Ford Motor Co.

After laying-off tens of thousands of employees in 2009, automakers and engineering firms are racing to fill new positions.

Paul Eisenstein writes on The Detroit Bureau that at a recent career fair, job openings weren't in short supply - job seekers were.

Or more precisely, qualified job-seekers.

Eisenstein writes "the real rush is to find trained engineers."

two years ago, Altair Engineering...“had plenty of applications and no jobs.”  A few months ago, they put out the word that “they had 700 engineering slots and no one to fill them.”

This explanation is offered as to why there's a dearth of applicants.

Part of the problem is that the industry now needs to attract a largely new workforce at a time when engineering schools are struggling to fill slots and turn out fresh talent.

The bulk of the engineering employees released by the struggling Detroit makers over the last five years were older workers nearing the end of their careers.  They were often given buyouts that helped nudge them into a less painful retirement.  “And now...they just aren’t interested in coming back.”

And even if older engineers did apply for these jobs, one expert says their skill set might be out of date because changes in technology are happening so quickly.

This shortage of engineering talent is driving up costs for employers - bad for employers, but good for potential employees.

One group is working to change this. David Cole of the Center for Automotive Research has started "Building American's Tomorrow," a non-profit group working to attract young people to the engineering field.

Bryce Hoffman of the Detroit News writes the group is working to improve the image of engineering to young people who "have a dim view of manufacturing and the auto industry in particular."

Building America's Tomorrow grew out of the industry's efforts during the recent economic crisis to educate Washington about the economic importance of the auto sector.

"It's really an outgrowth of all the chaos in the auto industry," said David Cole, chairman emeritus of CAR and one of the founders of the organization. "Everyone was worried about whether we would survive. We did, but now we're not sure where we're going find the talent we need to stay in business."

It's a long term problem. And Cole says "if we don't do something about it, we're going to lose a core part of our economy."

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Update 3:44 p.m.

O.k., here's the graph (above).

It's an attempt at a more complete employment picture in Michigan.

As you can see, the unemployment rate has been falling in the state since the fall of 2009, but it also shows the drop in the state's overall labor force.

The labor force is the overall number of employed people plus unemployed people.

The labor force has been plummeting since the end of 2006, and it has only nudged upward in the last two months. (See that little tail at the end of the blue line?)

From the Michigan Department of Technology, Management, and Budget:

Michigan’s workforce rose for the second month in a row in February, however it continues to be down over the year. From February 2011 to February 2012, Michigan’s labor force decreased by 28,000 or 0.6 percent. In general, the state’s labor force has been receding since 2006.

2:46 p.m.

Michigan's unemployment rate fell to 8.8 percent, and the state's total workforce grew by 14,000, according to the Department of Technology, Management, and Budget:

Michigan’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in February continued its downward trend, declining over the month by two-tenths of a percentage point to 8.8 percent, according to data released today by the Michigan Department of Technology, Management & Budget (DTMB). Total employment rose by 22,000 in February as the number of unemployed declined by 8,000. The state’s workforce grew by 14,000 over the month.

Director of the Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives Rick Waclawek said "the professional and business service sector in Michigan has recently displayed significant momentum, adding jobs in February for the seventh consecutive month."

I'll post up the graph that shows the trend lines in unemployment and the state's total labor force since January of 2001 once I double check the numbers.

A123 Systems Inc.'s battery manufacturing facility in Livonia, Michigan. The company filed for bankruptcy on Tuesday.
A123 Systems Inc. / Facebook

A123 Systems Inc. has announced it will replace battery modules and packs that could contain defective parts made at the company's Livonia manufacturing facility.

In a press release, the company said they began making replacement modules and packs and expect to ship them to affected customers this week.

The company said the defective parts are not a safety concern.

From their press release:

"Recently, A123 has discovered that some prismatic cells made in our Livonia facility may contain a defect which can result in premature failure of a battery pack or module that includes a defective cell. We have isolated the root cause of the defective cells and we are confident that we have pinpointed the source of the defect and corrected it..." said David Vieau, CEO of A123 Systems. reports:

A123 most recently made headlines for its nearly $260 million loss in 2011 and a Fisker Karma, which the company supplies the battery for, dying during testing by Consumer Reports.

