a book called “Triumph of the Cities”. “It’s important to make sure the garbage is cleared away, and to make sure the streets are safe. And it’s important to make sure permitting doesn’t get overly restricted. All of these things are the nuts and bolts of city government. Getting them right will not turn around a place that doesn’t have enough private sector energy. But getting them wrong has the chance to kill off almost anywhere.
Martin Koldyke is the founder of private investment firm Frontenac. His relationship with the mayor goes way back.
“When Rich was elected, we began to see the city become a more welcoming and nurturing place for early stage businesses,” said Koldyke, who added that Daley has been relentless about pushing projects that made the city not just an attract place to visit, but to live.
Daley didn’t respond to requests for a sit-down interview for this story.
Last fall, the day after he said he wasn’t going to run for reelection, this is how he reflected on the job:
“Every day, it doesn’t matter if you are criticized, every day I had to get up and do one thing: What was the mission for Chicago? Every day, you have to get out there. It doesn’t matter what people says, or anyone says, you have to go out there, stay on your mission and complete it. You cannot be afraid of going out. That’s why you have to have passion.”
Larry Bennett teaches political science at DePaul University. He sees Daley’s passion as making him a brilliant ambassador for the city. And he sees Daley’s strong leadership style as being a combination of the old and new Chicago.
“He sort of evokes the old even though he can be viewed as a new pioneer of urbanism,” said Bennett.
The challenge now is the next incarnation of Chicago: how do you keep this new urbanism alive?
Along 75th street on Chicago’s South Side, Soul Vegetarian East has been a mainstay restaurant for 30 years.
The restaurant’s walls are lined with brightly colored artwork including portraits of Barack Obama and Michael Jackson. Right inside the front entrance, there’s a framed picture of Mayor Daley with owner Prince Asaiel Ben-Israel.
“I would give Daley an A for creating the environment that made business feel comfortable in Chicago,” said Ben-Israel. “I think he gets an F in terms of security.”
By security, Ben-Israel means crime. He thinks that’s mostly why Chicago lost its bid to host the Olympics – something Daley spent a lot of time on. And Ben-Israel says another challenge has been the economy: the Great Recession of the past few years has been especially hard on the local South Side businesses.
“We now see an institution like Army & Lou restaurants, who’ve been in business for more than 30 or 40 years they’ve had to close their doors, Izola on 79th Steet, Minister Farrakhan’s restaurant, so we’ve got to paint a true picture”.
Also holding court this morning at Soul East is Helen Sinclair. Everyone calls her “Queen Mother” and she remembers mayors as far back as the 1920s. From her perspective now, there are at least three Chicagos: the wealthiest part of the city, North Side, the Loop area downtown, and everything else.
She ticks off a list of failings: crime and violence, poor public school systems, infrastructure so crumbled that many neighborhoods lack for proper grocery stores.
She does give Daley credit for one bright spot in her Bronzeville neighborhood and elsewhere on the South Side:
“I think he’s done a beautiful job on making it pretty. It is beautiful. And I like that he likes trees.”
Architect Thom Greene helped Daley add those trees – than half a million trees all over the city, from the Bronzeville to the North Side neighborhoods like Edgewater, where Greene lives.
It was also streetscaping: signs, little beautification projects to make the city look, well, beautiful. Greene says when people come to Chicago and exclaim about how nice everything is, he tells them it really is due to Daley.
“When I was on the Streetscape committee, the mayor would have notes, and he would want to know about the colors, why are these so, they’re not enough pink in those flowers on Michigan Ave, we got to have more colors, they got to cascade more, why don’t we have a water feature,” said Greene. “He was very in tune with the little aspects and details.”
Greene says those details add up to creating spaces that attract not just people, but their spending money. It’s about creating a sense of place.
But now he feels like that’s in jeopardy. Greene worries the city’s stepped up taxation and enforcement are now at odds with the city’s original beautification efforts.
“There’s a real dichotomy with the city of Chicago trying to make itself beautiful and then charging someone $25 a year for a public right of way permit to have flowers hanging off of your building in a flower basket,” Greene said. “[It] doesn’t seem right.”
Don Carter is the director of Carnegie Mellon’s Remaking Cities Institute. He said it’s clear that Chicago has been a standout among Midwestern cities that have been able to transform into a global economy. He attributes much of the city’s success to Daley – but added it just takes strength and staying on task: “You’ve got to have a vision and you’ve got to convey that vision to your department heads and say, this is what I have in mind and help me get to that point.”
A new era begins next week, when Chicagoans will face a ballot that for the first time in more than 20 years doesn’t have a Daley name. In fact, there’s been a Daley in the mayor’s office in Chicago for more than 40 of the past 55 years.
