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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.

(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.

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.

Jennuine Captures / Flickr

Three major Detroit institutions are looking to leverage their spending to give a boost to the city’s economy.

Henry Ford Health System, the Detroit Medical Center and Wayne State University are all part of an initiative to revitalize the city’s Midtown area. And the “buy Detroit” campaign is part of that.

So far, the three institutions have shifted about $400,000 to Detroit businesses, says Lisa Prasad is with U3 Ventures, a firm that's helping with the project. 

"The number may be very small at the moment compared to their overall procurement, but we think the growth will be exponential once we really get it institutionalized."

Prasad says food is one thing all three institutions have been able to buy more locally.

Combined, the university and health systems spend $1.6 billion a year.

Most people think their dealerships are being honest about recommended repair and maintenance work.  That’s  according to an annual survey by J.D. Power.  

J.D. Power says only 7% of people say their dealer tried to sell them maintenance or repairs they didn’t need.  The practice is called “upselling.”

Research director John Obsborn says customers’ satisfaction with dealerships has been steadily improving for a decade:

" Unfortunately there are many stereotypes out there about the dealers -- but our data indicates that they provide high levels of satisfaction both in the servicing of vehicles and the selling of vehicles."

Osborn says vehicle quality has also been improving for the past ten years – and that tends to increase people’s satisfaction with their dealerships, who don’t have to give customers bad news in the form of high repair bills as often.   

The survey found little difference among perceptions of upselling between brands, luxury and non-luxury vehicles, or between men and women. 

Younger customers were, however, more likely to think their dealership was trying to sell them an unnecessary repair or maintenance.

inquisitr.com

There are fans and foes of daylight saving time, which began at 2 a.m. Sunday.

It means setting our clocks forward an hour, and for many, that means losing an hour of sleep every spring.

But for shift workers, it means working one  hour less.

Beth Skaggs is an attorney with Varnum Law in Grand Rapids.

She says daylight saving time can get a bit confusing when it comes to payroll

“For employers, it can create some headaches when they have third-shift workers who are actually working at the time when daylight saving time change occurs,” Skaggs  says.

Varnum says in the spring,  employers are not required to pay workers for the phantom hour when daylight saving time takes effect.

However, she says employers are required to pay for the extra hour worked when daylight saving time ends in the fall.

Many car plants in Japan remain closed as a result of the massive earthquake and tsunami. 

Japanese carmakers say it’s too early to know if the disaster will hurt their exports to the U.S. 

Toyota, Nissan, Subaru and Honda suspended most of their operations in Japan after the disaster, and many plants remain closed today.

Nissan says small fires broke out at two plants but the fires were quickly extinguished. 

One Honda employee in Japan was killed when a cafeteria wall collapsed at Honda’s Research & Development Center in Tochigi. 

More than thirty Honda employees were also injured in Honda facilities in Tochigi due to ceilings collapsing and other damage that took place during the earthquake.

Exports to the U.S. are threatened not just by damage to plants but damage to Japanese ports. 

There could also be parts disruptions from damage to Japanese suppliers.

Helen Hanley / creative commons

Governor Rick Snyder says agriculture is a key part of his strategy to focus economic development efforts on small businesses.

The governor spoke today to the Future Farmers of America state convention. He says there’s lots of room to grow small businesses processing farm products in rural areas of the state.

"There’s an opportunity there to do more economic development in our smaller towns and our villages, and one of those connections is if you look at it, we’re producing all these great commodity products, and if we can do more and more to say let’s continue the processing of these products right where they are being produced, that’s an opportunity to create jobs in these smaller communities. "

At the same time, Snyder says he wants to rely less on tax breaks and other industry-specific incentives to create jobs.

User the commedian / Flickr

A former Highland Park charter school treasurer named Shantell Bell has been charged with embezzlement, the Associated Press reports:

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette's office says in a release that 37-year-old Shantell Bell was arrested Friday and was expected to be arraigned in Highland Park District Court.

Authorities say a $25,000 check request was made in 2009 for textbooks at George Washington Carver Academy.