Company officials say prismatic cells made at another A123 facility are not impacted, and "the cylindrical cells we make at our facilities in China for a number of other transportation programs, as well as the majority of our grid energy storage systems and commercial applications, are also not affected by this defect."

The Ann Arbor based company Tecumseh Products, which makes compressors for refrigerators and air conditioners, experienced a tough 2011.

Yesterday, Crain's Detroit Business reported shares of Tecumseh "were at $3.93 late this morning, the lowest since their all-time low of $3.75 in March 2009."

The price ticked upward, and stands at $4.35 as of this posting.

Nathan Boomey of reports that there are concerns the company is too big, and that could mean layoffs for Tecumseh Products employees.

CEO Jim Conner said the company worked to reduce overhead and employee numbers in 2011, but "these actions alone were not sufficient to offset the lower sales, and additional restructuring actions may be necessary."


Connor...attributed the tough 2011 to "higher raw material costs, lower volumes and unfavorable changes in mix as a result of weak demand in the second half of the year."

The company said sales of compressors for commercial refrigeration and aftermarket devices fell 5.4 percent. That segment accounts for 58 percent of its total sales.

One positive sign for Tecumseh Products is sales increases in Latin America, where air conditioning is becoming more common in the home.

Tecumseh Products had about 7,300 employees as of July.

2005 Ford Taurus / wikimedia commons

Update: March 13, 2:35pm

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has expanded its investigation to include some Murcury Sable models in addition to Tauruses.

The investigation now includes vehicles from the 2001-2006 model years and could affect as many as 1.9 million cars.


DETROIT (AP) - Federal safety regulators are investigating complaints of throttles sticking in some Ford Tauruses.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said on its website that 14 people have complained about the cars from the 2005 and 2006 model years, about 360,000 in all. No crashes or injuries have been reported, but the agency says a driver ran a red light and entered an intersection before the car could be stopped.

The agency says the cruise control cable may become detached and hold the throttle open. Drivers have reported that it was hard to stop the car with the brakes, and several said they had to shut off the engine or shift into neutral to stop.

Ford says it is cooperating in the probe. The cars have not been recalled.

Angelique DuLong / wikimedia commons

DETROIT (AP) - A man who claims ownership of one of Detroit's most widely-known industrial ruins says he plans to demolish most or all of what remains of the sprawling facility.

The Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News report Friday that Dominic Cristini, who claims ownership of the Packard plant through Bioresource Inc., is awaiting demolition permits. He says he wants to start demolition within a month. He estimates it will cost $6 million to raze the plant.

Cristini says portions might be saved for historical value.

The plant was built in the early 1900s. The last Packard automobile was built in the mid-1950s. Other smaller industrial businesses have used the facility since. As the years passed, the plant increasingly became the target of thieves, metal scrappers, urban explorers and graffiti artists.

Midwest leaders lay out the welcome mat for immigrants

Feb 22, 2012

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.

Dustin Dwyer

In many ways, the headquarters for Eastern Floral in Grand Rapids, Mich. is like a factory. It’s in an old building with brick walls. The floor is smooth, cold concrete. A noisy printer rattles off new orders.

But of course, it smells amazing in here. Designers stand at long wooden tables, primping and pruning flowers. Red tulips. White daisies. Yellow roses. And just about any other flower you can imagine.

Bing Goei, the owner, says this work is more like artistry.

“I think you have to be born with that.” he says. “I was not. I admit it.”

Goei says this with a laugh.

But he was born with something else that turned out to be its own asset. He was born with a foreign birth certificate. His parents were Chinese. He was born in Indonesia, then moved to the Netherlands. From there, they moved to Grand Rapids, like a lot of Dutch people before them. Except, they have a Chinese name.

And like many of those immigrants before him, Goei worked hard. He started in the flower business in high school. Now, Eastern Floral has seven locations, about 60 year-round employees – twice that around Valentine’s Day – and the company has over $5 million in annual revenue.