But even Daley himself says that doesn’t matter:
Asked that day about how should replace him, Daley declined to say, adding: “This office doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to the people of our city.”
Urban economists like Glaeser, from Harvard, agree. Even though Daley has received much of the credit — and some the blame — for the city over the past 20 years, he says it’s the workers, small businesses and everyone else who are the real leaders in propelling Chicago’s economy.
Hat tip, by the way, to my WBEZ colleague Sam Hudzik for providing that recording from that press conference. Here’s more of what that day was like:
What difference can a strong mayor make in the success of a city? What are the challenges our mayors and civic leaders face as we reinvent ourselves, and what are their plans to move forward?
In a three-part series, Changing Gears looks at LEADERSHIP. Kate Davidson reports from Detroit on Mayor Dave Bing’s efforts to shrink and revitalize his struggling city. Dan Bobkoff reports from Cleveland, where a decidedly low-key mayor hopes to get results, and where county residents hope a new form of government will drive out corruption.
And Niala Boodhoo reports on the best-known mayor in the Great Lakes, Richard M. Daley, who is winding up 20 years in office.
Listen for our reports on partners Michigan Radio, WBEZ Chicago and ideastream Cleveland. Then on Thursday, come to the stations at 2 pm ET/1 pm CT for a call-in show produced by Sound of Ideas, a daily public affairs program from ideastream.
We’ll host a live chat here at ChangingGears.info and we hope you’ll post your thoughts on our Facebook page, too.
CHICAGO – People across the region are digging out from one of the worst blizzards in recent memory. But at the Chicago Board of Trade, this blizzard may be a boon for business. Here, I look at a futures market based on snowfall that’s the first of its kind in the world.
The average annual snowfall at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport is about 37 inches. Given that more than 20 inches fell this week, you can bet the year’s total will be much higher. For people responsible for the cleanup, those additional inches are adding up to many extra hours of work.
At a local factory on Chicago’s North Side, Raul Montesyoca says it usually takes him about an hour to clear the snow at a local factory on Chicago’s North Side. Not so today.
“Oh, I was here this morning for four hours,” he said, pushing a snow blower around the parking lot. It’s close to 3 p.m., and he’s come back, for another two hours of work.
Montesyoca is a small player in a snow removal business. But the entire industry is actually as large as $8 billion. So it’s natural that eventually it would spawn a new financial instrument: snow derivatives. (Curious about what a derivative actually is? There’s actually an entire market based on trading the weather. If you’re interested, check out the Weather Risk Management Association. As they like to say: “Weather is no risk for poor earnings”.)
Here’s how it works: Most major snow removal contracts are calculated by the season. A contractor is paid a set fee to clear all the snow that falls that winter – regardless of how deep it is. In the past, snow removal companies would simply have to end up cover the extra costs if more snow falls. But that’s not the case anymore, according the CME Group’s Tim Andriesen.
“Everybody says you can control everything but the weather. Well, we can’t control the weather, but we can help you mitigate the risk of weather on your business,” he said.
The CBOT is the world’s oldest – and largest – futures and options market exchange. Its floor is famous for a place where people trade on the future price of commodities like corn, pork bellies – even milk.
Two years ago, they created contracts based on the amount of snow that falls – it’s basically like an insurance policy. They’re not traded in a pit like older contracts – it’s all done electronically.
The CME offers the contracts based on the official airport snowfall tallies from O’Hare, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Detroit and Boston, as well as New York’s LaGuardia and in Central Park.
Andriesen explains how it works:
“If you’re an airline, and you have to cancel a bunch of flights, you’re forgoing a lot of revenue, so our products would allow people to hedge against that extra cost of having to deal with the weather,” he said.
The creator of this idea, Jeff Hodgson, came up with it while he was a broker at Merrill Lynch in Chicago. He had a client with a road salt business.
“As you can imagine, he had a need to hedge that weather exposure,” said Hodgson, who left Merrill Lynch to start the Chicago Weather Brokerage. “He [was] buying millions of dollars of salt and had no way of controlling that risk.”
These snow futures contracts are a tiny market compared to say, oil futures. But it’s really taken off – Hodgson has gone from doing $500,000 worth of contracts to around $3 million in a year of business.
And the blizzard of 2011 is like a huge commercial for this market.
“They realize the value,” he said. “People say, ‘Wow, this is a storm that I didn’t see coming. And I just lost a lot of money on my business or I could have made a lot of money’.”
Contracts can be purchased by the month, or for the entire snow season, which for them runs until March.
