The Air Force announced last week it picked Boeing over rival Airbus to build 179 new planes that refuel other planes while flying. GE Aviation Systems in Grand Rapids will design and build computerized mission control systems for the planes – known as tankers.

GE Aviation Systems General Manager George Kiefer says the contract is a great opportunity for engineers at his company.

“Typically, you’ll end up with – during your career – two or three or four new aircraft programs like this, if you’re lucky.”

Kiefer says the Grand Rapids location will be able to maintain 100 engineering positions thanks to the contract. Over time he says the company will create another 50 jobs. Those new jobs will be spread amongst the group’s facilities in Grand Rapids, Florida and the United Kingdom.

Gentex Corporation

When you think high-tech you probably don’t think about car mirrors. But now you can use your car rearview mirror to open your garage door, see how cold it is outside and call your mom. One of the nation’s leading car mirror manufacturers is Zeeland-Michigan-based Gentex Corporation. New federal safety regulations set to be finalized soon would significantly boost the company’s business.

Gentex designs and builds rearview mirrors with embedded video display; sort of like a TV with picture in picture. The built in screen displays the picture from a tiny camera mounted on the back of a vehicle.  

It's not unusual for a big snowstorm to hurt business at new car dealerships.

But it appears that February car sales in the U.S. improved over the same month a year ago, even though much of the country experienced more than one big snowstorm.                           

Car sales could be up 19% as a fair number of people trudged through snow-covered lots to buy a car.  That could be a sign that the pent-up demand that built up over the recession is now being released at a steady pace.

A Michigan-based company is being credited for detecting a shipment of chemicals thought to be part of a terrorist plan to blow up U.S. targets.

Con-way Freight of Ann Arbor has a Homeland Security program in which employees are trained to spot suspicious shipments.

That program paid off this week when a worker found a package of a chemical called phenol being shipped to Lubbock, Texas.

Con-way managers notified the FBI and a 20-year-old student from Saudi Arabia was arrested.

The Great Lakes have a bigger impact on Michigan’s economy than many people  may realize.

The Michigan Sea Grant says more than a million and a half jobs are directly connected to the Great Lakes.

Those jobs generate more than $62 billion in wages every year.

"This is the second time we've done this analysis," says Jennifer Read of Michigan Sea Grant. "And it's always surprising -- to me, at least --  the extent of the jobs that are directly related to the Great Lakes, across multiple sectors.  It's just a huge impact.

Two years ago, when President Obama decided to spend billions to prop up General Motors, and then to guide it  through a cushioned, “soft landing” bankruptcy, there were a lot of doubters. Many thought nature should have been allowed to take its course, and that the once-mighty General should have been allowed to die.

At the time, a commentator on NBC News said “As the GM bailout goes, so goes the Obama presidency.”

Rising gasoline prices threaten to take some of the optimism out of a rosy new forecast for retail sales in Michigan.  A recent survey of Michigan retailers finds 76% expect to see their sales improve this spring. 

  Good holiday sales are lifting many business owners expectations for the year ahead. 

Tom Scott is with the Michigan Retail Association. Scott says the survey was taken before gasoline prices spiked this week.   He says high gas prices could be a problem for retailers.

 “But the bigger concern, more than just their own delivery trucks, is generally the effect on consumers.  And of course, every dollar a consumer puts in his or her gas tank is a dollar that can’t be spent at the store.”

Scott says a few years ago when gas prices reached four dollars a gallon, retail sales dried up.  But he says pent up consumer demand may keep the customers coming, even with high gas prices.

In 2008, Michigan enacted a new energy law. It requires power companies to produce 10 percent of their power from Michigan-based renewable sources by the year 2015.

Now Consumers Energy is asking state regulators for permission to reduce customers’ bills by about $55 million.

Consumers spokesman Dan Bishop says the company is on track to reach that goal, with about five percent of its power now coming from renewable sources.

And that’s why Consumers says it wants to put a little bit of money back into its customers’ pockets.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

A bill that would fund the Pure Michigan ad campaign for the entire year will soon be on its way to Governor Rick Snyder for his signature. The Legislature has approved the additional dollars to keep the campaign on airwaves through the busy tourism months. 

Republican state Senator Geoff Hansen says the funding had to be approved this week before ad-buy costs go up. 

"It was more important that we got it done right now because every day that we delay this means that we’re going to have that less of a chance to buy the ads that we need. We can buy more now than we can in a week, so it was just so important to get it done.”  

The state will tap a venture capital fund to pay for the ads for the balance of this year. Hansen says lawmakers still need to find a permanent funding source for the Pure Michigan ad campaign. But he does not think they will deal with that issue until next year.

IFCAR / wikimedia commons

If you own a Toyota or a Lexus, your floor mat or the floor carpet could inadvertently help you put the pedal to the metal.

Toyota has announced two recalls and has amended it's 2009 "Potential Floor Mat Interference Recall."

Altogether, more than 2 million vehicles are involved.

The company says the recalls are "voluntary," but the federal government says it requested that Toyota recall these additional vehicles after their investigation into Toyota's unintended acceleration problems.

From USA Today:

This should be the end of it, according to NHTSA administrator David Strickland. "The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reviewed more than 400,000 pages of Toyota documents to determine whether the scope of its recalls for pedal entrapment was sufficient. As a result of the agency's review, NHTSA asked Toyota to recall these additional vehicles, and now that the company has done so, our investigation is closed."