Goei says being an immigrant, and being an entrepreneur, there’s a connection there.

“Almost every immigrant that comes to this country has come because they see America as that land of opportunity,” he says. “So immediately, their drive is to fulfill that dream.”

The data on this backs Goei up.

The Kauffman Foundation reports that immigrants are twice as likely as people born in America to start a business.

Richard Herman is an immigration attorney in Cleveland. Herman and Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter Robert Smith wrote a book called Immigration, Inc.

Energy Conversion Devices

Energy Conversion Devices, Inc., a technology company based in Auburn Hills, Michigan filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection today.

The company makes thin laminates that convert sunlight to energy and "has manufacturing facilities in Auburn Hills and Greenville, Michigan, as well as sites in Mexico and Canada," according to the Wall Street Journal.

screen grab from YouTube video

DETROIT (AP) - Factory workers at Chrysler are getting $1,500 profit-sharing checks next month, a sign the automaker's turnaround is succeeding.

About 26,000 union-represented workers in the U.S. should get the payments, according to Chrysler's contract with the United Auto Workers union. The profit-sharing figure is based on an Associated Press analysis of company earnings, and the labor contract formula for profit-sharing.

Chrysler would not say how much the workers will get. But the formula in its new four-year contract with the UAW shows that the checks will be about $1,500. The checks are based on Chrysler's $2 billion operating profit for 2011, reported on Wednesday.

Chrysler reported full-year net income of $183 million, its first since 1997.

U.S. Congress

Update 11:50 a.m.

Snyder's portion of the hearing has ended. The committee now moves on to Panel 2 of the hearing.

In his final statement to the committee, Governor Snyder urged members of Congress to work with the Obama administration to come up with solutions for the country.

Earlier, Snyder commented on education, Snyder said only 17 percent of students in Michigan are college ready, "that's a travesty," he said.

Snyder said most students only think of traditional career paths while they're in school - doctors, lawyers, etc. - more students, he said, need to aspire to careers that are needed in the workforce, such as computer programming.

"Cyber schooling is a huge opportunity in the state," said Snyder.

6 tips on "Buy Here-Pay Here" car lots

Jan 27, 2012 / Flickr

Yesterday, we brought you the story of Buy Here-Pay Here dealerships in the Midwest. These are places where the dealer finances car loans himself (BHPH is sometimes called in-house financing.).

Basically, he is the bank and he takes on all the risk. That’s especially true because BHPH dealers cater to people with bad credit – deep subprime customers who typically have credit scores less than 550.

It’s not hard to find people who are out of luck, out of work, and grateful for the opportunity to finance a car at all. But that opportunity comes at a steep price, which is either folded in or added on in the form of interest rates up to 25 percent.

So here are six tips to consider if you’re thinking about Buy Here-Pay Here:

John Gallagher of the Detroit Free Press reports the head of Quicken Loans, Dan Gilbert,  is hoping to hire "500 college interns this summer in downtown Detroit."

Gilbert said he wants to move the city from having a "brain drain" to a "brain gain" - from the Freep:

Gilbert told the annual meeting of the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau that hiring 250 interns last summer proved so successful that Quicken plans to double the program this year. He urged the hundreds of attendees at the Fillmore Theatre in Detroit to spread the word to college-age young people.

“We want them all,” he said.

Gilbert also told the group that the company is planning to hire 300 "new technology" employees.

Anyone interested in applying can visit Quicken's employment website to find out more.

Kate Davidson / Changing Gears


In the Midwest, it’s hard to get around without a car.

These days, people are holding onto them longer. The average vehicle is almost 11 years old and used cars prices are on the rise.

All this adds to the pressure on the bottom rung of consumers: people with bad credit.

For many, the only way to finance a car is at a Buy Here-Pay Here lot.  Here, dealers loan to deep subprime customers at interest rates up to 25%. Buy Here-Pay Here makes up more than 15% of used vehicle financing in states like Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. 

