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Before this campaign season, many voters in the Great Lakes had only peripherally heard of Rick Santorum. But his surprisingly strong challenge to Mitt Romney in Midwest Republican primaries most likely kept his campaign alive. 

Now, Santorum is suspending his race for the Republican nomination, effective today.

That most likely clears the way for Romney to become the first Michigan-born Republican nominee since Thomas Dewey. Romney, who hails from Detroit, is likely to face President Barack Obama in the fall.

“This race was as improbable as any you’ll ever see for president,” Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, said this afternoon. But, he added, “We are not done fighting.”

Santorum achieved one distinction during this winter’s primaries, by becoming the only Republican candidate to visit Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. He had a pasty for breakfast and picked up nearly all the UP’s delegates.

Read Changing Gears’ coverage of the Midwest Republican primaries here.

Dow and out Dow Chemical says it will lay off 900 workers and close five factories worldwide. The Detroit Free Press reports the company wouldn’t say if any of those cuts would be in Michigan. Dow is based in Midland, Mich. One of the plants that will close is in Charleston, Ill.

Decision day It’s primary day in Wisconsin. NPR reports Romney is hoping to extend his winning streak in Great Lakes states.

Broken marriage The Federal Trade Commission has blocked a hospital merger deal in the Toledo area.

Fewer people on welfare Partner station WCPN reports Ohio’s welfare rolls dropped 18 percent in one year. One reason is the improving economy. But the station reports that a bigger reason is tighter welfare rules.

Clock is ticking Less than 72 hours remain for Detroit leaders to reach a deal with Lansing to avoid a state takeover.

Michigan, Ohio and Illinois voters have had their chance. Now, it’s Wisconsin’s turn.

Wisconsin State Capitol

Voters in the dairy state go to the polls on Tuesday to cast ballots in the Republican primary. We’d love to hear how you voted, and what’s the most important issue on your minds.

After you vote, take our survey (or if you’ve already voted early, let us know now). It will help us understand whether different topics are of importance to people in different parts of the Great Lakes.

The petition signatures have all been counted, and now it’s up to Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board to schedule recall elections.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker

That is likely to happen on Friday. The board meets at 9 am CT, and you can watch its deliberations live.

The board’s staff released signature tallies on Thursday on recall petitions for Gov. Scott Walker and the state’s lieutenant governor.

There were 931,053 signatures collected for Walker’s recall; 26,114 were discarded by the staff; 4,001 were found to be duplicates and 900,938 were declared valid. That’s far more than required to hold an election. Four state Senators also face recall elections.

If the elections are held, the staff recommended a primary take place on May 8 and the general election, if needed, on June 5.

Read all our coverage of Walker and the Wisconsin elections here.

 

 

in the case of unemployment rates in the Great Lakes states, headlines do not tell the full story. 

This week, we heard that Michigan’s unemployment rate dropped to 8.8 percent, within shouting distance of the national unemployment rate, and way down from the 14 percent territory it reached during the worst of the recession.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin’s rate held steady at 6.9 percent for the second straight month, and it’s down from 9.2 percent in June 2009.

But behind the Michigan numbers lies a paradox: the state has 409,000 people out of work, but there are 76,000 job openings that can’t be filled. Gov. Rick Snyder talked about this on Wednesday at a town hall in Detroit, urging job seekers to register with the state’s talent bank.

And in Wisconsin, the unemployment rate actually rose in 27 cities whose population was more than 25,000, and in 66 counties.

The highest unemployment rate in Wisconsin is in Beloit, where 12.5 percent of working adults did not have jobs. Unemployment also is high in Door County, a vacation region, where 13.8 percent are out of work.

So, unemployment continues to be an issue in our region. Changing Gears has been looking at retraining and how to measure its success.

Have you gone through a retraining program, or gone back to school so that you can start a new career? Was it what you needed? Take our survey and help us cover the story.

In October 2010, a 360 foot long crack appeared in rural Menominee County, Michigan. Residents nearby reported hearing booming noises. Is this what's coming for Clintonville, Wisc.? Credit: Wayne Pennington, Michigan Technological University

We’ve been as fascinated as anyone else about the strange news coming out of Clintonville, Wisc. this week. Residents in the small town have been hearing mysterious booming noises in the wee hours of the morning.

It may be a stretch to consider this an economic story, but Clintonville is being flooded by out of town reporters, who must have some kind of economic impact. And at least one engineering firm is getting business from it.

Plenty of people online also speculate that “fracking” could be behind the mysterious noises. Hydraulic fracturing, the natural gas drilling method usually just called “fracking,” did play a role in a series of earthquakes near Youngstown, Ohio.  The U.S. Geological Survey just confirmed that there is small seismic activity behind the Clintonville booms - tiny tremors that only measure 1.5 in magnitude. But town officials say they’ve ruled out most man-made causes for the tremors (the closest known fracking operation is about 20 miles from Clintonville).

That leaves natural causes as a possible explanation. Accuweather.com says the Midwest’s abnormally warm spring could be playing a role, as ice in the ground quickly melted and the soil suddenly settled.

But one of the biggest questions, of course, is whether these noises are something to be worried about.

Some Clintonville residents are thinking they might not want to stick around and find out. A few have already fled just so they could get some uninterrupted sleep. But in the town of Moodus, Conn. strange booming noises have been rattling residents for hundreds, if not thousands of years. There, the noises have been attributed to very small earthquakes, though no one is quite sure why they’re happening in Moodus.

