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A Comerica Bank economist says rising gasoline prices shouldn’t hurt Michigan’s economic progress…too much. Unrest in the Middle East is forcing global crude oil prices to rise, which is pushing up gas prices in Michigan and elsewhere.    

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Unrest in the Middle East may soon affect gasoline prices in Michigan. Crude oil prices are approaching one hundred dollars a barrel, which is expected to increase the cost of gasoline globally.

Nancy Cain is with AAA Michigan.   She says it’s too soon to predict whether or not the price for a gallon of regular unleaded will reach four dollars, like it did two years ago.

Andrew McFarlane / Creative Commons

A new study shows Michigan’s tax incentives for the TV and film industry generated close to 4,000 fulltime jobs last year with an average salary of $53,700.  

Larry Alexander is President & CEO of the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau, one of several bureaus across the state that helped commission the study.

“Diversifying Michigan’s economy by investing $84.7 million- and generating over a half a billion dollars of economic activity and nearly 4,000 high paying jobs- sounds like a pretty good deal to us.”

Rick Hert heads the West Michigan Film Office. He says talk about limiting the film incentives in the past reached Hollywood and caused some producers decide not to come to Michigan.

 “This is much bigger. This is a new governor of the state of Michigan and his comments are doing more than reverberating, they’re putting a clamp on the future of this industry.”

Hert is thankful the governor didn’t totally remove the incentives, but worries they’ll be too limited to keep attracting producers.

Hert says he understands the state is broke and that legislators have some tough calls to make.

Ford's global small car, the Ford Fiesta, has received the equivalent of a five-star safety rating in virtually all the regions of the world in which it is sold - China, New Zealand, Australia, Europe, and the United States.   The subcompact car also received a "Top Safety Pick" award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which nonetheless warns drivers that in general, larger vehicles are safer vehicles.   

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Wayne State University will offer certificate programs in advanced energy storage. Courses will focus on things like electric vehicle batteries, and updating the electric grid to handle electric vehicle charging.

Jay Baron is the president of the Center for Automotive Research. He says the car industry is clamoring for engineers with those skills:

"When you speak to any of the auto companies, they will tell you: if you’ve got a field of study that has the term 'battery' or 'energy storage' in it, you’ve piqued the interest. My daughter is looking for a job, and I’ve told her if there’s any way she can get 'battery' into the title of her degree, she’d do much better."

Baron says several universities are retooling their engineering programs to incorporate more battery-related course offerings.

But he says there are lingering questions about the long-term viability of the electric vehicle market.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

The company handling the liquidation sales at some 200 Borders Books stores announced today the sales will begin Saturday.   Hilco Merchant Resources of Chicago issued a press release saying the liquidation will begin with 20 to 40% on all merchandize with some exceptions. Over $350 million of inventory including books, magazines, music and movie media, calendars, posters and more will be liquidated.  

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

The state Senate approved a measure this week that would allow local governments to once again prohibit Sunday morning liquor sales. 

The measure would allow local governments to opt out of the Sunday morning liquor law approved by the Legislature late last year. Lawmakers who sponsored the new measure say the opt-out was always supposed to be included in the original package, but was accidentally left out because it was slapped together and approved during hasty lame-duck negotiations. 

Di Bedard / Flickr

The Changing Gears special program "Power and Performance" examines the roles of leadership and the economic fortunes of three Midwestern cities: Cleveland, Chicago and Detroit.

Can a strong mayor change a city by sheer will? Is quiet determination a better course of action? What difference has the quality of leadership made across the Great Lakes?

The show, hosted by Mike McIntyre, takes a look at how these cities are adapting to face new issues and also examine what problems they have that resist easy solutions.

Borders: What's Next?

Feb 17, 2011
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Borders Books’ successful trip through bankruptcy is contingent on deals with publishers.    Borders filed for bankruptcy protection Wednesday. 

Court documents show the Ann Arbor-based bookseller owes more than $150 million to 7 publishers, including Simon & Shuster, Random House and Penguin.    Borders has also been delaying payments to publishers since December. 

Detroit Public Library

People losing their local Borders bookstore may turn to their local library for books and DVD’s. But that may put an even bigger strain on Michigan’s already-struggling libraries.

