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Auto/Economy
4:28 pm
Thu January 27, 2011

Levin calls for more hybrid car tax credits

Congressman Sander Levin
http://www.house.gov/levin/

A Michigan Congressman says U.S. automakers need more help to sell large numbers of electric and hybrid vehicles.

The Obama administration has set a goal of one million plug-in hybrid vehicles on the road by 2015.

There’s already a federal tax credit of $7,500 to help defray the cost of buying a hybrid or electric car.   But there’s a cap on how many of the credits are available to each automaker. 

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Auto/Economy
2:24 pm
Thu January 27, 2011

General Motors' financial health improves

General Motors is saying thanks but no thanks to more federal loans.  The Detroit automaker is withdrawing its application for more than 14-billion dollars in low-cost loans from the Department of Energy.   

Many car companies including Ford have received DOE loans, which are intended to help auto companies revamp factories to build more fuel-efficient cars and trucks.  GM applied for loans through the program shortly after emerging from bankruptcy.  But the automaker says its financial situation has improved since then. 

Gerry Meyers is a professor at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business. He's also a former Chairman of American Motors Corporation.  He says taking the loans would have given GM more debt.   And the automaker told prospective IPO investors late last year that it would avoid going deeply into debt.

It’s quite clear that they’re trying to clean up that balance sheet and also get the government out of the business, so it’s just another step in that direction and I think it’s wise.

Meyers says the next step to GM’s recovery is to stop the revolving door at the top executive level.  The company has had four CEOs in two years.   

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Auto/Economy
1:07 pm
Thu January 27, 2011

GM plans to "go green" without government help

GM says it won't apply for low-interest government loans.
user santoshkrishnan wikimedia commons

The new GM has been turning a corner of late. It posted three profitable quarters last year:

  • $865 million in the first quarter
  • $1.6 billion in the second quarter
  • $2.1 billion in the third quarter

(still waiting on fourth quarter numbers)

Now, in another sign of financial health, the auto company says it will no longer seek government loans to help it modernize factories:

From the Associated Press:

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Economy
12:48 pm
Thu January 27, 2011

Michigan cities rank low on list of home foreclosure hot spots

No Michigan housing markets rank among the 25 worst for home foreclosures in a new national survey.    But, that may change by the end of this year.  

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Auto/Economy
7:22 am
Thu January 27, 2011

Treasury Department hopes to sell off remaining GM stock within 2 years

U.S. Treasury Department, Washington, D.C.
Wally G Flickr

The head of the government's bailout program says the U.S. Treasury Department hopes to sell its remaining shares of General Motors stock over the next two years.

The Associated Press reports:

Timothy Massad, the senior Treasury official managing the government bailout fund, told a congressional hearing that there is now a path forward for Treasury to sell its remaining shares in GM over the next two years if market conditions permit. The Treasury Department trimmed its stake in GM to 26.5 percent of the company, down from 61 percent, when it sold $23.1 billion of GM stock at an initial public offering in November.

Auto/Economy
4:41 pm
Wed January 26, 2011

Distractions rise - but distracted driving deaths don't

Kordite


U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood met with Ford CEO Alan Mulally on Tuesday to discuss the "epidemic" of distracted driving, as LaHood calls it.


LaHood’s self-described rampage against distracted driving has mostly focused on cell phone use in cars.  But the Secretary has also angered many people in the car business for criticizing profit-driving car technologies like Onstar and Sync. 


Many studies show that using a cell phone in the car is distracting.  And so are a lot of other things, especially if they pile up.  Let’s say you’re driving and there’s a kid in the back seat crying.  That’s distracting.  If you remember the Ed Sullivan show, you can think of that as one plate spinning on top of a pole.

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Economy
12:03 pm
Wed January 26, 2011

Bridgewater Place in Grand Rapids sold at foreclosure auction

Bridgewater Place pictured at the far left.
John Eisenschenk creative commons

One of the biggest office buildings in Grand Rapids sold for $34 million at a public foreclosure auction today. The 17-story blue-glass Bridgewater Place building dramatically changed the city’s skyline when it was built in the early 1990s.

