economy

Changing Gears
1:01 pm
Tue January 24, 2012

Why Apple products aren't made in America: A view from the Midwest

Apple products - not made in the U.S.A.
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.

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Auto/Economy
11:37 am
Mon January 23, 2012

Detroit auto show closes, attendance highest since 2005

The unveiling of the new Dodge Dart at the Detroit auto show.
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
show.

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Arts/Culture
1:19 pm
Fri January 20, 2012

Public radio program 'On Being' focuses on Detroit

The "Feedom Freedom Growers" working in Detroit (photo posted on the "On Being" website).
Amy K. Senese www.amysenese.com

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.

Arts/Culture
12:02 pm
Fri January 20, 2012

'Detropia' makes debut at Sundance Film Festival this weekend

The filmmakers say if people only take away the message that Detroit has problems after watching 'Detropia,' then "we've failed at our job."
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.

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Politics
10:44 am
Fri January 20, 2012

Governor Snyder gives State of the State, business edition

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder.
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.

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Auto/Economy
3:15 pm
Thu January 19, 2012

GM retakes "top selling automaker" crown... sort of

General Motors claims "top automaker" crown.
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.

Auto/Economy
11:59 am
Thu January 19, 2012

Ford salaried workers to get raises, bonuses

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.

Economy
11:21 am
Thu January 19, 2012

Michigan's overall labor force continues to drop

Michigan's overall labor force charted with Michigan's unemployment rate from January 2001 to December 2011.
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.

Changing Gears
10:02 am
Wed January 18, 2012

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

Janae Jodway owns Body Works Medical Massage in Laingsburg, Michigan.
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.

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Jobs
4:47 pm
Wed January 11, 2012

It's the real McCoy: First patent office outside of D.C. to open in Detroit

The new U.S. Patent and Trademark office in Detroit will be named after the famous African American inventor, Elijah McCoy.
aadl.org

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.

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Changing Gears
12:03 pm
Wed January 11, 2012

Who are manufacturers hiring? Answer: People with skills

Dan Spohn found a new job within two weeks of being laid off last November.
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.

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Auto/Economy
5:30 pm
Thu January 5, 2012

Chrysler "embracing its Detroit heritage," announces more jobs in Motor City

Chrysler's headquarters is in Auburn Hills, but the new jobs will be in Detroit, according to the company.
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.

Auto/Economy
4:34 pm
Thu January 5, 2012

Volt batteries unsafe? "Hogwash."

GM is asking Volt owners to come in for a modification to the car.
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.

Economy
3:56 pm
Thu January 5, 2012

5 things to know about the "unemployment rate"

Things look good in North Dakota.

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.

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Auto/Economy
2:11 pm
Wed January 4, 2012

Chrysler to shut down minivan plant in Windsor for one week

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

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.

Changing Gears
11:05 am
Wed January 4, 2012

What lies ahead for Midwestern manufacturing?

Chicago White Metal Casting is hiring. They're looking for die cast machinists, especially repair men.
Niala Boodhoo Changing Gears

Just before you get to the factory floor of Chicago White Metal Casting, there’s a grainy, mural-sized picture of what the floor used to look like in the 1930s, when the business started by CEO Eric Treiber’s grandfather.

Back then, it was on the second floor of Chicago’s Fulton Street Fish Market.

Today, the family-owned company operates further north of the city, just west of O’Hare International Airport.

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Economy
5:21 pm
Tue January 3, 2012

State revenue projections continue to climb

The state is bringing in more money than expected. That’s according to a report by the non-partisan Senate Fiscal Agency.

The agency says Michigan ended the fiscal year that ended September 30th with a $1.3 billion surplus. An improving economy and lower income tax refunds are largely credited for the surplus. But much of the windfall has already been dedicated to programs in the current fiscal year.         

David Zin is an economist with the Senate Fiscal Agency. He says the auto industry still has a major impact on the state’s economy.

“People cut back so much on vehicle purchases in the 2008-9 recession, that while sales are low by historical standards, they’re up quite significantly from just a year or two ago,” Zin said.

Zin says the state collected more tax revenue in 20-11 than projected last year. He says the economy is not expected to grow quickly over the next couple years.