That financing goes to people like Willie.  That’s her nickname.

We’re driving around Toledo in her ’99 Chevy Express.  It’s got 130,000 miles on it.

It’s been a tough few years for teachers. Classes are bigger. Pay is down. Benefits cost more.

And, in the last year, teachers across the Midwest have been at the center of collective bargaining fights in Wisconsin and Ohio. With all that, we wanted to know what it’s like to be a teacher today. So, three generations assembled in Lila Howard’s classroom at Saline High School near Ann Arbor.

Howard is about to retire after years teaching AP Psychology. Jason Gumenick teaches government and is in the middle of his career. Then, there’s David Dolsen, a college freshman, who had both of the others as teachers.

user plasticpeople / Flickr

Over the weekend, the New York Times ran a must-read story on why Apple products are not made in the U.S.

And, earlier this month, This American Life devoted an hour to a stunning look at work conditions inside Apple’s supplier factories in China.

Not long after TAL’s story ran, Apple released its annual progress report on suppliers in China. For the first time ever, the company issued a list of its suppliers and said it would allow an independent third party to audit its operations.

But there’s one claim in all this reporting that has particular relevance for the Midwest economy.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

The Detroit auto show wrapped up yesterday, and officials say attendance was strong.

From the Associated Press:

Organizers of the North American International Auto Show say this year's attendance was the highest since 2005.

The annual event at Detroit's Cobo Center closed on Sunday.

Organizers say attendance during the public portion of the show was 770,932. That's also up from last year, when 735,370 went to the

Amy K. Senese /

It seems the entire nation is watching what will happen in the Motor City.

A new documentary opens this weekend looking at Detroit as the epicenter of the fallout of the new global economy.

And now, in their latest episode, the public radio program On Being uses Detroit to look at rebuilding.

The program's producers write the program is:

A Detroit you probably haven't seen in the news. It's a city of vigor — a place where neighbors are reimagining work, food, and the very meaning of humanity. To meet these people is to gain perspective on all of our work, and how we might imagine possibility in our own community.

The program includes conversations with 96 year-old social activist Grace Lee Boggs about reinventing society.

You can listen to the program below, and let us know what you think. Write a review of the On Being episode in the comments section.

screen grab from YouTube video

Yes, yes... there are a lot of abandoned buildings and sad reminders of better times in Detroit.

While some artists come to Detroit to gawk at the "ruin porn," as Michigan Radio's Jennifer Guerra has pointed out, the filmmakers of the new documentary "Detropia" say they hope people take away something other than a sense of awe at the decay.

Co-directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady say they want their audience to understand the people who stayed behind in Detroit:

"Initially when we went there, we were just looking for this Phoenix story. We were hoping that there were people on the ground there that were really just going to fix the place. But after spending a couple years filming there, and spending time with our characters we realized that was really just a very dishonest story," said Grady.

Rick Snyder for Michigan / Facebook

DETROIT (AP) - Gov. Rick Snyder is offering a business-focused version of his State of the State address to a commerce-friendly crowd.

The Republican told business leaders Friday at a Detroit Regional Chamber-hosted event that the state made great progress last year. He says more must be done to fix transportation and more should be invested in fixing roads and bridges.

His remarks come two days after his State of the State speech.

The former businessman has praised business for helping improve Michigan's economy last year by adding 80,000 jobs. That helped push the unemployment rate to about 2 percentage points lower than when he took office last year.

He says the cost of doing business has been lowered, encouraging businesses. Democratic lawmakers say businesses have been helped at the workers' expense.

user paul (dex) / Flickr

For those of you keeping score at home, it's GM 9,030,000 to Toyota's 7,900,000 for 2011.

Those are "around" numbers for the number of vehicles sold in 2011 by the automakers from the Associated Press.

GM has retaken a crown it owned for 77 years before Toyota snatched it away in 2008.

Since that time, Volkswagen has been an up and comer as well. That company is the no. 2 automaker. It sold around 8,160,000 vehicles last year.