Many people refer to the building as the Varnum building, because of the law firms’ prominent logo near the top floor.

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Auto/Economy
7:47 pm
Tue January 25, 2011

Advanced battery maker will pay to train thousands at Grand Rapids Community College

Construction is underway on a huge plant in Holland that will eventually produce hundreds of thousands of battery packs for electric vehicles, including the Chevy Volt. Under a new agreement signed this week, Grand Rapids Community College will help train potential employees for the company, LG Chem.

Mary Hofstra is with GRCC. She helped design this and similar programs at the college.

 “Our goal as a school is to be working with these new battery facilities and to design the curriculum needed to support that industry. So that people can come here, get their college certificate, one year certificate. Maybe it’s going to be a job training model where someone comes for a 20 week period of time to learn the basics to get into that field. It’s going to bring a lot of opportunity beyond just the few that are coming to area.”

Under the agreement, the college will train more than 3,000 employees the company expects to hire over the next two decades. LG Chem will pay for their employees’ training through payroll taxes.

wind energy
7:21 pm
Tue January 25, 2011

Muskegon County seeking developers to build wind farm

warrenski Creative Commons

Right now, the county rotates growing corn, soybeans and alfalfa on a giant, 11,000 acre plot of land where their waste water treatment plant is. They hope to lease out the land in order to add wind farming to the mix.

Mark Eisenbarth directs Muskegon County’s Wastewater Management System. He says they hope to build up to 75 commercial-sized wind turbines on the site. Eisenbarth says there are dozens of municipalities in Michigan with small turbines or even a handful of large ones. But he says this project will be unique.

“To actually get into a wind project where you’re actually creating 75 to 100 megawatts, we are not aware of any municipality, I’m not saying there’s not any, but I have not seen any yet.”

Muskegon County is soliciting proposals to create a wind farm that would generate between 75 and 100 megawatts. They expect to begin reviewing those proposals by May.

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Economy
5:37 pm
Tue January 25, 2011

Could pizza pans help diversify the Michigan economy?

Jet's Pizza owner took it upon himself to find a way to make the pizza pans
Allan Chatto Flickr

Sylvia Rector, a Detroit Free Press Restaurant Critic, has a nice little piece in the Freep about a shortage of pizza pans around the state.

The pizza pan of choice for local restaurants is a blue steel pan that was once made in West Virginia.

The pans were never intended for baking. They were designed to hold small parts in factories.

Overtime the pans "became the pan of choice for nearly every big name in Detroit-style pizza" (Rector describes Detroit -style pizza like this "dough for the thick but airy crust, absurd amounts of cheese and ladles of rich, long-simmered sauce").

But the company moved its operation to Mexico, and they haven't been able to get production up and running.

Pizza makers were distraught. They needed the pans. From the article:

Restaurant supply companies here -- and apparently everywhere else -- have been out of them for many months.

Pizza makers' orders for pans are stacking up by the thousands and causing problems for big chains and small independents alike.

"You wouldn't even believe how many pans we have on back order" -- at least 4,000 small and medium sizes and 700 extra larges -- says Patti Domasicwicz at People's Restaurant Equipment in Detroit. She hasn't received a shipment since April.

One pizza maker couldn't wait. So he took it upon himself to start making the pans in Michigan.

Eugene Jett, co-founder of Jet's Pizza, says he found a manufacturer that would do it:

"They're cutting them as we speak...The first thing is for me to get my pans...It took me a long time to figure out how to get them done...But I decided then, I will build my own pans."

Rector writes that if the manufacturer thinks the pans will be profitable, they might put the pans into full production.

Perhaps another sign that Michigan is diversifying it's economy.

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Economy
2:44 pm
Tue January 25, 2011

Grand Rapids Mayor responds to Newsweek's "Dying Cities" post

Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell was irked by Newsweek's "Dying Cities" designation.
user stevendepolo Flickr

After Newsweek named Grand Rapids as one of its ten "Dying Cities," Mayor George Heartwell sat down to express his feelings about the magazine's designation.

In a letter to Newsweek editor Tina Brown, Heartwell said "the citizens of Grand Rapids were astounded when you declared our city...to be a 'dying city.'"