There’s also a more local precedent to the strange happenings in Clintonville. In October 2010, residents in a rural section of Michigan’s Menominee County heard a series of strange booms. A few days later, Eileen Heider discovered that her 53-acre property suddenly had a new hill, and a crack in the earth that stretched for more than 350 feet. Geologists at Michigan Technical University later determined the crack came from an earthquake, though it was such a minor quake, it would have barely registered on any seismic measurement tools. Nonetheless, it’s considered the first recorded earthquake in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Charting a path between three Midwest towns where mysterious noises have been reported. Credit: Google Maps

The Menominee Crack, as it’s now called, sits just 80 miles northeast of Clintonville. Eighty miles in the opposite direction is the town of Montello, Wisc. Tuesday night, residents in Montello started hearing noises as well. The three towns form a line that runs almost parallel to the western shore of Green Bay.

Changing Gears has not yet consulted with any geologists on what this could mean. But if (if!) Wisconsin’s Door Peninsula suddenly starts drifting away into Lake Michigan, we promise we will tell you what the implications are for the Midwest economy.

Settled in Saugatuck Officials in Saugatuck Township, Mich. have reached a settlement with billionaire Aubrey McClendon that could pave the way for new development. The proposed development has encountered fierce opposition since it was proposed a few years ago, because it would be near coastal dunes on Lake Michigan. Partner station Michigan Radio reports the settlement must be approved by a judge.

Denied FEMA has once again denied Illinois’ request for a state of emergency to be declared in the town of Harrisburg. Seven people died when tornadoes ripped through the city on Feb. 29. Partner station WBEZ reports a state of emergency declaration would open up federal grants to help pay for the recovery.

Wisconsin on deck The GOP presidential primary marches on, and after this weekend, Wisconsin is next in line to be the center of the political universe.

Modern slavery The U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio says he believes there are hundreds of cases of human trafficking going on in the region at any time. It’s a problem “literally everywhere” he says, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Raise your cup A national icon is being sold. Solo Cup, based in Lake Forest, Ill.will be sold for $1 billion. The buyer is Mason, Michigan-based Dart Container Corp.

Spring sprang today, and many Midwesterners have shed their winter coats and boots for shorts and t-shirts. But one group of Midwesterns are trying to resist the urge to speed up the season. 

Farmers in Wisconsin normally start planting corn around April 15. And just because the temperatures are in the 70s this week, that doesn’t mean they can get an early start.

“Everybody wants to be the first one, to get the neighbors talking,” said Scott Pfeuti, who farms on 2,000 acres between Monticello and Albany, Wis. He told the Wisconsin State Journal that he’s sticking with his normal schedule.

Agronomists are telling farmers to resist starting their crops early. even though the ground is warming up quickly and there are no signs it’s going to cool down anytime soon, the newspaper said.

“This weather is odd,” Shawn Conley, an assistant professor in the UW-Madison agronomy department, told the paper. “I think we have to be cautious and just know what the risks are out there.”

In an average winter, frost can run three feet deep, but in Wisconsin, the frost did not even make it to one foot deep in some places. Insects wintering in the soil weren’t killed and those living in bark survived easily.

That poses a danger to crops and also to people: without a spring snow storm, experts say mosquitos will probably be back much earlier than usual around the Great Lakes.

Tomorrow, Changing Gears’ Niala Boohoo looks at the future of agriculture around the Great Lakes. It’s a more popular career than you might think.

 

CDO woes no mo’ Five Wisconsin school districts have settled a lawsuit with an investment firm over the sale of collateralized debt obligations. The school districts say the firm sold them CDOs without disclosing the risks involved. The districts will get $22 million from the firm, according to the Wall Street Journal. And they won’t have to pay the $154 million they still owe the firm.

Et tu legislature? Ohio governor John Kasich’s plan to tax oil and gas companies seems to be stalled in the state legislature. Partner station WCPN Ideastream reports that Kasich’s own Republican colleagues are the reason for the holdup.

No protest permit Partner station WBEZ reports the city of Chicago has turned down a permit request from people who plan to protest the upcoming NATO summit. The city had previously approved a permit for the same protest route one day earlier. Protesters asked to switch the day after the G-8 summit was canceled in the city.

Gambling go-ahead Partner station Michigan Radio reports last night the Lansing city council voted to approve a new $245 million casino. The casino would be built in the city’s downtown. It still needs federal approval.

Not the Abba song, right? Wisconsin governor Scott Walker talked to Greta Van Susteren of Fox News last night. He said the recall against him is a “Waterloo” for unions.

So much for pancakes this year Maple syrup producers in Wisconsin say this is their worst year in memory, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Because of the warm weather, sap only ran for one day in some places. Usually, it runs for weeks.

Vote vote vote If you live in Illinois, it’s primary day. Here’s a guide, from partner station WBEZ.

Gassed up Ohio will get a new $900 million natural gas processing plant, as the state’s boom in shale-gas drilling continues.

You’re next, Illinois Mitt Romney’s poor showing in Alabama and Missisippi seems to have heightened the importance of next week’s primary in Illinois. The Chicago Tribune reports the Romney campaign just bought another $1.35 million in ads in the Chicago market.

Politics behind consent Yesterday was a big day in the city of Detroit, as Michigan governor Rick Snyder released a proposed consent agreement to handle the city’s budget crisis. Partner station Michigan Radio takes a look at the politics behind the proposal.

Mining a new strategy Even though a controversial piece of legislation to allow mining in northern Wisconsin failed to get enough votes, and the company that wanted the mine has pulled out, some state Republicans are still fighting for the cause.

Ohio gets the bronze The Labor Department reports that Ohio had the third-largest increase in jobs in January. Only New York and Texas saw more jobs created in the first month of the year.

Camera-ready Partner station WBEZ looks into Chicago’s volatile, but growing film industry.