Here are the cars involved in the recalls and amended recalls:

  • Lexus GS 300 - model year 2006 and early 2007
  • Lexus GS 350 All-Wheel Drive - model year 2006 and early 2007
  • Lexus  RX 330 - model year 2004 through 2006 and early 2007
  • Lexus RX 350 - model year 2004 through 2006 and early 2007
  • Lexus RX 400h - model year 2004 through 2006 and early 2007
  • Highlander - model year 2004 through 2006
  • Highlander HV- model year 2004 through 2006
  • 4Runners - model year 2003 through 2009
  • Lexus LX 570 - model year 2008 through 2011
  • RAV4 - model year 2006 through 2010

You can also check to see whether your car is recalled by entering your Vehicle Identification Number, or VIN on Toyota's website.

The company says Toyota and Lexus dealers will implement the new and amended recalls at no charge to the vehicle owners.

Michigan Radio's Tracy Samilton is following this story and will have an update later today.

Image from the Center for Michigan's website

Try your hand at fixing the state's budget problems.

The Center for Michigan has released an interactive state budget calculator - YOU Fix the Budget.

The idea is similar to the New York Times interactive budget calculator for the federal government.

You can start by adding $1.2 billion to the state's budget woes by cutting business taxes, or you can leave business taxes alone and deal with the current budget hole the Center estimates at $1.4 billion.

Once you start, your options are to cut, cut, cut (cuts to education, cuts general government, cuts to prison and police, cuts to the public workforce, and cuts to welfare and health care) - or - you could raise taxes.

So far, of the 300 or so people who have participated - raising the Beer Tax is the most popular option.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Consumers Energy has been busy this week reconnecting tens of thousands of customers who lost power during last Sunday's ice & snow storm.  So it could be argued the utility was due some good news.  Today CMS Energy announced the Jackson-based utility profits increased last year.   

Fewer homebuyers were interested in buying a previously foreclosed home in Michigan last year. The result is an increasingly high number of bank-owned homes just sitting on the real estate market.  

Just under 41 thousand formerly foreclosed homes sold last year in Michigan.  That’s down by a third compared to 2009 and 2008.  The prices paid for those homes also dropped.

user paul (dex) / Flickr

General Motors says it earned $510 million in the fourth quarter and $4.7 billion last year as it continued an impressive comeback from bankruptcy.

It was the company's first profitable year since 2004 and GM's best performance since making $6 billion in 1999 during the pickup truck and SUV boom.

GM says fourth-quarter net income was fueled by strong sales in China and the U.S. as the global auto market began to recover. GM says net income per share was 31 cents, including $400 million in charges mainly for preferred stock dividends and for buying preferred stock from the U.S. government.

The quarterly profit was less than the two previous quarters. GM says expenses were higher because it launched two new vehicles. Revenue for the quarter was $36.9 billion.

pawpaw67 / Creative Commons

Grand Rapids city and school district officials have met regularly for more than a decade to come up with ways to share services and facilities to benefit one another. Now, state budget concerns are pressuring them to look even harder for those cost-saving solutions.

Some Michiganders who buy their own health insurance will pay more for their policies beginning in May.

But the price hikes aren’t as steep as they could have been.

Blue Cross Blue Shield had planned premium increases of as much as 21 percent.

But the Michigan Attorney General intervened.

“Through negotiations we were able to slash that in most cases by about 60 percent, so the increases ended up being about 60 million dollars smaller just in the first year alone,” says John Selleck, a spokesman for the attorney general's office.

user santoshkrishnan / creative commons

General Motors is expected to formally announce its first ‘full-year profit’ since 2004 on Thursday. It was just two years ago General Motors had to seek bankruptcy protection.    Now, the automaker is expected to announce a 5 billion dollar profit for 2010.

Aaron Bragman is an automotive analyst with IHS Global Insight.  He gives a big part of the credit to the federal government for helping GM through bankruptcy. 

“I don’t think we’d be in the place where we’re at right now if the government had not intervened and actually funded their bankruptcy.  We’d be in a very different place.”

 Bragman says 2011 might be another good year for GM, because of rising gasoline prices. 

 “Chevy is bringing several small vehicles to market.  The new Spark is on the horizon.  The new (Sonic) is coming this year.   So we’re actually seeing a lot of these small cars coming…and now we’re seeing a market force that may actually drive people to go an buy them.”

Bragman says high gasoline prices may hurt Chrysler, because it doesn’t have as many high- mileage vehicles to offer car buyers.


There may soon be no firefighters available in Allen Park.

The city council has voted to lay off the entire fire department.

A movie studio-deal gone bad is getting some of the blame for Allen Park’s financial troubles.

The Detroit suburb bought an old Visteon facility in 2008 for almost $25 million, banking on a plan to lease the property to Unity Studios.

The deal flopped  and now Allen Park is broke.

Last night, the city council announced all 25 of the city’s firefighters, plus its interim chief will be getting pink slips.

State of Detroit

Feb 23, 2011

You may think I am a little crazy, but while I was listening to  Mayor Dave Bing’s State of the City address last night, what kept running through my head was an ancient rock and roll song.

An early hit called Chantilly Lace, by a now half-forgotten artist called the Big Bopper, whose main claim to fame is dying in the same plane crash that killed Buddy Holly more than half a century ago.

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.