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Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel unveiled his first budget today, tackling a $635 million deficit, and the city’s visitors and drivers are among those who would pay more.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel/Micki Maynard

The mayor had vowed not to raise property taxes or the city’s sales tax. But the budget, which the mayor outlined to city council, includes a proposal to raise the city’s hotel tax by 1 percent, or about $1.78 to the average visitor.

Although the increase itself isn’t likely to deter many visitors, Chicago has seen tourism drop, especially among people who come in from the suburbs for the day.

They may not be happy with another one of the mayor’s proposals: a $2 a day, week day congestion tax at garages downtown and in the city’s River North neighborhood.

Emanuel’s budget also takes aim at the city’s drivers, who are required to purchase a registration sticker. The price of a sticker for trucks and sport utilities would rise to $134 a year, from $120, although the price for a small car would remain at $75.

Anyone who is caught driving while intoxicated would see their fine double, while Emanuel also proposes doubling the fine for driving with an illegal weapon. 

Two other proposals are receiving attention in Chicago. One would combine the city’s police and fire headquarters, making Chicago the first mayor city in the country to do so, he said. The mayor has already announced plans to put 1,100 officers back on the street from desk jobs.

And, Emanuel is proposing an increase in residents’ water bills, which he said would be equal to the cost of five cups of coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts. (Assuming he means the 20 ounce cup, which sells for $1.95, that would be about $9.75 extra a year.) Even so, Emanuel said rates in Chicago would be the lowest among major cities in the Great Lakes.

Do you live in Chicago? What are your views on the mayor’s budget proposal?


President Obama speaks at an assembly plant in Toledo in June, one of seven trips to Ohio during his presidency.

The Midwest carried President Barack Obama to the White House in 2008. But when it comes to his re-election prospects in 2012, there are signs the president may have a more arduous task across the region.

Thirteen months away from the next presidential election, the president’s approval ratings have sunk. In Michigan, 65 percent of likely voters disapprove of the job he’s done. In Wisconsin, 51 percent disapprove. In Ohio, his 42 percent approval rating is the lowest of his tenure thus far.

In Pennsylvania, 54 percent of voters disapprove of his job. And in Indiana, which went for a Democrat in 2008 for the first time since 1964, Obama’s disapproval rating has ratcheted up to 60 percent. In 2010, Republican governors were elected in Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio.

Far from the hope of sweeping the region again, even safe Democratic strongholds now appear in play. His approval rating in Minnesota hovers just above 50 percent. Perhaps most ominously, voters in Obama’s home state of Illinois gave his former Senate seat to Republican Mark Kirk last year.

“So go the Great Lakes, so goes the country,” writes Brett M. Decker in The Washington Times today. “That’s bad news for Barack.”

One reason Midwestern voters are turning against Obama? Of the eight Midwestern states he won – comprising every state in the region – all eight have seen an increase in their unemployment rates since his election. Below is a state-by-state glance at unemployment rates from the time of the ’08 elections compared to those rates today. Numbers come courtesy of the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

ILLINOIS
November 2008: 7.2 percent
August 2011: 9.9 percent

INDIANA
November 2008: 7.5 percent
August 2011: 8.7 percent

IOWA
November 2008: 4.8 percent
August 2011: 6.1 percent

MICHIGAN
November 2008: 9.9 percent
August 2011: 11.2 percent

MINNESOTA
November 2008: 6.3 percent
August 2011: 7.2 percent

OHIO
November 2008: 7.6 percent
August 2011: 9.1 percent

PENNSYLVANIA
November 2008: 6.2 percent
August 2011: 8.2 percent

WISCONSIN
November 2008: 5.9 percent
August 2011: 7.9 percent


Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Report: Indiana sets sights on luring CME headquarters. Indiana is aiming to land another Illinois company with a tax-incentive package. This time, a big one. Crain’s Chicago Business reports today that Indiana has offered CME Group Inc. $150 million per year to move its headquarters to the Hoosier State. CME CEO Terry Duffy did not comment on the report, but earlier this week, said he expects the headquarters issue “to be resolved by year end.” Indiana’s top economic development official, Dan Hasler, neither confirmed nor denied the report when reached.

2. Kasich begins official SB5 defense. On Thursday night, Ohio Gov. John Kasich made his first official campaign appearance to support Issue 2, a state ballot measure that could repeal Senate Bill 5, a controversial law that limits collective-bargaining rights of public employees. Appearing in Toledo with Mayor Mike Bell, Kasich outlined his defense of SB5 – that it helps local governments control spiraling costs. “I believe in unions, I believe they have a place,” Kasich told The Columbus Dispatch. “I am not out, in any way shape or form, to go after and target anybody.”

