Auto

Economy
4:31 pm
Wed October 26, 2011

Governor Snyder wants more investment in Michigan's infrastructure

Governor Snyder said that every dollar invested in Michigan roads and bridges saves six dollars in the future.
user nirbhao Flickr

In a speech today directed toward the Michigan Legislature, Governor Snyder expressed his desire to improve just about every bit of infrastructure in the state.

Roads, bridges, airports, ports, rail, water lines, sewage pipes, and broadband Internet connectivity - it was all on the table, and the Michigan Governor said the state's infrastructure was suffering from a lack of investment.

The Governor said the state's economic recovery is tied to investing in all these bits of infrastructure, and that there is "no time to waste."

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Ford profits slightly lower
10:20 am
Wed October 26, 2011

Ford third quarter profits down a bit but still strong

Ford Motor Company

Ford Motor Company reports strong profits for the third quarter.  The company made $1.6 billion, despite a stagnant U.S. economy.   

The company's profit was down a bit from last year, because of a charge related to commodities, not because sales have slowed. 

Ford also reduced its debt by another $1.3 billion.

CEO Alan Mulally says the improved balance sheet -- and the new contract with the United Auto Workers -- will result in job growth over the next three to four years.

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Auto/Economy
12:03 am
Wed October 26, 2011

Unlikely West Michigan foes debate bridge in Detroit

State Representative Dave Agema (R-Grandville) and staff from the Grand Rapids Area Chamber talk to residents after the forum.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

Supporters and opponents of the new international bridge from Detroit to Windsor, Ontario, are still debating the merits of the proposal nearly a week after the bridge plan failed to get enough support in the state legislature.

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Ford falls in reliability, Chrysler rises
5:22 pm
Tue October 25, 2011

Ford Motor Company falls, Chrysler rises in reliability survey

Ford Motor Company fell from grace in a Consumer Reports survey this year.

The survey predicts reliability of new models, based on past performance of older versions of the cars.

Ford dropped from 10th place to 20th.

David Champion is with Consumer Reports. 

He says the MyFordTouch and MyLincoln Touch in-car communications systems work poorly.

And a new transmission in the Ford Focus and Fusion doesn’t work well, especially at parking lot speeds.

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housing
1:22 pm
Tue October 25, 2011

Landlords will face tougher regulations in Grand Rapids

There are about 4,000 vacant homes in the city of Grand Rapids. In February, Grand Rapids Schools had to cancel classes for several days after a major snow storm because of unplowed sidewalks. Under new rules, owners will need to register vacant homes.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

City Commissioners voted today in favor of controversial changes to the housing code.

“In light of the foreclosure crisis and the 70-percent increase in the number of single family rentals in the city, we recognize that we’ve got to do something to protect our housing,” Grand Rapids City Commissioner Ruth Kelly said prior to the vote, “It’s our family infrastructure; it’s what we live in.”

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Chrysler UAW voting ends soon
9:28 am
Tue October 25, 2011

Chrysler UAW voting on contract ends soon, could be close

The United Auto Workers is expected to announce the results of voting on a tentative contract with Chrysler by Wednesday.

Chrysler is the last of the Detroit Three to reach a settlement on a new, four-year contract.

Kristin Dziczek is with the Center for Automotive Research.

She said so far, the vote looks very close.  Union members with Chrysler may have been expecting more than they got, she said.

This is coming on the heels of two very strong agreements with General Motors and with Ford that had more cash and fewer contingencies.

Entry-level workers, who receive about 1$14 an hour now, would get a raise of about $4 an hour, phased in over the four years of the contract.

Workers would get an immediate signing bonus of $1,750.00, with the promise of another $1,750.00 dollars if Chrysler meets certain financial goals.

If the contract is rejected, it goes to binding arbitration, because of an agreement the union made with Chrysler during the company’s bankruptcy.

Auto/Economy
2:01 pm
Mon October 24, 2011

Senator Stabenow wants to expand tax break for bio-manufacturers

Senator Debbie Stabenow stopped at Zeeland Farm Services to announce her push for the tax break Monday. ZFS would get the incentive for their investments in bio-based manufacturing.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow is hoping to provide a 30-percent federal tax cut to companies expanding in bio-based manufacturing.

Congress approved the tax cut for advanced manufacturers in 2009. Stabenow wants to renew that tax break and expand it for companies developing bio-based products. Bio-manufacturing covers dozens of products. The idea is to use crops like soybeans and corn to create prescriptions drugs, plastics, and soaps instead of refined crude oil.

“If we can get to 20-percent,” Stabenow said, “This will make a huge difference.”

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Changing Gears
3:43 pm
Fri October 21, 2011

Recap: Everything you need to know about the Midwest economy's magic bullets

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?

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Auto/Economy
2:00 pm
Fri October 21, 2011

General Motors to invest $325 million at Warren transmission plant

General Motors officials said they will "create or retain" 418 jobs with a $325 million investment at a suburban Detroit transmission plant. The company says it will invest "in tools and equipment to support production of future electric vehicle components."

So which is it? Are they creating or retaining the jobs?