Libraries face a tough paradox.  People tend to use them more when the economy is bad. But a bad economy also means they get fewer resources to work with.

Public transportation officials in Grand Rapids are excited about one detail in President Obama’s budget announced this week. A proposed rapid bus transit system in Grand Rapids is one of ten new construction projects that Obama would like to fund in 2012.

Alex Proimos / Flickr

Keeping the brains here at home.

The University of Michigan Ross School of Business and the Changing Gears project are partnering on a panel discussion about "brain drain" being held at 5 p.m.

Update 4:37 p.m.

Independent bookstores are waiting to see what kind of impact Borders’ bankruptcy will have on business. Michigan Radio's Jennifer Guerra spoke with Nicola Rooney, owner Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor.

Rooney expects business to pick up at her store now that one of the Borders in Ann Arbor is slated to close. She said Borders’ financial problems are not emblematic of the book business in general:

"No, it’s not the death knell of bookstores by any means. They did a lot of things wrong over the years…and at any time there were things they could have done differently that they did not, and this of course from someone who knows maybe two percent of what was really going on inside, because you never know the real story," said Rooney.

Rooney blames Borders's problems on its poor website strategy, and frequent management changes.

Update 12:07 p.m.

Michigan Radio's Jennifer Guerra reports that of the stores slated for closing so far, four are in Michigan:

  • Dearborn
  • Utica
  • Grosse Pointe
  • Ann Arbor - the Arborland location.

Guerra spoke with Ann Arbor resident Jack Love about the bankruptcy:

"I’m sad. They’re nice places to go, pick up a book, look through it, of course Borders has more than just books: coffee, book readings, public gatherings," said Love.

Guerra says Love partly blames himself for Borders’ financial problems - he’s a book fiend who buys most of his books online at Amazon.

Update 11:58 a.m.

The Wall Street Journal's Law Blog has posted a list of the top Borders creditors - Who's Owed What in Borders' Bankruptcy.

Not surprisingly, book publishers top the list. Penguin Putnam Inc. is at the very top. They're owed $41,118,914.

Update 11:33 a.m.

Michigan Radio's Steve Carmody just spoke with Rob James, the president of EXP Realty Advisors. EXP specializes in real estate valuations for companies in bankruptcy.  James told Carmody that "no doubt about it" the Borders store closings will have a ripple effect in the retail industry:

"It's going to put a lot of strain on the shopping center industry and its going to hurt a lot of landlords," said James.

Update 11:07

Here is the list of stores Borders plans to close

Update 11:00 a.m.:

The company has released a list of stores it plans to close. We'll have that list posted shortly.

The Wall Street Journal reports the company has secured a loan that will keep the company going while it goes through bankruptcy reorganization. From the WSJ:

The Ann Arbor, Mich., company also said it has lined up a $505 million loan from GE Capital to fund its operations while in bankruptcy. Access to such a loan is subject to court approval.

In its bankruptcy petition, Borders listed assets of $1.28 billion and liabilities of $1.29 billion as of Dec. 25.

Borders' five largest unsecured creditors are the book publishers Penguin Putnam Inc., Hachette Book Group, Simon & Schuster Inc., Random House and Harper Collins Publishers.

AnnArbor.com has some extensive coverage of the bookseller's bankruptcy filing, including a live blog. Nathan Bomey of AnnArbor.com reports on some of the scenarios that could unfold during the bankruptcy reorganization. They also highlight some of the missteps in Borders history. From AnnArbor.com:

Among the company's biggest mistakes was allowing Amazon to manage its online sales from 2001 to 2008.

“They never really harnessed the power of the Internet,” said David Dykhouse, a manager of Borders’ Arborland store from 2002 to 2007. “As someone once said, the Internet is the comet that killed the dinosaur. I’m afraid Borders is one of those dinosaurs.

8:09 a.m.

Borders Group is filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization after a long struggle to stay afloat. Borders had a difficult time keeping up as the book and music businesses changed beneath its feet.

The 40-year-old Ann Arbor company plans to close about 30 percent of its stores, or about 200, over the next few weeks. The company will receive $505 million dollars in so-called debtor-in-possession financing from GE Capital and others to help it reorganize.

