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Economy
12:36 pm
Wed July 13, 2011

Russian steelmaker gets US loan for Michigan plant

Making steel at the Severstal North America plant in Dearborn.
Severstal North America

DETROIT (AP) - The U.S. Energy Department says it has loaned $730 million to the North American arm of one of Russia's largest steel companies to modernize its Detroit-area plant.

The government and Severstal North America on Wednesday officially announced plans to upgrade and expand facilities in Dearborn that make steel for the auto industry. They say the project will employ around 2,500 construction workers and create 260 factory jobs.

The money comes from a $25 billion low-interest loan program created in 2007 to help car companies retool older factories to build green cars.

Severstal bought the Dearborn factory in 2004.

Auto/Economy
11:46 am
Wed July 13, 2011

Developing electric vehicle charging stations (and where you can find them now)

The location of electric charging stations online now in Michigan.
Google Maps and the U.S. Department of Energy

One group in west Michigan wants to encourage more people to buy electric cars by building more charging stations.

From the Grand Rapids Press:

The West Michigan Strategic Alliance is proposing the development of at least 4,000 charging stations across eight counties. Alliance President Greg Northrup is seeking approval from county boards in Kent, Ottawa and Muskegon for the project, which would be financed through the sale of bonds and be repaid over a 10-year period.

“We’ve got $3 billion invested in battery projects in West Michigan,” Northrup said. “Why shouldn’t we have the infrastructure to go with it?”

So those are 4,000 proposed electric charging stations.

How can you find charging stations that are online now?

Google and the U.S. Department of Energy to the rescue. You can enter your address on the DOE's website to find alternative fueling stations near you.

Fast Company says "eventually, this Google/DOE partnership will serve as the primary EV charging station data source for GPS and mapping systems (like the one that may be in your car already)."

Economy
4:01 pm
Sat July 9, 2011

Ethanol subsidies & Michigan corn growers

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Michigan corn farmers may be losing a ‘safety net’.   The Congress is expected to vote soon on ending ethanol subsidies.    The move is expected to save the federal government $1.3 billion this year. 

Ethanol in the United States is mainly produced using corn.  Michigan farmers increased their corn production in recent years as federal mandates required ethanol in gasoline.  

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Economy
1:01 am
Fri July 8, 2011

Detroit home prices plummeted in first half of 2011

But at what price?
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Detroit home prices posted sharp declines during the first 6 months of 2011, according to a new report.  And the decline is expected to continue during the next 6 months.  Clear Capital reports Detroit’s home sale prices were down 19.8% during the first half of the year compared to the first six months of 2010. 

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Economy
11:15 am
Thu July 7, 2011

Pfizer may sell animal health, nutrition units

NEW YORK (AP) Pfizer says it may sell its animal health and nutrition business in the next two years so it can focus on expanding its low-cost pharmaceuticals unit.

Pfizer says it will also consider transactions including spinoffs and may pursue different strategies for each business. It said any transactions could take one to two years to complete.

The businesses brought Pfizer Inc. $5.5 billion in revenue in 2010, about 8 percent of its total. The Animal Health unit makes vaccines, medicines, diagnostics and other items to prevent and treat diseases in livestock and pets, and the nutrition unit makes infant and pediatric products.

The New York drugmaker say it will focus on its established products business, which makes drugs that are off-patent or are losing patent protection.

Changing Gears
10:57 am
Thu July 7, 2011

Canadian oil is boosting midwest economy, but at what cost?

Marathon is upgrading its Detroit refinery to process more heavy crude from the Canadian oil sands.
Adee Braun Changing Gears

Green energy is often said to be the future of the Midwest economy. But old fashioned fossil fuels could be having a bigger effect on the region’s jobs and corporate bottom lines.

This is not conventional oil, though.

It’s a thick, tar-like crude from the oil sands in Alberta, Canada.

It’s sent here by pipelines, many which cross our rivers and the Great Lakes, and that has some worrying about a bigger risk to the region.

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Auto/Economy
11:43 pm
Wed July 6, 2011

Oakland County Exec lays out three-year budget

Brooks Patterson
Oakland County

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson says the county’s budget is balanced for the next three years.

 Patterson laid out his recommendations for a triennial budget to Oakland County Commissioners Wednesday night.

 Patterson says that long-term planning has been key to maintaining the county’s AAA bond rating, even as property tax revenues plummet.

 Patterson says the county has also managed to avoid cutting employee salaries and mass layoffs.