According this report in Crain's Detroit Business, 360 jobs will be created at the plant in Warren, Michigan as a result of the new UAW contract:

The company would not say how many of the 418 jobs will be new positions. But a summary of GM’s new four-year contract with the UAW said 360 jobs will be added at the plant for a new transmission that originally was to have been built in Mexico. The union said that the jobs were brought to the U.S. as part of the new contract.

At this point, GM is not revealing the timing for the project.

According to GM, 679 current employees at  the plant in Warren make transmissions for the Chevrolet Traverse, Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia, and the Chevrolet Malibu sedan.

From a GM press release:

“This investment in the future recognizes the excellent work force and operation of this plant,” said GM Manufacturing Manager Gerald Johnson. “While we aren’t sharing many details about this product, I can tell you that this investment demonstrates how GM, working with our UAW partners, continues to innovate and bring new electrification solutions to our customers.”

The 2.1 million square-foot plant, equivalent to the area of 15 city blocks, produced more than 338,000 transmissions in 2010.

“We are very proud of the membership of UAW Local 909 whose hard work and dedication to building quality products is why this new electric drive unit module is being built in the United States,” said Joe Ashton, UAW vice president representing the GM Department.  “These good paying, middle class jobs are very important for the State of Michigan and the Metro Detroit area.  It is the UAW’s goal to increase employment at GM and show the world that we can compete with anyone.”

Auto/Economy
1:16 pm
Fri October 21, 2011

Ford's credit rating gets an upgrade

 NEW YORK (AP) - Standard & Poor's is raising Ford Motor Co.'s credit rating two notches, saying a new contract with auto workers will allow for continued profits at the car maker's North American operations.

S&P said Friday it was upgrading Ford to "BB+" - one level below investment-grade - from "BB-."

Ford shares are up 45 cents, or 3.9 percent, to $12.15 in late-morning trading.

Auto/Economy
9:53 am
Fri October 21, 2011

Keeping An Eye On Chrysler

There was a fair amount of anxiety in automotive circles over the new contracts hammered out between the United Auto Workers union and Ford and General Motors. GM remains the largest Detroit automaker, and this was the first post-bankruptcy contract.

The pact didn’t give workers as much as some had hoped for, and it did nothing to eliminate the new two-tier wage system that many old-time union members especially hate.

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Economy
10:56 am
Thu October 20, 2011

More powerful fireworks to be sold in Michigan?

Moving beyond sparklers. Under a bill passed by the Michigan House, consumers could buy more powerful fireworks in the state.
user adam j.w.c. wikimedia commons

Next July 4th, you might find more than just your garden variety sparklers and smoke snakes at Michigan fireworks stands.

The Michigan Fireworks Safety Act passed the Michigan House yesterday and moves onto the Michigan Senate.

The law will allow people to buy fireworks in a category "that includes aerial devices and other more spectacular devices" without a permit, according to a legislative analysis.

More from the Associated Press:

The legislation could change the summer routine for state residents who now drive into border states to buy fireworks that aren't legal in Michigan. Some types of bottle rockets and Roman candles are among the fireworks that would become legal if the measure becomes law.

"We've come up with a reasonable solution to prevent our residents from going to Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin and purchasing these consumer-grade fireworks," said Rep. Harold Haugh, a Democrat from Roseville and the bill's sponsor.

The state could bring in around $5.5 million annually in sales taxes and fees, according to the legislative analysis of the bill. The potential revenue numbers were derived from similar legislation passed in Indiana in 2006.

Ford union contract approved, Chrysler next
10:19 am
Thu October 20, 2011

With Ford contract ratified, UAW turns to Chrysler

Staff Chrysler Media

Chrysler union workers vote this week on a tentative new contract. 

Ford workers approved their contract on Wednesday, 63-percent in favor to 37-percent against. 

But the contract was narrowly rejected at the Michigan Assembly plant in Wayne.  Bob King is President of the union. 

"I don’t feel bad or in any way negative towards those workers because they voted against it," says King.  "I think they expressed honest, legitimate concerns.   I have the same concerns.   I don’t like a system where people on the same assembly line are making a different rate of pay."

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Auto/Economy
11:28 am
Wed October 19, 2011

UAW membership approves 4-year contract with Ford

A majority of the 41,000 UAW workers at Ford have ratified a four-year contract with the company.

From the Detroit Free Press

The UAW said 63% of production workers voted in favor of the agreement and 65% of skilled-trades workers voted in favor of the deal.

“I am pleased with the strong support for this agreement from UAW Ford members,” UAW Vice President Jimmy Settles said in a statement today. “I believe UAW Ford workers understood the importance of each and every vote.”

The contract needed to pass by a simple majority.

Ratification of the agreement leaves Chrysler as the only member of the Detroit Three without a contract. Chrysler workers began voting Tuesday on a tentative agreement while General Motors workers ratified a deal on Sept. 28.

Ford Motor Company officials say the new agreement will add jobs and improve the company's competitiveness in the U.S.

