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What's Working
6:15 am
Mon March 28, 2011

Michigan wine: Success in a bottle

Vineyard in Leelanau County
user farlane flickr

As we continue our “What’s Working” series this week, Christina Shockley sits down to speak with Linda Jones, the Executive Director of the Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council. Over the past decade, the wine industry in Michigan has grown ten to fifteen percent each year, with most of the wine being produced in the southwest and northwest regions of the Lower Peninsula.

With 14,600 acres of vineyards, Michigan ranks fourth amongst all states in grape production. Most of these grapes are used to make juices, but about 2,000 acres of vineyards are devoted solely to wine grape production, making Michigan the eighth largest producer of wine grapes. Ms. Jones says that when we talk about Michigan’s wine industry, we are really talking about the grape industry as well.

“They’re an integrated function. Many of the wineries in Michigan grow their own fruit. And our program is housed in the Michigan Department of Agriculture because wine is really an exemplary industry for value-added agriculture, meaning you take a crop that is grown here in Michigan and you add value to it on the farm property and attract customers to come and visit you, and that translates into a huge economic boom for that area when you can do that.”   

In a state that has seen its industries and population decline in the past decade, Michigan’s wine industry has continued to grow steadily. Jones says this is because wine production incorporates two of Michigan’s strongest assets.

“It combines our second and third largest industries: agriculture and tourism. Michigan is a long-standing fruit-producing state, especially on the west side of the state, but increasingly throughout Michigan we are planting wine grapes with new varieties that are being developed.”

But Michigan isn’t just good at growing fruit because we’ve been doing it for centuries. The climate in Michigan is particularly well-suited for growing grapes, says Jones.

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Economy
4:26 pm
Fri March 25, 2011

Population expert sees good news in state Census data

The man in charge of charting population trends for Michigan says he would not be surprised to see the out-migration of people from the state reverse course.

The new U.S. Census data says Michigan lost people over the last decade.

State Demographer Ken Darga says Michiganders left the state in droves over the past decade for places like Florida where jobs were more plentiful. Now, Darga says, they may be ready to come back -- Florida’s jobless rate is higher than Michigan’s.

Darga discussed the good news on the Michigan public TV show  “Off The Record.”

“The economy is starting to turn around. There’s a lot of good news about Michigan’s economy in the past year or so.”

“Michigan has lost a lot of young people to Florida – as well as senior citizens – because Florida used to be one of the big states that had low unemployment and it was a place you could go to find a job while Michigan was in a one-state recession. But now, Florida’s unemployment rate is higher than Michigan’s.”

“One of the things I’ll be looking for is to see if some of those Michigan natives who moved to Florida are going to start coming back.”

The U-S Bureau of Labor Statistics says Michigan added 71 thousand more jobs than it lost in the past 12 months and its unemployment rate fell more than any other state’s.

Also, the decline in Michigan’s jobless rate for the first two months of 2011 was due to more people working, and not to discouraged jobseekers checking out of the workforce.

Michigan and Kentucky are tied for the nation’s fifth highest unemployment rate.

Changing Gears
12:26 pm
Fri March 25, 2011

Local governments face more losses as cases pile up in tax courts

Donald Betlem bought this home for $5,000 in 2008. He had to convince Detroit it wasn't worth ten times as much.
Kate Davidson Changing Gears

Property values have plummeted across the region.

That means cities and towns have watched their tax revenue plunge as well. But many homeowners and businesses think their property taxes are still too high.

The result is a double hit.

Local governments are in fiscal crisis, and the tax courts of Michigan, Ohio and Illinois are clogged with people who want refunds.

People like Donald Betlem.

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State Legislature
4:42 pm
Wed March 23, 2011

Legislators debating extending jobless benefits

People who file for unemployment benefits next year would be eligible for fewer weeks of payments under a Republican measure approved by the state Senate. The Legislature must approve a jobless benefits package this week in order for the state to receive federal assistance for the program.

Thirty-five thousand Michiganders stand to lose their benefits if the legislature does not agree to the extension by April 1st. 

