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Pete Bigelow · Midwest Memo: Environmental And Business Interests Clash In Ohio And Wisconsin, Sara Lee Returns To Chicago
December 9th, 2011
Three stories making news across the Midwest today:
1. Ohio officials scrutinize fracking finding. Ohio officials are closely watching the fallout from an Environmental Protection Agency finding that hydrofracking might have caused groundwater pollution in Wyoming. The finding, announced Thursday, could have significant ramifications in Ohio, where leaders have haggled over how to regulate the burgeoning industry. The industry has contended that fracking is safe, but the EPA detected hydrocarbons likely associated with fracking chemicals in the groundwater of a Wyoming town where residents say their well water reeks of chemicals. “All of the rhetoric from the industry has been there’s no way that this can happen,” Trent Doughtery, a lawyer for the Ohio Environmental Council, tells The Columbus Dispatch. “This shows that it has happened, and we need to protect the people in Ohio.”
2. Wisconsin Republicans envision mining boom. Wisconsin Republicans proposed legislation Thursday that would encourage construction of iron ore mines and reduce environmental restrictions. Sponsors of the bill tell the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel its passage could create thousands of jobs. The newspaper reports the bill would scale back water protections and waste rock disposal, as well as mandate that the Department of Natural Resources accelerate its review process. Mining emerged as a significant state issue this year when Gogebic Taconite announced it would construct a new mine that would employ 700 workers. Advocates decried the sweeping rollbacks of environmental protections. The bill will gets its first hearing Wednesday, according to the newspaper, and could be voted upon in January.
3. Sara Lee headquarters back in Chicago. Six years after leaving, Sara Lee is returning part of its corporate headquarters to Chicago. The food and beverage company was headquartered in the city for more than 60 years before a 2005 consolidation brought it to suburban Downers Grove. Next year, the company will split into two publicly traded companies, and one will occupy a building on South Jefferson that will be renovated at a cost of $60 million, according to our partner station WBEZ. A $6.5 million subsidy, a first under Mayor Rahm Emanuel, helped bring the deal to fruition.
In a fight over mittens, the gloves have come off.
Michigan and Wisconsin are tussling over which state can rightly lay claim to using mittens in their public-relations and tourism campaigns.
Michiganders, who have long nicknamed the state’s lower peninsula “The Mitten,” for its similar shape to a hand, have taken good-natured umbrage to a new campaign launched by Wisconsin’s Department of Tourism, which uses a knit-brown mitten to represent the shape of the state.
Wisconsin began using the new image in tourism campaigns on Dec. 1, and tells the Detroit Free Press it follows up on an earlier seasonal campaign that used an image of a leaf shaped like the state in the fall. A Wisconsin Department of Tourism spokesperson tells the newspaper that people in Wisconsin consider their state mitten-shaped as well.
Dave Lorenz, who manages public relations for the state of Michigan, tells the Free Press that, “We understand their mitten envy. But there is only one mitten state, only one Great Lakes state.”
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Pete Bigelow · Midwest Memo: Michigan Mining Company Lays Off 600, Chinese Students Wisconsin Bound, Iconic Cleveland Building Sold
December 5th, 2011
Three stories making news across the Midwest today:
1. Mining company lays off 600 workers. A mining company in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula will temporarily shut down part of its operations and lay off approximately 600 employees. Cliffs Natural Resources, which operates the Empire Mine in Marquette County, said production is expected to drop from 4.6 million tons in 2011 to 2.7 million tons in 2012, according to the Marquette Mining Journal. The drop comes because steel producer ArcelorMittal will take a blast furnace down for maintenance in the second quarter. A company spokesperson said the layoffs will last “several months” until the furnace goes online again.
2. Historic Cleveland property has new owner. One of Cleveland’s historic downtown landmarks was purchased today by a Canadian hotel and resort company during a foreclosure auction. Skyline International Development Inc. was the sole bidder for the Arcade, and purchased it for $7.7 million – the minimum bid, according to The Plain Dealer. The current site was renovated a decade ago for $60 million, but went into foreclosure in April 2009 when its Chicago-based owner defaulted on a $33.3 million mortgage. An attorney for the new owners said this is Skyline’s first U.S. real estate holding, but did not comment on the firm’s plans for the Arcade. With the property selling for the minimum, its creditors, including Bank of America, the city of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County, will not recoup any of their investments.
