Auto

Auto/Economy
2:07 pm
Mon April 23, 2012

Gasoline prices falling in Michigan

Michigan gasoline prices are falling.   Prices are down about ten cents a gallon in the past week and are actually 16 cents lower than a year ago.

Patrick DeHaan is an analyst with GasBuddy.com.     He predicts prices will stay below four dollars a gallon through Memorial Day.

"Because of demand being down so considerably year over year I think that's not as much of a story," says DeHaan,   "I think that's why gas prices fell short of where?many analysts would have thought they would have risen to this year."

Economy
1:51 pm
Mon April 23, 2012

More private backing for light rail plan in Detroit

An artists rendition of the "Foxtown/Stadium" stop for the proposed light rail project in Detroit.
screen grab from YouTube video

Back in December, it seemed a 3-mile light rail project in Detroit along Woodward Avenue was put on the scrap heap when U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood raised doubts that Detroit could pay the operating costs for the proposed line.

In discussions, Detroit Mayor Bing, Gov. Snyder, and LaHood opted for a rapid bus system instead.

But as Michigan Radio's Sarah Cwiek has been reporting, private investors who were backing the light rail project pushed back on the bus idea.

Now the Detroit Free Press reports the M-1 Rail Group says they'll put up the money to run the system for the first 10 years.

The M-1 Rail Group outlined the details in a report it has sent to the federal government. The group of private investors and philanthropic groups behind the effort said they would commit to paying the estimated $5.1 million annual cost of operating the Woodward rail line through 2025.

After the first ten years, the group says they would donate the system "to the appropriate agency, such as a regional transit authority that Gov. Rick Snyder and the Legislature are working to create for southeast Michigan..."

Economy
12:50 pm
Fri April 20, 2012

Flint's emergency manager working out new union contracts

michiganradio.org

Flint's emergency manager, Michael Brown, has been working out new contract deals with the city's unions. Public safety unions have been working under expired contracts in Flint for more than two years.

Kristin Longley of the Flint Journal reports Brown has reached agreements with three of the city's six employee bargaining units (the police sergeants union, the police captains and lieutenants union, and the firefighters union).

Read more
Auto/Economy
11:59 am
Thu April 19, 2012

Changing Expectations: Considering every variable is difficult, if not impossible

Angela Dugan

Michigan Radio is partnering with Changing Gears to share stories about how people are planning ahead and how their expectations have changed in light of the recession. You can read those stories here.

Angela Dugan writes:

I am doing better than my parents, mostly because I am not a stay at home mother like my mother was. I also make more money than my husband.

We are working on starting a family, and I am struggling with the decision to stay at home or continue to work. It is both a question of what’s feasible economically, and what is best for our children.

My biggest concern is being able to afford a lifestyle that we are happy with if I choose to stop working once we have children. I make more money than my husband, so it would be a big change unless he ends up being the one that stays home. We are currently renting a home we could not sell, but at a huge loss, and our new home needs a lot of repair work.

To some extent, I feel that even though I’m doing the best I can to invest wisely and save as much as I can, a lot of variables are simply out of my immediate control.

You can help us cover this topic by sharing your story. How are you planning for what comes next? Tell us by following this link.

This story was informed by the Public Insight Network. If you want to learn how to be a part of our network, click here.

Auto/Economy
10:33 am
Thu April 19, 2012

U.S. auto production might struggle to meet demand

A Ford assembly plant.
Ford Motor Company

U.S. auto companies are faced with pent up demand from consumers at a time when their supplies for parts and materials are getting squeezed.

The Associated Press reports the shortages could limit the number of vehicles companies can sell, and squeeze a historic turnaround for the U.S. auto industry.

The most immediate problem — a shortage of a crucial plastic resin, caused by an explosion March 31 at a plant in Germany — could surface in a few weeks. And later this year or beyond, automakers could be confronted with an even bigger crisis, running short of parts simply because there aren't enough factories and people to make them.

The AP points out that the new process for manufacturing makes automakers vulnerable to these kinds of disruptions because auto suppliers don't stockpile parts the way they used to.

Instead, to hold down warehouse and inventory costs, they rely on a "just in time" system in which parts are delivered just days or hours ahead of when they are needed.

Economy
2:50 pm
Wed April 18, 2012

Gov. Snyder tweets on a drop in Michigan's unemployment rate

Update 2:50 p.m.

The data was released by the Michigan Department of Technology, Management & Budget (DTMB) this afternoon. Michigan’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell by three-tenths of a percentage point to 8.5 percent

And total employment increased by 21,000 in March, while the number of unemployed declined by 12,000.

The state’s workforce recorded a gain of 9,000 over the month.

