Dan Bobkoff

Changing Gears - Cleveland Reporter

Dan Bobkoff has spent more than three years covering Northeast Ohio’s economy and politics for Changing Gears partner station WCPN ideastream. He has worked at public radio stations WAMC in Albany, NY, WNYC in New York City and at ABC News in New York.

Bobkoff has extensively covered the effects of the recession on businesses, employment and government. He also covered Lebron James’ decision to leave Cleveland and join the Miami Heat.

Bobkoff is from Chappaqua, NY, and graduated from Wesleyan University in Connecticut, where he earned a degree in philosophy.

It’s been a tough few years for teachers. Classes are bigger. Pay is down. Benefits cost more.

And, in the last year, teachers across the Midwest have been at the center of collective bargaining fights in Wisconsin and Ohio. With all that, we wanted to know what it’s like to be a teacher today. So, three generations assembled in Lila Howard’s classroom at Saline High School near Ann Arbor.

Howard is about to retire after years teaching AP Psychology. Jason Gumenick teaches government and is in the middle of his career. Then, there’s David Dolsen, a college freshman, who had both of the others as teachers.

Cleveland Clinic

Detroit is the latest metro area vying to become a medical destination. The hope is that its hospital systems can draw patients from outside its region, helping the local economy.

In short, Detroit wants to be more like Cleveland.

But Cleveland could be tough to copy.

Cosgrove comes to Cleveland

In 1975, a young cardiologist arrived in Cleveland.

“I came here in a rented truck with a Vega on the back end because it was too sick to pull,” Toby Cosgrove says.

Jump ahead 36 years and that newbie with a beater of a car is now CEO of the Cleveland Clinic.

Cosgrove presides over a medical empire vastly larger than when he came to town hoping to get better at heart surgery.

“We were about 140-150 doctors. We’ve grown a bit since that time. We’re now about 3,000,” he says.

Dan Bobkoff / Changing Gears

Depending on who you ask, American manufacturing is either the way out of our bad economy, or it’s dead.

Whatever you think, there’s no denying that manufacturing has changed.

That’s the story of Thogus Products in Avon Lake, Ohio.

This manufacturer has changed so much, its President calls it a 61 year-old startup company.

courtesy of Duke Energy

The Midwest relies so heavily on one source of power that some call us the "coal belt."

Coal is cheap and plentiful, but that’s about to change.

A wave of government regulations is about to hit the electric industry.

Ed Malley, a Vice President at industry consulting firm, TRC Corporation has a name for all the new rules coming down the track: “The train wreck.”

That "train wreck" is the list of environmental regulations expected to be in place within the next few years.

Electric utilities say this will mean the shutting of power plants, leading to higher prices and less peak capacity for hot summer days. Environmentalists say: about time.

Fozzman / Flickr

It’s a tough time for arts funding around the nation. Kansas, as an example, just cut all its state support. It’s a different story in the Cleveland area, though. That region has found a unique way to fund the arts, and it’s paying off big.

It’s made residents like Samantha Kane arts patrons of sorts. She says she smokes about two or three packs of cigarettes a week. We find her waiting at a bus stop with a stroller in one hand and a cigarette in the other. Since 2006, each cigarette she smokes contributes a penny and a half to Cuyahoga County’s arts organizations.

“I love that it goes to something instead of road work, or you know, padding congressmen’s pockets,” Kane says.

This county cigarette tax really adds up. The group that administers the money is doling out $15 million this year alone. That’s enough to catapult the Cleveland area to among the top public funders for the arts in the nation—many times more than what most states contribute.

“I tell people: you don’t have to smoke ‘em, just buy them,” says Cindy Einhouse, CEO of the Beck Center for the Arts in Lakewood.

It puts on shows, teaches dance and music, and provides summer camps for kids.

Einhouse says the recession hit her organization hard. The Beck Center almost closed its doors in 2009. A wave of private donations helped, but she’s grateful for this county tax.

Dan Bobkoff / Changing Gears

Our Changing Gears team has been on the road this week traveling to some of our company towns in the Midwest.

Changing Gears is a Michigan Radio project looking at the economic transformation of the industrial Midwest.

Our final stop is Orrville, Ohio: A place that seems like a company town, but there’s long been a whole lot more going on in Orrville.

Dan Bobkoff / Changing Gears

When a company bears the name of its hometown, it can be hard to separate the two. Such is the case with Norwalk Furniture and the town of Norwalk in Northern Ohio. Sue Lesch is the town’s mayor.

“It really is our flagship company,” said Sue Lesch, Norwalk’s mayor. “It’s the company we’re proud of. We’re known for furniture all over the country.”

For more than a hundred years, Norwalk Furniture made custom-order sofas and chairs in its Ohio factory. For a long time, it was the biggest business in town, employing about 700 in this town of 17,000.

Adee Braun / Changing Gears

Green energy is often said to be the future of the Midwest economy. But old fashioned fossil fuels could be having a bigger effect on the region’s jobs and corporate bottom lines.

This is not conventional oil, though.

It’s a thick, tar-like crude from the oil sands in Alberta, Canada.