From the letter:

Dying city? Surely Newsweek must be joking! Would a major medical School (Michigan State University School of Human Medicine) move its campus to a dying city? Would a dying city have seen $1.4 Billion in downtown construction in the past seven years?...Would a dying city have more LEED certified buildings per capita (2009) than any other American city?

The mayor might have been wise to ask whether rapper 50-cent would consider moving to a dying city as well.

He did invite Newsweek's Tina Brown to visit the city saying, "I'm afraid our timing is off to get you to a Kid Rock concert...that happens tonight. But if you want to see Lady GaGa at our Van Andel Arena there's still time; she's comes this spring."

Economy
2:04 pm
Tue January 25, 2011

Great recession slows Midwest's "brain drain"

The preferred moving truck for young people.
user dvs Flickr

For much of the last decade, cities across our region have watched their recent college graduates flee to cities like Phoenix.

It what might be good news for our region, new census data show the recession has significantly changed where young people are moving.

People, especially people in their early twenties, go where the jobs are.

That’s why Michigan is so concerned about being the only state in the census to lose population

And cities like Cleveland and Detroit have been fretting about "brain drain" to other areas.

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Auto/Economy
1:37 pm
Tue January 25, 2011

Chicago Auto Show organizers like Detroit's trend

It seems they've always been big. The Chicago Auto Show in 1938. "Musical skits...featured the new models. In the photo is the 40-foot revolving globe."
Chicago Auto Show

For the second year in a row, attendance at the North American International Auto Show increased.

It's not just good news for Detroit. It could also be good news for Chicago.

The 2011 Chicago Auto Show kicks off in two weeks.

Its organizers say they’re encouraged by the figures out of Detroit where 735,000 people attended this year’s show.

That’s about 20,000 more than last year.

It's not a huge increase, but it is a change from years of steady decline.
Paul Brian works with the Chicago Auto Show, which attracts a lot more people than the Detroit Auto Show. Brian says regional rivalries aside

"It's kind of like whether you’re Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines - everybody’s playing on the same team. If it’s good for the Detroit show, it’s good for Chicago, and New York, and LA, and it’s good for the industry."

After all, buzz is buzz.

Transportation
10:45 am
Tue January 25, 2011

Part of terminal at Detroit Metro Airport evacuated

Inside the Detroit Metropolitan Airport
Phil H Flickr

UPDATE 10:45 a.m.:

A suspicious package forced the evacuation of part of the Detroit Metro Airport today.

Mike Conway is an airport spokesman. He says baggage handling workers alerted security officials after a box containing electronic equipment and loose wiring entered the building. The box was being moved from one airplane to another.

Conway says the security officials closed 8 gates in the McNamara Terminal while they investigated the box.

 “The area below that is where the nuts and bolts where all the processing of all the luggage, packages and stuff like occur…this package was on a belt…in the bag makeup area for that section of gates.’"

Conway says the box did not originate in Detroit. He says the shipper is being contacted.

9:15 a.m.:

Part of a terminal at Detroit Metropolitan Airport has been evacuated, the Associated Press reports. Authorities say the evacuation occurred after a suspicious box was found at an area for loading cargo and luggage onto planes.  According to the AP:

Airport spokesman Mike Conway says the box was found about 7:15 a.m. Tuesday and passengers were removed from part of Concourse B at the McNamara Terminal out of "an abundance of caution." Conway says planes that were to use gates at the concourse were using other gates at the airport. The concourse at the airport in Romulus primarily is used by regional aircraft.

He says details about why security officials determined the box to be suspicious weren't immediately available.

Auto/Economy
5:13 pm
Mon January 24, 2011

Retailers have item pricing law in their sights

Steve Carmody

Retailers say they are more hopeful than they’ve been in many years that Michigan is close to repealing the law that requires them to put a price sticker on every item they sell. But unions and Democrats say they will put up a fight to preserve what they say is a significant consumer protection.

