Bill Rice / Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder was interviewed this afternoon by NPR's Talk of the Nation.

He was asked questions by the hosts and by listeners. You can listen to the entire interview here:

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 courtesy of the Heidelberg Project via Facebook

Two Detroit arts organizations are one step closer to turning their artistic visions into reality.

Leveraging Investments in Creativity (LINC), a national arts organization, awarded $50,000 to the Heidelberg Project in Detroit, and $100,000 to the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD).

Heidelberg will use the money to build an outdoor public art project on Detroit’s east side. MOCAD will use the money to create an outdoor space for art and community engagement.

Dani Davis

We put together our stories about arts and the economy in the state to create an hour-long documentary called The Cost of Creativity. On today's podcast, we'll hear the final installment of the doc.

And because Artpod is about all things Michigan, all the music you'll hear on The Cost of Creativity is by Michigan artists. The musicians featured on today's podcast and Luke Winslow-King and Ben Benjamin.

Alex Proimos / Flickr

Keeping the brains here at home.

The University of Michigan Ross School of Business and the Changing Gears project are partnering on a panel discussion about "brain drain" being held at 5 p.m.

Shawn Campbell / Flickr

Update 4:23 p.m.:

Rick Pluta, from the Michigan Public Radio Network, says the House will likely vote on a repeal of the Item Pricing Law tomorrow. Pluta spoke with the sponsor of the bill, State Rep. Lisa Lyons. She says individual price tags wouldn't be required, but stores would be required to prominently post prices so consumers know how much things cost:

"It does eliminate the antiquated requirement that every item be priced which has been in effect since before I was born, but it also upholds and provides for consumer protections that Michigan shoppers have come to know, expect and they deserve," said Lyons.

2:06 p.m.

The Michigan legislature is a step closer in repealing the state's Item Pricing Law.

The law requires that most items on store shelves carry an individual price tag.

The Lansing Bureau of the Detroit Free Press reports:

Legislation to rescind the requirement that almost all retail goods sold in Michigan be individually priced cleared its first hurdle in the state House this morning, winning approval in the Commerce Committee on a 16-3 vote. The measure was approved after its sponsors agreed to an amendment that will require retailers to clearly display prices in close proximity to the item for sale.

Governor Syder has said that a repeal of the law will send a signal that Michigan is a business-friendly state. Retailers say the law is antiquated and drives up prices.

Rick Pluta reported for the Michigan Public Radio Network that

The last effort to repeal the law was five years ago, but it failed under the threat of a veto by Governor Jennifer Granholm.

Proponents of the law say the individual price tags protect consumers from being overcharged.

Jame Fairbrother / Flickr

Update 3:50 p.m.:

The city of Flint did not get approval today from the state for a $20 million bond.   The city needs the money to pay its bills.

The state Treasurer’s office asked the State Administrative Board to table the bond request, which it was expected to approve. The Treasurer’s office is concerned that the city doesn’t have a plan to deal with its long-term debt.   

Flint Mayor Dayne Walling is optimistic the city will get some help from the state. 

“I’m confident the city of Flint and the state Treasurer’s office will work together on a short-term, if not a long-term solution here in the next few weeks.”

Flint faces a multi-million dollar budget deficit.   The city has laid off police officers and dozens of other employees and has reached pay cuts with other city unions. But it still might have trouble making payroll in the coming months. 

Update 2:50 p.m.:

The State Administration Board put off a decision on the city's budget plan this morning. The city wants to borrow money in the form of $20 million in bonds to cover its budget deficit.

The Flint Journal has an update from Flint City Councilman Josua Freeman:

By the end of this month or next month, the city will only have about $500,000 in cash on hand, Freeman said. That's not nearly enough money to meet the payroll expenses of $1.5 million to $2 million every two weeks, he added.
"If nothing changes and we don’t improve our cash flow, we're not going to have enough money to operate," Freeman said.

If the city cannot make payroll, a state takeover or Chapter 9 bankruptcy might be next.

12:42 p.m.

The city of Flint wants to issue bonds to cover it's $17 million budget deficit, but state officials have yet to green light that plan.

The State Administration Board was scheduled to vote on that plan today, but it appears plans have changed.

