Let's give a shout-out to a man who may have set the new "gold standard" for generous bosses.

Long-time Ann Arbor auto dealer Howard Cooper is retiring this month.

As his employees reported for work this week, they got an unexpected "expression" of Mr. Cooper's appreciation: a check for $1,000 for every year of service.

Michigan Hall of Justice
User Xnatedawgx / Wikimedia Commons

More ballot measure news today as Michigan voters face a November election that will likely include  about a half a dozen ballot measures.

The Michigan Court of Appeals will hear arguments next week from supporters and opponents of a ballot measure that seeks to add collective bargaining rights for workers into the state constitution.

A group called Protect Our Jobs collected nearly 700,000 signatures to get the measure on the ballot. The group Citizens Protecting Michigan's Constitution challenged the petition, saying the ballot proposal was unconstitutionally broad.

In an order released today, the court says oral arguments in the case will be heard Wednesday in Lansing.

An appeal to the court was made after the Board of State Canvassers deadlocked 2-2 this week on the Protect Our Jobs ballot proposal.

A La-Z-Boy store.
user vercillo / wikimedia commons

A long-time Monroe business may decide to stay and build its world headquarters there. 

Think "recliner" and chances are La-Z-Boy will come to mind.

The company that makes the famous chairs and other furniture started out in the city of Monroe 85 years ago.

It has about 500 employees at its Monroe location.  Now the company wants to build a new facility and says it's interested in staying in Monroe, but is also looking at other sites.

Bob Clark is the city's mayor. He says the City Council will review some economic incentives.  

Dan Gilbert

Another Dan Gilbert company will probably move into downtown Detroit, bringing 1,500 more employees from the suburbs into the city.

Gilbert's Title Source provides title insurance, property valuations and settlement services.

The Detroit Free Press reports the company scheduled a news conference for Wednesday morning to announce the move to the Gilbert-owned First National Building in Downtown Detroit.

Title Source is moving locations from the Detroit Suburb of Troy. About 500 of the company's employees will move in immediately, with the remaining 1,000 moving in over the next six months, reports the Freep.

A sign of the times: remnants of Ann Arbor's iconic, now bankrupt, book seller - the Borders flagship store - will now be occupied by a network security and data protection company - Barracuda Networks. The company says it plans to create 184 "high tech and engineering jobs" over the next three years in downtown Ann Arbor. What's Ann Arbor's magic sauce? Parking spaces, smart people, and a desirable place to live.

As car companies struggle to meet growing demand, the third shift is making a comeback. But many factories running on three shifts are doing it differently from in the past. And that new "three crew" shift pattern could make what's normally a hard job even harder.

At Ford's Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, employees work 10-hour shifts four days a week. The so-called A crew gets days, while the B crew gets afternoons. But the C crew shift rotates its start time every week. On Fridays and Saturdays, workers start at 6:00 a.m. On Mondays and Tuesdays, they start at 4:30 p.m.

Brother O'Mara / Flickr

Detroit pulls back from the brink... again

In another down-to-the-wire showdown, an Ingham County Judge ruled yesterday that Detroit's top lawyer had no standing to halt a consent agreement between the state and the city. If she had been successful, there were warnings the city would go bankrupt in a matter of days.

Sarah Cwiek follows the Detroit drama for Michigan Radio and she caught up with Mayor Dave Bing after the judge's ruling:

“We need to get on with running the city," Bing said. "The city is still in a crisis. And we can’t have all of these distractions and think we’re going to bring the city back.”

The first steps: convening the city’s nine-member financial advisory board. That’s a key provision of the consent agreement. Bing says they’ll meet for the first time Friday.

Signs of improving housing situation in Michigan

Bank repossessions of homes in Michigan have dropped more than 40 percent over the last year.

Michigan Radio's Steve Carmody reports the Metro Detroit area's home foreclosure rate fell faster last month than any other of the nation’s 20 largest cities.

Carmody spoke with Daren Bloomquist, a Realty Trac vice president:

“We’re seeing about the same number of properties start the foreclosure process in Michigan as we saw a year ago,” says Bloomquist,  “But, we’re seeing fewer...much fewer of those actually make it to a completed foreclosure where the property is repossessed by the bank.”

Michigan's unemployment rate ticks upward

Michigan’s unemployment rate for May increased by two-tenths of a percentage point to 8.5 percent.