James Hallan is the president of the Michigan Retailers Association. He says store-owners were pleased to hear in Governor Rick Snyder’s State of the State address that he is on their side. And Hallan says retailers hope the Legislature’s large Republican majorities will go along with scrapping the 35-year-old law.

“We have a new administration that is progressive. We have a legislative body that is progressive, and technology has come a long ways from where it was in 1976. Cell phones were not around in 1976. You look at all the new technology, and it’s time we embrace this and not walk away from it."

But not everyone is on board. Chris Michalakis is with the United Food and Commercial Workers union. He says the item-pricing law remains popular with the public.

“What we’re hoping is our Republican governor and our Republican majorities in the House and the Senate will listen to consumers and members of their community and when they look to change this law, do it in a way that voters are comfortable with and do it in a way that protects consumers and protects jobs.”

Employee unions say the law remains popular with the public for a reason and, if anything, the item pricing law should be more strongly enforced.

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Auto/Economy
11:30 am
Mon January 24, 2011

Report: GM to add more jobs at Flint Assembly Plant

An announcement at Flint Assembly this morning.
Steve Carmody Michigan Radio

Update 11:30 a.m.:

Steve Carmody called in with this update from the news conference:

GM announced that it will add 750 jobs to its Flint Assembly Plant by adding a third shift. No new hires will be made. The pool of workers will come from two places:

  1. people being reactivated from various layoff pools
  2. workers who would like to return to Flint after they were transferred to another plant

10:21 a.m.:

GM is planning a news conference at 10:30am this morning.

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Auto/Economy
11:05 am
Mon January 24, 2011

Report: GM sells more cars in China than in U.S.

General Motors headquaters in Detroit. GM says it sold more cars in China last year than it did in the U.S.

More signs that China's economy is growing.

The Associated Press reports:

General Motors says it sold more cars and trucks in China last year than it did in the U.S. for the first time in its 102-year history.

The company sold 2.35 million vehicles in China. That's about 136,000 more than it sold in the U.S.

The AP report says GM sold 2.35 million vehicles in China - 136,000 more vehicles than it sold in the U.S. in 2010.

The country's population is 4 times bigger than the U.S. population (according to World Bank numbers):

  • China's population: 1,331,460,000
  • U.S. population: 307,006,550
homelessness
5:31 pm
Fri January 21, 2011

State agencies to receive less money in 2011 to prevent homelessness

Officials from Community Rebuilders with a number of people who've gone through thier programs for the homeless.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

The federal department of Housing and Urban Development announced this week its granting $56 million dollars to Michigan to prevent homelessness. The money funds 269 separate programs all over the state.

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Auto/Economy
4:38 pm
Fri January 21, 2011

IRS won't process some returns until Feb. 14

Taxpayers who itemize deductions have to delay filing their returns until February 14 because of changes in the federal tax law.
levistaxes.com

Some Michigan taxpayers getting ready to tackle their returns may have to wait before filing because last-minute federal tax law changes caused a delay in processing.

If you file a simple federal tax return – that is, you don’t itemize your deductions -- you can do that right now.

Otherwise, you’ll need to wait a few weeks.

Luis Garcia is with the Detroit office of the IRS. He says the agency is updating its programs to reflect the tax law changes.

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Auto/Economy
10:44 am
Fri January 21, 2011

Will more ethanol in gas lead to more engine damage?

An ethanol plant in Iowa. The EPA is allowing more ethanol to be mixed into gas.
Fred Thompson Flickr

The farm lobby has been pushing hard to increase the amount of ethanol allowed to be mixed into gasoline. And it seems like the Obama Administration is obliging.

The vast majority of today's ethanol comes from corn. The alcohol is mixed in gasoline to make it burn more cleanly.

Right now, the standard is 10% (a 10% ethanol, and 90% gasoline mix is most likely in your gas tank right now).

The EPA increased the allowed amount of ethanol to a 15% mix last fall for cars made after 2007.

Now, the Associated Press reports the EPA is poised to allow the 15% mix for more cars. From the AP:

Two people familiar with the decision said late Thursday the agency is expected to announce on Friday that 15 percent ethanol in gasoline is safe for cars manufactured between 2001 and 2006. Both officials requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the decision.

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