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Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Kasich downplays Sears hopes. Gov. John Kasich says he “wouldn’t bet on” Ohio’s chances of convincing Sears to relocate its headquarters within its borders, The Plain Dealer reported today. During a visit to the Ford Assembly Plant in Avon Lake, he said Ohio remains in the running, but that it would be hard to pry Sears away from its long-time Chicago-area home. Last week, news outlets reported that Ohio had offered $400 million in tax incentives to bring the company and its 6,100 employees to Columbus. Illinois lawkmakers had rejected a proposal to give Sears $100 million in incentives.

2. Delays ahead on Detroit-Chicago rail line. Faster service is coming along a 135-mile stretch of train tracks between Dearborn and Kalamazoo . It’s just going to take a while. Construction will begin on a series of improvements in May or June, officials said yesterday, but the project will not be completed until 2015 or 2016. In the meantime, passengers can expect more delays. The Detroit Free Press reports today the project to fix tracks, cross ties, grades and crossings will cause further disruption. In four years, Amtrak expects new locomotives, new cars, smoother tracks and better signaling along the route. The improvements were funded as part of $403.2 million Michigan received from the federal government.

3. Indy community protests gas station development. The difference between refurbishing a dilapidated building and continuing a community eyesore? It’s largely in the eye of the beholder in one Indianapolis neighborhood, where residents of Northside are fighting the rebuilding of a gas station on the corner of 16th Street and Central Ave. In a lawsuit filed last week, opponents say the gas station no longer fits the area, and that they want something more friendly for pedestrians, such as shops or outdoor cafes, according to the Indianapolis Star. The newspaper reports the suit underscores the area’s progression from a “fixer-upper to up-and-coming.”

The Midwest lacks leadership. That’s a blunt assessment delivered from Gary Wilson at the Great Lakes Echo, a website that covers news related to the Great Lakes environment.

When it comes to issues surrounding the region, he says governors are more interested in stealing companies from each other in a zero-sum jobs battle than confronting – and collaborating on – the region’s economic and environmental challenges.

“They’ve been the antithesis of collaboration and now are singularly focused on creating jobs, many times by trying to pirate them away from neighboring states,” Wilson writes. “That’s when they’re not weakening environmental regulations to create a more business friendly climate.”

Perhaps Exhibit A would be a companion piece on the Great Lakes Compact, a regional accord for safeguarding the region’s water supply that The Echo says came within hours of unraveling because Ohio wanted to make concessions to industry lobbyists.

Wilson eviscerates the regional governors on their track records of collaboration, and also says mayors cannot make the broad impact needed to lead the region. So who can provide leadership? That’s a trickier question.

In 1969, the Cuyahoga River was so overrun with oil and industrial pollutants that a spark from a passing rail car ignited a blaze across the water’s surface. Firefighters extinguished the flames in less than two hours, but the image cemented in dubious city lore. Critics called Cleveland the “Mistake On The Lake.”

Things have only gotten worse from there.

For decades, city leaders have watched the city’s industrial base vanish, the population plummet and poverty grow. In recent years, they have sought to reinvent Cleveland according to 21st century urban principles, envisioning a city built on health care, higher education, entertainment and mass transportation.

Now they have a tangible foundation. The New York Times profiles a massive reclamation project throughout the city that has ignited job growth and stoked talk of a small-scale comeback: In Cleveland, the downtown has shifted uptown.

Within a square mile of the city’s University Circle are: Case Western Reserve, Cleveland Institute of Art, Cleveland Institute of Music, University Hospitals, Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland Orchestra, Museum of Art and Museum of Natural History.

Millions have been spent on building and renovating those civic institutions, and they’ve formed “a distinct economic microclimate that has fostered the highest growth in job numbers, income and residents,” in a city that lost 81,000 residents from 2000 to 2010, according to The Times.

An urban planner from the University Circle Inc., which helped plot the area’s development along Euclid Avenue, tells the newspaper 5,000 jobs have been added in the uptown area since 2005, and that 50,000 work there overall.

Amid an overall population loss of 17 percent in the past decade, the number of residents in the uptown area grew by 11 percent.


Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Dayton seeks immigrant influx. Among industrial Midwest cities seeking to stop a population hemorrhage, Dayton, Ohio hardly stands alone in its attempts to attract highly educated immigrants. What’s unusual in Dayton is that the city wants the rest of the immigrants too.  City Manager Tim Riordan tells our partner station WBEZ that welcome all immigrants regardless of skill or wealth will create “a vibrancy” in the city. Dayton’s population sank 14.8 percent over the past decade to 141,527 in the 2010 U.S. Census, a steep decline from its all-time high of 262,000 in the 1960s. Currently, foreign-born residents account for 3 percent of the city’s residents. But Riordan says newcomers are already building foundations in the western Ohio city.

