Changing Gears

Stateside: Small shining towns

Nov 7, 2012

The things one searches for in a big city may very well exist in one’s hometown.

In a recent article entitled, “In Praise of Smaller Cities,” Micki Maynard discussed the overlooked bounties of small American towns.

For Maynard, the benefits of living in a small town were not immediately apparent. In fact, it took living in numerous big cities to really see the practicality of having a lawn, a garden and a garage.

Dustin Dwyer / Changing Gears

The data is in, and the Midwest economy seems to be on the path of recovery. Our long, regional nightmare still isn’t over for many workers, but there are plenty of signs for optimism. Businesses are hiring, productivity has increased.*

Josh Eikenberry

Changing Gears is partnering with Michigan Radio to collect stories about how people are planning ahead in light of the recession. 

Josh Eikenberry writes:

Because I got through college, I’ll probably be slightly better off economically than my parents, who only graduated high school.

On the other hand, the generation after me is doomed; college tuition and a rapidly changing economy requiring less workers means no chance to improve or make money, and the (probable) lack of a social safety net just adds to the gloomy picture facing my generation’s kids.

A second income is essential to any household. We have three. I work, my wife works, and on the weekends I work as a photographer. I’m iffy about kids, primarily because I don’t think I could realistically afford them. Maybe someday I’ll have enough saved to buy a house, but I’m not holding my breath. 

All I ever wanted was an office job. I have that now, so now I just want to pay of my debt and enjoy my life with my wife.

 

This story was informed by the Public Insight Network. If you want to learn how to be a part of our network, click here.

courtesy Detroit Tigers

Let’s face it: Detroit’s reputation as the Motor City is unshakeable. But it’s gaining ground as a city for cyclists.

Angela Dugan

Michigan Radio is partnering with Changing Gears to share stories about how people are planning ahead and how their expectations have changed in light of the recession. You can read those stories here.

Angela Dugan writes:

I am doing better than my parents, mostly because I am not a stay at home mother like my mother was. I also make more money than my husband.

We are working on starting a family, and I am struggling with the decision to stay at home or continue to work. It is both a question of what’s feasible economically, and what is best for our children.

My biggest concern is being able to afford a lifestyle that we are happy with if I choose to stop working once we have children. I make more money than my husband, so it would be a big change unless he ends up being the one that stays home. We are currently renting a home we could not sell, but at a huge loss, and our new home needs a lot of repair work.

To some extent, I feel that even though I’m doing the best I can to invest wisely and save as much as I can, a lot of variables are simply out of my immediate control.

You can help us cover this topic by sharing your story. How are you planning for what comes next? Tell us by following this link.

This story was informed by the Public Insight Network. If you want to learn how to be a part of our network, click here.

Over the past few months the Changing Gears team has been bringing you stories of Midwest Migration---about those who have left the region for other parts of the country and beyond.

Tune into Michigan Radio this Sunday at 9p.m. to hear “Where Did Everybody Go?, " an hour-long Changing Gears documentary that tells the stories of people who left the Midwest, and some who came home.

More info at Changing Gears.

user kiwideapi / creative commons

Last year, everyone in the auto industry was chuffed about Detroit’s comeback.

The carmakers were enjoying a healthy rebound from the bankruptcies at General Motors and Chrysler. And for a while, at least, Chrysler outsold Toyota to make the Detroit Three the Big Three again.

But this year, Detroit’s market share has been slipping, and that has ramifications all across the Midwest.

In fact, the auto companies have fallen back to the market share level they held in 2009, as GM and Chrysler were struggling.

In a piece for Forbes.com, I look at what happened to the Detroit companies during the first quarter.

Basically, there are three issues: 

1) GM and Ford are losing share. In March, GM’s market share fell to a 90-year low. And while Ford’s car sales are up in 2012, they aren’t up as much as the competition. That’s one way a company can lose share, by not keeping up.

2) Toyota got stronger. Japan’s biggest carmaker was battered by millions of recalls, the tsunami and earthquake and floods in Thailand. But its market share is climbing back, thanks to new members of the Prius family, and the newest version of the Camry.

3) Korean and European companies are gaining. Hyundai and Kia are causing headaches for all kinds of automakers with their sales gains. Volkswagen is picking up market share, too, and it’s planning to build more cars at its new plant in Tennessee.

Here’s how Detroit’s market share looks, according to Autodata, Inc.

2012: 44.3 percent (through March)

2011: 47 percent

2010: 45.1 percent

2009: 44 percent

Changing Gears is partnering with Michigan Radio to collect stories about how people are planning ahead in light of the recession. You can read more stories about how Midwesterners' expectations are changing at the Changing Gears tumblr blog, http://chgears.tumblr.com.