Borders has recently delayed payments to its vendors, landlords and other creditors. Big-box bookstores have struggled as more people buy books online, in electronic form or at grocery stores or discounters such as Walmart.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Independent bookstore owners are not sure whether Borders Books expected bankruptcy filing this week will be good news for their businesses. 

Analysts expect Borders will close 200 or more stores as part of any bankruptcy plan.  

When Borders Books and other mega-bookstore chains started opening 40 years ago, it seemed like the end for many small local bookstores.   They found it difficult to compete with the big stores with their wider selections, coffee bars and other amenities. But the obituary for the corner bookstore was a bit premature.  

Now that online book sales and e-book readers are shrinking the market for big-box bookstores,  the smaller footprint booksellers suddenly have a brighter future. Deb Leonard is the executive director of the Great Lakes Independent Bookseller Association

“Those independent stores in those neighborhoods will benefit because people need a place to go.”

Leonard says, in some cases, local bookstores might consider taking over former Borders locations.

sassycrafter / Flickr

Mayor Dave Bing says there’s a lot the city of Detroit can learn from the way the city of New Orleans has tried to recover from Hurricane Katrina.  And, there’s much they can learn from Detroit.  

collection.chrysler.com

For $29.95 you can continue the buzz that started with the "Imported from Detroit" Super Bowl ad.

Chrysler is selling t-shirts with the "Imported from Detroit" logo on its Chrysler Collection website ('imported' from the USA, according to the website).

The Detroit Free Press asked a Chrysler spokesperson if the design will be on other items:

Chrysler spokeswoman Dianna Gutierrez said, “It’s too early to discuss. I don’t have any formal details to share at this time.”

The epic two-minute ad is still running on television in edited down one-minute and 30 second versions.

user brewbooks / creative commons

With the impending bankruptcy of Borders Group Inc., we thought we'd give you a quick explanation of the two types of options facing the company.

Chapter 7 Bankruptcy

Also known as "liquidation" or "straight bankruptcy." It sparks an 'everything must go' sale of the company's assets. The company may cease operations after filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

The company that owes the money files for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in court. The company's assets are turned over to a bankruptcy trustee who then sells the assets and tries to pay back the company's creditors. In exchange, the company that owes the money is freed from having to pay all of its bills in full (unless some wrongdoing is found).

The details of Chapter 7 rules vary from state to state.

Chapter 11 Bankruptcy

Also known as "reorganization" bankruptcy used by many corporations (like K-Mart and General Motors).

After filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the company that owes money typically keeps running its business and keeps its assets while going through a reorganization process overseen by the court.

A reorganization plan is put forth, and if the majority of creditors accept it, and the court accepts the plan - the company continues operating and repays its creditors under the reorganization plan.

Payment to creditors can come from the sale of assets, repayment from future profits, or from mergers or recapitalization.

The largest portion of a former General Motors Plant in the Grand Rapids suburb of Walker is back up for sale. The more than quarter-million-square-foot space was to supposed to become a massive movie studio known as Hangar42.

Sean Ellis / Creative Commons

Organizers want to see a huge event for motorcycle enthusiasts in downtown Grand Rapids this summer. They've made a number of concessions to try and convince the city commission to allow the now 4-day event.

General Motors factory workers will get a record amount in profit-sharing checks this year.  The automaker's 48,000 UAW hourly workers will get at least $4,000.  That's more than twice the company's previous record for hourly worker profit-sharing  - $1,775 in 1999.

(Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Borders Books is expected to begin its next chapter this week. The Ann Arbor based bookseller is expected to file for bankruptcy protection Monday or Tuesday. 

On Friday, the Wall Street Journal reported Borders will likely file for bankruptcy protection this week. Borders stock fell by a third on the news.

It’s not like the news was unexpected. Borders has been struggling financially for years. Less than a year ago,  investors were paying more than $3 for a share of Borders stock. When the market closed Friday, you could have bought a share of Borders Books for 25 cents.

Borders is still the nation’s number 2 traditional bookstore with more than 600 stores. But as book buyers have spent more online, Borders’ share of the total book market has shrunk.