The Flint Journal is reporting the Board voted to remove the city's request from its agenda today. The Journal reports that led to a cancelation of a Flint City Council meeting scheduled for tomorrow:

Tomorrow's City Council meeting to discuss a $20 million bond request from the state has been canceled.
The meeting, which was scheduled for 5:30 p.m. at City Hall, was canceled after The State Administration Board voted to remove the city's request from its meeting agenda this morning...That move came at the request of the state treasurer's office...City Council President Jackie Poplar said she was made aware of the situation and had no comment until she receives further information.

For $29.95 you can continue the buzz that started with the "Imported from Detroit" Super Bowl ad.

Chrysler is selling t-shirts with the "Imported from Detroit" logo on its Chrysler Collection website ('imported' from the USA, according to the website).

The Detroit Free Press asked a Chrysler spokesperson if the design will be on other items:

Chrysler spokeswoman Dianna Gutierrez said, “It’s too early to discuss. I don’t have any formal details to share at this time.”

The epic two-minute ad is still running on television in edited down one-minute and 30 second versions.

user brewbooks / creative commons

With the impending bankruptcy of Borders Group Inc., we thought we'd give you a quick explanation of the two types of options facing the company.

Chapter 7 Bankruptcy

Also known as "liquidation" or "straight bankruptcy." It sparks an 'everything must go' sale of the company's assets. The company may cease operations after filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

The company that owes the money files for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in court. The company's assets are turned over to a bankruptcy trustee who then sells the assets and tries to pay back the company's creditors. In exchange, the company that owes the money is freed from having to pay all of its bills in full (unless some wrongdoing is found).

The details of Chapter 7 rules vary from state to state.

Chapter 11 Bankruptcy

Also known as "reorganization" bankruptcy used by many corporations (like K-Mart and General Motors).

After filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the company that owes money typically keeps running its business and keeps its assets while going through a reorganization process overseen by the court.

A reorganization plan is put forth, and if the majority of creditors accept it, and the court accepts the plan - the company continues operating and repays its creditors under the reorganization plan.

Payment to creditors can come from the sale of assets, repayment from future profits, or from mergers or recapitalization.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

By some estimates, the city of Flint is facing a $17 million budget hole.

Flint's Mayor is hoping state officials will allow the city to go to the bond market to overcome the budget deficit.

The State Administrative Board is meeting tomorrow to give a thumbs up or a thumbs down to the city's request.

The Flint Journal reports:

A state board made up of Michigan's top elected officials (or their delegates) is expected on Tuesday to consider the city's application to issue $20 million in bonds, part of Flint Mayor Dayne Walling's budget plan.

The State Administrative Board meeting will take place at 11 a.m. in the Lake Superior Room of the Michigan Library and Historical Center in Lansing. The meetings are open to the public.

Michigan Radio's Steve Carmody reported that without the money, Mayor Walling said the city will have trouble making payroll in March:

“There is nothing more important for our city right now than the bond.   We’ve been carrying a crushing load of past deficits on our shoulders.  And we’ve come to the point where the pooled cash is not there to make payroll throughout the entire month of March without an infusion of cash,” said Mayor Walling.

If state officials do not approve of the bond plan, the state may eventually takeover Flint’s finances.

Holland BPW

The state’s Department of Natural Resources and Environment initially denied the air quality permit. That’s because former Governor Jennifer Granholm said the state must consider whether or not a community really needs more power before issuing a permit. An Ottawa County judge ruled that’s not a good enough reason to deny the permit and ordered the DNRE to review the permit application by this Sunday.

Photo courtesy of and Peplin Photographic (

When the Governor gave his State of the State speech, I was standing on the crowded floor of the House of Representatives.  Governor Rick Snyder outlined his plans to get Michigan back to work.  We all listened as he said the Michigan Economic Development Corporation would lead the way.

“The MEDC will recalibrate its efforts and become a better partner with these regional groups to enhance economic gardening, talent enhancement, and support service to companies.”

Rich Allosi / Flickr

The national economy added 49,000 manufacturing jobs in January. That’s more new jobs than in health care, retail or any other major sector of the economy.