Here's what some Midwesterners are saying:

"I wanted to be a stay at home mom, but we couldn’t have just one source of income and raise a family. Our fix? I opened a day care in our home. I treat it as my small business – which it is - and raise our child along with 3 others in her age range." -Ella Bensen

Chris Lehman / Changing Gears

If you wanted to start life over in a new place, would you choose somewhere with a chronically high unemployment rate and struggling schools, or one that’s known as a haven for slackers? The latter is one way to describe Portland, Oregon.

It seems like everyone is talking about Portland these days. Part of that has to do with the success of Portlandia, a sketch comedy show that pokes fun at Portland’s young hipster crowd. As one character explains, “Portland is a city where young people go to retire.”

Tax incentives have become the weapon of choice among states battling for new business investments. Niala Boodhoo reported in December that offering incentives has become a sort of strategy game for Midwest states hoping to one-up each other as everyone fights to grow jobs. But, as Niala reported, these are games with millions of dollars in tax breaks and thousands of jobs on the line.

Michigan Radio and Changing Gears are collecting stories about how people are planning ahead in a tough economy, and we’d like your help. What’s on your mind as you plan for what comes next?

You can follow this link to share your thoughts.

We want to hear from you – whether you’re planning for retirement, saving for a home, sending kids to college, or just starting a career. If you’re retired, have you had to make some adjustments?

Photo courtesy of Carbon Green BioEnergy

The ethanol refinery for Carbon Green Bioenergy rises up out of the cornfields outside Lake Odessa Michigan.

The refinery was built in 2006. Mitch Miller, the CEO of the company, says a lot of refineries were popping up then.

“Five years ago, ethanol was a craze,” he says. “It was the next best thing.”

Now, not so much. Refineries aren’t being built. Politicians aren’t stopping by with platoons of reporters.

Seriously, when is the last time you heard anyone talk about ethanol?

Kate Davidson / Changing Gears

Measuring the success of retraining programs used to be straightforward. You just looked at how many people got better paying jobs. Now the emphasis is shifting from how job seekers benefit to how taxpayers benefit too. That’s because some federal funds for workforce development are shrinking, and local agencies have to do more to make their case.

In the Midwest, we hear a lot about retraining. A lot of the money for retraining and other job services comes from the federal government, through the states, to local programs like this one in Jackson, Michigan.

Jennifer Knightstep was a researcher in the media archives at General Motors until she was laid off in 2008. Her first reaction was fear.

“I panicked for a few minutes, and then I tried to think of what I wanted to do next,” she says. “There’s not a big demand for archivists in Metro Detroit or anywhere else for that matter.”

So instead of trying to get a similar job, Knightstep decided to go in a new direction.

“I thought maybe I should start trying to do what I really wanted to do, which was be a writer.”

When she filed for unemployment, she learned about No Worker Left Behind, a program in Michigan that offered up to $10,000 in tuition for degrees in emerging industries. NWLB was scaled back in 2010 following federal funding cuts.

When most people think about growing fields, freelance writing is not the first job that comes to mind, but Knightstep made it work.

Valerie O'Rourkefrom the 99% Spring Blog / from the 99% Spring Blog

Earlier this year, we told you about The 99% Spring, the protest movement sponsored by a variety of political and labor groups including MoveOn.org, the United Auto Workers and the Teamsters Union.

It’s part of a fresh wave of protests that are taking place across the country, in the wake of the Occupy movement.

Starting next week, 99% Spring events will be kicking off across the United States, and especially in the Midwest.

Supporters are vowing to train 100,000 people to “to tell the story of what happened to our economy, learn the history of non-violent direct action, and use that knowledge to take action on our own campaigns to win change.”

Over the weekend, the UAW sent an email to its members, encouraging them to take part.

“We are at a crucial point in America where if we continue to ignore the opportunity to rebuild this great country, then we risk losing the very essence of what has made this country great,” the email said. 

Some 918 events have been scheduled thus far. MoveOn.org, which is associated with the Democratic Party, has a locator for events, where you can put in your zip code and find those closest to you.

Here are the ones for the Detroit area, Chicago and Milwaukee, and Cleveland. To be sure, the 99% Spring movement hasn’t said what will happen once people are trained, but given the training events, it’s pretty clear it will meet its goal of training 100,000 people.

Are you planning to take part in 99% Spring? Let us know where and when.

Preeti Upadhyaya

Unemployment numbers in the Midwest are bad. Not as bad as when the recession was at its worst, but there are still a lot of people looking for jobs. Even so, we keep hearing that some employers can’t find enough skilled workers. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder says in his state alone, there are more than 77,000 job openings that can’t be filled.