3. Michigan airport authority announces cuts. The Wayne County Airport Authority said Thursday it would cut costs and raise fees as part of a plan to reduce its expenses by $20 million over the next 12 to 15 months. The Authority, which runs operations at Detroit Metro and Willow Run airports, approved a budget of $292 million for fiscal 2012 that includes wage and benefit changes for employees. Airport World reports at least 100 employees will lose their jobs. “It’s imperative that we re-engineer Detroit Metro and Willow Run Airports so that they become the most competitive in North America,” said Turkia Awada Mullin, the WCAA’s new chief executive officer, who has drawn attention this week for taking a $200,000 buyout from her previous job as Wayne County’s chief development officer to accept the head position at the airport authority.


Dan Bobkoff

The face of advanced manufacturing? David Bourne of CMU's Robotics Lab sits in a Humvee being built by a helpful robot.

Back in June, President Obama came to Pittsburgh to tout something called Advanced Manufacturing. He created a group to work on it, made up of government officials, academics, and industry. The point, the president says, is to promote innovation, make the country more competitive. But, we wanted to know:

What is advanced manufacturing anyway?

“Oh goodness,” said Mike Molnar when asked just that. “That’s one of those questions I should probably have a ready answer to.”

Molnar is the Chief Manufacturing Officer at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Advanced manufacturing is kind of his focus. But as I found, most people can’t agree on what it is.

It can be about new ways of making things, says Erica Fuchs of Carnegie Mellon University.

“It can be robots; it can be 3D printing,” Fuchs said.

Or, maybe it’s just companies building high tech products for newer industries.

“It could be just that brand new battery company, that brand new sensor company,” Fuchs added.

Some like Ned Hill of Cleveland State have a more flip answer.

“Advanced manufacturing is any manufacturing company that’s survived over the last twenty years,” he said.

Molnar of NIST took a second to come up with his own definition.

“Advanced manufacturing is the ability to make something nobody else can,” he said.

The President offered this definition back in June.

“It means how do we do things better, faster, cheaper to design and manufacture superior products that allow us to compete around the world” Mr. Obama said.

However we define it, advanced manufacturing has become a priority for Mr. Obama. He was speaking in front of a yellow robot at Carnegie Mellon University. The occasion was to announce a new partnership.

“All with one big goal,” he said. “And that is a renaissance of American manufacturing. We’re calling it AMP, A-M-P, the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership.”

The point says the administration, is to find and support new technologies that could create jobs and make American manufacturing more competitive. AMP is made up of engineering schools like Carnegie Mellon, plus industry and government officials. They’re having their first meeting this month.

Dan Bobkoff

This robotic arm has both a welding torch and a projector to help human workers know where to place bolts and perform other work.

And, when I visited Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh recently, I could see why the President came here to talk about the future of manufacturing.

“At the end of this robot is a projector!” said David Bourne, as he showed me the frame of a military-grade Humvee. He’s a principal scientist at CMU’s Robotics Institute.

An orange, robotic arm equipped with a welding torch, and, yes, a projector sits idly by. But this robot has no intention to replace humans. Bourne says it has a nobler mission: it’s going to help the human workers do what they do better.

“If we can get robots and people to work together,” he said, “then the economies come back into line because it’s easier to program robots to do what they’re good at, and we can project any kind of information onto the product in the right place so the person can go over and tighten something in exactly the right spot.”

Robots still don’t have opposable thumbs.

This friendly robot gets funding from DARPA, the same part of the Department of Defense that helped create the internet. And, like how the internet has grown to pervade nearly all aspects of our life, Bourne sees big implications for his technology.

“We’re going whole hog across the product spectrum, Bourne said. “I’m doing this kind of research for everything from cell phones, to this DARPA project for military vehicles, I’m working with Boeing for airplane wings. Same technology, different uses.”

And, that’s what this advanced manufacturing partnership is supposed to be about: helping emerging technologies that can help lots of industries and companies. Bourne thinks more manufacturers will switch from mass production to mass customization. That means churning out small batches of highly customized products, instead of thousands upon thousands of a single design.

The idea is that if America can get good at this high end manufacturing, and push into new materials and technologies, we can continue to have high paying jobs, even if it’s not as many as manufacturing’s heyday.

“It’s instead most likely going to be something where there are fewer people on the manufacturing line itself, but we need those people in order to have the jobs that are in innovation and for our country to continue to stay ahead,” said Erica Fuchs of Carnegie Mellon.

Fuchs’s specialty is engineering and public policy. And, she’s found that when we lose manufacturing, we also lose research and development. She says that’s because they go hand in hand. The person designing something often needs to walk next door to the factory to make sure it all comes together.

“The engineer needs to be there to figure out why the oven isn’t working today,” she said.

In June, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology said [PDF link] that the US is losing the ability to make things invented here, like LED lights and components for TVs and smartphones. And, something else important: robots.