“With the March data, Michigan continues to record incremental monthly unemployment rate reductions,” said Rick Waclawek, director of the Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives.  “During the first quarter of 2012, the number of unemployed in Michigan fell by 37,000.”

1:58 p.m.

Well, Mr. Snyder probably did not send the tweet himself, but his 'people' did.

An unemployment rate of 8.5 percent for March is a .3 percent drop from February, and Snyder is taking credit for the drop by adding the hashtag "#TheReinventionIsWorking."

Even though the unemployment rate has been dropping since it hit a peak of 14.1 percent in August and September of 2009, the overall labor force in Michigan has been dropping - meaning there are fewer people working in the state.

Michigan's total labor force dropped each month from November 2006 (5.08 million people working) to December 2011 (4.63 million people working).

But that recently changed. The overall labor force started to grow again in January 2012, and Snyder indicates that growth continues with the addition 21,000 more jobs.

For an more on how the unemployment rate is calculated, look at my post here.

Auto/Economy
2:00 pm
Wed April 18, 2012

Former GM plant rebranded to attract new global company

The former GM plant is located near US-131 and 36th street in Wyoming. This is a picture from November 2010, before the plant was demolished.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

A former General Motors plant in a Grand Rapids suburb is getting new life and a new identity.

The 2 million square foot stamping plant in Wyoming, Michigan was the first manufacturing plant sold after GM’s bailout. The more than 75 year old plant is almost completely demolished now. The plant was once the city of Wyoming’s largest taxpayer and employer.

Now it’s been rebranded as “Site 36”. (It’s located on 36th street in Wyoming.)

“We cannot go to a customer, a company, a site consultant and say ‘well we’ve got a former General Motors site.’ Okay? That brings with it a certain image,” said Birgit Klohs, President and CEO of The Right Place. It’s an economic development group based in Grand Rapids that’s helping market the site to international companies.  

Klohs says rebranding the site is important for the people who live here too. “We’re done grieving. We need to come up with the next strategy and rebranding to us was a key issue for us in saying it’s time for the 21st century,” Klohs said.

Read more
Changing Gears
9:38 am
Wed April 18, 2012

Detroit has tons of vacant land. But forty square miles?

Vacancy is easy to see, hard to quantify.

Forty square miles.  That’s how much of Detroit lies vacant, nearly a third of the city.  You could fit Miami or San Francisco inside all that emptiness.  At least, that’s what we’ve heard for years.  The thing is, it might not be true.

This is a story about a number – an estimate, really — and how it became a fact illustrating Detroit’s decline. I’ve read about 40 square miles in the Detroit Free Press, the Detroit News, ForbesThe Wall Street JournalThe Guardian and The Washington Times. I’ve heard it on Fox and I’ve said it on the radio.

That’s when Margaret Dewar called me out.

“Wait, this can’t be true.”

Read more
Changing Gears
1:48 pm
Tue April 17, 2012

Is Detroit's comeback over? Carmakers lose market share gains

The Renaissance Center, World Headquarters of General Motors.
user kiwideapi creative commons

Last year, everyone in the auto industry was chuffed about Detroit’s comeback.

The carmakers were enjoying a healthy rebound from the bankruptcies at General Motors and Chrysler. And for a while, at least, Chrysler outsold Toyota to make the Detroit Three the Big Three again.

But this year, Detroit’s market share has been slipping, and that has ramifications all across the Midwest.

In fact, the auto companies have fallen back to the market share level they held in 2009, as GM and Chrysler were struggling.

In a piece for Forbes.com, I look at what happened to the Detroit companies during the first quarter.

Basically, there are three issues: 

1) GM and Ford are losing share. In March, GM’s market share fell to a 90-year low. And while Ford’s car sales are up in 2012, they aren’t up as much as the competition. That’s one way a company can lose share, by not keeping up.

2) Toyota got stronger. Japan’s biggest carmaker was battered by millions of recalls, the tsunami and earthquake and floods in Thailand. But its market share is climbing back, thanks to new members of the Prius family, and the newest version of the Camry.

3) Korean and European companies are gaining. Hyundai and Kia are causing headaches for all kinds of automakers with their sales gains. Volkswagen is picking up market share, too, and it’s planning to build more cars at its new plant in Tennessee.

Here’s how Detroit’s market share looks, according to Autodata, Inc.

2012: 44.3 percent (through March)

2011: 47 percent

2010: 45.1 percent

2009: 44 percent

Read more
Auto/Economy
1:10 pm
Tue April 17, 2012

Changing expectations: The new ways Midwesterners are planning ahead

Clockwise from top left: Ella Bensen, Duane Larkin, Erika Wozniak, and Shawn Brandli with his fiancee

Changing Gears is partnering with Michigan Radio to collect stories about how people are planning ahead in light of the recession. You can read more stories about how Midwesterners' expectations are changing at the Changing Gears tumblr blog, http://chgears.tumblr.com.