What does it all mean?

The Michigan Department of Technology, Management & Budget says it means more people are actively looking for work, which means they get counted as "unemployed" (you only get counted as unemployed if you've been searching for a job in the last month):

“Michigan’s labor market in May and throughout early 2012 has been stable,” said Rick Waclawek, director of the Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives. “The minor upturn in the state’s jobless rate in May was partially due to individuals entering or reentering the workforce looking for jobs.”

Michigan’s unemployment rate ticked up last month.

Michigan’s unemployment rate rose two tenths of one percent in May to 8.5%.

 FLINT, Mich. (AP) - Flint's state-appointed emergency financial manager says police officers and firefighters are spared from cuts taking place this month ahead of the new budget year.

The Flint Journal reports that 98 layoff notices have been issued to city of Flint employees. The layoffs go into effect throughout the month of June. Emergency manager Michael Brown initially said 32 firefighters and 19 police officers could be laid off.

The city recently was awarded a $6.9 million federal grant for firefighters. And Brown says he hopes a grant to support police operations will follow soon. Brown included information about the layoffs in his updated financial and operating plan.

Brother O'Mara / Flickr

State AG reviewing McCotter's petition signatures for possible elections fraud

U.S. Representative Thaddeus McCotter (R-Livonia) announced last Friday that his campaign found irregularities in his petion signatures to get his name on the upcoming primary ballot. The state is looking into more than just irregularities. From the Detroit Free Press:

Photocopies of petitions, dates that were cut and pasted onto the petition forms and different-colored ink on identical petitions were just a few of the tactics used to try to fool state election officials into believing that U.S. Rep. Thaddeus McCotter had enough signatures to get on the Aug. 7 primary ballot.

"This wasn't anything that was an innocent mistake," Lansing political consultant Tom Shields said Tuesday. "It was purely an attempt to make up for a lack of signatures, which is politically criminal."

Snyder calls Michigan the "Comeback State," urges businesses to hire veterans

At the opening of the Mackinac Policy Conference, Gov. Rick Snyder said the state's economic recovery is something that should be talked about. From MLive:

"Michiganders are too humble. We don't brag well," Snyder said Tuesday as he opened the Detroit Regional Chamber's 2012 Mackinac Policy Conference. "We have to speak up more. We are the comeback state in the United States right now."

During his remarks, he also asked businesses to reach out and hire more veterans. MPRN's Rick Pluta reports:

The governor says returning veterans face an unemployment rate of about 30 percent, something he calls “unacceptable.”

“So we need to help these people,” Snyder said. “So I ask you to do everything possible to make the session and to hire ‘em. That would be great. Thank you.”

More than 12,000 to lose jobless benefits

The Detroit News reports on looming unemployment benefit cuts.

Even though Michigan's unemployment rate has dropped to 8.3 percent, 205,044 workers in the state still collect unemployment benefits. But after June 23, up to 12,212 of those long-term unemployed workers will lose their emergency federal benefits under a formula that automatically cuts them off when the state's jobless rate drops.

Amway plans to spend up to $81 million to build a new facility in West Michigan.

The direct-sales company says it received a $1.6 million grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation for the project. The new facility will manufacture and process vitamins and supplements for Amway's Nutrilite brand.

From their press release:

This investment includes a new $81 million nutrition plant at the company's Spaulding Avenue site in Ada, Michigan, near Amway World Headquarters. The new plant is expected to create 200 jobs over the next three years.

The Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) today approved a $1.6 million Michigan Business Development Program incentive from the Michigan Strategic Fund (MSF) to support construction of this nutrition products manufacturing facility for Access Business Group LLC, an affiliate of Amway.

Amway says it employs 4,000 people in Michigan. Amway was started in 1959 by Rich DeVos and Jay Van Andel.

There are people who lose their jobs during the best of times, and those who are wildly successful even during a depression.

But what really matters is the overall trend. When you look at that, and at a flurry of new numbers that came out yesterday, it seems clear that Michigan is in fact doing better than a year ago.

Detroit Venture Partners, LLC / YouTube

New technology jobs are coming to Detroit.

Quicken Loans founder and chairman Dan Gilbert has been buying buildings and looking for technology tenants as part of a business he co-founded with Earvin "Magic" Johnson, and  Brian Hermelin called Detroit Venture Partners LLC.