David Bourne at Carnegie Mellon’s robotics lab noted that the robot he showed me actually came from Switzerland.

“We’ve already done a pretty good job losing the robotics industry,” he said. “We haven’t lost the software part yet. It shows you just how fragile this is. If we fall asleep—this is a crossroads for American manufacturing. If we miss this one, it could be a generation before we have another opportunity like this. This is a big deal.”

And, that’s why those who care about making things are closely watching the President’s Advanced  Manufacturing Partnership, hoping something comes out of it that will make the Midwest and America a manufacturing power again.


Dan Bobkoff

Ron Bloom at our interview in Pittsburgh. Bloom stepped down from his White House post in August to spend more time with his family.

This winter, President Obama took the unusual step of naming Ron Bloom his assistant for manufacturing. But Bloom stepped down in August to return to his family in Pittsburgh. He hasn’t been replaced. This comes as manufacturers in our region are clamoring for attention. Many want a sign that manufacturing policy is a priority.

They say it’s time for a national manufacturing policy.

Germany has one. So do Japan and China. And, many manufacturers in the US think we need one too: one document that puts all the existing policies together and says manufacturing matters.

“There needs to be some sort of coordination at the top level that says all of these things add up to something bigger. And, right now we don’t have that,” says Bill Rayl, who heads the Jackson Area Manufacturers Association near Ann Arbor, Michigan.

He was at a meeting in Lansing the other week where the topic of a national manufacturing policy came up. Rayl says most of his members are eager for a cohesive strategy that says “that manufacturing is important to national defense and our national economy.”

Jim McGregor agrees. He’s Vice Chairman of McGregor metalworking in Springfield, Ohio.

He says there’s just too much uncertainty in the manufacturing sector: uncertainty about regulations, legislation, and policy.

One reason businesses aren’t spending and hiring more is fear. And, he thinks a cohesive national manufacturing policy could help change that.

“I think there’s a lot of talk and no action,” McGregor says. “And, we’re passed wishing and hoping.

“For a long time, I think the preponderant view in Washington was that the decline in manufacturing was number 1, inevitable, and number 2, just fine,” says Ron Bloom.

If there was anyone in government who could have pushed a manufacturing agenda, it’s him. Until August, he was President Obama’s assistant for manufacturing policy. You might know him as one of the key players in the government’s bailout of GM and Chrysler.

Injecting taxpayer dollars into the auto industry was one of the most aggressive government actions in decades, but what about before companies fail? What about promoting and helping the ones that can succeed?

“I don’t think we have a formal, capital-P policy in the sense of something you can look up—a bound volume, as it were,” Bloom says. “We did not think it was a good use of our time to try and formalize a capital P policy.”

What we do have, Bloom says, is an administration that has pushed a number of initiatives that help manufacturing, if not exclusively.

“The President pushed very hard and hopefully we’re going to get patent reform. Is that a manufacturing policy? Two thirds of all patents are filed by manufacturing companies. Export promotion, infrastructure spending, allowing capital spending to be depreciated, all areas that are not absolutely to manufacturing, but the preponderance of their benefits go to manufacturing,” Bloom says.

Unlike Japan and China, American leaders tend to be reluctant to get too involved in private industry. That’s a big reason why the administration doesn’t want to create a document that looks like Industrial Policy. To many, even the term reminds them of something like China’s Five Year Plan or suggests the government picking winners and losers. The flap over the taxpayer losses in failed solar company Solyndra shows what happens when the government gets too involved in one company.

Ron Bloom says, in general, the government’s role is to help where the market won’t. He says actions like the auto bailout should be the rare exception. Instead, he says government should boost research and development on technologies that might not see a payoff for many years to come.

The closest thing the administration has to a formal policy is its promotion of so-called advanced manufacturing as an engine for innovation and productivity.

“Now, that does mean that the aggregate number of jobs per se in manufacturing is not going to be huge,” Bloom says. “But that’s the price of a productive sector. That’s not a bad thing.”

He says the jobs that do remain will have a bigger effect on the overall economy. After all, he says Walmarts follow auto plants. Not the other way around.


MacArthur Geniuses: The Midwest abounds with geniuses, at least where the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation is concerned. The Chicago-based foundation awarded three of its $500,000 genius grants to women faculty members at the University of Michigan, and another to Chicago architect Jeanne Gang. You can read the list, and see an interview with Gang here.

Chicago River Development: Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel says he is eager to reverse the

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel/Micki Maynard

impression that many visitors and residents have of the Chicago River. So, he’s planning to invest in recreational facilities up and down the river, starting with new boathouses. There will be new launches for paddlers, as well as picnic areas and concession stands.