2. Chrysler sales skyrocket. Driven by rising consumer confidence, Chrysler reported today that sales rose 45 percent in November year over year. Brand sales rose 92 percent thanks to increased demand for the 200 and 300 sedans, and Jeep sales increased 50 percent from November 2010. General Motors and Ford are both expected to release monthly sales numbers later today. “Consumer confidence is really what’s going to underpin us as we go into 2012, so we’re really pleased to see that showing up,” GM’s Don Johnson tells our partner Michigan Radio. Industry sales appear to be on pace for 13 million units in 2011.

3. Ohio courts Sears. Two days after Illinois lawmakers jilted Sears Holdings Corp. in its attempt to win tax incentives worth $100 million from the state, the Chicago-based company has a new suitor. Ohio has offered Sears incentives worth four times that amount to relocate its headquarters and 6,200 jobs to the Buckeye State. Texas is another state aggressively courting the company, according to the office of Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn. His counterpart, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, declined to confirm or deny an offer to Sears, joking with The Columbus Dispatch that, “we are somewhere between $0 and $400 million.”

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Detroit’s fiscal crisis looms. The amount of time Detroit has to address the city’s looming financial crisis is “relatively short,” Gov. Rick Snyder tells the Detroit Free Press, before he must decide whether to commence a financial review of the city under the state’s controversial emergency manager law. The city could be insolvent as soon as April, according to reports. In response, the city council issued a proposal that was more far-reaching than Mayor Dave Bing’s earlier this week, proposing a 20-percent income tax increase and 2,300 layoffs, among other items. “We are running out of time,” councilman Andre Spivey tells the newspaper.

2. Groupon stock sharply declines. Shares of Chicago-based Groupon are “getting pummeled” for the third consecutive day, reports the Chicago Tribune this afternoon. They are now trading 15 percent below the initial public offering price of $20 on Nov. 4, and down 35 percent since Friday’s closing price of $26.19. Groupon had cautioned investors that trading could be volatile because it offered only a 5.5 percent stake in its IPO.

3. Shale boom could miss Ohio. Shale gas may not create the economic prosperity across Ohio that Gov. John Kasich has touted as a jobs creator, warns a new report. The problem? The gas industry has been too successful. There’s so much natural gas supply across the U.S. that prices are falling. And no one is quite sure how much actually lies beneath the Buckeye State, reports The Plain Dealer. The jobs gain, once predicted to number as many as 200,000, “will happen on some scale,” Andrew Weissman, executive director of Energy Business Watch, tells the newspaper. “But the question is whether it moves quickly or whether it moves slowly so that it only has a modest impact on Ohio’s economy.”

“What states do you consider part of the Midwest?”

It was a simple question we asked Monday on Twitter. We were caught by surprise with the number of complex and disparate answers. Geographical boundaries are apparently open to wide interpretation.

Reader responses were – pun intended here – all over the map. It seemed everyone had their own, particular definition of the Midwest.

Some of you drew the Midwest along industrial lines while others drew it along agricultural boundaries. Some considered states in the Great Plains and Great Lakes their own distinct regions. Others lumped them together.

Some of you ardently advocated for Pennsylvania’s inclusion and Nebraska’s omission – and vice versa. Some people considered state lines irrelevant.

“The fact we have to ask reveals how screwy our state divisions are,” tweeted Rod Abid (@robabid).

Officially, the U.S. Census regions created by the Department of Commerce divide the Midwest into two sub-regions: The “East North Central,” which includes Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois; and the “West North Central,” which includes North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas and Missouri.

The terminology is stilted – last we checked, the North Central was an East Coast railroad. No one mentioned the “West North Central” in any of the responses we combed through.

But Michael Nardi (@iPublicPolicy) thought that, though the titles may be off, the definitions roughly matched his perception of the Midwest. He says two Midwests exist. One comprised of the “Grain States” of Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota. The other comprised the “Industrial States” of Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Western Pennsylvania and Western New York.

Others weren’t so sure about the outliers of the region – Nebraska to the west and Pennsylvania to the east. Their belonging was perhaps the most hotly debated in our impromptu Twitter discussion.