In a promotional video, Detroit Ventures Partners say their goal is to transform Detroit.

"This is our time to turn a crumbled city into a new beacon of hope."

But the self-proclaimed "creative business builders" and "street-fighters" are having a tough time finding talent in Michigan.

The Detroit News reports today Quicken Loans and other tech companies are looking to fill positions with people from out of state.

Online mortgage company Quicken Loans Inc., looking to fill more than 300 information technology positions, has taken its search outside Michigan to find qualified candidates. The Detroit-based company recently launched a website aimed at recruiting laid-off Yahoo workers.

GalaxE.Solutions, a project management firm known for its "Outsource to Detroit" banner on its Woodward Avenue building, has stumbled trying to fill 500 IT jobs.

"There is a shortage nationwide of good IT talent," said Ryan Hoyle, director of global recruiting for GalaxE, which has 150 IT workers in Detroit and hopes to add 350 in the next few years. "There just aren't a lot of top students going into IT."

Michigan's Bureau of Labor Market Information & Strategic Initiatives lists several IT jobs on its Michigan's Hot Jobs List. These are "high demand and high wage" careers in Michigan that are expected to continue to be in demand through 2018.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) - Hostess Brands Inc. has notified state officials it may have to lay off about 380 Michigan workers as part of its plan to get out of bankruptcy. Possible cuts include 70 jobs in Detroit and 65 in Troy. Hostess filed for Chapter 11 protection in January.

Despite a tough state economy, people in Michigan are better able to move up the economic ladder than people in almost every other state. That's according to a report released by the Pew Research Center today.

The study found overall economic status doesn't change much over people's lives.

Erin Currier is from the Pew Center. She says the study did not look at why certain states did better than others. But she says there are some general lessons.

“Certain drivers of mobility are extremely powerful and those drivers include things like educational attainment, savings and asset building, and neighborhood poverty during childhood among others,” Currier.

The study found states with the most economic mobility are New York, New Jersey and Maryland.

The unemployment rate slipped a notch to 8.1 percent in April, but not because employers went on a hiring spree.

Instead, the jobless rate appeared to improve because fewer people were applying for positions. Last month, the civilian labor force shrank by 342,000 people.

Economists say many of those workforce dropouts were "discouraged" workers who moved to the sidelines after months, even years, of trying to nail down jobs.

Brother O'Mara / Flickr

National unemployment numbers released this morning

The Bureau of Labor Statistics released unemployment numbers this morning. The unemployment rate "was little changed at 8.1 percent."

Nonfarm payroll employment rose by 115,000 for the month of April.

As Mark Memmott at NPR's Two-Way blog points out, "the economy needs to add more than 115,000 jobs a month to bring down the unemployment rate." So why the decline?

Mostly because the size of the "civilian labor force" shrank by 342,000 people, to 154.4 million. And the labor force "participation rate" edged down to 63.6 percent from 63.8 percent.

Assesing Michigan's fruit crop, worst in history

The fruit crop in Michigan got bitten by the bizarre weather. High temperatures in March brought the blossoms out, and freezes and frosts in April killed emerging buds.

More from the AP:

Farmers and extension agents say the one-two punch has all but wiped out the tart cherry crop, while other orchard fruits such as sweet cherries, apples, pears and peaches have suffered extensive damage. Juice grapes are another casualty.

Fifty-four-year-old David Rabe of Oceana County says he's been farming nearly all his life and has never seen it this bad. Only his asparagus may survive.

Flooding after rains move through the state

The flooding has caused problems for drivers this morning. Some roads in the Detroit and Flint areas have been closed.

The AP reports that both directions of I-75 at I-696 in suburban Detroit were closed today as the morning rush hour period approached.

A flash flood warning was issued for the Flint area, including Genesee and Shiawassee, counties due to the storm.

The National Weather Service has issued flood advisories, watches and warnings for parts of Michigan's Lower Peninsula following the storms.

More from the Flint Journal:

Hit with more than 5 inches of rain overnight, the county's creeks, streams and drains are swelling as residents cope with their own localized flooding this morning.

The National Weather Service said today that 5.4 inches of rain fell overnight, almost twice as much as the area usually gets in the entire month of May.

"It's bad everywhere," said county Drain Commissioner Jeff Wright. "The whole county got hit pretty well."

The 5.4 inches of rain recorded at Bishop overnight surpassed the total, normal monthly rainfall total for a typical month of May -- 3 inches.