But not to worry – the business doesn’t end with winter. In the spring, the Chicago Weather Brokerage starts selling contracts based on rainfall.
January 21st, 2011
Welcome to the new and improved Changing Gears podcast. Each week, we’ll be offering you headlines from around the region, a story of the week, an essay on ways to improve our region, and some information about events going on in our states.
Up this week: Dan Bobkoff takes a look at the notion of highways. Do they no longer represent the idea of progress? And Grand Rapids entrepreneur Rick DeVos shares his thoughts on what the Midwest needs most.
In this week’s headlines: American Airlines teams up with United to sue Chicago over the proposed O’Hare airport expansion, we take a look at the newly elected Republican governors of Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan, and a preview of some of our Changing Gears events.
For podcast extras, check after the jump.
NEWS FROM AROUND THE REGION:
One of our headlines focused on the newly elected Midwestern governors. Colleagues in Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan pitched in to provide Changing Gears with a story about them. You can hear the full story here.
STORY OF THE WEEK:
We mentioned in Dan’s piece that you could visit us here for more information on his removing highways story. If you’re interested in his list of cities across the world that are removing highways, you can find that here.
NOT DEAD YET:
We want to broadcast your community events! Give us a call at (888) YOUR-NPR, or email us at ChangingGears@umich.edu.
CHICAGO – I’ll be honest. I’m probably more of a fan of football food than the game itself. And, when I do watch the NFL, it’s hard to get away from my Miami Dolphin roots. Still, Bears fever is pretty infectious here in Chicago, so we thought at Changing Gears we’ld take a look at what kind of economic impact the game is having on local businesses in Chicago and Green Bay.
So, I took it upon myself to make this story about chicken wings. After all, a game day football menu isn’t complete without wings, right? So to see if local businesses are getting any jump from the playoff, I thought I’d create my own economic indicator – I’m calling it the Hot Wings Index.
My first stop was to Buffalo Joe’s restaurant in Evanston. General Manager Dean Holden told me that as soon as the Chicago Bears beat the Seattle Seahawks last Sunday, calls for orders started coming in.
Buffalo Joe’s sells burgers and brats, but it’s biggest menu item is wings – by the pan.
Holden usually plans on selling about 4,000 pounds of chicken wings each weekend. But given the pace of the playoffs, he’s upped it by 50 percent.
That means 6,000 pounds. Of Chicken Wings. And that’s just for this location – Buffalo Joe’s has two other resturants on Chicago’s North Side.
Holden says they have four flavors of wings.
“We usually do mild, spicy, and suicide,” he said.
When I asked him if he were to describe what flavor business was right now, Holden didn’t hesitate:
Ok – so we’ve got suicide level in Chicago. I called up to The Bar at Holmgren Way in Green Bay to see how my Hot Wings Index is faring up there.
The Bar is about a block away from Lambeau Field where the Packers play. Joe Zehren, one of the owners, said business started picking up even during their typically slow time of Monday and Tuesday.
“There’s an extra kick in people’s step because of the awesome Packers victories,” said Zehren, who told me his son is a Packers fan. “Normally in the month of January we start to slow down, but this year, obviously with the Packers in the playoffs, as the week progresses, business picks up.”
The restaurant group has 5 other sports bar locations in Northeast Wisconsin, in Oshkosh, Appleton and Wausau.
Wings are big at The Bar. They have 19 different flavors, and even a featured wing of the week (in case you’re wondering, it’s chipotle ranch). Zehren told me can tell how spicy the wings are by the color coded flames on their menu.
“It starts off a little bit red or yellow and then it goes to dark red for hot,” he said.
This is how Zehren rates business now:
Back in Chicago, Jerry Roper, the head of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce said everyone’s excited about the game – and the business it’s bringing.
“We actually get two extra playoff games out of this, which means a huge economic boom to us and our region” he said, echoing what Zehren in Green Bay said about January usually being a slow month.
Roper also pointed out that the 300 or so workers at Soldier Field are working overtime this year.
Still, academics like Costas Spirou pointed out that my Hot Wings Index isn’t exactly scientific.
“I think certain business will be better positioned, so for example if you’re in the business of selling apparel or in the case of certain restaurants, but if one is to look at the economy in a much broader context, the affect would be more questionable,” said Spirou, who is the author of It’s Hardly Sportin’: Stadium, Neighborhoods and the New Chicago.
In the meantime, do you have a favorite football food? What are you planning to eat for the big game? Please share below:
UPDATED: A previous audio version of this story incorrectly said “Northeast Washington” instead of “Northeast Wisconsin”. The error has been corrected.