Pete Bigelow

Online Journalist Changing Gears

Pete Bigelow worked as a Changing Gears online journalist in from May 2011 through December 2011. He reported on issues surrounding the reinvention of the industrial Midwest and also headed up the project’s reader-engagement efforts on Facebook and Twitter.

Before coming to Michigan Radio, Pete worked for four years at The Ann Arbor News and AnnArbor.com, serving as the newspaper’s sports editor and then the Michigan football beat reporter for the website. From a feature on Denard Robinson’s hometown to a story on the precarious financial position of the Eastern Michigan University athletic department, Pete likes to find stories that resonate beyond the box scores. Prior to working in Michigan, he covered the Denver Broncos and the NFL for The Daily Times-Call in suburban Denver.

Pete is a New Jersey native who now lives in Dexter, Mich., with his wife and daughters.

Ways To Connect

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Of the 263 automotive plants closed across the country over the past three decades, nearly 49 percent have been repurposed, according to a Labor Department study released Thursday.

And the pace of redeveloping them has accelerated.

The New York Times reported today that, despite the fragile economy, developers have bought as many closed plants in the past three years – 32– as they did in the previous 26 years. Lower property values and a glut of plants on the market have contributed to the trend.

The repurposed plants have welcomed traditional manufacturers, and some of have been turned into housing developments, offices and research centers which has helped affected communities rediscover needed tax revenues, according to the study, which was authored by Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Center for Automotive Research.

Regional differences influenced the fate of plants following their closures. Sites in the South and along the East and West coasts fared the best in finding new users, according to The Times, which said all 14 former plants closed in California and Texas were reused. In Michigan, the state hardest hit by closures, 43 of 105 have been revitalized.

Overall, 135 of the 263 remain vacant, including 24 that have been closed for at least two decades.

“They’re not all going to repurposed,” Jay Williams, executive director of the Office of Recovery for Auto Communities and Workers, told the newspaper. “Not every community is going to find a pot of gold at the end of this pathway.”

travelwisconsin.com

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.”

Update, 6:30 pm:

Speaking with reporters on a late afternoon conference call, UAW President Bob King says its International Executive Board followed the union’s constitution, which gives skilled trades workers a separate right of ratification on skilled trades issues.

But King says the board investigated the reasons skilled trades workers voted the contract down. He says according to Facebook posts and leaflets, the main reasons were general economic ones affecting all workers, such as bonuses - and not issues specific to skilled trades workers.

"You want to protect the rights of the minority, but you can’t let the minority overrule the rights of the majority," King said.

King says with all three contracts with the Detroit automakers now finalized, the union will turn its attention to organizing efforts, and the 2012 elections.

Here's the breakout of the vote, according to the UAW:

user jinglyjon / Flickr

History is filled with searches for Magic Bullets.

Economically speaking, those are quick-fix endeavors that promise to fix sour economies, provide jobs and bring prosperity to communities and regions. Changing Gears reporter Kate Davidson wrote earlier this week that, “Some have soared; many have backfired.”

Communities across the Midwest are employing a new round of Magic Bullets in attempts to rescue themselves from the Great Recession. All sound promising, but which ones stand up under further scrutiny?

Photo courtesy GM

DELTA TOWNSHIP, Mich. – Auto workers at the Lansing Delta Township Assembly plant make some of General Motors’ most popular vehicles.

The GMC Acadia, Chevrolet Traverse and Buick Enclave are all produced inside this 3.4-million square-foot facility on the outskirts of Lansing, which is Michigan’s state capital.

In August, when GM announced an 18 percent sales increase from 2010, GMC led the turnaround with a 40.3 percent increase. Chevrolet had gained 15.8 percent.

So when contract negotiations began last month, the plant’s 3,430 hourly workers expected they’d be sharing in the company’s improved position. But when they saw the proposed deal between the United Auto Workers and GM, many members of UAW Local 602 here felt jilted instead.

They rejected the deal — a rarity for a contract approved by two-thirds of GM workers nationwide.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

“You can drive almost anywhere in the state of Michigan – pick a point at random and start moving – and you will soon come upon the wreckage of American industry.”

That’s the first sentence in a story in this week’s New York Times Magazine about the seismic downturn in manufacturing over the past decade and its tenuous future in the U.S.

For decades, The Times says, the federal government has largely maintained a policy of letting the marketplace dictate the economy. That is, it hasn’t propped up ailing sectors of the economy nor tinkered with aid packages to strengthen niche industries the way China and Japan have maintained active hands in shaping industry.

That’s changed in recent years under the Obama administration. Notably, the federal government rescued American automobile manufacturers and parts suppliers through approximately $82 billion in loans and other incentives. In particular, the government has delivered $2.5 billion in stimulus money to 30 or so companies exploring advanced battery technology. One White House official tells The Times the battery money goes to “the far edge” of how far the federal government is going to create new jobs and boost a nascent industry.

“It’s naïve to believe that we just have to let the markets work and we’ll have a strong manufacturing base in America,” Michigan Senator Carl Levin (D) tells The Times.

The alternative raises questions. What is the federal government’s new role in spurring industry? What’s its responsibility in ushering a transition to a knowledge-based economy? And, as The Times asks in its provocative headline, does America need manufacturing?