Photo by Rebecca Williams

Nearly a quarter of the homes in Detroit are empty. That’s more than 79,000 vacant homes, according to the last Census.

Of those, Mayor Dave Bing’s office considers 12,000 to be dangerous. They’re burned out, or falling apart. They attract squatters and drug dealers. So the city is paying contractors to demolish them.

But another group of people says some of these homes don’t have to be demolished. They can be taken apart board by board... and the materials can be salvaged.

Jeff Kubina / flickr

The head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Lisa Jackson, is in Michigan today. She’s visiting for a ribbon cutting at Ventower Industries in Monroe. It’s a company that will be making towers for wind turbines.

The Monroe facility will serve as Ventower's main U.S. operation.

35 employees will start work this week, and as many as 300 could eventually work there.

Scott Viciana is the company’s vice president. He says the plant is built on the site of a former industrial landfill.  So first, they had to clean up the land.

“We stumbled across less (sic) concerns in the end than we thought potentially we could.”

Ventower got state and federal tax credits to clean up the brownfield site.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson says that makes it a double win for the environment.

"What we see here today is a return to use. A return to use for a site that will preserve green space, but also support a clean energy economy."

Ventower officials say the Monroe site is ideal because it can ship parts by road, rail, and a Great Lakes port.

Rick Snyder said the Michigan Business Tax was bad for business. 

 “I propose replacing it with a flat six-percent corporate income tax.  Let’s take a job-killer environment; let’s start creating jobs.”

He said it on the campaign trail.  He made the point to business leaders.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

As Michigan Radio's Jennifer Guerra reported yesterday, even lemonade stands are not immune to the down economy.

Guerra talked with Molly and Lucy Prochaska who have been in the lemonade business for five years.

They described how they stopped getting "lots of money" once the economy took a dive.

But the pair is not giving up. Especially with a competitor setting up nearby.

As you can see in the photo above, the lemonade duo is working to capitalize on their public radio appearance.

It's too early to tell whether the "Michigan Radio Bump" will pay off, but don't count these kids out.

Martin Kalfatovic / Flickr

CEO Mike Edwards sent a goodbye note to customers today as going out of business sales start at Borders Book stores across the country.

In his note, Edwards explained why the company couldn't keep their doors open:

We had worked very hard toward a different outcome. The fact is that Borders has been facing headwinds for quite some time, including a rapidly changing book industry, the eReader revolution, and a turbulent economy. We put up a great fight, but regrettably, in the end, we weren't able to overcome these external forces.

Over the last decade, the company made many missteps that led to its demise. One of the most notable was the company's failure to invest early in online book sales. Analysts say other problems included being overextended in real estate holdings for the bookstores, and a lack of leadership.

The shuttering of the company means 10,700 will be out of a job. 400 here in Ann Arbor will lose their jobs at Borders Headquarters (a place that once had 1,800 workers).

We asked our Facebook friends what they will miss when the Borders bookstores are gone.

Adee Braun / Changing Gears

Green energy is often said to be the future of the Midwest economy. But old fashioned fossil fuels could be having a bigger effect on the region’s jobs and corporate bottom lines.

This is not conventional oil, though.

It’s a thick, tar-like crude from the oil sands in Alberta, Canada.

It’s sent here by pipelines, many which cross our rivers and the Great Lakes, and that has some worrying about a bigger risk to the region.

The U.S. Labor Department found "significant and systemic violations of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act's overtime and record-keeping provisions" at Farmers Insurance offices around the country - including offices in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Officials at the U.S. Labor Department say "Farmers Insurance Inc. has agreed to pay $1,520,705 in overtime back wages to 3,459 employees."

From the Department of Labor press release:

Through interviews with employees and a review of the company's timekeeping and payroll systems, investigators found that the company did not account for time employees spent performing pre-shift work activities. Employees routinely performed an average of 30 minutes of unrecorded and uncompensated work — such as turning on work stations, logging into the company phone system and initiating certain software applications necessary to begin their call center duties — per week.

Because employees' pre-shift work times were excluded from official time and payroll records, they were not paid for all hours and are owed compensation at time and one-half their regular rates for hours that exceeded 40 per week.

The agreement affects call center employees who worked between Jan. 1, 2009, and May 10, 2010, at Farmers' "HelpPoint" facility in Grand Rapids.

It also affects employees who worked between Jan. 1, 2009, and Feb. 1, 2010, at a Farmers' "ServicePoint" facility in Grand Rapids.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

According to Manpower’s survey Grand Rapids has the best employment outlook of any other metro area in the country.

That’s not really news to Bill Benson, principle at WilliamCharles. He helps companies in the area find talented workers.