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Economy
5:14 pm
Tue January 3, 2012

Michigan's 17 labor markets ranked, unemployment rate falls in most

The unemployment rate in Michigan is at 9.8 percent (November 2011).
screen grab from Google

According to the Michigan Department of Technology, Management & Budget, for the month of November most of the "seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates" fell in 14 of the state's 17 major labor market areas.

From their press release:

“November was a favorable month in many of Michigan’s local labor markets,” said Rick Waclawek, director of the Bureau of Labor Market Information & Strategic Initiatives.  “The only increases in unemployment were seasonal and expected in the state’s northern regions with the conclusion of the summer and fall tourism seasons.”

Officials from the Department of Technology, Management and Budget say when comparing November 2011 to November 2010 - all of the state's 17 regions experienced declines:

From November 2010 to November 2011, unemployment rates fell in all of the state’s 17 regions.  Over-the-year rate declines ranged from 1.7 to 3.3 percentage points with a significant median drop of over two and a half percentage points.  The largest rate decreases since November 2010 occurred in the Flint and Muskegon-Norton Shores MSAs along with the Northeast Lower Michigan region.

Here's the list of the 17 major labor markets in Michigan by rank of lowest unemployment rate (Ann Arbor area) to highest (Northeast Lower Michigan).

The list compares unemployment rates from November 2010 to rates in November 2011:

  1. ANN ARBOR MSA- 6.9 percent to 5.2 percent
  2. LANSING - EAST LANSING MSA 8.3 percent to 6.4 percent
  3. GRAND RAPIDS - WYOMING MSA 9.0 percent to 6.5 percent
  4. HOLLAND - GRAND HAVEN MSA 9.3 percent to 6.5 percent
  5. BATTLE CREEK MSA  9.5percent to 6.9 percent
  6. KALAMAZOO - PORTAGE MSA 9.3 percent to 6.9 percent
  7. BAY CITY MSA10.0 percent to 7.4 percent
  8. MONROE MSA 10.3 percent to 7.5 percent
  9. SAGINAW-Saginaw Township North  MSA 10.3 percent to 7.7 percent
  10. JACKSON MSA 10.8 percent to 7.8 percent
  11. NILES - BENTON HARBOR MSA 10.6 percent to 8.2 percent
  12. UPPER PENINSULA LMA 10.6 percent to 8.2 percent
  13. MUSKEGON - NORTON SHORES MSA 11.5 percent to 8.4 percent
  14. FLINT MSA 12.0 percent to 8.7 percent
  15. NORTHWEST LOWER MICHIGAN 12.4 percent to 9.4 percent
  16. DETROIT-WARREN-LIVONIA MSA11.6 percent to 9.5 percent
  17. NORTHEAST LOWER MICHIGAN 13.7 percent to 10.6 percent
Auto/Economy
10:55 am
Thu December 22, 2011

Toyota aims for 8.48 million vehicle sales in 2012

user danielctw Flickr

TOKYO (AP) - Toyota says it aims to sell 8.48 million vehicles next year as it attempts a comeback from a year battered by the March disaster in Japan and the flooding in Thailand.

Toyota said in a release Thursday that its target for calendar 2012, which does not include group companies, would represent 20 percent growth from its global sales this year.

The manufacturer behind the Prius hybrid and Lexus luxury models said it plans to sell 8.95 million vehicles around the world in 2013.

Auto/Economy
1:45 pm
Tue December 20, 2011

Increased competition for small cars forces Honda to revamp new Civic

The 2012 Honda Civic will get a new look mid-year.
IFCAR wikimedia commons

Car companies revamp their models just about every year now. Honda recently announced that they'll revamp their Civic model mid-year. From the Associated Press:

Honda is revamping its Civic ahead of schedule because of intense competition for small-car buyers in the U.S.

The company is telling dealers it will have a revamped model by the end of next year, even though the 2012 Civic just hit showrooms over the summer.

The move is unprecedented for any carmaker because new models aren't usually revamped for at least three years.

Honda executives confirmed the Civic is being redone early. They say they're trying to stay ahead of the competition. There are more compact models available to consumers now.

But Honda might also be reacting to poor reviews of their latest Civic model.

The Detroit News reports that criticism new Civic "has shown a chink in the automaker's product line...":

A new Civic was introduced this summer and has been criticized for conservative styling, cheap materials in the interior and unimpressive driving characteristics. The car scored too low in Consumer Reports testing to be recommended.

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