From a Ford press release:

Ford is adding 12,000 hourly jobs in its U.S. manufacturing facilities through the four-year term of the contract, including in-sourcing work from Mexico, China and Japan. The company also is investing $16 billion in its U.S. product development and manufacturing operations – including $6.2 billion in plant-specific investments – by 2015. 

“This agreement is proof that, by working together with our UAW partners and local communities, we can significantly create new jobs, invest in our plants and people, and make a very positive impact on the U.S. economy,” said Mark Fields, Ford Motor Company’s president of The Americas. “Our agreement is fair to our employees and it improves our competitiveness in the U.S."

Company officials say new production shifts will be added at Auto Alliance International in Flat Rock, Michigan, and at the Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne.

Economy
6:41 am
Wed October 19, 2011

Survey: Local governments get brief revenue breather, but struggles continue

jdurham Morguefile

Tough times are likely to continue for most of the state’s local governments.

The Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan asked about the financial condition of the state’s cities, townships,  villages and counties.

“For most jurisdictions in the state of Michigan, things are bad and continuing to get worse," says Tom Ivacko, a Ford School spokesman.

Ivacko says some places are doing better because of a slowdown in property tax declines. He says that could be attributed to fewer foreclosures in the wake of widespread processing fraud.

He says communities are still struggling with state-aid cuts and increasing infrastructure needs.

The Michigan Public Policy Survey also finds local governments are trying to cope with the loss of revenue by collaborating with other governments.

Some tap into their general fund and "rainy-day" balances to offset the drop in revenue.

The survey found many employees are paying more for their health care coverage, that local governments are decreasing staffing, and in some cases the number of services they provide.

Some local governments are charging more for fees, licenses and permits.

Auto/Economy
6:02 pm
Tue October 18, 2011

Europe’s largest online hotel reservation company expanding in West Michigan

Booking.com is a subsidiary of Priceline.com. The company put its first North American call center in the Grand Rapids suburb of Wyoming because there are a lot of tech-savvy young people who are fluent in many European languages.

“It’s important because at different times of the day and on weekends or holidays in other countries, they’re switching those calls here,” said Sue Jackson, Vice President of Business Development at The Right Place. The economic-development group helped attract the company in 2008 and secured the latest expansion.

“We’re thrilled, obviously,” Jackson said about the 562 fulltime jobs the company is expected to create over the next 3 years. “That’s a lot of jobs for us.”

There are already more than 400 workers at the Wyoming facility. They provide technical support solving problems for travelers trying to book hotels online overseas.

“It is a credit to the multi-lingual skills and work ethic of West Michigan’s workforce that priceline is increasing its investment in our region,” said Jackson.

Transportation
1:22 pm
Tue October 18, 2011

Details of the $46.7 million in federal transit money coming to Michigan

Detroit's Department of Transportation will get $6 million to replace buses.
Matt Picio Flickr

We reported last week about the federal money coming to the state, and Sarah Hulett reported on more details released yesterday.

In case you missed it, here's how the $46.7 million from Federal Transit Administration’s Alternatives Analysis, Bus Livability, and State of Good Repair grant program is broken up in Michigan:

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Changing Gears
11:28 am
Tue October 18, 2011

Magic bullets in the form of advanced battery manufacturing (Part 2)

General Motors Battery Lab in Warren, Michigan.
John F. Martin General Motors

Three years ago, the advanced battery industry in the United States existed only in the imagination.

Plenty of people believed electric cars would be the next big thing, and they would be powered by lithium ion batteries; the same kind of batteries that are in cell phones and laptops.

But in 2008, almost all of the lithium ion batteries in the world were made in Asia.

Randy Thelan heard that might be about to change.

Batteries come to Michigan

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Economy
2:47 pm
Mon October 17, 2011

Boost in September home sales in Metro Detroit

Metro Detroit saw a boost in the number of home sales and home prices last month.

The Detroit Free Press reports the September increase came from an active summer selling season:

Sales rose 8.2% in September from 4,222 to 4,568 in metro Detroit, according to Farmington Hills-based multiple listing service Realcomp. The data includes sales from Livingston, Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties.

Median prices rose 10% from $68,000 last month to $74,900.

Michigan Radio's Steve Carmody reported earlier this month about positive home sale numbers around the state, but housing analyst Alex Villacorta with Clear Capitol expected a decline this winter.

Changing Gears
12:49 pm
Mon October 17, 2011

Obama, werewolves and silver…er…magic bullets

Curtis Sullivan says silver bullets are for killing werewolves.
Kate Davidson

While we’re on the subject of magic bullets, please indulge this brief sidebar.

Schisms happen.  There was once a tremendous split between the (now) Roman Catholic Church and the (now) Eastern Orthodox Church.  Today there’s also a Great Schism in the bullet world.

Namely, between those who say magic bullet and those who say silver bullet — both parties referring to an economic quick fix.

On one side, you have President Obama, who may be the highest profile proponent of the term silver bullet. While pitching his jobs plan to a recent joint session of Congress he said, “It should not be nor will it be the last plan of action we propose. What’s guided us from the start of this crisis hasn’t been the search for a silver bullet. It’s been a commitment to stay at it, to be persistent, to keep trying every new idea that works.”

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