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Economy
5:01 am
Thu September 15, 2011

Big jump in home foreclosure filings in Michigan last month

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

 August saw a big leap in the number of new home foreclosure filings in Michigan.   

2011 was expected to be a record year for home foreclosures in Michigan, but it didn’t happen.  Foreclosure filings slowed at the beginning of the year, as banks scrambled to fix paperwork problems and respond to new government regulations.  But it appears now the tide is turning.  

New home foreclosure filings jumped 36 percent from July to August in Michigan.  

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Economy
4:15 pm
Wed September 14, 2011

Early season frost threatens Michigan crops

Corn growing along US 127 south of Mason
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

 An early season cold snap is threatening to seriously damage Michigan’s corn crop.   Temperatures are expected to slide into the 30’s tonight and into the weekend.  

This year did not start well for Michigan farmers.   A cold, wet Spring delayed planting for nearly two months.   Now, an early season frost could damage corn, soybean and other crops just a few weeks from harvest. 

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Auto/Economy
12:06 pm
Wed September 14, 2011

Lights-Out Machining: You Go Home, the Machines Keep Working

John Hill runs Midwest Mold. When his operators go home, some machines keep working.

Imagine going home out at night while your computer keeps doing your job. That’s the basic idea behind a trend in manufacturing called “lights-out machining.” You punch out. The machines keep working. It’s a way to make a lot more product with a lot fewer people … and fewer jobs. Here’s the story of two Michigan companies that are trying to boost productivity and stay competitive by turning out the lights and going home.

First, a little perspective. Man’s love/hate relationship with automation has been around a long time. Take the 1936 classic Modern Times.

Charlie Chaplin is in a frenzy. He’s tightening bolts on the factory line. The boss straps him into a person-feeding machine, so his hands can keep working while his mouth eats lunch. It’s a nightmare of productivity, where men are captive to machines. But manufacturers today have a different vision.

“At the end of the shift, my operators go home. Their machines continue running in the building with nobody in it,” says John Hill.

Hill owns a small business called Midwest Mold Services. The company designs and builds metal molds for plastic parts. These parts wind up in cars, medical devices, and even as the emblem on the back of a Cadillac. Hill says in the old days, shaping these metal molds was a job for one machine and one operator.

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Economy
6:56 am
Wed September 14, 2011

Homeless advocate worries about state welfare cuts

Michigan’s homeless shelters may be the next step for people losing their state welfare benefits next month.    And that worries an advocate for Michigan’s homeless.   More than 12 thousand families will be kicked out of Michigan’s welfare programs when the new 48 month limit on state cash assistance benefits takes effect October 1st. 

Eric Hufnagel expects most will be sustained by family and local charities.   But the executive director of the Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness fears some will turn to local homeless shelters.  Hufnagel says local shelters are preparing for an influx of new clients, but decreasing government aid for shelters means it will be difficult.  

“We may not have the services that we need for some of those folks who are limited and no longer are receiving cash assistance.”   

Hufnagel expects only a small number of people losing their welfare benefits will turn to shelters initially.   But he says that tide will rise as religious groups and other charities find they cannot meet the need.

Economy
12:39 pm
Tue September 13, 2011

Census data show increased poverty rate in Michigan

46.2 million people in the U.S. are in poverty. Light green bars show recessions.
U.S. Census Bureau

The U.S. Census Bureau released more data today cataloging the nation's median household income, poverty rate, and the percentage of people without health insurance coverage.

Census officials say this data represents the first full calendar year after the December 2007-June 2009 recession.

For health insurance coverage, the differences between 2009 and 2010 were not significant. It's estimated that 16.3 percent of the population is without coverage - about 49.9 million people.

Real median household income in the U.S. in 2010 was $49,445, - a 2.3 percent decline from the 2009 median.

Not surprisingly, the nation's poverty rate was up. "Poverty" is defined by the number of people in a household vs. their income. For example, a family of four that includes two children is considered in "poverty" if  their income is below $22,113.

From the U.S. Census Bureau:

The nation's official poverty rate in 2010 was 15.1 percent, up from 14.3 percent in 2009 ─ the third consecutive annual increase in the poverty rate. There were 46.2 million people in poverty in 2010, up from 43.6 million in 2009 ─ the fourth consecutive annual increase and the largest number in the 52 years for which poverty estimates have been published (emphasis added).

This information covers the first full calendar year after the December 2007-June 2009 recession. See section on the historical impact of recessions.

The Detroit News broke down what the numbers mean here in Michigan. They point out that more numbers will be out next week, which could drive the numbers higher:

For Michigan, the numbers hint at a substantial rise in poverty. In 2010, the survey showed 15.5 percent of Michigan residents in poverty, up from 14 percent in 2009. Compared to all states, Michigan's poverty rate is 20th, same as last year.

However, the poverty numbers released Tuesday are from the annual Current Population Survey (CPS) of 100,000 households in the country. Although state-level poverty numbers are being released, more accurate statistics at the state level will come out next week with the release of the 2010 American Community Survey (ACS), which surveys 3 million nationwide. Last year, the CPS indicated that 14 percent of Michigan residents were living in poverty; the ACS revealed that far more, 16.5 percent, were.

Over the last five years, Michigan's poverty numbers from the ACS have trended higher than the CPS.

Contract talks may be extended
12:10 am
Tue September 13, 2011

UAW contract talks to be extended at Ford Motor Company

The deadline for Detroit automakers and the United Auto Workers’ union is fast approaching. 

But contract talks could be extended past the deadline of this Wednesday – especially at Ford. 

Ford is the only company that faces the possibility of a strike this time, because of agreements made during GM and Chrysler’s bankruptcies.

UAW President Bob King says a strike is not the goal.

But some union dissidents think a strike could happen.

Gary Walkowicz  is a bargaining committeeman at UAW Local 600 in Dearborn.

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Economy
2:07 pm
Mon September 12, 2011

Quicken Loans plans to hire 500 new workers

DETROIT (AP) - Online retail mortgage lender Quicken Loans Inc. says it plans to hire 500 new workers, mostly based in Detroit.

The Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News report the company plans to kick off the hiring effort with a job fair Saturday at its downtown Detroit headquarters. The company wants to hire immediately for several areas including mortgage banking, marketing and technology.

The event runs form 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. Job listings are posted online.

Economy
1:22 pm
Mon September 12, 2011

Closing the book on Borders' Ann Arbor store

Shoppers walk around looking for bargains, or memories, as just a few copies of the Jonas Brothers tour book are about all that's left on the shelves at Borders' Ann Arbor location.
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Today, the doors will close for the final time at the Borders bookstore in Ann Arbor. It’s a significant milestone marking the final days of the Ann Arbor-based bookseller. 

“Well it's so sad….we’ll miss’em…great store,” one longtime Borders customer said as she walked out the door of the bookseller's flagship store. That is the feeling of many people who stopped by the Borders store in Ann Arbor on its last day.    

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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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