But some argue there's some fuzzy math going on to make GM the "top automaker" in the world.

More from the Associated Press:

Some analysts have said that VW is the world's biggest automaker because GM's figures include vehicles made by its Wuling joint venture in China. Many don't count Wuling because GM doesn't have controlling interest in the company, but GM includes it in global sales figures.

Excluding Wuling, GM would have been topped by Volkswagen.

Being the world's top-selling automaker doesn't mean much for the bottom line. But GM retaking the title is an example of how far the company has come since its 2009 bankruptcy.

Bloomberg Business Week's Tim Higgins quotes one analyst saying the top automaker crown means "bragging rights" and might help with stock prices.

Higgins writes GM's stock did go up with the news, but the stock would have to go up significantly before the U.S. government would break even on its investment:

GM rose 0.5 percent to $24.63 at 11:26 a.m. New York time.

The U.S. government still owns almost a third of GM. The government would have to sell its stake at an average of $53 a share to break even. GM earned $6.17 billion in 2010 and $8.47 billion in the first nine months of last year.

Marcus Wong / creative commons

DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) - Ford is giving pay raises and bonuses to about 20,000 white-collar workers, mainly in the U.S. and Canada.

Letters sent to workers last week say they'll get 2.7 percent raises on April 1. They'll also get bonuses based on performance.

The raises are a sign that Ford is confident in its turnaround and in the U.S. economy. Ford Motor Co. made $6.6 billion in the first three quarters of last year. It reports fourth-quarter earnings this month. The company's U.S. sales rose 11 percent last year.

Spokeswoman Marcey Evans says the raises are needed to keep pay competitive with other Fortune 100 companies.

Salaried workers last got raises in 2010. Only performance bonuses were given in 2011.

Ford has made a huge turnaround since 2006, when it lost $12.6 billion.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

The news that Michigan's unemployment rate dropped again for the month of December was good news for Governor Snyder's State of the State address, but this rate drop is accompanied by a continued drop in Michigan's overall labor force.

The labor force is the overall number of employed people plus unemployed people.

People are categorized as "unemployed" if they are out of work AND they have been looking for a job in the last 28 days.

As my chart shows above, the labor force in Michigan has been dropping consistently since 2006.

Comparing January 2006 to December 2011, there are around 432,000 fewer people in Michigan either working or looking for work.

The State of the State... in Laingsburg, Michigan

Jan 18, 2012
Kate Davidson / Changing Gears

Michigan’s Governor Rick Snyder gives his second State of the State address tonight.  He’s already signed more than 300 public acts.  That’s a new law for almost every day in office.

Over the next few weeks, Changing Gears is looking at how changes in state government are impacting lives and wallets across the region. Here in Michigan, people are riveted by some of Snyder’s big ticket changes, like giving emergency managers the power to strip control from elected officials in failing cities and school districts.

But this story is different.  It’s about one Mid-Michigan town and all the small, drowned-out changes that deeply affect people’s lives.  People like Janae Jodway.

Update 4:47 p.m.

Michigan Radio's Sarah Hulett reminded me that this office was originally supposed to open last year, but plans were postponed due to budget issues.

You can hear a story that Sarah produced for Marketplace last January about the need for the new patent office. Hulett reported on the huge backlog on patent applications:

David Kappos is the director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and his assessment of how long it takes to grant a patent is pretty blunt.

"In a word, it's too long," said Kappos.

Kappos says on average, it takes about two years just to get someone to read your application, then another year after that to hear whether you've been granted a patent.

At the time, Hulett reported that "more than 700,000 applications [were] waiting to be processed," and that the Detroit office was part of the plan to clear the logjam.

2:22 p.m.

The first U.S. Patent and Trademark Office outside of Washington D.C. will open this July in Detroit.

Sarah Alvarez / Changing Gears

The numbers from manufacturing are looking good, I reported last week.

Bill Strauss from the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago told me that of the 2.3 million manufacturing jobs lost in the recession, at least 300,000 of those jobs have come back. That’s about 13 percent.