It’s been delaying payments to publishers and others since December, as the company has tried to hang on to some cash. Borders’ bankruptcy plan reportedly includes closing more than 200 stores. 

No word on what the plan is to convince book buyers to return to Borders.

The Rise and Fall (and Re-Rise?) of Borders Group.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Borders Group may file for bankruptcy protection on Monday or Tuesday next week. The Ann Arbor-based bookseller has struggled in recent years as book buyers have migrated from big box stores to the web.

Jeffrey Simms Photography / Flickr

Michigan Democratic Senator Carl Levin says he will introduce legislation next week in Congress to create electric vehicle charging stations on Capitol Hill.

As the Associated Press reports, "Levin says establishing the charging stations at no cost to the federal government would help encourage electric cars in the Capitol complex... Levin has said he plans to buy a Chevrolet Volt, General Motors' rechargeable electric car."

Earlier this week, Michigan's other Democratic Senator, Debbie Stabenow, said she planned to introduce legislation that would change government incentives for buying electric cars.

Currently, the incentive for buying an electric vehicle comes when you file your taxes in the form of a tax credit. Stabenow's legislation, the Charging America Forward Act, would give consumers a rebate of up to $7,500 at the time of purchase.

Michigan Radio's Tracy Samilton reported on Stabenow's plan earlier this week:

Currently, cars that qualify for the full rebate include the Chevy Volt, the Nissan Leaf, and the Tesla Roadster. Coda and Wheego also make an electric vehicle that qualifies for the credit. Ford, Fiat and Toyota plan to launch electric plug-in cars within the next year.

Stabenow’s legislation would also commit the federal government to spend two billion dollars to help companies that make advanced lithium ion batteries for vehicles. That’s on top of the two billion dollars the federal government has already spent to help the new industry. 

The Congresswoman admits the legislation is being proposed during a tough budget year, but, she said, "I think that strategic investments in innovation like battery innovation and manufacturing equals jobs – and so I’m hopeful that this will be a priority."

Michigan received the lion’s share of the last round of federal grants for advanced battery development– more than one billion dollars.  Michigan now has more advanced battery companies than any other state.

Spacing Magazine / Flickr

General Motors says most of its 26,000 white-collar workers will get bonus checks. The automaker says the bonuses will be between 4 and 16 percent of their base salaries. The Associated Press reports:

The company says in a statement Thursday that bonuses will be based on the performance of the worker and the company. GM made $4.2 billion in the first three quarters of last year and is expected to post a fourth-quarter profit shortly. The bonuses come just 19 months after GM needed a $49.5 billion government bailout to make it through bankruptcy protection.

The company says that more than 96 percent of the salaried workers will get bonuses of 4 to 16 percent of their base pay. Fewer than 1 percent will get 50 percent or more.

Rich Allosi / Flickr

The national economy added 49,000 manufacturing jobs in January. That’s more new jobs than in health care, retail or any other major sector of the economy.

It’s good news for the Midwest, where thousands of manufacturing workers are expected to be hired over the next few years.

The number of students enrolled in manufacturing training and engineering courses is on the rise at two year colleges. But some employers say they still have a hard time finding qualified candidates.

Michigan Radio’s Changing Gears project is looking at the economic future of the Midwest.

Michelle Kanu filed this report from Cleveland:

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Analysts expected a big jump in home foreclosures in Michigan in January.  But the jump didn’t materialize.


 Home foreclosures slowed last fall in Michigan and around the country as banks dealt with a scandal about robo-signings.   Essentially mortgage lenders signing foreclosure documents without checking to make sure what they were signing was accurate or truthful.  Foreclosures were expected to spike this month.  But they didn’t.  Realty Trac reports Michigan saw only a 4% increase in foreclosure filings in January.   Nationally only a one  percent increase.

Rich Evenhouse / creative commons

Profit-sharing checks to GM's 45,000 workers are expected to break a record. The news comes as GM is tallying its profit numbers for 2010. The company will release the amount of the checks soon.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

General Motors Co. is planning to pay its hourly workers in the U.S. at least $3,000 each in profit-sharing payouts, the largest amount ever, after the company's return to profitability in 2010, people familiar with the matter said...The auto maker is trying to tow the line between fiscal prudence and expectations that it will share recent gains with workers as the company heads into labor negotiations with the United Auto Workers.