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Labor
5:35 pm
Wed July 6, 2011

Farmers Insurance employees in Grand Rapids to receive back wages after investigation

The U.S. Labor Department found "significant and systemic violations of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act's overtime and record-keeping provisions" at Farmers Insurance offices around the country - including offices in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Officials at the U.S. Labor Department say "Farmers Insurance Inc. has agreed to pay $1,520,705 in overtime back wages to 3,459 employees."

From the Department of Labor press release:

Through interviews with employees and a review of the company's timekeeping and payroll systems, investigators found that the company did not account for time employees spent performing pre-shift work activities. Employees routinely performed an average of 30 minutes of unrecorded and uncompensated work — such as turning on work stations, logging into the company phone system and initiating certain software applications necessary to begin their call center duties — per week.

Because employees' pre-shift work times were excluded from official time and payroll records, they were not paid for all hours and are owed compensation at time and one-half their regular rates for hours that exceeded 40 per week.

The agreement affects call center employees who worked between Jan. 1, 2009, and May 10, 2010, at Farmers' "HelpPoint" facility in Grand Rapids.

It also affects employees who worked between Jan. 1, 2009, and Feb. 1, 2010, at a Farmers' "ServicePoint" facility in Grand Rapids.

Changing Gears
1:52 pm
Wed July 6, 2011

Who Cares About Great Lakes Dredging? These Guys. (slideshow)

Engineer Tom O'Bryan says dredges like this one are basically big vacuums, chewing up sand.
Kate Davidson Changing Gears

We brought the story of the Great Lakes dredging backlog to your radio and computer screen.

But sometimes, you need more of a visual. (Even more than my 18 million ovens post.)

So click through to my slideshow to meet some of the people affected by sediment buildup in regional shipping channels.

Auto/Economy
1:07 pm
Wed July 6, 2011

Youngstown mayor will lead President's office for auto communities

Jay Williams
(courtesy of the city of Youngstown, Ohio)

The mayor of Youngstown, Ohio  is the new head of a government office that helps communities hurt by cutbacks in the auto industry.  Mayor Jay Williams starts as head the Office of Recovery for Auto Communities and Workers in August.  

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Auto/Economy
11:27 am
Wed July 6, 2011

Dow Chemical teams up to make battery electrolytes

Midland, Mich. (AP) - Dow Chemical Co. and Japanese chemical company Ube Industries Ltd. said Wednesday they've agreed to form a joint venture to manufacture electrolytes for lithium-ion batteries
which are increasingly being used in cars among other things.

The 50-50 joint venture, named Advanced Electrolyte Technologies LLC, is expected to be finalized later this year pending regulatory approval.

Dow said the joint venture will allow it to expand its alternative energy offerings.

"The growing demand for alternative energy production and energy storage systems places technologies such as advanced batteries for electric/hybrid vehicles and power generation at the very center of the global mega-trends," said Heinz Haller, Dow executive vice president and chief commercial officer.

The joint venture's first manufacturing facility is expected to be built at Dow's home base in Midland, Mich. for startup next year.

Economy
10:43 am
Wed July 6, 2011

When an inch means a ton (or 267 tons, to be precise)

Chart courtesy of the Great Lakes Maritime Task Force

Who knew an inch could make such a difference?

In our piece this week on the Great Lakes dredging backlog, we introduced you to Mark Barker, president of The Interlake Steamship Company.  I called him “a man who measures revenue with a ruler.”

To see what that really means, check out the nifty chart from the Great Lakes Maritime Task Force (above).

It shows how much cargo a ship can hold for every inch of water it occupies. For the biggest vessels – the “thousand- footers” – one inch of draft corresponds to 267 tons of cargo. That’s why every bit of clearance matters to shippers trying to get the most bang from every trip.

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Auto/Economy
5:39 pm
Tue July 5, 2011

Car leasing makes comeback

The availability of car leases practically disappeared during the recession.

But LeaseTrader.com says customer credit is recovering - and so is car leasing. 

John Sternal is Vice President of Marketing Communications for LeaseTrader.com.  He says more than 20 percent of new vehicles are now leased, including many small cars.

He says car leasing is more popular than ever before, because of a shifting attitude toward car ownership.

"Gone are the days when the majority of people will buy a car and hold onto it for fifteen years," says Sternal.

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Ford sued over Sync
5:33 pm
Tue July 5, 2011

Company sues Ford Motor, alleges Sync patent infringement

A technology company has sued Ford Motor Company over patent infringements related to some of Ford’s hottest new products, including Sync.

The lawsuit says Eagle Harbor Holdings met with Ford starting in 2000 to discuss using Eagle Harbor’s voice command software and other patented technology. 

Eagle Harbor's General Counsel, Jeff Harmes, says Ford’s hands-free phone system, Sync, uses some of that technology.   But he says Ford broke off talks with Eagle Harbor in 2008.    