It’s sent here by pipelines, many which cross our rivers and the Great Lakes, and that has some worrying about a bigger risk to the region.

Steetsboro, Ohio

Zoning is the DNA of a community: it controls how you live, shop, and work.

After nearly a century of many cities separating those uses, now, they’re going back to the future: trying to recreate an old way of life.

Streetsboro, Ohio is one such place.

Drive down its main commercial district and it has nearly every chain store you can imagine: A Walmart and a Target, a Lowes and a Home Depot.

Some call it sprawl. Streetsboro calls it economic development.

This six-lane strip of big box shopping centers has served this city well since its explosive growth started in the 1960s. It just doesn’t look like a traditional town.

The town center is an intersection with a grassy knoll on one side. But Jeff Pritchard is in charge of planning there now and he’s aiming for a future Streetsboro that would look very different.

These big box stores could eventually be replaced by attractive housing and shops. The way towns and cities used to be.

 “A place where they can walk to a corner store, maybe live above a store, says Anthony Flint of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. “And, those kinds of things, that’s illegal in America today in so many of our communities."

Illegal because of zoning.  In many cities and towns, zoning codes don’t allow living and working in the same place. And, when zoning spread across the country in the 1920s and 30s, that was considered a good thing.

 “ You didn’t want to have a slaughter house next to a residential apartment,” Flint says.

But those issues aren’t as big a deal anymore.

As the Great Lakes region reinvents itself, there’s a growing feeling among planners and thinkers that much of the public wants to spend less time in their cars.

Dan Bobkoff / Changing Gears

Our Midwest reporting project Changing Gears is looking at the role of leadership this week. Yesterday, we heard about Detroit Mayor Dave Bing determined to remake his troubled city. Today, we hear about another mayor in our region faced with challenges.

Normally when politicians go to certain kind of events—the ones where they all put on hard hats and pretend to shovel—they usually make speeches about how great this new development will be for the city. Not so much Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson.

User Zoomar / Flickr

After years of watching its residents travel to Michigan, Indiana, or Pittsburgh for gaming, Ohio is getting in on the action. Cleveland kicked off its first casino development yesterday.

Developers say they’ll spend $350 million to convert a former department store in the center of the city into a place for slot machines and poker.

Behind all this is Dan Gilbert, the Cavaliers owner and founder of Michigan’s Quicken Loans. He sees this casino as the first phase of gaming in Cleveland. He’ll be building a casino from scratch a few blocks away.

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson says the project should create hundreds of local jobs.

They’re actually talking about how can we hire people? How can we hire local contractors, local vendors and make this investment a stimulus for this economy and the people of this city and region.

Dan Gilbert says the Cleveland casino will be integrated into the city, helping local businesses. 

user dvs / Flickr

For much of the last decade, cities across our region have watched their recent college graduates flee to cities like Phoenix.

It what might be good news for our region, new census data show the recession has significantly changed where young people are moving.

People, especially people in their early twenties, go where the jobs are.

That’s why Michigan is so concerned about being the only state in the census to lose population

And cities like Cleveland and Detroit have been fretting about "brain drain" to other areas.

user Joe Shlabotnik / Flickr

(You can also see this story with more photos on the Changing Gears website)

Half a century after cities across our region and country built sprawling freeways, many of those roads are reaching the end of their useful lives.

Instead of rebuilding them, a growing number of cities are thinking about, or actively, removing them. That may come as a surprise.

When Clevelanders hear that the city plans to convert a coastal freeway into a slower, tree-lined boulevard, you get reactions like this one from Judie Vegh:

“I think it’s a pretty bad idea for commuters,” she said. “And if it were 35 mph, I would just be later than usual.”

Within the next few years, Vegh’s commute on Cleveland’s West Shoreway will likely look very different.

Cleveland City Planner Bob Brown says this is not the traditional highway project, "the traditional highway project is obviously speeding things up, adding more capacity, and often ignoring the character of neighborhoods."

It’s quite a change.

In the 1950s and 60s, freeways were seen as progress and modernity. They were part of urban renewal and planners like New York’s Robert Moses tore through neighborhoods to put up hulking steel and concrete roadways.

Today, cities are looking to take them down.

The list is long:

  • New Orleans
  • New Haven
  • Buffalo
  • Syracuse
  • San Francisco

These are just some US cities thinking about or actively taking freeways down. You can find more information about these projects on the Changing Gears website.

Erika Katz

Drive east from downtown Pittsburgh and you’ll pass a church. At least, it was a church.

Today, the alter has been replaced with stainless steel casks of beer, and the pews are now a bar and tables. It’s another Pittsburgh transformation. Saint John the Baptist Church is now the Church Brew Works.

It’s one of those places people tell you: you have to go when you visit Pittsburgh. So, it wasn’t a hard sell to get a bunch of young professionals to meet there.

Zach Morris / Creative Commons

When Dennis Yablonsky took over Pittsburgh's main development group last year, everyone was telling him it was time to brag.

User 1sock / Creative Commons

When I first got to Pittsburgh, I did something foolish.