3. Chinese students Milwaukee bound. Hundreds of Chinese students could attend the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in coming years thanks to a recruiting agreement the school’s chancellor signed today in Beijing. An agreement with a Chinese education network will boost the university’s international profile and help lure Chinese companies to Milwaukee, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. It would also boost the school’s out-of-state tuition coffers. China is the city’s third-largest trading partner, according to the newspaper. The agreement runs for five years. “You could think of myriad ways these students could connect to help Milwaukee employers in China,” said Tim Sheehy, president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce.
Pete Bigelow · Midwest Memo: Upper Peninsula Enjoys Mining Surge, Scott Walker Wastes No Time Plotting Wisconsin Recall Strategy
November 28th, 2011
Three stories making news across the Midwest today:
1. Upper Peninsula’s mining boom. The mining industry in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan is enjoying a renaissance more than a century after its best days passed. New technology demands are creating demand for gold, silver, copper and nickel, the Detroit Free Press reports today. Foreign companies are finding them in abundance in both new and reopened ore mines. Mineral rights on more than 1 million acres have been leased for prospecting. But many of the mines are near rivers and Lake Superior, sparking concern among environmentalists. “I’m not anti-mine. I’m anti-mining pollution,” one advocate tells the newspaper.
2. Busy finale ahead for Illinois legislators. The Illinois state legislature could end its fall session Tuesday with a flurry of activity. Lawmakers are expected to vote on several pieces of legislation that have garnered attention for months, including a bill that would expand the Earned Income Tax Credit, which extends larger refunds to working families. Our partner station WBEZ reports the legislature could also tackle a package of tax incentives designed to keep CME Group and Sears based in in the state. Both have been wooed in recent months by Indiana and other competitors. A vote on legislation that would expand gambling in the state could also take place.
3. Walker plots recall strategy. A possible recall election may not take place until next summer, but Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is wasting no time in campaigning to keep his job. Walker is running television ads defending his 11-month record and Republican volunteers are going door to door canvassing likely voters. USA Today reports Walker’s office is trying to learn from the only two successful gubernatorial recalls in U.S. history. They believe California Gov. Gray Davis (2003) and North Dakota Gov. Lynn Frazier in 1921 both started campaigning too late to save their jobs. “There’s this momentum that builds, and once it builds it’s very difficult for things to reverse,” David Schecter, a political scientist at Cal State Fresno, tells the newspaper.
Pete Bigelow · Midwest Memo: Indiana Republicans Will Introduce Right-To-Work Legislation, Wisconsin And Ohio Add Jobs
November 22nd, 2011
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.”
November 21st, 2011
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:
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.
November 18th, 2011
Detroit’s Plea: As we reported yesterday, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing is laying out his plan to keep his struggling city solvent. But a key step — getting a $220 million from the state — is getting a cool reception. While Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder hasn’t rejected it, he’s not embracing it either,
according to our partner Michigan Radio. Sara Wurfel, a spokeswoman for the governor, said Snyder is “focused on how to best help Detroit move forward in tough economic times.” But Wurfel added Detroit is free to plead its case with the state legislature.
Steelmaker Expands Training: Three years ago, global steel company ArcelorMittal started a training program in Indiana to get young adults prepared for jobs in the industry. And now, the Cleveland plant says it’s partnering with Lakeland Community College to offer the training in Ohio, according to our partners at ideastream in Cleveland. The Steelworker for the Future program is due to start in January, and involves two-and-a-half years of college coursework and a twelve week paid internship. At the program’s end, students walk away with an associates degree in electrical or mechanical technology.
Wisconsin Mining Controversy: Mining is making a comeback in the upper Great Lakes, but not everyone is happy about it. Eleven Indian tribes across the region have come out in opposition to a plan to a new open-air pit, iron ore mine, according to WBEZ’s Front and Center project. Proponents say the mine would create 700 jobs paying $50,000 a year. However, opponents are concerned about the impact on the environment. They met with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker this week.
Pete Bigelow · Efforts To Recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker Begin Tonight; Both Sides Already Anticipate Fraudulent Activity
November 14th, 2011
At midnight tonight, opponents of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker will kick off efforts to recall him from office.
The group United Wisconsin intends to start gathering signatures needed to force a recall election at that time after filing paperwork with the state. A pajama-party rally is planned at the state capitol in Madison. Other groups are planning an anti-Walker rally at his home in Wauwatosa, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Organizers must gather more than 540,000 signatures by Jan. 17 to set a recall in motion. United Wisconsin says it will attempt to gather 600,000 to 700,000 to allow for leeway in case some signatures are not allowed.