It’s good news for the Midwest, where thousands of manufacturing workers are expected to be hired over the next few years.

The number of students enrolled in manufacturing training and engineering courses is on the rise at two year colleges. But some employers say they still have a hard time finding qualified candidates.

Michigan Radio’s Changing Gears project is looking at the economic future of the Midwest.

Michelle Kanu filed this report from Cleveland:

Rich Evenhouse / creative commons

Profit-sharing checks to GM's 45,000 workers are expected to break a record. The news comes as GM is tallying its profit numbers for 2010. The company will release the amount of the checks soon.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

General Motors Co. is planning to pay its hourly workers in the U.S. at least $3,000 each in profit-sharing payouts, the largest amount ever, after the company's return to profitability in 2010, people familiar with the matter said...The auto maker is trying to tow the line between fiscal prudence and expectations that it will share recent gains with workers as the company heads into labor negotiations with the United Auto Workers.

Other U.S. automakers are also sharing the wealth.

Ford Motor Company paid hourly workers more than $5,000, "more than the company was required to pay under the profit-sharing formula in its contract with the UAW," according to the Wall Street Journal.

And Chrysler gave their workers $750 despite the company's losses in 2010.

The Detroit Free Press reports that the checks are expected to be handed out in the months ahead, and the size of the checks could help the automaker in its negotiation with the United Auto Workers union. From the Freep:

The Detroit Three, which will negotiate new labor contracts with the UAW this year, may be giving higher-than-required payments to autoworkers as part of a strategy to convince the rank and file to keep labor costs flat in return for bigger profit sharing in the future, labor experts previously told the Free Press.

Steven Depolo / Flickr

Appointed officials in Grand Rapids agreed to scale back the wage increases they recently received.

In a press release, the City officials said they were "responding to Governor Rick Snyder's call for realigning public employee compensation."

City Manager Gregory Sundstrom, City Attorney Catherine Mish, and City Treasurer Lauri Parks said they will return to their salary levels that were in effect in 2009.

City Treasurer Albert Mooney agreed to return 2% of his salary increase.

The Grand Rapids Press reports that if their request is granted:

Sundstrom's pay will fall back to $142,000; Mish's pay will return to $114,092; Parks' pay will go back to $93.731; and Mooney's pay will fall to $108,755.

The officials said in 2010, "appointed officials again led by example, voluntarily accepting an additional 10% reduction in overall compensation." This included turning down a 2.5% pay increase that was scheduled to take effect on June 30, 2010.

The Grand Rapids officials say the the 2.5% pay increase was "received, and is still being enjoyed today,  by all of the City's unionized workforce."

The city is in the middle of re-negotiating it's collective contracts with the City's unionized workforce. And the negotiations are "difficult" as Mayor George Hearwell said in his State of the City address last Saturday.

As Michigan Radio's Lindsey Smith reported, Heartwell said:

The city’s financial future depends on city employees taking further concessions in pay and benefits.

"There’s no doubt in my mind that unless we tackle this problem today, we cannot be sustainable over the long term," says Heartwell.

The vast majority of the city's workforce in Grand Rapids is unionized.

I called up City Attorney Catherine Mish, one of the officials taking the pay cuts. I asked her whether she and the others are sending a signal to the city's unionized employees:

"I would have to say 'yes.' We're hoping the unions agree to similar concessions."

Mish said the unions are under current contracts that run from July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2013.

Rebecca Bolwitt / Flickr

After a ten-month investigation, the results are in.

From the Associated Press:

A government investigation into Toyota safety problems has found no electronic flaws to account for reports of sudden, unintentional acceleration. Transportation officials and engineers with NASA say two mechanical safety defects previously identified by the government - sticking accelerator pedals and gas pedals that can become trapped in floor mats - are the only known causes for the reports of runaway Toyotas. Both issues were the subject of large recalls by Toyota.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says the department's 10-month study has concluded there is no electronic-based cause of unintended high-speed acceleration in Toyotas.

Toyota has recalled more than 12 million vehicles globally since fall 2009 for a series of safety issues. The company has denied that electronics are to blame.

Dani Davis

We put together our stories about arts and the economy in the state to create an hour-long documentary called The Cost of Creativity. On today's podcast, we'll hear the second installment of the doc.