There is really only one way to bridge that gap. People need training. And the way people are getting that training is changing.

Wendy Whitmore is the CEO of EMR Approved, a company in Chicago that works with doctors and hospitals that are making the switch to electronic medical records.

Four years ago, EMR Approved didn’t exist. Back then, Wendy Whitmore was running SSG Consulting, an IT consulting firm that wasn’t doing so well.

So she decided to try something new, and she took 12 of her employees with her.

Whitmore still runs SSG Consulting, and some of her employees straddle both businesses, but what they’re doing now is totally new.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

This month, we’re looking into some of the hidden assets of the Midwest – the parts of our economy that don’t often get noticed when we talk about our strengths (the first part of the series is here). Agriculture is one of the biggest drivers of local economies in the Midwest – it accounts for billions of dollars worth of exports and thousands of jobs. There’s been a lot of concern about whether enough young people are going into farming these days. But the ag industry goes well beyond being just farming – and plenty of young people are interested in that.

At Navy Pier, a special meeting of the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences’s FFA chapter is being called to order. Ringed around the room, one by one, chapter officers check in during the traditional opening ceremony. It ends when President and Senior Jennifer Nelson asks her fellow FFA members: “Why are we here?”

The students stand and chant in unison: “To practice brotherhood, honor agriculture opportunities and responsibilities, and develop those qualities of leadership that an FFA member should possess.”

Dustin Dwyer / Changing Gears

This month, we’re taking a look at some of the hidden assets of the industrial Midwest – the parts of our economy that don’t often get noticed when we talk about our strengths.

We found one hidden asset right smack in the middle of our manufacturing sector. It’s a machine that’s in literally thousands of factories across the Midwest. And, though, you might not have heard of it before, the CNC machine – and the people who operate it – are at the core of our economy.

CNC stands for computer-numerically-controlled. And what the computerized machine does is it machines things. That sounds ridiculous unless you know that machine is not just a noun. It’s also a specific manufacturing process.

Kate Davidson / Changing Gears

Apparently, the phone has been ringing off the hook over at Detroit’s planning department.

It’s all because of a few lines uttered by Mayor Dave Bing in his State of the City address last week. (You’ll find them about 30 minutes in.)

“This week we sent out over 500 letters to property owners in Hubbard Farms, Springwells Village and Southwest Detroit,” he announced, “telling them if they own a home adjacent to a vacant city-owned lot, they can purchase this lot for a mere $200.”

“No coming downtown,” the mayor said.  “No added bureaucracy. The city will mail back the deed.”

Bing’s initiative is a response to the overwhelming problem of abandoned property in Detroit.

It’s a problem we explored in our stories about Detroit “blotters” — which you can see here and here.

Here’s what you do: Click on the video, and pop it out to full screen.

As you watch, remind yourself that this is the place they call the Rust Belt.

Remind yourself that this is the place that cannot keep its talented young people, because they say it’s too cold.

Too uninspiring.

Too boring.

Remind yourself that they say those things.

Remind yourself that none of it is true.

Then, get back to work.

Micki Maynard / Changing Gears

A year ago, people in the Midwest were realizing the damage that the massive earthquake and tsunami had done to Japan. And, while the region affected by the earthquake is starting its long recovery, everyone here has learned some permanent lessons.

Kate Davidson / Changing Gears

Americans owe close to a trillion dollars in student loan debt.

Changing Gears has been reporting on that debt, a lot of which comes from attending private, for-profit schools.  They’re the fastest growing part of higher education, popular for non-degree technical training. Call them career colleges, technical schools or trade schools - just don’t call them cheap.

So I’m at Cobra’s the Grind, eyes-avoiding-buttocks, walking up dimly lit stairs to meet the manager.

Rosalyn Park

When we asked what cultural traditions people have kept or lost, many wrote about the difficulty of fitting into American culture while staying connected to their own roots

Kate Davidson / Changing Gears

America’s student loan debt is now bigger than its credit card debt. It’s about a trillion dollars. Student loan default rates are rising. While many families struggle to afford traditional colleges, a lot of student debt comes from attending private, for-profit schools that focus on vocational training. These students default on their loans twice as often as students from public colleges.

As part of our Your Family Story series, we’re collecting recipes that have been passed down within families. Send in your mother’s, grandfather’s, or cousin’s famous recipe for goulash, pozole, dumplings or any dish that your family has enjoyed.

We’re collecting recipes until midnight tomorrow. We’ll publish all the recipes. The winner will be chosen by the Changing Gears team. They’ll collect a grab bag of public radio goodies. Share your traditional family recipes here, and tell us a little bit about the story behind the dish. 