“Nebraska an easy yes. Penn., an easy no, “wrote Doug Hanks (@doug_hanks).

“Neb.? No. It’s the Plains. Western PA? Yes,” wrote Tim Logan (@tlwriter).

“Nope and nope,” wrote Scott Burgess (@autocritic).

“Simple answer. Both represented in Big Ten. Both Penn and Nebraska are Midwest,” wrote Matt Mikus (@mikusmatt).

Using the Big Ten Conference as a geographical measure aid and complicate attempts to define the region. Yes, Nebraska and Penn State are both members of the college sports conference based in Chicago. But they’re also the newest members of the 12-school conference at a time where geography is playing a diminished role in how schools determine their conference affiliations.

Besides, even the Big Ten has been vexed by the geographical conundrums presented by the Midwest.

When Nebraska was added in 2010, the conference split into two divisions. Initial expectations were they would be called the “Lakes” and “Plains” divisions. At the very least, many expected them to contain some sort of geographic reference points.

But the schools couldn’t fit neatly into those definitions and were ultimately not sorted by geography. The Big Ten elected to instead go with generic “Legends” and “Leaders” names for the respective divisions. (A local sports columnist was not impressed).

Another key sticking point for our readers was Pittsburgh. At the crossroads of Appalachia, the Atlantic states and the industrial Midwest, a consensus emerged that Steel City merited inclusion because it had more in common with Detroit and Cleveland than Philadelphia and New York. But not everyone agreed.

Erin Presson Ladd (@WordNerdErin) wrote us and said that her master’s thesis was based on this topic of Midwestern geography. In some broadly sketched parameters, she concluded the Midwest includes the area west of the Allegheny Mountains, north of the Mason Dixon Line, south of Canada and east of the Rocky Mountains.

But she added that, as an Illinois native, should could “NEVER” consider Pennsylvania as part of the Midwest.

Just when we were thinking we’d never come to a definitive conclusions – or perhaps reassuring ourselves because there are no right answers – along came a tweet from Nick Castele (@nickcastele), who traveled all the way to Hawaii to find the best definition we’ve heard yet.

“A Brit I met in Hawaii over the weekend asked,” he wrote, “If Ohio was ‘one of those flat, cold places.’”

Yep, sounds about right. Finally, a simple answer for our simple question.


Thank you to everyone who participated in our discussion about the Midwest states. We’re by no means done with the topic. If you have more thoughts, we’d love to hear them. You can comment on this post below or find us on Twitter @chgears.

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Wisconsin shipbuilder adds jobs. A northeast Wisconsin shipbuilder plans to double its workforce over the next 18 months after winning a contract with the U.S. Navy, according to our partner station WBEZ. Marinette Marine, located on the shores of Lake Michigan, will add 1,100 more employees as it builds 10 new ships under a contract for approximately $4 billion. “Seven hundred of those are hourly wage earners,” says company president Charles Goddard. “They’re union employees. They’re steel-fitters. They’re welders, pipe-fitters, electricians, they’re painters.” The ships, called Littoral Combat Ships, mark a new direction for the Navy toward smaller vessels able to navigate in shallow water.

2. Indiana will consider right-to-work law. State Republican leaders will attempt to turn Indiana into a right-to-work state during the upcoming legislative session. “I do expect an intense debate,” GOP House Speaker Brian Bosma told our partner station WBEZ. Republicans say the legislation would set Indiana on more competitive footing in enticing businesses to relocate. Such right-to-work legislation would end requirements that force workers to join unions or pay dues as a condition of employment, according to the station. Democrats fought similar legislation during the last legislative session, and dispute that there would be economic benefits. “House minority leader Patrick Bauer said, “This could be the eventual decline and fall of Indiana being an economic, viable state.”

3. Kasich touts Ohio job gains. In the past week, Gov. John Kasich has announced the arrival of more than 1,700 new jobs at three locations across Ohio. On Monday, he was on hand as material-handler Intelligrated announced it would add 200 technical and engineering jobs over three years in suburban Cincinnati. It was the third such announcement Kasich had attended this week, seemingly marking a shift in his strategy since SB5 was repealed by voters, says The Columbus Dispatch. “What that illustrates is that we’re starting to get our act together in the state of Ohio,” Kasich told the newspaper. “We’ve got a long way to go, but we’re answering the bell.”

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has an unlikely ally in his push to build a new international bridge between Detroit and Canada — the Buckeye State.

Ohio state senators say their state needs the bridge as much as Michigan.