The Employment Policies Institute issued a report that shows Michigan’s teen unemployment rate is around 28 percent, compared to around 24 percent nationally.

Michael Saltsman is with the Employment Policies Institute. He says the rise in teen unemployment over the past two years is a result of employers moving toward automation and self service.

I think you see other businesses sort of moving in that direction where maybe they have waiters and waitresses bus their own tables instead of having a bus boy do it.

user j wynia / Flickr

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - A new study says a single parent in Michigan with a preschooler and a school-age child needs to earn more than three times the state's minimum wage to be economically

Wider Opportunities for Women and the Michigan League for Human Services released the report Tuesday.

The study says the wage-earner in that family of three needs to earn about $52,000 a year with benefits to cover child care, housing, health care, transportation, savings and retirement.

A state report says nearly six out of 10 jobs expected to be created in Michigan through 2018 won't enable a worker to earn that much.

The league says reducing tax credits for low-income workers and cutting spending on children's clothing allowances also are making it harder for hard-pressed families to reach economic security.

Argonne National Laboratory

 LANSING, Mich. (AP) - A University of Michigan economist says the state's rebounding economy will add about 60,000 jobs annually for the next three years.

George Fulton says the state unemployment rate will hover between 9 percent and 10 percent through 2013 as job growth stays steady but not spectacular.

Fulton gave his economic forecast to state economists Monday at the Capitol. He says the resurging domestic auto industry is helping the state get back on its feet as the Detroit Three see their first increase in market share since 1995. All sectors except government are expected to add jobs.

Fulton says Michigan is in the early stages of a sustained recovery and that 2011-13 will be the best three years for the state economy since 2000, although some residents will continue to suffer.

user fiatontheweb / creative commons

DETROIT (AP) - Chrysler is moving its normal summer shutdowns at three factories into June from the usual July closings because of parts shortages from the earthquake in Japan.

The company says its pickup truck plant in Warren, Mich., and its Toledo, Ohio, North assembly plant will be idled the weeks of June 20 and 27. Both plants had been scheduled to close the weeks
of July 11 and 18.

In addition, a Toledo parts operation will close the week of June 20 instead of July 11.

The company says its other plants will have their normal summer shutdowns in July and August.

Nearly all automakers have lost production due to parts shortages from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that hit northern Japan. The quake damaged parts supply plants or knocked out electricity.

Brandon C / Flickr

A General Motors transmission factory will be adding 250 to 400 jobs, according to a union official quoted by the Associated Press.

The announcement will be made by CEO Dan Akerson and UAW Vice President Joe Ashton.

The AP reports:

A union official says General Motors plans to add 250 to 400 jobs at its transmission factory in Toledo, Ohio.

Manoli Katakis / creative commons

A final decision has not been made, but Warren Mayor Jim Fouts released a statement saying GM is considering two investments in its Technical Center and Powertrain Facility in Warren.

Fouts says the investments add up to $450 million and would create 426 new jobs.

From Fouts' statement:

"These possible projects are the result of several meetings between city representatives, including me, and GM officials. I cannot stress too much how important these new investments would be to our city. They mean more jobs and ultimately more tax revenues for Warren. I am confident GM will choose these locations for new investments because the corporation realizes Warren is a business-friendly community that will go the extra mile to encourage businesses to expand or relocate here."

The mayor said Warren became a city in 1957 because of the construction of GM's Tech Center in the city. And he encouraged other business to move there.

Rolling the Dice

Apr 18, 2011

We in the media have been paying a lot of attention to Governor Snyder’s attempts to push his program through the legislature. Mostly, we‘ve been preoccupied with the mechanics.

Last week, we talked about his compromise on the pension tax. Soon, we‘ll be discussing what seems likely to be the governor’s  success at cutting spending for the schools. Occasionally, we remember to mention the reason for all this painful budget slashing.

McDonald's "National Hiring Day" is tomorrow

Apr 18, 2011
Miguel Vaca / Flickr

"Would you like some fries with that?"

That’s the phrase many are perfecting for McDonald's National Hiring Day tomorrow. Many of the McDonald’s  jobs will be in the Midwest.

McDonald's got its start here in the Midwest, and it has a substantial presence throughout the Great Lakes states.

That’s why 10,000 of the 50,000 new workers, the company wants will be based across the region.

The McDonald's in downtown Chicago (on Chicago and State) is one location that is hiring. Nick Karavites and his family own that restaurants and 18 others across the city.

"Not only are we looking to hire cashiers but also hospitality staff and kitchen staff," says Karavites.