Democratic state Senator Tupac Hunter says Republicans are using the opportunity to undercut benefits for people who seek the payments in the future.

“This is 100 percent federally funded, we have an opportunity to address that today, and I think that we’ve chosen political games over helping our workers across this great state.”  

Republican state Senator Tom Casperson says the additional benefits would put too much strain on businesses. 

“Putting people into jobs is the way to fix the problem. But we don’t get there when every time we open our mouths we demonize the very job providers that are going to provide the jobs for us. This is trying to offer an opportunity for both sides; a safety net and add to the unemployment, and a fairness to the business people paying the bill.”

The bill was passed and now moves to the state House for final approval.

Economy
3:36 pm
Wed March 23, 2011

Michigan's unemployment rate declined in February

(Flickr ziggy fresh)

Michigan’s unemployment rate dropped slightly in February. Michigan’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate declined by 3 tenths of one percent last month to 10.4%.

The state’s jobless number was still one and a half percentage points above the national unemployment rate of 8.9%.  

Michigan’s unemployment rate has been falling since September 2009. And last month, the number of jobless Michiganders fell below a half million for the first time since November 2008.

Economy
12:31 pm
Tue March 22, 2011

Michigan loses $300 million in sales tax annually to online shopping

Businesses without physical stores in Michigan can't be required to collect sales tax from customers.
ehow.com

Michigan’s budget problems could be helped if the state were able to collect taxes on things people buy online. But federal rules limit the state’s powers.

The U.S. Supreme Court says states can’t force a business to collect sales taxes unless it has a physical store in the state.

Terry Stanton is with the Michigan Department of Treasury.

He  says that’s costing Michigan big money.

"We estimate that's more than $300 million a year that the state will miss out on because there's no requirement for sellers to collect the sales taxes," Stanton says.

Auto/Economy
12:01 pm
Tue March 22, 2011

Wyoming approves plans to demolish huge former GM Stamping Plant

Former GM Stamping Plant in Wyoming, MI.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

A 2-million-square-foot former General Motors stamping plant in the Grand Rapids suburb of Wyoming will be demolished this year. Monday night Wyoming’s city council approved plans to destroy the 75-year-old building and redevelop the site.

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Auto/Economy
7:59 am
Tue March 22, 2011

Michigan auto insurance rates among the nation's highest

Opps. A fender bender in Ann Arbor. Michiganders spend a lot for auto insurance.
Steve Carmody Michigan Radio

In one study, Michigan had the highest auto insurance rates in the nation. In another, Michigan ranked 11th in the nation.

That's according to a piece from Dawson Bell at the Detroit Free Press. Bell writes both studies cited "the state's unique mandate for unlimited coverage for personal injuries as a primary cause for high rates."

From the article:

Michigan auto insurance rates led the country -- $2,541 a year for a hypothetical 40-year-old man with a clean driving record -- in an annual survey released last week by the consumer insurance information site insure.com.

The Michigan rate jumped more than 21% from the same survey a year earlier, overtaking Louisiana, which topped the list last year.

Vermont, at $995 a year, was the cheapest place to buy auto insurance, the survey found.

Economy
3:44 pm
Mon March 21, 2011

Analysts predict a boost to Michigan's tourism industry this year

A lighthouse, silhouetted against a pinkish horizon, overlooking Lake Michigan
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Michigan’s tourism industry is expected to see a boost in business this year.  Michigan State University tourism experts are predicting a 4% increase tourism spending this year, thanks in part to an expected increase in business travel. 

 MSU researcher Sarah Nicholls says Michigan's tourism industry will build on improving conditions seen last year.

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Macomb County
1:18 pm
Mon March 21, 2011

Is a casino in Macomb County's future?

(flickr blueeyes)

Macomb County executive Mark Hackel says a privately owned casino could boost business along the county's waterfront on Lake St. Clair.  The Macomb Daily reports: Mark Hackel said he plans to reach out to local communities to see who might be interested.

