Niala Boodhoo

Changing Gears - Chicago Reporter

Chicago reporter Niala Boodhoo has been a business reporter for 10 years, working at the Associated Press, Reuters, and most recently, The Miami Herald, where she reported on the local economy, labor and employment.

Boodhoo was the newspaper’s first print journalist to have a weekly radio report. It aired for three years with the Miami Herald’s news partner, WLRN, the South Florida public radio station. She was also created the first weekly business video show on MiamiHerald.com.

Born and raised in Miami, Boodhoo has a Master of Science in Journalism from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and a Masters of Arts in Latin American/Caribbean Studies from Florida International University. She is also a graduate of Calvin College, where she studied philosophy and psychology.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

This month, we’re looking into some of the hidden assets of the Midwest – the parts of our economy that don’t often get noticed when we talk about our strengths (the first part of the series is here). Agriculture is one of the biggest drivers of local economies in the Midwest – it accounts for billions of dollars worth of exports and thousands of jobs. There’s been a lot of concern about whether enough young people are going into farming these days. But the ag industry goes well beyond being just farming – and plenty of young people are interested in that.

At Navy Pier, a special meeting of the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences’s FFA chapter is being called to order. Ringed around the room, one by one, chapter officers check in during the traditional opening ceremony. It ends when President and Senior Jennifer Nelson asks her fellow FFA members: “Why are we here?”

The students stand and chant in unison: “To practice brotherhood, honor agriculture opportunities and responsibilities, and develop those qualities of leadership that an FFA member should possess.”

While many states in the South and West passed restrictive laws against illegal immigrants last year, officials in Dayton, Ohio were putting out the welcome mat.

And they’re not alone in the Midwest.

In the second part of our look at immigrants and the Midwest, we’ve found many local governments are trying to attract immigrants as an economic development strategy.

Dayton got attention from all over the world last fall when its city commission unanimously approved a plan called Welcome Dayton to make it an “immigrant-friendly city.” Since then, the town has been inundated.

Niala Boodhoo / Changing Gears

Midwest states are changing their relationships with unions.

Last week, Indiana became the first in the region to become a right to work state.

Last year, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker dismantled collective bargaining rights for state workers. Public safety workers were supposed to be exempt.

A year later, though, hundreds of police, firefighters and paramedics find they’re also getting less pay.

Niala Boodhoo / Changing Gears

The nation was riveted on Madison, Wisconsin last year when tens of thousands of people protested Governor Scott Walker’s proposal to dismantle most union rights for state and local workers. Walker was successful. Now, a year later, how have those changes made life different in Wisconsin? Changing Gears has been taking a look at the impact state governments have on everyday life, and I take a look at Wisconsin in the first of two reports.

Sarah Alvarez / Changing Gears

The numbers from manufacturing are looking good, I reported last week.

Bill Strauss from the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago told me that of the 2.3 million manufacturing jobs lost in the recession, at least 300,000 of those jobs have come back. That’s about 13 percent.

Today, I look at why employers say it’s hard to find those skilled workers.

Niala Boodhoo / Changing Gears

Just before you get to the factory floor of Chicago White Metal Casting, there’s a grainy, mural-sized picture of what the floor used to look like in the 1930s, when the business started by CEO Eric Treiber’s grandfather.

Back then, it was on the second floor of Chicago’s Fulton Street Fish Market.

Today, the family-owned company operates further north of the city, just west of O’Hare International Airport.

Niala Boodhoo / Changing Gears

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before...

"We genuinely believe small business is the backbone of America, it’s going to the key for us to be able to put a lot of folks back to work."

That’s President Obama earlier this year.

Warm feelings about small business come at all levels, and on both sides of the aisle.

Here’s Michigan’s Republican Governor Rick Synder this summer:

"Talk about the jobs you’re creating, even if it’s one job – that is the backbone of the reinvention of Michigan."

Or Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel last week at the SmallBizExpo:

"Nothing is more important to our econonmic expansion than the small business of Chicago and the small business of tomorrow that will be in Chicago."

It’s more than just political talk.

Niala Boodhoo / Changing Gears

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Steve Job’s death last week has reminded everyone firsthand the notion that everyone has ideas, and very few become actual products.

That’s because ideas need a push. In some cases, a big push from science to become reality.

It sounds obvious, but when we’re talking about actual products, that translate into actual jobs, and actual economic activity, it’s worth exploring.

That’s why I was so interested to learn more about Battelle Memorial Institute.

Innovation can strike in a variety of ways.

Niala Boodhoo

Navistar builds trucks across North America, at non-union factories in the South and Mexico, as well as union shops in the Midwest. The UAW members at the Navistar plant in Springfield, Ohio say a year of changes has made them competitive with those non-union plants – and they’re optimistic about the future.