They have introduced a senate resolution encouraging their northern neighbors to build a replacement for the 83-year-old Ambassador Bridge. Ohio Senate Resolution 141 states that bilateral trade with Canada generated $30.9 billion in 2010, and said Canada was the top market for Buckeye State exports.

“A modern border crossing that can support the ever-increasing amount of trade and travel between the U.S. and Canada is essential to the economies of Ohio, the Midwest and the U.S.,” says SR141, which was introduced by Republican Sen. Gayle Manning.

In Michigan, Snyder has been spurned by fellow Republicans in his attempts to build the bridge. They recently shelved two bills that would allow for the creation of an authority which would solicit bids for the project. Canada has volunteered to contribute $550 million toward the bridge.

Matty Moroun, owner of the private Ambassador Bridge, has fiercely lobbied against the project. On Monday, Snyder said he may try to circumvent the Michigan state legislature, a strategy that could test the limits of his executive power.

The Midwest has the highest concentration of homegrown residents of any region in the country.

That’s good and bad news, according to analysts. The distinction could mean the Midwest has done the best job retaining strong community ties with native residents. It can also mean the area, overall, has struggled to lure employees from other states.

William Frey, a Brookings Institution demographer, tells Governing, which compiled state-by-state data on residents living in the state of their births, that “you have a very rooted population in some of the Midwestern middle of the country,” while the western U.S. is “still filling in.”

Louisiana ranked highest in the data with an overall homegrown population of 78.8 percent, but Midwestern states took the next four spots: Michigan (76.6 percent), Ohio (75.1 percent), Pennsylvania (74.0 percent) and Wisconsin (72.1 percent).

Looking at the homegrown population ages 25 and up, the results are similar. The top five are:  Louisiana (75.0 percent), Michigan (71.9 percent), Pennsylvania (71.4), West Virginia (70.7) and Ohio (70.2).

Nationwide, slightly less than half residents age 25 and above live in the state of their birth, according to Governing.

Across the Midwest, the six states of Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and Minnesota averaged 71.3 percent of homegrown residents. The Deep South ranked second, with the five states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina averaging 66.9 percent.

Here are state-specific results across for homegrown populations across the Midwest:

Midwest overall
Michigan 76.6 percent
Ohio 75.1 percent
Wisconsin 72.1 percent
Minnesota 68.8 percent
Indiana 68.3 percent
Illinois 67.1 percent

Midwest percentage homegrown, age 25 and above
Michigan 71.9 percent
Ohio 70.2 percent
Wisconsin 68.4 percent
Minnesota 63.8 percent
Indiana 63.2 percent
Illinois 59.3 percent

Curious about the rest of the country? Here’s an interactive map at Governing that has state-by-state data.

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Detroit bridge project scrutinized. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder absorbed his first major political defeat since taking office – and it came at the hands of his own Republican party, which refused to green-light the construction of a new bridge between Detroit and Windsor. Expectations are growing, according to the Detroit Free Press, that Snyder will try to circumvent the legislature, a strategy that will raise legal questions about the range of the governor’s executive authority. Last week, Changing Gears senior editor Micki Maynard detailed the skirmish over the new bridge for The Atlantic Cities, and examined forceful opposition from Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun.

2. Ohio foreclosures on the rise. After enjoying their lowest level of foreclosures in five years, Ohio residents saw a foreclosure uptick in the third quarter of 2011, mirroring a nationwide trend. Our partner station Ideastream reports foreclosures in Cuyahoga County increased 17 percent from the previous three-month period. Experts attribute the jump to mortgage lenders resuming the foreclosure process after last year’s robo-signing scandal had halted proceedings. Over the summer, less than 1 percent of Ohio home loans entered the foreclosure process, Ideastream reports. Currently, 9.3 percent of Ohio mortgage holders are late on their payments, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

3. Future of Michigan coal plant unclear. The only major power plant in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is at a crossroads. A coal-fired plant owned by We Energies could be shut down over the next five or six years as new environmental rules go into effect. One alternative would be a switch to natural gas, a conversion being employed by numerous plants across the Midwest. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports the future of the plant is of high concern in Marquette, where We Energies employs 180 workers and plays 17 percent of the city’s property taxes. “A closure would be devastating for our community,” Mayor John Kivela tells the newspaper.

(Clarification: An earlier version of this entry contained dated information. It has been revised to indicate that a Michigan state senate committee defeated a proposal regarding a new bridge linking Detroit to Canada last month.)