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Economy
2:52 pm
Fri November 18, 2011

Michigan farmland values rise despite lagging economy

click Morguefile

Michigan’s farmers have an advantage over many other property owners in the state: Their land is rising in value.  

The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago says farmland values in Michigan jumped by 16 percent over the past year.

Jim Hilker is a marketing economist at Michigan State University.

He said corn, wheat and soybean prices are up and that’s boosting farmland prices.

But Hilker also said not a lot of farmland  is trading hands because it stays in families.

"If that land comes up for sale, it may not come up for sale for another 30 years -- another person's career," Hilker said. "So if it's land near you, you overpay for it in one sense. You have other land that can help you pay for it and it's only going to be there one time."

Hilker said farmland with good soil in the Thumb and near Toledo is very marketable right now.

Auto/Economy
12:09 pm
Fri November 18, 2011

Detroit carmaker CEOs watch Italy, Greece, and worry

automotiveauto.info

The heads of two of Detroit’s car companies say they’re concerned about the debt crisis in Europe. 

European consumers are pulling back from buying cars because of fears about the Euro and the economy.   

Fiat and Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne on Wednesday said he’s hopeful the new leadership in Italy will help turn things around in that country.  But he says car sales in Europe could worsen through next year.   

At the Detroit Economic Club Thursday, GM CEO Dan Akerson said the crisis could damage more than car sales.  But he’s hopeful the U.S. economy has become more resilient.

"Could the United States withstand a recession in Europe?" he asked rhetorically.  "I think it could. "

Ford CEO Alan Mulally earlier this month took the most optimistic view, saying he expects some global economic growth next year, despite sovereign debt concerns.

Economy
3:31 pm
Thu November 17, 2011

U-M economic forecast: sluggish job growth

The nation's road to economic recovery will be a marathon, not a sprint. That's according to an economic forecast released today from the University of Michigan's Research Seminar in Quantitative Economics.

The economists write the U.S. economy has been battered by an oil price spike this past spring, the Japanese earthquake, and the European debt crisis.

Despite that, they say the chances of a double-dip recession are lessening:

From the report:

Economic news has improved a bit this fall, lessening the chances of a double dip. Output growth rebounded in the third quarter to register a 2.5 percent pace. Job gains have picked up a notch, averaging 117,000 since midyear. Consumer sentiment has reclaimed part of the ground lost since May. The economy remains vulnerable, however, as the main problems that have plagued this recovery persist.

The Detroit Free Press quoted U-M economist Joan Crary about the slow addition of jobs to the U.S. economy:

On the positive side, the U.S. economy added 700,000 jobs last year and 1.5 million this year, and the U-M economists predicted that the nation will add nearly 4 million jobs over the next two years.

But that will be enough to bring the unemployment rate down only moderately, from its current national rate around 9% to 8.8% in late 2012 and 8.5% in late 2013.

"The unemployment rate begins to creep down but remains uncomfortably high even at the end of 2013— 4½ years after the official end of the recession," Crary said.

In their report, the U-M economists noted the potential impact of a political stalemate in Washington D.C.:

In the current political environment, it also seems unlikely that Congress will pass any new stimulus measures. We have assumed the payroll tax holiday and investment tax incentives will be held over for another year, but neither of those extensions is a sure thing. We may well end up with a fiscal policy that doesn’t address either our short- or long-term problems.

The group is expected to put out a report on Michigan's economy tomorrow.

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Culture of Class
11:49 am
Thu November 17, 2011

Bridging the Gap Between Benton Harbor and St. Joseph

Bridge between Benton Harbor and St. Joseph in southwest Michigan.
Mercedes Mejia/Michigan Radio

We've been talking a lot about class, what it means, and how we define it.

We took a trip to St. Joseph and Benton Harbor. They’re called the Twin Cities, but they're different.

In Benton Harbor forty-three percent of families live below the poverty line.

In St. Joseph it’s six percent.

And, families in St. Joseph earn more than twice as much as their neighbors across the river.

Here's a video produced by Meg Cramer and Mercedes Mejia who spoke to residents on both sides of the river.

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Auto/Economy
12:01 am
Thu November 17, 2011

If you want safest car, choose the hybrid version of it

A highway safety group says people are 25% less likely to be injured in a crash in a hybrid car, than in the non-hybrid version of that car.