The money later was paid to an Ohio title company. Bell's ex-boyfriend reported it to
the school, which contacted Michigan State Police.

Bell no longer works at the school.

Defense attorney Karri Mitchell declined Friday to comment on the case.

Schuette made comments to the Detroit News following the arrest:

"The theft of resources from Michigan's children will not be tolerated" 

"We must root out corruption at all levels of government to ensure the public is served. Nobody will get a free pass when they break the law."

Bell's arraignment was expected to occur this afternoon, in the 30th District Court.

Bob Vigiletti / Michigan Radio Picture Project

Michigan and Nevada seem to be linked in some not-so-good ways.

High unemployment rates, high home foreclosure rates, and declining housing prices.

And now... add the lack of a State Fair to that list.

In this age of austerity, Nevada has decided to cut its State Fair. Michigan cut its Fair back in 2009.

The Associated Press reports Nevada and Michigan are the only two states without a State Fair.

From the AP:

The board of directors for the Nevada State Fair says there won't be one this summer.

Board members say budget shortfalls leave them no choice but to bring an end to the fair for the first time in 136 years.

Executive director Rich Crombie said in a statement Wednesday that a last-ditch fundraising effort had produced only a fraction of the estimated $250,000 needed to keep the fair from folding up
its tent.

It means Nevada will join Michigan as the only states in the nation without state fairs.

Crombie says they are debt but don't intend to file bankruptcy. He says the hope is to continue to raise money for another state fair in the years ahead. The first Nevada fair was held in 1874.

The Michigan State Fair, said to be the country's oldest, was closed in 2009 because of declining attendance and budget shortfalls.

Michigan Radio's "Picture Project" has some fantastic images of Michigan's now defunct State Fair.

Spacing Magazine / Flickr

Updated:  5:59 p.m.

Outgoing GM CFO Chris Liddell says he only began wrestling with whether to leave GM in the past few weeks, and he and boss Dan Ackerson have been discussing the subject only for the past week.

Liddell says he has no announcement to make as to his next job, but he thinks it will not be a chief financial officer position.

GM CEO Dan Akerson says the transition, from Liddell to his successor, current GM Treasurer Dan Ammanns, should be "seamless."

Akerson says he's committed to remain at the helm of GM for the next five years.  Dan Ammanns also stresses his plan to stay for the long term.

Investors in GM's initial public offering in November had been assured that GM's leadership would stabilize. 

Sheldon Stone is with Amherst Partners, a restructuring consultant firm.

Stone says some investors will likely be concerned about Liddell's departure.

"He (Liddell) was part of that road show, that went out pitching the IPO," says Stone.  "He had his fingerprints all over it. 

Stone says GM needs change.  But this may be too much change.

GM has had four CEOs in the past year.  Several senior executives have left GM in the past year.  And the deck of senior management has been shuffled and re-shuffled several times.

Ken Elias is an analyst with the consultant firm Maryann Keller & Associates. 

He says Liddell, formerly CFO of Microsoft, was brought to GM by former CEO Ed Whitaker, with the understanding that Liddell would be groomed as Whitaker's successor.

But months after Liddell began his new job at GM, Whitaker stepped down as CEO.  GM's Board chose Board member Dan Akerson to lead the company. 

Elias says that could account for Liddell's decision, after the IPO was completed, to leave GM.

 

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General Motors says its Chief Financial Officer will step down as of April 1st. Chris Liddell will be replaced by Treasurer Dan Ammann. The Associated Press reports:

Spokeswoman Noreen Pratscher said Thursday that Liddell accomplished his goals of finishing an initial public stock offering and returning the company to sound financial footing. She says Liddell did not say anything about his plans for the future.

Under Liddell, GM posted four straight profitable quarters.

Spokeswoman Noreen Pratscher said Liddell accomplished his goals of finishing an initial public stock offering and returning the company to sound financial footing. She says Liddell did not say anything about his plans for the future.

The 52-year-old Liddell joined GM in January of 2010, about six months after it emerged from bankruptcy protection.