And because Artpod is about all things Michigan, all the music you'll hear on The Cost of Creativity is by Michigan artists. The musicians featured on today's podcast Luke Winslow-King and The Red Sea Pedestrian.

The "Imported from Detroit" commercial stirred a lot of pride around these parts, and on Michigan Radio's Facebook page.

We posted it last night and the "likes" and comments about pride started flowing:

  • "Gave me chills and made me proud to be a born in Detroiter."
  • "This is the kind of thing we need for our area. This commercial gave me goose bumps."
  • "Great commercial! I'm proud to be from Michigan!"
  • "Chills...I almost started crying! But, I have had almost 14 beers."

Just up I-96, the profs at MSU's Department of Advertising, Public Relations, and Retailing, who release an annual ranking of Super Bowl commercials, put the Chrysler ad in third place – tied with the ads from Audi, PepsiMax, Hyundai, and Bud-Light.

First and second place went to German car-maker Volkswagen (first went to the Darth Vader ad, and second went to the VW Beetle ad).

When I asked them, "why third?"  MSU instructor and the organizer behind the MSU rankings, Bob Kolt, said the margin between 1st and 3rd was quite small, "If a few professors had changed their ranking of the commercial slightly, it could have easily been put in the top spot."

Michigan Radio

Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow plans to introduce legislation that would change government incentives for buying electric cars.

Right now, the incentive for the purchase of an electric car comes when you file your taxes in the form of a tax credit.

Stabenow's legislation, the Charging America Forward Act, would give consumers a rebate of up to $7,500 at the time of purchase.

The Senator says a rebate would do more to spur consumers to adopt electric vehicles. From Stabenow's statement:

"Michigan is already a leader in emerging hi-tech battery and electric car production. Other countries are acting to develop their own advanced vehicle markets because they realize the tremendous economic potential this new technology represents.  These initiatives will allow Michigan innovators to continue to out-compete the world and create new jobs here"

Naturally, GM spokesman Greg Martin says the company likes the rebate idea, saying "we are pleased to see Senator Stabenow's legislation that integrates all of the components necessary for successful acceleration of electric vehicles in the marketplace.  We look forward to working with Congress on legislation that leads to widespread adoption of electric vehicles."

The Associated Press says Stabenow also wants the incentives to go beyond just consumers:

Stabenow also wants tax credits for investments into electric vehicle recharging stations and for businesses that buy hybrid trucks. It also seeks more funding to develop the nation's advanced battery industry.

And the Detroit Free Press says this bill supports the Obama Administration's plan to get 1 million "plug-in or advanced-technology" cars on the road by 2015. The Freep says it's a goal that "can be reached only if it is supported by aggressive government incentives that also spur the development of infrastructure."

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

Homeowners are starting to get their property tax assessments in the mail. A few organizations are hosting workshops for people who think their home’s value might be over-assessed.

Rose Bogaert is chair of the Wayne County Taxpayers Association:

"Going to the Board of Review and saying 'my taxes are too high' will get you nothing. You have to have information that justifies your contention that your house is over-assessed."

Bogaert says her organization’s workshops educate homeowners about things like how to analyze sales in their neighborhoods. Information about the Headlee Amendment and Proposal A – which govern property tax assessments in Michigan – is also part of the workshops.

Oakland County officials are also hosting a series of sessions about tax assessments through early March.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

From General Motors adding another shift at the Flint Assembly plant to expansion in the city's medical and echnology centers, Flint's job picture is brightening.

Flint city leaders say their community posted one of the ten biggest drops in unemployment in the U.S. over the last 12 months.

Between December 2009 and December 2010, Flint's jobless rate fell from 16 percent to just under 12 percent.
Flint Mayor Dayne Walling says the city helped create or keep mare than a thousand jobs by encouraging entrepreneurial businesses.

For everybody who's left, there's a project out there that kept a job here too. That?s the other part of the story. It may not be a new job. It's not someone who's newly employed. But there are another 500 or 1000 people who would have left here if these projects wouldn't have been successful.

This all builds on what our president said in his State of the Union, that we need to create jobs and industries of the future by doing what America does best.  Investing in the creativity and innovation of our people.