To that effect, the state’s Republican Party will be watching. On Monday, GOP leaders announced they’ve started the new Recall Integrity Center, a website devoted to scrutinizing signatures, according to The Capitol Times. Voters are encouraged to submit videos, photos or other reports of signatures or aspects of the signature-gathering process they deem suspect.
Meanwhile, the Journal Sentinel reports Democrats are concerned Republicans will gather recall signatures under false pretenses – and then destroy them.
For what it’s worth, Reid Magney, a spokesperson for the electoral accountability board, notes that “fraudulently defacing or destroying election petitions is a felony.”
November 9th, 2011
At a certain point, you can’t tell if you’ve created the momentum, or the momentum has created you — Annie Lennox
There’s no doubt that the Midwest was swept this past year with political momentum. It deposited Republican governors into office in Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio, and in turn, buoyed successful efforts to strip public employees of their collective bargaining rights.
But with the resounding defeat of Ohio’s Issue 2 on Tuesday night, it appears that momentum has been slowed, if not stopped. And now, like a tide rushing out, governors across the Midwest have to consider whether the momentum that led to swift changes will now work against them.
Those with the most to worry about include Republican governors John Kasich in Ohio, Rick Snyder of Michigan, and Scott Walker in Wisconsin, and the situation also could affect other politicians across the region, both Republican and Democrat.
To be sure, there are big differences in Midwest states and cities, and the situations that they face.
In Ohio and Wisconsin, nothing short of a political revolution took place. Those two governors were bold in their attacks on public employee unions, using budget crises as an excuse, pushing measures through their respective legislatures before union members had a chance to figure out what hit them.
Despite high-profile protests in both places, especially Madison, Wis., the governors’ momentum carried the day.
In Michigan and Indiana, Republican governors have been more cautious. Both Snyder and Daniels have said they aren’t in favor of right-to-work efforts, even though Republicans in both states have called for them.
Daniels took action years ago against state employees, well out of a national spotlight. And Snyder has been judicious in dealing with collective bargaining rights. His one test of the vortex has been to give emergency managers the right to abrogate parts of union contracts in the state’s most deeply troubled cities.
One Democrat who has braved union members’ wrath is Chicago’s mayor, Rahm Emanuel. Throughout his campaign and in his early months as mayor, Emanuel made a longer school day his stop priority. He went around the city’s teacher’s union and offered incentives directly to city schools, including raises for teachers if they’d work longer hours.
Thirteen schools took him up on it, but the vast majority of schools steadfastly refused, setting up what promised to be a long and nasty confrontation with the Chicago Teachers Union.
Last week, Emanuel blinked in the face of a legal challenge by the union, and dropped his diversionary measure. The two sides agreed to collaborate on a compromise, rather than butt heads.
Perhaps Emanuel, schooled by Richard Daley and with two stints in the White House under his belt, saw what Kasich in Ohio failed to recognize and what must now concern Wisconsin’s Walker, who faces a recall movement in 2012.
Momentum, after all, is defined as “the impetus gained by a moving object.” And when political momentum goes against you, it could be best to just jump out of the way.
Pete Bigelow · Midwest Memo: Cook County Anticipates At Least 1,000 Layoffs, Wisconsin Plans Public Employee Two-Year Pay Freeze
October 26th, 2011
Three stories making news across the Midwest today:
1. Sales up at Ford, forecast down. Ford’s third-quarter sales rose 14.1 percent year over year to $33.1 billion, the company said Wednesday morning. But the automaker’s global production plan of 1.37 million vehicles is below the 1.44 million anticipated by analysts, and investors had sold off Ford shares in morning trading, according to the Detroit Free Press. The gap came as a result of “a lower outlook in South America, Asia Pacific and Europe,” Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas wrote.
2. Cook County plans layoffs. Cook County executives unveiled a budget that called for more than 1,000 layoffs to help narrow a projected $315 million deficit, according to our partner station WBEZ. Saying “there’s been nothing easy about this,” board president Toni Preckwinkle said hospital funding and the county’s jail population would be reduced in additional savings measures. She is also trying to convince the county’s union workers to accept furloughs to save $40 million instead of layoffs.
3. Wisconsin public employee pay freeze ahead? Wisconsin state employees may face a pay freeze over the next two years if lawmakers support a proposal from Gov. Scott Walker. The new proposal comes months after Walker required public workers to pay more for their pensions and health insurance while also eliminating almost all collective bargaining. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports another change in the proposed legislation would award overtime only for actual hours worked, after a newspaper investigation revealed how prison guards gamed the overtime system to boost their pay.