In the final assembly department at Navistar’s Springfield, Ohio, plant, Veronica Smith is helping her team put the finishing touches on a truck. The cab is being mounted to its frame.

Niala Boodhoo

The word “foundation” often makes people think of big money. But there’s a new group of philanthropists in Chicago who have smaller funds, but big hopes for changing communities.

They call themselves the “Awesome Foundation”. Except the foundation part isn’t exactly that serious, says Chicago chapter co-founder Chris McAvoy.

Niala Boodhoo / Changing Gears

Our Changing Gears road trip continues. Yesterday, I was in Kohler, Wisconsin. Today, I went down state in Illinois to Decatur.

Driving south from Chicago, it only takes about 25 miles to hit the corn fields. For the next 150 miles to Decatur, it’s a sea of yellow corn tassels, a head tall.

Niala Boodhoo / Changing Gears

From Pullman in Chicago to Firestone in Akron, these employers loomed large in everyone's daily lives.

But what does a "company town" look like today?

The Changing Gears team hit the road to find out.

All this week, we’re looking at how these places are coping with economic change.

For our first story, I visited the village of Kohler, Wisconsin.

Open Books

In Chicago, literacy rates are pretty grim. More than one in three adults cannot read well enough to fill out a job application. Many are working toward improving literacy rates in Chicago, among them, the nonprofit Open Books. In the second story in our series on nonprofits, I took at look at Open Books, mostly because of the organization’s funding structure.

At Chicago International Charter School’s Bucktown campus, second grader Jayla Mercado is reading a book about dinosaurs. They’re her favorite topic, but she’s having a hard time sounding out some of the bigger words.

Midwest manufacturers heard good news about U.S. trade at a conference in Chicago.

A record number of exports are helping to shrink the trade deficit, and conference organizers are optimistic about the future of Midwest manufacturing.

Economist Bill Strauss, with the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, likes to use a tennis ball as an analogy to explain what’s going on in manufacturing.

"The sectors that fall the hardest tend to bounce back the strongest," said Strauss. "And we are definitely seeing that with regard to manufacturing where it was automotive and it was primary metals that fell the most during the downturn and they are coming back the strongest at this point."

This morning, Strauss and others told the  Chicago Council on Global Affairs they’re optimistic. They point to data like a 7 percent increase in manufacturing over the past 22 months.

Now for the bad news.

That doesn’t translate into more jobs, because manufacturers have gotten better at producing more with less people.

Alan Light / Flickr

This week marks the last we’ll be seeing of new broadcasts of the Oprah Winfrey Show.

I’m someone who basically has grown up with the show (to be exact, the nationally syndicated show has run for 25 years).

It’s spawned the empire of all things Oprah – including her magazine and now her own cable network.

Over the years, Oprah’s singled out many products for her Favorite Things list.

Niala Boodhoo / Changing Gears

What happens when your local library shuts its doors? That’s a question Midwestern towns from Evanston, Ill., to Troy, Mich., are asking as local libraries are targeted in budget cuts.

I went to Northwest Indiana, where the Gary Library Board has just decided to close its main branch, to find out the impact on a local community.

Gary has five library branches. The other four have names, like Kennedy, or Du Bois. This one is simply called the "main library."

Miguel Vaca / Flickr

"Would you like some fries with that?"

That’s the phrase many are perfecting for McDonald's National Hiring Day tomorrow. Many of the McDonald’s  jobs will be in the Midwest.

McDonald's got its start here in the Midwest, and it has a substantial presence throughout the Great Lakes states.

That’s why 10,000 of the 50,000 new workers, the company wants will be based across the region.

The McDonald's in downtown Chicago (on Chicago and State) is one location that is hiring. Nick Karavites and his family own that restaurants and 18 others across the city.

"Not only are we looking to hire cashiers but also hospitality staff and kitchen staff," says Karavites.

As the employment market improves, job seekers can get more selective about where they work.

Karavites said pay at their restaurants averages $9 an hour, and that all workers can participate in a McDonald’s Insurance program.

McDonald’s says the company needs more workers because last year’s sales were up five percent and continues to grow.

Kate Gardiner / WBEZ

Throughout the Midwest, Chicago is known as the city everyone wants to come to – but that’s a huge change from 22 years ago, when Mayor Richard M. Daley took office.

The city’s even changed dramatically from when I lived here before, in the late 1990s.

This is the last of our three-part series on leadership, where I look at the region’s – and arguably, the country’s – most famous Mayor: Richard M. Daley.

Niala Boodhoo / Changing Gears

Parts of the Midwest are still shoveling out after one of the worst blizzards in recent memory.  For some people, they can't see the good in all that snowfall.

But at the Chicago Board of Trade, this blizzard may be a boon for business.

Investors are banking on a futures market based on snowfall that’s the first of its kind in the world.