Matt Moore is with the Highway Loss Data Institute.  He says it’s possible  people in the hybrid cars might be driving slower, to maximize their gas mileage.

But he thinks the explanation more likely involves simple physics, because the smaller and lighter vehicle in a crash will absorb most of the impact.  

"Hybrids tend to be heavier," says Moore.  "On average, they’re about 10% heavier than their non-hybrid counterparts, and we believe that extra weight gives them an advantage when they’re in crashes."

On the other hand, hybrids are not safer for pedestrians.  Moore says hybrid cars are more likely to be involved in pedestrian accidents than non-hybrid cars.  That’s probably because hybrids that run in electric-only mode are very quiet, and people are more likely to walk out in front of them.

Auto/Economy
5:59 pm
Wed November 16, 2011

Toledo Jeep plant gets big investment as Jeep goes global

2011 Jeep Liberty
Chrysler Group Flickr

Chrysler plans to invest $1.7 billion dollars in a new Jeep program, that will first roll out a replacement for the current Jeep Liberty. 

The new Jeep is intended for a global market.    

The investment includes a $500 million re-tooling of the Jeep Liberty Assembly plant in Toledo. 

The investment means 1,100 new jobs at the Jeep Assembly Plant starting in 2013.  

Fiat and Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne says the new Jeep should help tap growing overseas markets, like China, the world’s largest car market.  He says the Jeep brand is already taking off in Europe.

"I have similar expectations for Jeep especially in the eastern part of Europe – Russia," Marchionne told a group of reporters after a press conference at the plant.   "It  (Jeep) is best brand that Chrysler owns, by far."

The new SUV could still bear the Liberty name.  Marchionne says there could be at least one other "top-hat" built onto the new platform, and eventually, the plant could build up to four different models of Jeeps.  

The new Jeep will combine a Fiat chassis, or underlying platform with a Chrysler design and engine.

Economy
5:48 pm
Wed November 16, 2011

Michigan Supreme Court OKs foreclosure practice that lower court found violated state law

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Consumer advocates are disappointed by a Michigan Supreme Court decision.   

The high court today reversed an appeals court decision which found the mortgage industry violated state law by using a national group to file foreclosure notices in Michigan.  

The lower court found the Mortgage Electronic Registration System, or MERS, didn't have an interest in the mortgage and thus was not allowed to file the foreclosure paperwork.   

Lorray Brown is with the Michigan Poverty Law Program. Brown said the Supreme Court used "tortured" legal analysis to avoid following the strict wording of the law.   

“I think this is a clear case of strict statutory construction and the statute says what it says," said Brown.   

An attorney for the Michigan Bankers Association praised the  court’s decision. Attorney James Breay said it prevents the voiding of thousands of home foreclosures in Michigan.  

This decision will avoid…the possibility of a ruling that could otherwise have created chaos in Michigan’s residential mortgage market," said Breay.    

MERS is facing other legal challenges, including a potential class action suit involving Michigan counties that accuse MERS of not paying taxes on property transfers.

Auto/Economy
5:13 pm
Wed November 16, 2011

Thousands in poverty come to “Project Connect” in Kalamazoo

Kalamazoo resident Vicki Sayman (left) gets her hair cut at Project Connect Wednesday. Sayman is on disability. In addition to the new hairdo, she also got help finding a way to get her dentures and a broken pair of glasses fixed.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

Hundreds of volunteers in neon yellow t-shirts handed out winter coats and hats, helped answer specific questions and enroll people in dozens of assistance programs that already exist.

48-year old George McCree lives in Kalamazoo, but he doesn’t have a permanent job or home right now. He got help finding temporary shelter at the Project Connect event last May. That inspired him to start volunteering at a soup kitchen in town.

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Auto/Economy
4:22 pm
Wed November 16, 2011

Obama calls for 54.5 mpg fuel efficiency by 2025

user a.saliga Flickr

The Obama Administration plans to nearly double the fuel efficiency requirements for light-duty vehicles by 2025. 

The administration says requiring an average of 54.5 mpg will help drivers save money, reduce U.S. dependence on oil and keep the environment cleaner.

Sean McAlinden is chief economist with the nonprofit Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor.

He says the plan calls for too much, too soon and could be bad for the still-recovering auto industry.