Walling concedes people leaving Flint also helped improve the city's unemployment rate.
Flint's unemployment rate is still above state and national levels.

The unemployment rate fell .4 percentage points in January to 9.0%.

Keith Hall, the Commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics said today:

In January, employment increased in manufacturing and retail trade, while job losses occurred in transportation and warehousing and in construction.  Employment in most other major industries changed little. Manufacturing employment grew by 49,000 over the month and has increased by 161,000 since a recent low point in December 2009.

The Associated Press reports:

The unemployment rate has fallen by eight-tenths of a percentage point in the past two months. That's the steepest two-month drop in nearly 53 years. But part of that drop has occurred as many of those out of work gave up on their job searches. When unemployed people stop looking for jobs, the government no longer counts them as unemployed.

Officially, there are about 13.9 million people in the country out of work. The AP says "that's still about double the total who were out of work before the recession began in December 2007."

The unemployment rate in Michigan stands at 11.7% as of December. New numbers should be out in the coming week.

Banking on snowfall at the Chicago Board of Trade

Feb 4, 2011
Niala Boodhoo / Changing Gears

Parts of the Midwest are still shoveling out after one of the worst blizzards in recent memory.  For some people, they can't see the good in all that snowfall.

But at the Chicago Board of Trade, this blizzard may be a boon for business.

Investors are banking on a futures market based on snowfall that’s the first of its kind in the world.

A study commissioned by a union-backed think tank says reports that state and local government employees in Michigan are overpaid compared to workers in the private sector are wrong.

The study is by the Washington D.C. based Economic Policy Institute.

It says college-educated public employees earn 21% less than private sector workers with degrees.

It also found local government workers were compensated at about the same rate as their private sector counterparts.

Jeff Keefe is the Rutgers University management and labor relations professor who conducted the study:

"So the study concludes that state government employees are under-compensated in the state of Michigan, while local government employees are neither over- or under-compensated in the state of Michigan."

The report takes into account education, salaries, and benefits.

Ethan Pollack, with the Economic Policy Institute, says employee compensation is not the biggest factor behind the state’s budget trouble:

 "Michigan isn't significantly different than the deficits you are seeing all across the country…This is not about over-compensation of public sector workers. This is [about] two things. The cyclical deficit is from the recession, and the structural deficit is health care costs."

The Economic Policy Institute says its seven-state study found growing health care costs, and not employee compensation, are the biggest factor in budget deficits.

Auto workers get bonus checks

Feb 3, 2011
Jeff Wilcox / Flickr

Detroit automakers are preparing to send bonuses to workers around the region. Even some temporary workers will get a share of growing profits.
Terri Houldieson is technically a temp worker, or a "long-term supplemental employee." But she’ll still get a piece of Ford’s $6.6 billion profit from last year.

Workers like Houldieson should receive, on average, about $2,000 each compared to the $5,000 for regular employees.

"We’ve all put work in and it just shows that they respect us too. Kind of like a pat on the back," says Houldieson.

Ford employs a couple thousand long term temps and most work at assembly plants in Chicago and the Twin Cities.

Houldieson said she’ll buy some new clothes for her two boys, and maybe some expensive shoes to protect her feet during those long hours at the plant.

Dow Chemical released its fourth quarter earnings report today and it was a good fourth quarter for the chemical giant. Its earnings nearly tripled. From the company's website:

  • The Company reported earnings of $0.37 per share, or $0.47 per share excluding certain items. This compares with earnings of $0.08 per share in the year-ago period, or $0.18 per share excluding certain items.
  • Sales of $13.8 billion rose 22 percent versus the same quarter last year.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

[Dow Chemical] has seen sales rebound in recent quarters on volume growth in basic chemicals, agriculture products and other units. Dow, whose chemicals are used in a wide range of products including diapers and products in the auto industry, has been restructuring to focus on higher-margin specialty products from commodities chemicals, which are more vulnerable to energy-price fluctuations.

Bloomberg News says the earnings are more than some analysts anticipated and come "amid increasing profit from caustic soda and plastics."