Here's what some Midwesterners are saying:

"I wanted to be a stay at home mom, but we couldn’t have just one source of income and raise a family. Our fix? I opened a day care in our home. I treat it as my small business – which it is - and raise our child along with 3 others in her age range." -Ella Bensen

Read more
Changing Gears
11:36 am
Tue April 17, 2012

Midwest Migration: Detroit native and others drawn to Portland

Detroit native Carla Danley moved to Portland for the beauty of the wilderness around the city, but the city's lack of diversity is a downside for her.
Chris Lehman Changing Gears

If you wanted to start life over in a new place, would you choose somewhere with a chronically high unemployment rate and struggling schools, or one that’s known as a haven for slackers? The latter is one way to describe Portland, Oregon.

It seems like everyone is talking about Portland these days. Part of that has to do with the success of Portlandia, a sketch comedy show that pokes fun at Portland’s young hipster crowd. As one character explains, “Portland is a city where young people go to retire.”

Read more
tourism
2:01 pm
Fri April 13, 2012

Job applicants, volunteers, prepare for Senior PGA in Benton Harbor

Harbor Shores is a Jack Nicklaus designed gold course in Benton Harbor.
Chicago Golf Report Creative Commons

More than 300 people turned out to a job fair this week to get a temporary job when the Senior PGA tour comes to Benton Harbor next month.

Herb Caldwell is Vice President of the Consortium for Community Development. It’s a non-profit group focused on solving chronic poverty in northern Berrien County.

“We’re really surprised and really happy with the excitement and the eagerness of the folks in our area who want to get out an support the Senior PGA golf tournament,” Caldwell said. The job fair was Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this week. 

PGA is a first for Benton Harbor

The Senior PGA tour will be at the new Harbor Shores golf course.

There’s been controversy over the golf course for two reasons; it was partially built on sand dunes near Lake Michigan, and elected city leaders agreed to lease portions of the beachfront park while the city was facing severe financial problems. The course has prompted a number of lawsuits, but most have been settled in favor of the golf course.

Benton Harbor's city government is now run by an emergency manager. The elected, but powerless, city commission voted earlier this month to withdraw its support of the Senior PGA coming to their city. 

Read more
Changing Gears
1:59 pm
Thu April 12, 2012

Are tax incentives working? Many states don't even check

The Pew Center on the States checked all 50 states to find out which ones are evaluating their tax incentive programs. Credit: Pew Center on the States.

Tax incentives have become the weapon of choice among states battling for new business investments. Niala Boodhoo reported in December that offering incentives has become a sort of strategy game for Midwest states hoping to one-up each other as everyone fights to grow jobs. But, as Niala reported, these are games with millions of dollars in tax breaks and thousands of jobs on the line.

Read more
Auto/Economy
12:10 pm
Thu April 12, 2012

Government proposes throttle override system in cars

The government wants make brake-throttle override systems more common in vehicles.
Chrystal Foxx wikimedia commons

WASHINGTON (AP) - Federal regulators are proposing cars be required to have throttle override systems to prevent runaway acceleration in instances where the driver steps on the gas pedal and brake at the same time.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Thursday that it's proposing changing safety standards to require brake-throttle override systems in all vehicle models regardless of size, including trucks and buses. The systems automatically brake while overriding the accelerator when both are pressed.

Many car models already come equipped with such systems.

The proposal is an outgrowth of investigations two years ago into claims that mechanical defects had caused unintended acceleration in some Toyota models. Government studies rejected those claims, but the probe uncovered several cases of drivers inadvertently pressing the brake and gas pedal at the same time.

Auto/Economy
1:01 am
Thu April 12, 2012

Home foreclosures declining in Michigan

(file photo)
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Realty Trac is reporting today that Michigan’s home foreclosure rate is improving.

Foreclosure filings were down nearly 20% during the first three months of the year compared to the fourth quarter of 2011. The decline was even steeper compared to the same time a year ago.

Daren Bloomquist is with Realty Trac. He says nationally foreclosure numbers haven’t looked this good since before the recession started in 2008.

“I definitely think in Michigan…we’re passed the worst of this foreclosure problem… we’re on the downward slope," says Bloomquist, "But there’s just a few bumps I the road going forward before we completely… are out of the woods in terms of foreclosure in Michigan.”