"The same government that did so much to save our domestic industry is laying the groundwork for destroying the industry again, destroying its market, by forcing it to build cars that  people can't afford and may not even want."

McAlinden expects the new standards will increase the cost of a vehicle by so much that people will simply keep their old cars longer. He says drivers already keep their cars for an average of 11 years.

He says it would make more sense to aim for around 42 mpg by 2025.

Auto/Economy
2:56 pm
Wed November 16, 2011

Michigan's unemployment rate ticks downward

The Michigan Public Radio Network's Rick Pluta reports, "the combination of a slight increase in jobs and a lot of people who quit looking for work led to Michigan's unemployment to drop by half a percentage point last month to 10.6 percent."

More from the Detroit Free Press:

Michigan’s unemployment rate is moving in the right direction again, dropping half a percentage point during October to 10.6%, the state’s Department of Technology, Management & Budget reported today.

But the state’s labor markets remain far from healthy. The jobless rate decline in October was due mainly to fewer unemployed people actively seeking employment, said Rick Waclawek, director of the Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives. Such “discouraged” workers are no longer counted in the calculation of the unemployment rate.

Auto/Economy
1:30 pm
Tue November 15, 2011

4 projects awarded state tax incentives

Two of the projects, Meijer in Detroit and Grand Rapids Urban Market, will bring more fresh produce into Michigan's two largest cities.
Steve Carmody Michigan Radio

The Michigan Economic Development Corporation approved tax breaks Tuesday in exchange for new investment and jobs.

MEDC spokesman Joseph Serwach says one of the four projects receiving tax breaks includes a much-needed grocery store in the City of Detroit.

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Detroit
11:51 am
Mon November 14, 2011

Fire at the old Packard Plant in Detroit

Some of the remains of the old Packard Motor Car Company in Detroit. Firefighters say they respond to fires at the plant monthly.
Becky Stern Flickr

A fire has been burning since at least 6:45 a.m. this morning in the old Packard Plant in Detroit.

More from the Detroit Free Press:

The fire was still burning at about 11 a.m., one of numerous blazes that firefighters respond to monthly at the plant, he said.

"When they’re over there with 30 (firefighters), that leaves holes in the city," Varnas said. "That’s why we have to stop these fires."

Arson Capt. Patrick McNulty said firefighters are only allowed to spray the blaze from outside the ruins of the old plant.

"There's standing orders not to go in there," McNulty said. "Too dangerous for the firefighters."

Auto/Economy
2:02 pm
Sun November 13, 2011

Once rescued by Fiat, Chrysler is now rescuer of Fiat

Fiat and Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne
user dgtmedia-simone wikimedia commons

While Chrysler is finally making money in the United States this year, financial uncertainty in Italy is hitting car sales there hard.   

Inventories are swelling, and incentives are rising.

Fiat lost $285 million in the third quarter of this year, and the overall economic situation doesn't bode well for the company's fourth quarter.

Meanwhile, Chrysler made a modified operating profit of $483 million in the third quarter.

Michael Robinet is with IHS Automotive. He said the merger of the two companies is working the way it should. 

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Veterans Day
5:17 pm
Fri November 11, 2011

The "unfinished business" of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan

Master Sergeant Orlando Garcia featured in a story by Britain's Channel 4 News on PTSD in the U.S. Army.
Britain's Channel 4 News screenshot

Earlier today I posted the stories of two young veterans who had served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Multiple tours overseas is common in today's military. Re-enlistments helped keep these wars supplied with soldiers over the last ten years.

The problem, as Bernard Rostker of the Rand Corporation put it, "the more you go the more you’re exposed, the more likely you will eventually have some adverse psychological reactions."

Rostker is a former Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, and a former senior policy advisor on recruitment for the Secretary of Defense.

He said the propensity to develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is cumulative. And with soldiers serving multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, they're more at risk than a soldier serving a single tour.

PTSD can show up much later in life.

"This is going to be a huge concern for the military," said Rostker.

"Rand did a study, it was a random telephone interview of large numbers of vets using screening techniques for PTSD, and came to the conclusion that there was a huge number of unreported cases. It was controversial with the Department of Defense who looked at the number of people being treated versus those identified with PTSD and noticed lots were going untreated," said Rostker.

In 2010, Britain's Channel 4 News did an excellent piece on the challenges facing today's military.