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Economy
11:05 am
Mon March 21, 2011

Invasive insect still biting local budgets

The invasive Emerald Ash Borer was first found in the U.S. in June of 2002. Since its arrival, the bug has wiped out millions of ash trees in Michigan alone.
USDA Forest Service

The emerald ash borer is native to eastern Russia, northern China, Japan, and Korea. It turned up in Michigan in June of 2002, most likely from wood used in packing materials in international cargo ships.

Since its arrival, the bug has led to the death of tens of millions of ash trees.

Removing these trees can be expensive and while some cities have seen the financial bite come and go, others are still feeling it.

Eric Dresden writes in the Saginaw News that the city is unsure how it will pay for the removal of hundreds of dead ash trees. From the Saginaw News:

Of the 6,000 ash trees lining the city’s streets, Simeon Martin expects thousands could be dead by the end of this year.

The cause: an emerald ash borer infestation brewing for at least nine years.

“When spring comes out, that will be the tell-tale time,” said Martin, chief foreman of the city’s streets division.

Last year, the city found 400 dead trees, and this year could be a lot worse, he said. Those trees were removed, and the city is continuing to take down infested ashes, Martin said. This year, he said, the infestation is expected to grow faster than crews can take down the trees.

Dresden reports the city has no money set aside for the removal of dead and dying trees, and when the trees are removed, no new trees are being planted because the city doesn't have the budget to maintain them.

Auto/Economy
4:47 pm
Thu March 17, 2011

Grand Rapids Chamber backs proposed bridge between Detroit and Canada

A downstream view of the Ambassador Bridge and downtown Detroit from the proposed location of the new bridge crossing.
Steve Carmody Michigan Radio

Add the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce to the growing list of people, organizations hoping to see the rebranded New International Trade Crossing become a reality.

Andrew Johnson is the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce’s Vice President of Government Affairs.

“We care about the bridge because 1 in 7 jobs in the Grand Rapids area is tied to exports. And the stronger trade we have between Michigan and Canada, the better it is for our West Michigan businesses.”

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Auto/Economy
1:13 pm
Thu March 17, 2011

Spartan Motors to build delivery vehicle; 450 new jobs expected

Spartan Motors in Charlotte, MI, will expand to build delivery vehicles.
money.cnn.com

A mid-Michigan company is expanding and expects to hire hundreds of people in the next few years.

Spartan Motors in Charlotte builds chassis for fire trucks and ambulance, recreational vehicles, armored vehicles and drilling rigs.

Now it’s going into the delivery vehicle market in a partnership with Isuzu.

The van will be called “The Reach" and it’ll be used by companies like UPS and Federal Express.

Russell Chick is with Spartan Motors. He says production should begin in 2012, adding about 450 jobs.

Auto
10:53 am
Thu March 17, 2011

Honda to recall Civics from 2011

2011 Honda Civic
Honda

The Detroit News reports that Honda will recall  2011 model year Civics for possible problems in rollover accidents. From the News:

Honda said the recall...is to inspect and replace a part that could fail to prevent fuel from leaking out of the fuel tank and into the evaporative emissions canister in a rollover.

The fuel pump module is equipped with a rollover valve but because of improper welding of the plastic case, it may break or crack, Honda said.

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Postal service
4:16 pm
Wed March 16, 2011

No fowarding address: USPS mulls cuts to post office locations

Joey Rozier Flickr

The Wall Street Journal reported recently that the U.S. Postal Service is hoping to close a series of post offices around the country to save money. From the article:

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Auto/Economy
9:29 am
Wed March 16, 2011

Howell manufacturing plant to stop production

Marelco Power Systems, Inc. told the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus that is will stop production at its plant in Howell.

The company makes transformers, inductors, and control systems, among other things, for the auto companies and other manufacturers.

From the Associated Press:

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Economy
4:45 pm
Tue March 15, 2011

Borders will get more time to review bookstore leases

Borders bookstore located in Arborland shopping center in Ann Arbor, Michigan
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

A federal bankruptcy judge has decided to give Borders Group another 90 days to review leases for its bookstores.   The Ann Arbor-based bookstore change is working to emerge from bankruptcy later this year. Borders is already closing 200 bookstores across the country, including 4 stores in Michigan.   Borders is expected to announce plans to close additional stores and renegotiate leases on about 600 other outlets. 