Update 2:50 p.m.

The data was released by the Michigan Department of Technology, Management & Budget (DTMB) this afternoon. Michigan’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell by three-tenths of a percentage point to 8.5 percent

And total employment increased by 21,000 in March, while the number of unemployed declined by 12,000.

The state’s workforce recorded a gain of 9,000 over the month.

“With the March data, Michigan continues to record incremental monthly unemployment rate reductions,” said Rick Waclawek, director of the Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives.  “During the first quarter of 2012, the number of unemployed in Michigan fell by 37,000.”

1:58 p.m.

Well, Mr. Snyder probably did not send the tweet himself, but his 'people' did.

An unemployment rate of 8.5 percent for March is a .3 percent drop from February, and Snyder is taking credit for the drop by adding the hashtag "#TheReinventionIsWorking."

Even though the unemployment rate has been dropping since it hit a peak of 14.1 percent in August and September of 2009, the overall labor force in Michigan has been dropping - meaning there are fewer people working in the state.

Michigan's total labor force dropped each month from November 2006 (5.08 million people working) to December 2011 (4.63 million people working).

But that recently changed. The overall labor force started to grow again in January 2012, and Snyder indicates that growth continues with the addition 21,000 more jobs.

For an more on how the unemployment rate is calculated, look at my post here.

courtesy Riveer Environmental

Riveer Environmental in South Haven will nearly triple in size to accommodate a new $10.4 million contract with the U.S. Army, according to the Kalamazoo Gazette:

Riveer Environmental has been contracted to build 50 vehicle-washing systems that soldiers will use to power-wash everything from Jeeps and Humvees to Abrams tanks.

The systems, which are to be delivered to the Army on June 1 and Sept. 1 (18 and 32 units respectively) are expected to be used in Afghanistan. The company landed the Army contract in late February.

The company says the expansion translates into 10 new jobs - six have been filled.

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.

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."

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.

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.

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.

U.S. Army

The unemployment rate has been high since the recession hit in 2008, but it's been especially high for young veterans in Michigan. According to the U.S. Army Recruiting Battalion in Lansing:

A study conducted by the Joint Economic Committee of Congress reports that nearly 30% of 9/11 era veterans are unemployed in the state of Michigan.  This is nearly 3 times the national average of 11.5%.  The state of Michigan unfortunately tops the list of veterans out of work.

Numbers like these are the reason behind tomorrow's job fair. The Great Lakes Army Recruiting Battalion and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation have partnered on the first ever Great Lakes Veterans Job Fair:

The job fair is open to veterans from 10:00 am until 5:00 pm at VFW Post 345, located at 27345 Schoolcraft Rd. in Redford Township.  This job fair is focused on veterans, but no job-seekers will be turned away. For more information on the Veteran’s Job Fair, please call the U.S. Army’s Great Lakes Recruiting Battalion Public Affairs Office at 517-887-5782.

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.

Photo courtesy of the Snyder Administration

Gov. Rick Snyder is heading to Washington to talk about jobs. He's scheduled to testify Wednesday morning before the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce on ways to promote job creation.

Snyder and Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy have been invited to talk about what's happening in their states and offer policy recommendations.

In December, Snyder unveiled a new state website aimed at matching residents with jobs by offering workers and employers one-stop shopping for career planning, job openings and education and training.

He's expected to recommend Wednesday that the federal government allow more foreign students to remain in the country after they obtain degrees from American universities. President Barack Obama also wants to lift some visa caps so more high-skilled foreign workers can stay and work.

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.

DETROIT (AP) - A Veterans Affairs conference this summer in Detroit is expected to bring $3 million of spending to the area.

The National Veterans Small Business Conference will be held June 25-29 at Cobo Center. Organizers say more than 6,000 veterans, business owners and federal employees are expected to attend.

Nearly 5,000 people attended the conference last year in New Orleans.

Mayor Dave Bing and Veterans Affairs Chief of Staff John Gingrich announced the conference  Wednesday. Gingrich says the conference and a hiring fair "will provide veterans with on-the-spot job opportunities and interviews" in the public and private sectors.

A partnership of federal agencies and private industry attracted more than 4,100 veterans and resulted in over 2,600 on-the-spot interviews and more than 500 tentative job offers earlier this month in Washington D.C.