You can view it here:

 

Bernard Rostker said the military has come a long way in its understanding of the psychological effects of war.

"We’re much more aware of it today, but it’s still the unfinished business of this war," said Rostker.

Auto/Economy
10:51 am
Thu November 10, 2011

Chinese counterfeit electronics found in U.S. missiles

Ashley Dace Geograph

Michigan Senator Carl Levin says the United States needs to crack down on counterfeit electronic parts coming from China.

Levin says thousands of fake parts have been discovered in the U.S. military’s supply stream.  Some missiles even had to be stripped apart to remove counterfeit parts from China.

He says it’s dangerous – and China won’t do anything to stop it.

Levin has proposed an amendment to require inspections of parts coming from China.

He says it’s not part of a China-bashing campaign. 

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Economy
1:01 am
Thu November 10, 2011

New home foreclosure filings jump in October in Michigan

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

New data out this morning suggests Michigan might be feeling the start of a new wave of home foreclosures. 

It’s not like Michigan’s home foreclosure rate wasn’t already a problem. But in October, Michigan recorded a 13 percent increase in the number of new default notices. 

Daren Bloomquist is with RealtyTrac. He says it’s a nationwide trend.   

The lenders are definitely ramping back up and filing more foreclosures that maybe were delayed over the last few months," Bloomquist says.  

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Auto/Economy
3:22 pm
Wed November 9, 2011

Michigan solar company suspends production, plans job cuts

Solar panels in Michigan
Ford Motor Company Flickr

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) - Solar energy product maker Energy Conversion Devices Inc. says it has temporarily suspended manufacturing and is planning about 500 job cuts.

The Auburn Hills-based company announced Tuesday that manufacturing has been halted because of excess inventory. The company says about 400 workers will be furloughed at its manufacturing facilities in Michigan, Mexico and Ontario, Canada.

The production cuts include United Solar Ovonic facilities in Greenville, where more than 140 layoffs recently were announced. Other Michigan manufacturing facilities are in Auburn Hills.

The company said that to help cut costs about 500 full-time job cuts were expected by the end of the year.

Energy Conversion Devices has been restructuring its operations since May. It said it expects to return to normal production levels within 60 days.

Auto/Economy
2:01 pm
Wed November 9, 2011

Toyota recalls half-million vehicles worldwide

The 2004 Toyota Avalon is one of several models affected by a possible problem with the crankshaft pulley, effecting steering.
user lateplate Flickr

Toyota announced a voluntary recall today of roughly 550,000 vehicles worldwide in response to a possible issue with  a crankshaft pulley that could effect steering. The majority of the recalled vehicles are in the United States.

The Associated Press reports:

Toyota's U.S. sales unit said in a statement Wednesday that if the problem isn't corrected, there is a possibility the belt for the power steering pump may become detached from the pulley.

The recall affects 283,200 Toyota brand cars and 137,000 Lexus vehicles in the United States, including the 2004 and 2005 Camry, Highlander and Sienna.

Toyota spokesman Dion Corbett said some 38,000 cars are being recalled in Japan, as well as 25,000 in Australia and New Zealand. Corbett said there have been no reports of accidents or injuries related to the problems.

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Changing Gears
12:29 pm
Wed November 9, 2011

Empty Series: In Detroit, it's not squatting … it's blotting (Part 2)

Paula Besheers and her son Paul Browne tried in vain to buy the empty lot right next door.
Kate Davidson Changing Gears

We’re looking at the challenges of the region’s empty places this month.

For many people, the most threatening emptiness isn’t a shuttered factory.  It’s the abandoned property next door.  But in Detroit, some residents are using that emptiness to quietly reshape their neighborhoods.

They’re annexing vacant lots around them, buying them when they can or just putting up a fence.

They’re not squatters … they’re blotters.

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Auto/Economy
10:07 am
Wed November 9, 2011

GM's Akerson says solid 3rd quarter "not good enough"

General Motors CEO Dan Akerson

General Motors made $1.7 billion in the third quarter of this year.

That's down from $2 billion in the same period of 2010.

Financial turmoil in Europe contributed to GM's continued losses in Europe, although GM did cut those losses in half compared to last year, to $300 million.

GM is also not doing particularly well in South America.  The company broke even in that region.  GM officials say that's due to increased competition in the region and an aging lineup there.

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