Say Nice Things About Union Members: This fall, Ohio voters will consider whether to repeal Senate Bill 5, which curbed the collective bargaining ability of unionized state workers. Opponents of the repeal effort still want to see that ability cut, but they’re trying a novel tactic: saying nice things about union members. Here’s the story from our partner station ideastream in Cleveland.


The President’s jobs bill provides over $100 billion for infrastructure like schools and roads. It also requires that all the steel, iron and manufactured goods used come from American firms.

“It seems to be a reflexive protectionism,” said Roy Norton, Canada’s consul general for Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and Kentucky. “We understand the impulses.”

Canada fought against buy-American language in the 2009 stimulus bill and ultimately won an exemption. Now Canada’s leaders are urging Washington not to make the same mistake in this bill.

“We were surprised to see it all over again,” Norton said in an interview in Cleveland Friday.

He said it hurts the Midwest too. He points to US firms that could not bid on projects in 2009 because they sourced components from Canada.


Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Goodbye Cleveland, hello Chicago. A Cleveland-area steelmaker could receive more than $1 million in financial incentives to move its headquarters to downtown Chicago, Crain’s Chicago Business reported this morning. JMC Steel Group Inc. could bring 50 new employees in the move. Chicago’s Community Development Commission will hear a proposal to provide $1.1 million in incentives Tuesday. Crain’s writes the approval would “represent another victory for Mayor Rahm Emanuel,” who has touted several job victories since taking office.

2. Ford faces UAW strike. A Wednesday deadline looms on contract talks between United Auto Workers officials and Detroit automakers, although representatives on both sides say the discussions could be extended. UAW president Bob King tells our partner station Michigan Radio that a strike is not a “goal” of the talks, but others believe a strike could happen at Ford. Gary Walkowicz, a bargaining committeeman, says union members deserve to receive cost-of-living adjustments surrendered during the recession.

3. Obama will speak in Ohio. President Obama will continue the campaign for his $447 billion jobs bill in Columbus, Ohio, today. He’ll emphasize part of his proposal that marks $25 billion for school building and renovation while speaking at Fort Hayes Arts and Academic High School. It’s part of Obama’s plan to fight for the American Jobs Act on the turf of his Republican counterparts. The Ohio visit, in House Speaker John Boehner’s home state, comes four days after Obama visited House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s district in Richmond, Va.


Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Goodbye Cleveland, hello Chicago. A Cleveland-area steelmaker could receive more than $1 million in financial incentives to move its headquarters to downtown Chicago, Crain’s Chicago Business reported this morning. JMC Steel Group Inc. could bring 50 new employees in the move. Chicago’s Community Development Commission will hear a proposal to provide $1.1 million in incentives Tuesday. Crain’s writes the approval would “represent another victory for Mayor Rahm Emanuel,” who has touted several job victories since taking office.

2. Ford faces UAW strike. A Wednesday deadline looms on contract talks between United Auto Workers officials and Detroit automakers, although representatives on both sides say the discussions could be extended. UAW president Bob King tells our partner station Michigan Radio that a strike is not a “goal” of the talks, but others believe a strike could happen at Ford. Gary Walkowicz, a bargaining committeeman, says union members deserve to receive cost-of-living adjustments surrendered during the recession.

3. Obama will speak in Ohio. President Obama will continue the campaign for his $447 billion jobs bill in Columbus, Ohio, today. He’ll emphasize part of his proposal that marks $25 billion for school building and renovation while speaking at Fort Hayes Arts and Academic High School. It’s part of Obama’s plan to fight for the American Jobs Act on the turf of his Republican counterparts. The Ohio visit, in House Speaker John Boehner’s home state, comes four days after Obama visited House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s district in Richmond, Va.


Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Bridge gains political spotlight. Some experts estimate that billions of dollars in goods, perhaps as much as 4 percent of the nation’s GDP, at some point cross the Brent Spence Bridge, which spans the Ohio River between Cincinnati and northern Kentucky. On Thursday, President Obama highlighted the bridge as one that could be repaired as part of his jobs recovery plan. The prominent mention was perhaps a bit of political gamesmanship – House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky could be in the cross-hairs of their constituents if they voted against the $2 billion overhaul, which currently lacks federal funding.

2. Middle-class crunch. The Columbus Dispatch spent five days last week exploring what it means to be middle class in Ohio. The definition varies widely, but the newspaper concludes the key measures show that Ohio’s middle class is much smaller than people realize, and “the group is shrinking.” As one employee at a barber shop in suburban Dayton said, “The middle class? I’m not sure it exists anymore.”

3. Detroit earns dubious title. In July, The New York Times profiled the youth movement under way in Detroit. This week, Good Magazine followed up and declared the Motor City as one of the best places to be “young and broke.” It cited the fact the city’s vibrant community activism scene is led by young people, and that Detroit has earned a reputation for hustle, art and low cost of living. And also, of course, there’s lots of young people who are doing quite well for themselves.