Auto

Economy
3:53 pm
Fri September 9, 2011

Red Cross strike suspended, blood drives to resume this weekend

American Red Cross workers walking a picket line earlier this week in Lansing
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

 A strike by American Red Cross blood workers in Michigan has been suspended after two days.   More than 200 American Red Cross workers started walking picket lines Wednesday.    The unions representing the Red Cross workers called the strike, after working for more than 2 years without a contract.   

The strike affected blood donations in 65 Michigan counties.  The strike did not include 8 counties in southeast Michigan.  

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More older, fewer younger drivers
1:34 pm
Thu September 8, 2011

Older drivers on road increase as younger drivers decrease

A new study by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute indicates that older drivers are hanging onto their licenses for a longer period of time - while the number of young people with drivers' licenses is falling.

Both trends have safety implications.

Eighty percent of 18-year-olds had a driver's license in 1983.  That number had fallen to 65 percent by 2008.

Younger drivers tend to have more accidents.  So fewer of them who drive could make the nation's roads safer.

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Class
5:03 pm
Wed September 7, 2011

Report: A third of middle class Americans slip down economic ladder

Measures of the downwardly mobile from the Pew Charitable Trusts.
Pew Charitable Trusts

The report "Downward Mobility from the Middle Class: Waking Up from the American Dream" shows a third of children raised under middle class conditions fell out of the middle class as adults.

The report comes from the Pew Charitable Trusts. In the introduction, researchers cite a popular definition of the American Dream - your children are financially better off than you.

For varying reasons, the dream didn't work out for one third of the people they looked at.

The report used data from the 1979 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. 12,686 young men and women who were 14-22 years old were part of that survey.

The reports authors define middle class as being "those falling between the 30th and 70th percentiles of the family-size-adjusted income distribution." Or a family with two adults and two kids making between $32,900 to $64,000 (in 2010 dollars).

Author Gregory Acs writes that while the chances of falling out of the middle class reflects what one might expect mathematically, "not all middle-class children are equally likely to fall."

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Auto/Economy
12:10 pm
Wed September 7, 2011

Saab Automobile files for bankruptcy

A Saab 9-3 SportCombi II. The company stopped production last April.
user S 400 HYBRID wikimedia commons

Saab Automobile AB filed for bankruptcy protection Wednesday.

Saab used to be owned by General Motors. GM sold the company to Spyker Cars in January of 2010.

From the Associated Press:

The owner of cash-strapped car maker Saab filed for bankruptcy protection on Wednesday in a last-ditch attempt to salvage a brand crippled by production stoppages, withheld salary payments and mounting debt.

Swedish Automobile, formerly known as Spyker Cars, said the move would buy it time to receive funding from Chinese investors, currently awaiting regulatory approval, and avoid bankruptcy.

The Wall Street Journal reports this is an attempt at reorganization, similar to Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the U.S.:

Saab Automobile has struggled with its finances for months. Production at its plant in the Swedish town of Trollhattan has been halted since April.

In a bid to solve its long-term funding needs, the car maker this summer signed agreements with two Chinese companies. But Saab will receive no money until regulators in China and Sweden approve the deal, so the company is still strapped for cash.

Changing Gears
9:31 am
Wed September 7, 2011

The "Google of manufacturing?" One company shows a possible future

Matt Hlavin stands in front of a rapid prototyping and manufacturing machine. These can produce small batches of plastic products quickly and cheaply. This is the future, he says.
Dan Bobkoff Changing Gears

Depending on who you ask, American manufacturing is either the way out of our bad economy, or it’s dead.

Whatever you think, there’s no denying that manufacturing has changed.

That’s the story of Thogus Products in Avon Lake, Ohio.

This manufacturer has changed so much, its President calls it a 61 year-old startup company.

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Agriculture
11:02 pm
Tue September 6, 2011

Michigan apple growers expecting a great crop this year

Apples from an orchard in Ottawa County.
dailyinvention creative commons

Not only will there be way more Michigan apples this year, they’ll probably be bigger and better looking too.

According to estimates from the United States Department of Agriculture, Michigan apple growers are likely to produce 26.1 million bushels this season. The 5 year average is 19.5 million bushels. Only Washington and New York state grow more.

Denise Donohue is the Executive Director of the Michigan Apple Committee.

“This is the 5th year on the rollercoaster for Michigan. It’s been an up and down thing for the last three years in particular.”

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Changing Gears
3:20 pm
Tue September 6, 2011

The future of manufacturing, all this month, from Changing Gears

Wisconsin Historical Society

What’s different about our factories? How are things changing in the Midwest, from the way people are trained to what’s being produced?

This month, Changing Gears’ regular Wednesday reports will be devoted to the future of manufacturing.

The days are long gone when all you had to do to get a factory job was know someone. These are not the same places your dad or mom or grandfather worked in. And the expectations of what employers need from you have changed, as well.

We’ll kick the series off tomorrow with a report from Dan Bobkoff. Meanwhile, we’d like to pick your brain.