Bloomquist expects there will be a spike in new home foreclosures in the second half of the year.

agriculture
6:58 pm
Wed April 11, 2012

MSU report shows agriculture contributed $91.4 billion to Michigan economy

Apples from an orchard in Ottawa County.
dailyinvention Creative Commons

A new Michigan State University study shows Michigan’s agriculture industry has grown dramatically throughout the recession.

Agriculture contributed a little more than $91.4 billion to Michigan’s economy in 2010. The economic impact of farming, food processing and the supply chain is twice as much as it was in 2004.

Read more
Auto/Economy
3:40 pm
Wed April 11, 2012

Feds expand investigation of Jeep Wrangler fires

user KFearnside wikimedia commons

DETROIT (AP) - U.S. safety regulators have expanded an investigation into Jeep Wrangler fires.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is asking Chrysler for information about Wranglers from 2007 through 2012.

That is an expansion of a probe that began March 28, and focused on vehicles from the 2010 model year.

Chrysler makes Jeeps. It sold more than 532,000 Wranglers from 2007 through March.

The government says 23 Wrangler owners have complained about fires. Complaints say four people were hurt and two houses were damaged. Three of the injuries were minor burns.

Chrysler had no immediate comment on the expanded probe Wednesday. It has said the Wrangler meets or exceeds all safety standards and has an excellent safety record.

An investigation can lead to a recall.

Auto/Economy
2:48 pm
Wed April 11, 2012

It's tax season, let's talk about money and your future

Michigan Radio and Changing Gears are collecting stories about how people are planning ahead in a tough economy, and we’d like your help. What’s on your mind as you plan for what comes next?

You can follow this link to share your thoughts.

We want to hear from you – whether you’re planning for retirement, saving for a home, sending kids to college, or just starting a career. If you’re retired, have you had to make some adjustments?

Read more
Developing
2:35 pm
Wed April 11, 2012

Explosion at GM Tech Center in Warren, Michigan

GM's Technical Center in Warren, Michigan.
user localhero wikimedia commons

Update 2:35 p.m.

The Detroit News reports that Warren Mayor James Fouts toured GM's Tech Center after the exposion. He said he had a "chemical taste in his mouth" when touring the site.

"I just want to say how very fortunate we are that only one person was seriously injured," said Fouts, who toured the site after the fire was extinguished. "There were 80 people in that building, but only one person received a possible concussion and some chemical burns, from what I've been told."

...According to Fouts, the building housing the research lab received considerable damage.

Fouts said three "very large windows were blown out and thick, fortified doors were forced open by the blast."

The News reports that a GM official said the hospitalized worker "is expected to make a full recovery and that the injuries are not life threatening."

1:27 p.m.

GM says the explosion was unrelated to the Chevrolet Volt or any other production vehicle.

"The incident was related to extreme testing on a prototype battery," officials said in a statement.

11:32 a.m.

There was an explosion at the General Motors Technical Center in Warren, Michigan this morning.

The Detroit Free Press reports on one person who was seriously injured in the blast:

A woman working in a battery research laboratory was taken to St. John Hospital and Medical Center in Detroit, Warren Fire Commissioner Wilburt (Skip) McAdams said.

“She is conscious; she’s in a lot of pain. She’s a ‘Priority 2,’ which means she has life-threatening injuries,” McAdams said.

More from the Detroit News:

One person was transported to a hospital and four others were being evaluated Wednesday after a lithium battery exploded at a battery research lab at the General Motors Technical Center.

"We are aware of an incident this morning about 8:45 a.m. in one of the laboratories at the Alternative Energy Center at the General Motors Technical Center in Warren, Mich.," GM said in a release. "Fire and emergency authorities were called to the scene. The building was evacuated. All employees have been accounted for. We are aware of five employees being evaluated on scene by medical personal and only one employee is being further treated.

The incident is still under investigation by GM and the Warren authorities. Any information or discussion of the nature of the work in the lab or cause of the incident is entirely speculative and cannot be confirmed at this time."

Changing Gears
9:41 am
Wed April 11, 2012

Don't call it a comeback: Ethanol is bigger than ever

The Carbon Green BioEnergy Refinery in Lake Odessa, Michigan.
Photo courtesy of Carbon Green BioEnergy

The ethanol refinery for Carbon Green Bioenergy rises up out of the cornfields outside Lake Odessa Michigan.

The refinery was built in 2006. Mitch Miller, the CEO of the company, says a lot of refineries were popping up then.

“Five years ago, ethanol was a craze,” he says. “It was the next best thing.”

Now, not so much. Refineries aren’t being built. Politicians aren’t stopping by with platoons of reporters.

Seriously, when is the last time you heard anyone talk about ethanol?

Read more

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