Today, I look at why employers say it’s hard to find those skilled workers.

user fiatontheweb / creative commons

Chrysler has announced that it will add 1,250 more jobs in the city of Detroit. The company says it is "embracing its Detroit heritage and weaving it into the fiber of its future plans."

More from a company press release:

Chrysler Group LLC is strengthening its ties with the City of Detroit by adding a third crew and 1,100 new jobs at its Jefferson North Assembly Plant in Detroit (JNAP), expanding the Jeep Grand Cherokee lineup to include a diesel version for North America in the city and reaffirming plans to add 150 jobs by reopening its Conner Avenue Assembly Plant, also located in the Motor City for production of the ultimate American sports car – the SRT Viper.

“Our future, like the history of our brands, is interwoven with the City of Detroit,” said Chrysler Group Chairman and CEO Sergio Marchionne. “Detroit long has been home to renowned innovators and craftsmen. So it is in the Motor City, home of our industrial heritage and a resilient people, that we are entrusting the manufacture not only of the ultimate American sports car, the SRT Viper, and the Jeep Grand Cherokee – the most awarded SUV ever – but also a diesel version of the Jeep Grand Cherokee for North American markets.

user citizenofthedeep / creative commons

In her post on Forbes, auto writer Joann Muller says the idea that Chevy Volt batteries are unsafe is pure poppycock... balderdash... hooey... or as she puts it:

Hogwash. GM and its battery partner, LG Chem, have tortured that battery to death. They’ve abused it, mutilated it, jarred it, twisted it, and even punctured it with nails. There’s nothing wrong with the Volt or its battery that can’t be fixed with a couple of minor tweaks.

The minor tweaks are coming after a government safety test found that the batteries can catch fire seven days to several weeks after a crash. No fires were reported in real-world circumstances.

The company announced today that it will add parts to ensure the batteries will not catch fire.

Muller reports that the government has crashed a Volt with the new parts - no fire yet - but they'll give it another week to see if one starts up:

In a statement, NHTSA said  it crashed a Volt retrofitted with GM’s newly designed steel reinforcement device in a side-pole impact test on December 22. The results of that crash test showed no intrusion into the vehicle’s battery compartment, and no coolant leakage was apparent. As a precaution, NHTSA has monitored the crashed vehicle since the test and will continue to do so for one more week. But the agency said the preliminary results of the crash test indicate that GM’s fix should solve the problem.

Few monthly number reports generate as much audience response as the monthly unemployment numbers.

Monthly housing numbers or monthly retail sales figures just don't seem to push people's buttons as much.

When we report on the unemployment numbers, we often receive comments attempting to inform us what the "unemployment rate" actually means - like this comment we received recently:

Unemployment numbers are comprised of those that are in the job market for the past 30 days. It does not include those that have not been in the job market in the last 30 days: people who have given up looking; those that have gone off unemployment because it has run out.

While some of this is true, not all of it is.

A 2011 Chrysler Town & Country rolls off the final inspection line at Chrysler Group LLC’s Windsor Assembly Plant.

Grace Macaluso of the Windsor Star reports that an "inventory adjustment" is to blame for a shutdown at the Chrysler Windsor Assembly Plant.

Close to 5,000 workers at the plant build vehicles such as the Dodge Grand Caravan, the Chrysler Town & Country, the Ram Cargo Van, the Lancia Grand Voyager, and some versions of the Volkswagen Routan.

More from the Windsor Star:

"Inventory adjustment" is being blamed for a weeklong shutdown starting Monday at Chrysler’s Windsor Assembly Plant.

“It’s very concerning,” said Laporte, president of CAW Local 444, which represents about 5,000 hourly workers at the plant, said Tuesday. “It’s not good. This has been happening year after year in terms of down time in January, which is the worst month for sales coming right after Christmas.”

LouAnn Gosselin, spokeswoman for Chrysler Canada, would only say the company was attempting to “balance inventories.”

A spokeswoman said most workers will lost a week's worth of pay as a result of the shutdown. It comes on the heels of their regular week-long Christmas break shutdown.