Read more
Auto/Economy
5:09 pm
Tue July 5, 2011

Lawsuit says GM failed to fix thousands of Impalas

The AP reports that the class-action lawsuit against GM says the automaker authorized repairs and reimbursements to 2007 and 2008 Chevy Impala police cars (like this police car in Montreal), but not to others.
user bull-doser wikimedia commons

DETROIT (AP) - A lawsuit claims General Motors Co. fixed a defective part on police versions of the Chevrolet Impala but didn't correct the same problem in hundreds of thousands of other
Impalas.

The class-action lawsuit, filed last week in Detroit, says 2007 and 2008 model-year Impalas have defective spindle rods, which connect the suspension to the rear wheels. The defect misaligns the wheels, which makes the tires wear out faster.

According to the lawsuit, GM told dealers to replace the spindle rods and tires on affected police vehicles. It also authorized dealers to reimburse police who had purchased replacement tires.

But the suit says GM didn't offer the same remedy to non-police owners. The company sold 423,000 Impalas from those model years.

A GM spokesman was not immediately available to comment Tuesday.

Economy
1:41 pm
Tue July 5, 2011

Gasoline prices heading higher

Gasoline prices are expected to take another big leap this week in Michigan.
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Michigan gasoline prices are getting closer to four dollars again.  GasBuddy.com predicts prices will increase by another 5 to 10 cents during the next few days.  That’s on top of a 20 cent jump the week before the Fourth of July holiday weekend. 

Jason Teows with Gas Buddy says increasing demand is fueling the price increase at the gas pump. 

Changing Gears
10:27 am
Tue July 5, 2011

Great Lakes harbors threatened by dredging backlog

The Great Lakes form a sprawling ecosystem of nature and industry.  In a strong economy, ships can transport up to 200 million tons of cargo across these waters each year.  But now the shipping industry has declared a state of emergency.  The cause is a region-wide dredging backlog.  Shippers worry sediment buildup threatens to choke some navigation channels.

Read more
Auto/Economy
4:30 pm
Fri July 1, 2011

New microlending website helps Detroit's small biz owners

Kiva Detroit helps connect small business owners in the city with potential lenders
user penywise morgueFile

Several Detroit non-profits want to help potential small business owners get some much needed capital.

They’ve launched a microlending website called Kiva Detroit, an extension of the California-based Kiva.org. Small business owners post their idea online and anyone can give a loan for as little as $25. The site went live this Wednesday.

Read more
Auto/Economy
4:12 pm
Fri July 1, 2011

GM and Ford sales rise in June as gas prices sink

GM says its Chevrolet Cruze compact led its sales gain for the month of June.
wikimedia commons

UPDATE:

General Motors and Ford both saw U-S sales rise more than 10 percent in June as lower gas prices brought more customers into its showrooms.

The fuel efficient Fiesta and Focus drove sales for Ford.

The new Chevrolet Cruze compact led GM's sales gain. Cruze sales were more than double those of the old Chevrolet Cobalt.

Don Johnson is the Vice President of U-S sales operations for General Motors. He says sales were led by smaller, more fuel-efficient models.

Original story:

General Motors says its U.S. sales rose 10 percent in June as lower gas prices brought more customers into its showrooms.

The Detroit car company says it sold 215,000 cars and trucks last month.

Don Johnson, the Vice President of U.S. sales operations for General Motors, says sales were led by smaller, more fuel-efficient models:

"What drove our success this month, as well as the last couple of months, is our ability to meet the needs of the consumers as they go looking for more fuel efficient vehicles," said Johnson.

The new Chevrolet Cruze compact led GM's sales gain. Cruze sales were more than double those of the old Chevrolet Cobalt.

GM's small-car sales were helped by earthquake-related shortages of Japanese cars.

Economy
6:21 am
Fri July 1, 2011

Borders agrees to sell itself for $215 million

Lornais Flickr

Borders has agreed to sell itself to private investment firm Najafi Cos. for $215 million, reports the Associated Press. The agreement, however, is tentative. From the AP:

Najafi, which owns the Book-of-the-Month Club, will also assume $220 million in debt.

The agreement is tentative and what is known as a "stalking horse" bid for a company under bankruptcy protection. The bid will open an auction for the bookseller and its assets, so a higher bid is possible.

A bankruptcy court hearing on the deal is set for July 21. If the court does not approve an auction process, Borders filed a separate motion to liquidate.

Najafi has been a speculative suitor for the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based company, although Borders has not previously confirmed any specific bidders.

Borders Group Inc. filed for bankruptcy protection in February.

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