Today, Changing Gears Senior Editor Micki Maynard shares this recipe for Mazurek:

My father’s family, which is of French descent, has been in the United States for many generations, settling primarily in Massachusetts. But my mother is a first generation American. Her family came to the United States around 1905. Her father hailed from what was known then as Byelorussia --- present day Belorus, sometimes also called White Russia.

My mom learned European dishes from her mother and New England recipes through my dad, so we enjoyed a varied menu at home. I’ve always heard my mother say what a good cook my grandmother was. But, I didn’t know until this year that my grandmother was co-owner of a bakery in Grand Rapids. The Northwestern Bakery stood on Leonard Street, although the building is no longer there.

Each Easter, my family gathers for brunch, and Mazurek (pronouncd mah-ZUR-eck) is always the last dish that is served. We sit over coffee and tea and enjoy this dense, rich pastry, very much like a soft shortbread. My mom was always the Mazurek baker, until she offered to teach me. She also shared the recipe with my brother, who baked the Mazurek that you see above.

Want to add Mazurek to your repertoire? Follow this recipe.

Chrysler's Windsor Assembly Plant.
Chrysler

Publicus Tacitus, the Roman senator, is given credit for coining the phrase, “Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan.”

He’d feel right at home during the Michigan Republican primary campaign.

Over the past few weeks, candidates, their opponents and those who played a role have been debating just who should get credit for the auto industry bailout.

It’s a long-overdue discussion of what happened a little over three years ago, and the conversation shows just what a political hot button the situation still is for people in Michigan and the Midwest. Here’s a list of credit takers and how they make their cases.

courtesy of Carlos Manzo

Most Americans have ethnic and cultural roots outside of the U.S. We're asking you to share cultural traditions that are still important to you.

Changing Gears is looking for stories, recipes, songs, and pictures. We'll be collecting these stories  on the Your Family Story page. They'll also appear at changinggears.info and we'll even put some on the air. You can share your story here.

In the early 1900’s our widowed great grandmother, Soledad Perez, left the USA and went back to La Piedad in Mexico to raise her four daughters: Luz, Angelina, Esther & Carmen.

In the winter of 1948 my mother, Esther, a young newly married 17 year-old, found herself in a Mexican border town boarding a train headed for the USA. Her husband (my father Antonio Ramirez Manzo) gave her an address of a Catholic parish in Detroit, MI.

photo courtesy of Kedron Rhodes

A lot of people like where they live, but there are also people like Kedron Rhodes-who love, love, love, where they live.

The 34 year-old professional designer lives outside of Grand Rapids.

He just can't think of enough ways to show his appreciation for Michigan. But he's trying. One of his ideas is to run a design challenge of sorts. 

Each day in February, Rhodes is making a new graphic design and posting it online.

Anyone can download the designs and use them as they see fit.

Most Americans have ethnic and cultural roots outside of the U.S. We're asking you to share cultural traditions that are still important to you.

Changing Gears is looking for stories, recipes, songs, and pictures. We'll be collecting these stories  on the Your Family Story page. They'll also appear at changinggears.info and we'll even put some on the air. You can share your story here.

Jillian Jones Sisko writes:

Letter writing has always been an important part of my family's legacy.

My mother discovered her family origins through a letters written in the early 1900's that were found in a desk drawer in an attic in Epernay, France. The letter was written by my grandfather and addresses to his brother. When my mother discovered the letters, she started communicating with her family.

When my oldest sister left for college in the 70's, my father, Wayne Muren, began writing weekly letters just as my great grandfather did many years prior. The letters served as a source of inspiration for my sister and as well as a blanket of comfort.

After all five children grew up and graduated from college, several moved away. Wayne kept writing letters. To this day, 35 years later, I am blessed to still receive a weekly letter filled with newspaper/magazine articles. The no. 10 envelope that was once delivered to my college dormitory is now a large manila envelope packed with news and information.

The letters are sent to not only his children, but also to his 11 grandchildren. The letters are now mailed in large envelopes which accompany 10-20 newspaper clippings to keep the family up-to-date with current events as well as comic strips from a local artist.

This gift of communication is one that I hope will never stop arriving at my door for many years to come. This ritual is now our family tradition.

While many states in the South and West passed restrictive laws against illegal immigrants last year, officials in Dayton, Ohio were putting out the welcome mat.

And they’re not alone in the Midwest.

In the second part of our look at immigrants and the Midwest, we’ve found many local governments are trying to attract immigrants as an economic development strategy.

Dayton got attention from all over the world last fall when its city commission unanimously approved a plan called Welcome Dayton to make it an “immigrant-friendly city.” Since then, the town has been inundated.

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