Chairman and Chief Executive Dan Akerson said Liddell was a major contributor to GM during a pivotal time in the company's history.

"He guided the company's IPO process and established a good financial foundation for the future," Akerson said in a statement.

GM reported net income of $4.7 billion last year, fueled by strong sales in China and the U.S. as the global auto market began to recover. It earned $2.89 per share on revenue of $135.6 billion.

It was the company's best performance since earning $6 billion in 1999 during the height of the pickup truck and sport utility vehicle sales boom.

Detroit posted the biggest percentage drop in home prices in the nation, according to a new report. Clear Capitol says home prices in Michigan’s largest home market slide 13% in February, more than any other major city.

Alex Villacorta  is Clear Capitol’s director of research.   He says home prices in Detroit are being dragged down by banks trying to sell foreclosed homes.    Bank owned homes usually sell at well below market prices.

Foreclosure filings in Michigan have fallen to levels not seen since 2008.   Realty Trac reports foreclosure filings dropped by 30 percent in February compared to a year ago. 

Daren Bloomquist is with Realty Trac.  He says mortgage lenders are finding it difficult to get home foreclosures started, since last fall’s scandal involving incorrect paperwork forcing people out of their homes.  New rules require more safeguards in preparing a foreclosure filing.  But Bloomquist says this is only delaying the inevitable for many delinquent home owners.

  “What hasn’t gone away is there are still a lot of properties that eventually we people will be foreclosed on.  That’s really the only solution for some of these situations.”  

Bloomquist says the slowed foreclosure process might help reduce the number of bank owned homes on the real estate market.   The high number of foreclosed homes on the market is blamed for causing depressed home sale prices.

whirlpoolcorp.com

The head of Michigan-based Whirlpool says the United States is a smart place for the appliance giant to invest.

The company announced last year that it planned to sink $1 billion into its United States operations over the next four years. CEO Jeff Fettig says since then, he’s fielded lots of questions about why and how the company planned to do that.

Getty Images

The labor battle seizing the Midwest right now is focused on the collective bargaining rights of public sector employees. But the fight over breaking these unions may have cracked open another door: the one labeled “right-to-work.”

So, let’s recap some of the big labor news that’s unfolded in recent weeks. Thousands of protestors flooded the capitals of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and, of course, Wisconsin.

Also – and this didn’t make headlines — In Grand Rapids, Jared Rodriguez began moving into a new office.

“In fact, I was unpacking boxes when you called,” he said.

Chrysler is recalling a quarter million crossovers and minivans for ignition switch problems that can cause stalling. 

The recall involves 2010 model year Dodge Journey crossovers and Grand Caravan minivans and Chrysler Town and Country minivans. 

The company says in some of the vehicles, ignition switches can slip out of the “run” position while the vehicle is being driven. That could shut off the engine. 

At least two rear-end collisions have been reported due to the defect.   

The Grand Caravan and Town and Country minivans are top-sellers for the company. 

The automaker is struggling to increase sales while many of its Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep brand vehicles remain at the bottom of many quality and reliability surveys.

Carlota Soc / creative commons

A mail processing center in Flint may be slated for closure next month. The United States Postal Service may move the city’s mail sorting and processing to Pontiac.

Shannon LaBruyere is with the U.S. Postal Service. She says if the closure goes through, 113 jobs will be affected; half would be relocated to Pontiac, half would be offered other positions likely outside of Michigan.

"They will be the people who bear the brunt of the change. Our customers, from our preliminary assessments, won’t see any change in the service they receive."

USPS will hold a public meeting to discuss the possible Flint closure on March 23 at the city's Holiday Inn Gateway Centre.

The Postal Service lost $8.5 billion last fiscal year and plans to close 2,000 post offices nationwide this year. LaBruyere says USPS would save "$6.5 million dollars per year" by moving Flint operations to the Michigan Metroplex in Pontiac. 

A Washington Post article in February says President Obama's 2012 budget recommends about $11 billion in relief to help stem losses at the Postal Service:

The losses stem in part from hefty personnel costs not borne by other federal agencies. One is a requirement, imposed by a 2006 law, that it set aside money each year to cover the costs of future health benefits for its retired workers.