Other U.S. automakers are also sharing the wealth.

Ford Motor Company paid hourly workers more than $5,000, "more than the company was required to pay under the profit-sharing formula in its contract with the UAW," according to the Wall Street Journal.

And Chrysler gave their workers $750 despite the company's losses in 2010.

The Detroit Free Press reports that the checks are expected to be handed out in the months ahead, and the size of the checks could help the automaker in its negotiation with the United Auto Workers union. From the Freep:

The Detroit Three, which will negotiate new labor contracts with the UAW this year, may be giving higher-than-required payments to autoworkers as part of a strategy to convince the rank and file to keep labor costs flat in return for bigger profit sharing in the future, labor experts previously told the Free Press.

Steven Depolo / Flickr

Appointed officials in Grand Rapids agreed to scale back the wage increases they recently received.

In a press release, the City officials said they were "responding to Governor Rick Snyder's call for realigning public employee compensation."

City Manager Gregory Sundstrom, City Attorney Catherine Mish, and City Treasurer Lauri Parks said they will return to their salary levels that were in effect in 2009.

City Treasurer Albert Mooney agreed to return 2% of his salary increase.

The Grand Rapids Press reports that if their request is granted:

Sundstrom's pay will fall back to $142,000; Mish's pay will return to $114,092; Parks' pay will go back to $93.731; and Mooney's pay will fall to $108,755.

The officials said in 2010, "appointed officials again led by example, voluntarily accepting an additional 10% reduction in overall compensation." This included turning down a 2.5% pay increase that was scheduled to take effect on June 30, 2010.

The Grand Rapids officials say the the 2.5% pay increase was "received, and is still being enjoyed today,  by all of the City's unionized workforce."

The city is in the middle of re-negotiating it's collective contracts with the City's unionized workforce. And the negotiations are "difficult" as Mayor George Hearwell said in his State of the City address last Saturday.

As Michigan Radio's Lindsey Smith reported, Heartwell said:

The city’s financial future depends on city employees taking further concessions in pay and benefits.

"There’s no doubt in my mind that unless we tackle this problem today, we cannot be sustainable over the long term," says Heartwell.

The vast majority of the city's workforce in Grand Rapids is unionized.

I called up City Attorney Catherine Mish, one of the officials taking the pay cuts. I asked her whether she and the others are sending a signal to the city's unionized employees:

"I would have to say 'yes.' We're hoping the unions agree to similar concessions."

Mish said the unions are under current contracts that run from July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2013.

NHTSA

"The jury is back, the verdict is in."

That’s how Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced that faulty electronics played no role in cases of unintended acceleration in Toyota cars.  It’s unequivocal good news for a company attempting to rebuild its reputation.

Last year, Toyota recalled millions of its cars for gas pedal defects that could cause unintended acceleration.

Those recalls shook the company’s reputation for safety like an earthquake.

Dean Stewart is Service Manager for Victory Toyota in Canton, Michigan. The dealership's huge - and nearly empty - service garage, has only one car on a lift that was brought in under a recall.  But last year at this time, the place was bustling:

"I mean we were open 7 days a week, we had two shifts, we were working 90 hours a week just to make sure we could take care of our customers," says Stewart.

Rebecca Bolwitt / Flickr

After a ten-month investigation, the results are in.

From the Associated Press:

A government investigation into Toyota safety problems has found no electronic flaws to account for reports of sudden, unintentional acceleration. Transportation officials and engineers with NASA say two mechanical safety defects previously identified by the government - sticking accelerator pedals and gas pedals that can become trapped in floor mats - are the only known causes for the reports of runaway Toyotas. Both issues were the subject of large recalls by Toyota.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says the department's 10-month study has concluded there is no electronic-based cause of unintended high-speed acceleration in Toyotas.

Toyota has recalled more than 12 million vehicles globally since fall 2009 for a series of safety issues. The company has denied that electronics are to blame.

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