Danis Davis

The Cost of Creativity

We put together our stories about arts and the economy in the state to create an hour-long documentary called The Cost of Creativity. On today's podcast, we'll hear the first installment of the doc.

And because Artpod is about all things Michigan, all the music you'll hear on The Cost of Creativity is by Michigan artists. The musicians featured on today's podcast: Ben Benjamin and Luke Winslow-King.

user citizenofthedeep / Flickr

Michigan Congressman Fred Upton met with the Kalamazoo Regional Chamber of Commerce this morning during its "Legislative Connection Series" (tickets for the event went for $25 to $50).

The Kalamazoo Gazette reported that Upton talked about the future of energy in the country.

According to the report, Upton said gas prices might hit $4 a gallon by Memorial Day because of political instability and a moratorium on new off-shore drilling.

Higher gas prices, said Upton, will lead to more people buying up plug-in hybrid electric and fully electric cars. Something Upton feels the power grid is not ready for. From the article:

"We're going to need 30 to 40 percent more electricity by the end of the next decade, and we're not prepared," said Upton, Republican of St. Joseph.

Upton said he favors the development of more nuclear power plants and is going to look into why it takes so long to build a nuclear power plant in this country.

Citizen's Guide to Michigan's Financial Health / Michigan Governor's office

Governor Snyder says he wants you to understand the state's budget crisis. He's rolled out a guide to help you do that.
It's called the "Citizen's Guide to Michigan's Financial Health."
Michigan Radio's Morning Edition Host, Christina Shockley, spoke with Lester Graham this morning.

Graham heads up Michigan Watch, Michigan Radio's investigative unit.
Graham took a look at the Guide and gave us his first impressions. You can listen to the audio here:

National Weather Service

Gearing up for snow

People in the state are gearing up for the coming storm that's expected to dump around a foot of snow in the region in less than 24 hours. Survival instincts are kicking in as people flock to grocery stores, gas stations, and hardware stores. The Kalamazoo Gazette reports some plow drivers are getting their sleep now in anticipation of staying up for the next couple of days. Andy Northey, the owner of R & A Lawn Maintenance and Landscaping in Plainwell, said:

"We're not going to be able to keep up with all the snow that’s expected," said Northey, whose company clears snow from residential and commercial properties from Allegan to Kalamazoo to Battle Creek. "Absolutely no way."

The Detroit News reports that Delta airlines is allowing people to change their flight plans without charging an extra fee:

Delta and other airlines encouraged passengers to change their travel dates. Anyone scheduled to fly this week can switch their flight to a time through Feb. 8 without incurring a fee, said Delta. The waiver involved Michigan and 19 other states expected to be hammered by the storm. The states range from Nebraska to Maine, and Wisconsin to Oklahoma.

The National Weather Service has issued a blizzard warning for the southern part of Michigan as the dense snow band travels across the state. The warning takes effect around 5 p.m. for the western part of the state and around 7 p.m. for the eastern half. The warning will last through much of the day tomorrow.

Snyder releases report on state's finances

Governor Rick Snyder released the "Citizen's Guide to Financial Health" yesterday around 3 p.m. The Governor said the report is "a plain-English, easy-to-understand look at Michigan's financial situation and the challenges ahead."

One of the more controversial parts of the report said that state employees are over-compensated compared to their private sector counterparts. Many state employees and union members are disputing the numbers in the report. The Detroit Free Press said that Snyder called the report a 'call to action':

"Here are the facts; let's solve the problem," he told 430 people who attended the Business Leaders for Michigan Summit in Lansing. "Now we can have an intelligent discussion about what we need to have to put the state on the road to success."

Snyder is expected to release his budget proposal for the state's next fiscal year on February 17th.

Red Cross looking for blood

Bad winter weather has hampered the Red Cross' blood supply. They've made pleas before, and now with a big storm bearing down on the Midwest, they're renewing those pleas. Monica Stoneking, communications manager for the American Red Cross, was quoted in today's Bay City Times:

"Those who live in the path of the storm are asked to schedule a donation time when it is safe to travel," Stoneking said. "All blood types are needed, but there is a special need for donors with O-Negative and B-Negative blood."

The Red Cross says 18,000 expected blood donations have gone uncollected over the last several weeks due to bad winter weather.