In the Obama administration's first substantive attempt to address the Postal Service's fiscal woes, the budget would allow the agency to pay $4 billion less toward future retiree health benefits than otherwise required. The mail agency would have to pay about $1.5 billion of those costs in fiscal 2012 and make up the difference in later years.

The budget proposal also adjusts the size of the annual payments by taking into account the size of the workforce, which has shrunk to about 583,000 full-time employees since the law passed in 2006.

(Ford Motor Company)

Rising gasoline prices are apparently spurring interest among car buyers in smaller, more fuel efficient vehicles. Gas prices in Michigan are hovering around $3.50 a gallon. In California, the average price for a gallon of gas is nearly $4. 

George Peterson is the president of Auto-Pacific, an automotive marketing research firm. He says gas prices are helping boost interest in small cars. 

“There’s a tremendous amount of interest, especially with the new small cars on the road that are very, very good.  The Hyundai Elantra, the Ford Focus, the Chevrolet Volt, the Chevrolet Cruze, the upcoming Honda Civic.  All of those are very fuel efficient.  Very good small cars.”  

Still, Peterson says  SUVs remain the leading segment in the auto sales market.

“The largest segment of vehicles still selling is Sport Utility Vehicle.  Now most of those are cross-over SUVs.  So they’re much more fuel efficient than the old gas hog SUVs that we had before.   If you think about sales, SUVs are king, followed by small cars, followed by mid-sized cars.”   

Peterson says the last time gas prices spiked over $4 a gallon, many drivers traded in gas guzzling SUV’s for smaller, more fuel efficient cars. But, he says many of those drivers expressed buyers’ remorse, after missing their larger, more powerful rides.

Andrew Taylor / Flickr

Gas prices continue to go up in that wake of tensions in the Middle East.

The price of a barrel of crude oil has gone over $100 - that number was a record breaker back in early 2008 - the start of the Great Recession.

From the Associated Press:

Gas prices AAA Michigan says gasoline prices are up 8.4 cents per gallon over the past week to a statewide average of $3.53. The auto club said Monday the statewide average is 80.5 cents per gallon higher than last year at this time. Of the cities it surveys, AAA Michigan says the cheapest price for self-serve regular fuel is in the Saginaw/Bay City area, where it's $3.48 a gallon. The highest average can be found in the Marquette area at $3.59. Dearborn-based AAA Michigan surveys 2,800 Michigan gas stations daily.

The White House chief of staff Bill Daley said on NBC's Meet the Press that opening up the country's strategic oil reserves is an option the Obama Administration is considering:

"It is something that only is done--has been done in very rare occasions.  There's a bunch of factors that have to be looked at, and it is just not the price. Again, the uncertainty--I think there's no one who doubts that the uncertainty in the Middle East right now has caused this tremendous increase in the last number of weeks."

Many people wonder why we're seeing an increase in gas prices when the U.S. imports most of it's oil from Canada and Mexico.

Libya doesn't even make the the U.S. Department of Energy's Top 15 list of countries we import oil from.

The answer, simply, is that oil is a global commodity, so when the global price of crude goes up, we all pay more. Crude oil prices influence the price of gas more than other factors like refining, distribution, and taxes.

How Stuff Works has a write up of how the complex system of gas prices are factored here in the U.S.

They break the cost of a dollar of gas down this way:

  • Taxes: 15 cents
  • Distribution and Marketing: 11 cents
  • Refining: 7 cents
  • Crude oil: 67 cents

You can check gas prices near you on michigangasprices.com.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Let’s say you get busted for speeding, disobeying a stop sign, or failing to yield. You still have to deal with the ticket by contesting it or paying up. But if you’re eligible you’re going to get a letter in the mail from the state. It’ll tell you about a class you can take online or in a classroom.

The new driver improvement course is a refresher on traffic safety.

Drivers who pass the class within sixty days can avoid getting points put on their records and that helps keep insurance rates low.

The program started in January and more than 1,000 drivers have taken the course so far.

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