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tax incentives
4:02 pm
Tue March 15, 2011

MEGA approves tax breaks for 10 companies, nearly 2,000 new jobs

The Michigan Economic Development Corporation headquarters in Lansing. MEDC staff serve the MEGA Board and administer activities and programs.
MEDC

Together the projects will generate up to $602 million in new investments and create close to 2,000 new jobs.

By far the biggest project approved by the board this month is in Charlotte. Spartan Motors Chassis designs and manufactures a variety of special products for vehicles. They’re expected to add 450 new jobs along with an expanded facility.

George Bosnjak manages business development at The Right Place. It’s an economic development group in West Michigan. He helped two companies expanding in Grand Rapids get the tax breaks. Atomic Object LLC will expand its current location over a site in California. They expect to launch two new programs that’ll add 30 high tech software design jobs. Knape & Vogt Manufacturing Company makes all kinds of storage related components in Grand Rapids. They purchased a company in Illinois and will move production to Michigan, creating more than 120 new jobs.  

Bosnjak is optimistic about industry growth in West Michigan.

 “We really see a positive trend across all sectors, certainly nothing where it’ll turn around and change what’s happened over the last three years overnight but I feel that our economy and companies here are certainly moving in the right direction.”

However, Governor Rick Snyder is proposing to eliminate these and many other tax breaks. Bosnjak says they’re playing it by ear.

“I don’t think anyone really knows exactly what the programs will be and what the changes will be and how it’ll affect companies. But we’ll certainly deal with the tools that we have and make the best and do the best job that we can.

Snyder says the incentives inherently pick winners and losers when he says the state needs to create a simple and fair tax structure so all businesses are on an even playing field.

Economy
3:33 pm
Mon March 14, 2011

Japanese crisis raises questions about future of nuclear power

(Flickr Simon Strandgaard)

The nuclear accidents in Japan have raised questions about the future of about 20 planned new nuclear power plants in the U.S, including one in Michigan. 

DTE’s proposed Fermi 3 nuclear power plant has the potential of helping Michigan meet its future energy needs, as well as its construction generating billions of dollars for the state’s economy. But like 19 other proposed nuclear projects, its future appears murky in the wake of the Japanese nuclear crisis. 

A DTE spokesman says it’s “way too early” to speculate on how the events in Japan may affect the utility’s application for Fermi 3. 

Joseph Sindoni is with the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry lobbying group.   Sindoni says  “Until we understand clearly what’s occurred at Fukashima (Daiichi) nuclear power plants and any consequences, it’s difficult to speculate about the long-term impact.”  

Plans for new nuclear power plants all but dried up after the 1979 Three Mile Island accident and it was only recently that interest in developing alternative energy sources renewed interest in nuclear power.

Economy
3:23 pm
Mon March 14, 2011

Study: Grand Rapids, Detroit among Top 20 hardest hit by recession

The Grand Rapids metro region, like many places in the U.S., was hit hard by the recession.
Steven Depolo Flickr

A new study by the Brookings Institution shows the Grand Rapids and Detroit metro regions are in the top 20 hardest hit by the recession.

The study measures how deep the recession hit the top 100 metro regions in the United States.

It also looks at how strong the recovery is for those cities.

Jennifer Bradley co-directed the study in the Great Lakes region:

"It's not just about a particular city or a particular suburb. These places are economic units. They're rising and falling together and they will come out of the recession, or not, together."

Bradley says Grand Rapids and Detroit lead the nation in keeping their unemployment rates from spiking even higher, but it's unclear why:

"It could be more people are getting jobs. It could be more people are leaving the workforce altogether. It could be more people are leaving the region all together."

There is a lot in the study that’s not surprising.

It shows most metro regions near the Great Lakes had a weak economy before the recession, mainly because of job losses as the auto industry declined.

Bradley says business and government leaders in metro regions need to work together to strengthen their chances of recovery.

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