What kind of factories do you think we’ll be seeing in the Midwest? Which industry will be next to catch hold here?

We’re looking forward to exploring our manufacturing future with you.

Economy
2:21 pm
Tue September 6, 2011

Flint to consider consolidation as a way to save money

Flint City Council is considering joining a consolidation initiative known as Future Genesee.
Steve Carmody Michigan Radio

This Wednesday, Flint City Council will consider whether consolidation could be in the city's future.

The Flint Journal reports that a council committee will take up a resolution this Wednesday, with a final decision from council coming next Monday:

Government consolidation in Michigan has been a hot topic since Gov. Rick Snyder told local communities that they would lose out on additional state aid unless they showed a commitment to share services with others to save taxpayer dollars.

Snyder set a Jan. 1 deadline for governments to submit consolidation plans if they want to receive a share of a $200-million pool of funds.

Several local communities, including Burton, Clio, Davison and Davison Township, have already joined the initiative.

The consolidation initiative is known as Future Genesee  and the Journal reports it includes the communities of Burton, Clio, Davison and Davison Township.

Economy
6:00 am
Tue September 6, 2011

Cash incentives have "absorbed" a lot of housing stock in midtown Detroit

Detroit skyline
user Bernt Rostad Flickr

Three Detroit businesses earlier this year began to offer up to $25,000 to encourage their employees to buy a place to live in Midtown Detroit. But the "Live Midtown" incentives have created a new kind of housing crisis in the city: a housing shortage. 

Austin Black is a realtor with City Living Detroit in midtown. He says in 2007 - 2008, the area was flush with unsold units. But he says now many of his clients have become frustrated looking for housing in the area.

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Economy
4:13 pm
Mon September 5, 2011

Potential strike looming over American Red Cross blood drives this week

The sign at the American Red Cross office on Saginaw St. in Lansing
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

 The American Red Cross may be hit by a strike this week by some of its unionized employees.   The picket signs are stacked up and ready to go at the union hall in south Lansing.  

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Commentary
10:30 am
Mon September 5, 2011

Labor Day

I hope you are out on a boat listening to this. Or getting ready for a barbecue, or working in the garden, or doing something you feel like doing. Depending on the weather, I may be playing soccer with my Australian Shepherd right now.

He, by the way, will win easily. But while I hope you are relaxing, I hope even more that you have a job to go back to tomorrow. Far too many people don’t.

True, the unemployment rate is down from last year, but it is still over ten percent in Michigan, which is far too high. And there’s something that worries me more than the numbers.

And that’s the number of adults in the prime of life who have been unemployed for a long time -- six months or more. That’s the most on record, according to the Michigan League for Human Services, and they should know. They’ve been trying to help folks in difficult circumstances for almost a century.

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Economy
4:01 pm
Sat September 3, 2011

President Obama's economic plans could affect Michigan home builder

President Barack Obama
(Official White House photo)

 The nation’s home builders are one group expected to closely watch President Obama’s economic address to Congress this week.  Pulte Homes of Bloomfield Hills is the nation’s largest home builder.   

Pulte, like its competitors, has seen its sales plummet as the housing market crashed in recent years.    And past government efforts to prop up the housing market with tax breaks have failed to spur new home construction.      

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Transportation
3:06 pm
Fri September 2, 2011

10 slow Amtrak trains in Michigan

Most of the track that Amtrak trains run on in Michigan are owned by freight companies.
Amtrak

There are three Amtrak routes with trains that travel to and from cities in Michigan to Chicago.

If you ride on any of them, chances are your train will be late.

The route with the best on-time rate in the last year were the trains traveling on the "Blue Water" route between Port Huron and Chicago. On average, you'll be on-time 50 percent of the time on these trains.

The "Pere Marquette" route with trains traveling between Grand Rapids and Chicago comes in second. On average, those trains run on-time 48 percent of the time.

The most popular route is the worst.

The "Wolverine" route, which has trains running between Pontiac/Detroit to Chicago, had an average on-time rate of just 14 percent.

Amtrak provides a detailed breakdown of each train's on-time performance along with reasons for delays on their website.

Here's a breakdown of the on-time percentages for Amtrak trains in Michigan from best-to-worst:

  1. Blue Water #364 - 73.8% (Chicago to Port Huron)
  2. Pere Marquette #370 - 54.2% (Chicago to Grand Rapids)
  3. Pere Marquette #371 - 41.7% (Grand Rapids to Chicago)
  4. Blue Water #365 - 25.5% (Port Huron to Chicago)
  5. Wolverine #350 - 19.8% (Chicago to Detroit/Pontiac)
  6. Wolverine #355 - 18.7% (Detroit/Pontiac to Chicago)
  7. Wolverine #353 - 17.6% (Detroit to Chicago/Pontiac)
  8. Wolverine #351 - 11.4% (Detroit/Pontiac to Chicago)
  9. Wolverine #354 - 9.5% (Chicago to Detroit/Pontiac)
  10. Wolverine #352 - 4.4% (Chicago to Detroit/Pontiac)
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August car sales
11:25 am
Fri September 2, 2011

August auto sales weather bad economic news

U.S. auto sales were a bright spot in a sea of bad economic news in August.  Most companies reported increases from the same month a year ago. 

Consumer sentiment in August fell to its lowest level since November 2007, stock markets dove, and fears of a double-dip recession increased. 

Those conditions usually flatten U.S. vehicle sales.

Yet car sales rode the storm, with sales at Chrysler  up 30%, GM,  up 18% and Ford,  up 11%. 

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Auto/Economy
7:00 pm
Thu September 1, 2011

New Black Chamber of Commerce forms in Grand Rapids

New chambers of commerce are starting to form in cities across Michigan to support African-American business leaders. The Michigan Black Chamber of Commerce is working to charter local black chambers in several cities. The group wants to empower African-American business leaders to overcome unique challenges, like historically bad access to capital.

Leaders of the newly-formed Grand Rapids Black Chamber of Commerce are hoping to empower African-American business owners.

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Insurance
3:32 pm
Wed August 31, 2011

10 reactions to our story on eliminating no-fault auto insurance

The Michigan legislature will debate about changes to the state's no-fault insurance laws. Commentators shared their thoughts about the potential changes.
user H.L.I.T. Flickr

We received a lot of reaction from people about our story on the potential consequences of eliminating the mandatory personal injury protection (PIP) part of Michigan's no-fault auto insurance.

This seemingly bureaucratic story about potential changes to Michigan's insurance laws has a lot of devastating human stories behind it.

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Crime
2:10 pm
Wed August 31, 2011

"Operation Hot Wheels" uncovers vehicle theft ring

Arrests have been made in Detroit and San Diego after a vehicle theft ring was uncovered.

From the Associated Press:

More than a dozen people have been arrested in the theft and transporting of luxury rental cars and sport utility vehicles from the United States to Canada for shipment and sale in the Middle East.

The U.S. attorney's office in Detroit says nine people were arrested in Michigan and four others in San Diego following a two-year investigation dubbed "Operation Hot Wheels."

An indictment unsealed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Detroit says members of an organization rented vehicles from national chains in Michigan and Ohio and drove them into Canada.

Police reports later were filed claiming the vehicles were carjacked or stolen in Detroit.

Five vehicles were found in containers at a Montreal port awaiting shipment to Iraq.

One man still was being sought by authorities.

Auto/Economy
3:03 pm
Tue August 30, 2011

Preserving auto workers' stories

Ora Calhoun started in the painting booth when she hired in at the Fisher Body plant in 1978, according to her oral history. Her story has been cataloged by MSU.
MSU

The United Auto Workers and Michigan State University collected oral histories from about 125 workers, managers, and others connected to the Fisher Body plant in Lansing.

The plant closed in 2005 after more than 70 years of production. Fisher Body in Lansing was one of the longest operating auto factories in the U.S., according to a Lansing Car Assembly Facebook page.

An MSU labor relations professor, John Beck, headed up the project.

Beck said the oral history recordings "gave a lot of people a voice that they would not have had otherwise."

From an MSU press release:

The plant’s closing in 2005 threatened to effectively bury the workers’ experiences. But through the MSU/UAW partnership, these stories – which run the gamut from first and last days on the job, to tales of racism and sexism, to statements of pride and teamwork – are now part of a digital catalogue at MSU’s G. Robert Vincent Voice Library. The catalogue is called the Lansing Auto Town Gallery.

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Housing
1:00 pm
Tue August 30, 2011

Home prices up slightly nationally, but still down in Detroit

A graph showing the annual percent change in home prices from 1998 through the middle of 2011. See the bubble bursting?
S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices

Data released today by the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices show that through June, home prices nationally were back to their early 2003 levels.

But home prices in Detroit were at pre-2000 levels. The Detroit market was down 6.6 percent when compared to the previous year.

That put's Detroit in a bad category along with some "sunbelt" cities, according to S&P/Case-Shiller:

At the other extreme, those which set new lows in 2011 include the four Sunbelt cities – Las Vegas, Miami, Phoenix and Tampa – as well as the weakest of all, Detroit. These shifts suggest that we are back to regional housing markets, rather than a national housing market where everything rose and fell together.

The Detroit Free Press quoted a statement from Patrick Newport, a U.S. economist with IHS Global Insight:

"Detroit, where prices have dropped nearly 50% since peaking in late 2005, remains, by far, the weakest market,” he said. “Detroit avoided a big run-up in housing prices during the boom years, but was hit hard by the recession."

Auto/Economy
5:00 pm
Mon August 29, 2011

New York Times: "Does America need manufacturing?"

As part of GM's bankruptcy, the GM Wyoming Stamping Plant was closed in June of 2009. Auctioneers sold of the contents of the plant.
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?

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