As the employment market improves, job seekers can get more selective about where they work.

Karavites said pay at their restaurants averages $9 an hour, and that all workers can participate in a McDonald’s Insurance program.

McDonald’s says the company needs more workers because last year’s sales were up five percent and continues to grow.

A Detroit lawmaker is angry over what he calls a unilateral decision to close the Mound Road Correctional Facility in the city.

Representative Fred Durhal is a member of the House Appropriations Corrections Subcommittee, but he says he was not consulted about closing the Mound prison.

Durhal says Rep. Joe Haveman told the committee only they would close a prison in the north, south, east and west parts of the state in a budget-cutting move.

"It caught me by total surprise," Durhal says. "I have not had an opportunity to look into just where those prisons would be, if those are the criteria that he is using. I think they should have had some discussion inside of the entire committee."

The Mound Road prison is one of the state's newer facilities. It houses about 1,000 prisoners and employs about 200 people.

Khalilshah / Flickr

One in 10 people in Michigan are out of work and looking for a job. The state's March unemployment rate was 10.3 percent. That's almost unchanged from the February rate of 10.4 percent. But it's a full three points below the March 2010 rate of 13.3 percent.

Michigan added 79,000 jobs over the past year, mostly in temporary help, IT, and the auto in industry.

Improvements in the unemployment rate have been modest so far this year, but reflect real job gains and not people leaving the workforce.

Michael Gil / wikimedia commons

Last year, many automakers brought in profits and announced that they would open up new factories and add new jobs.

But the industry is adding new jobs at a time when qualified candidates are hard to come by.

David Shepardson wrote about the shortage in the Detroit News today:

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Michigan’s jobs picture is getting brighter, according to a new report out of the University of Michigan. University of Michigan economists say the state is starting 2011 with “robust job growth."  

Michigan spent much of the past decade watching its job numbers decline. But after some gains in 2010, U of M economists credit a bounce in manufacturing with getting the state off to a great start this year. The job growth rate is on pace to increase by 3.8% this year.     

The economists say Michigan has posted a stronger recovery rate than the rest of the nation during the past year and a half. However, that may not last. 

The U of M economists predict Michigan’s job growth will cool off, but still the economists predict the state could add 64,000 jobs this year.

Two Democratic state lawmakers are preparing legislation that would restore unemployment benefits cuts recently signed into law by Governor Rick Snyder.  Snyder signed legislation to extend federal jobless benefits, but the bill also contained a provision shrinking state unemployment benefits from 26 to 20 weeks next year.  

Republicans lawmakers pushed for the jobless benefits cuts, saying it will reduce the burden on Michigan businesses, which pay into the state unemployment insurance pool. Jim Ananich is a state representative from Flint.   He’s introducing legislation to restore those benefits.  

“You know I’m hopeful that they will see the error of their ways and see that now is not a time to be taking money out of people’s pockets.”

Ananich hopes to introduce his bill next month.

(Courtesy of the Michigan governor's office)

Update 11:33 a.m.:

Michigan Congressman John Dingell (D) has released a statement condemning Snyder's signing of the new law. In a written statement, Representative Dingell said:

"This law is another in a long string of Republican assaults on working families and unions. In one fell swoop, the Republicans in Lansing have made it so that people in Michigan receive state employment benefits for a shorter period of time than anywhere else in the nation. Michigan does face a budget crisis, but it cannot be solved by declaring war on the unemployed, who - now more than ever - need all the help they can get in order to support their families and find new jobs."

Original Post 10:52 a.m.:

Governor Rick Snyder today signed legislation extending jobless benefits. The law will allow 35,000 Michiganders to receive an addition 20 weeks of federal jobless benefits. Their benefits would have expired April 1st. In a written statement, Snyder says: 

"These benefits are a lifeline for many Michigan families who are struggling in this challenging economy... Cutting them off so abruptly would have jeopardized the well-being of those who are trying hard to find work. Now that we have continued this safety net, we must renew our focus on improving Michigan's economic climate. We will continue driving forward with our job-creating reforms so that fewer people need to rely on unemployment benefits."

Democrats pushed for the extension, but many eventually opposed the final version. The final legislation was amended to reduce the number state jobless benefits from 26 to 20 weeks.

Republicans say reducing the length of state benefits will reduce the burden on state businesses that pay into the state jobless benefits pool. By cutting the number weeks of state jobless benefits,  future unemployed Michiganders will be eligible for fewer weeks of additional federal unemployment benefits.  

According to the state Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth, the average unemployed Michigander uses about 19 weeks of jobless benefits. Michigan's unemployment rate declined to 10.4% in February. There were slightly less than a half million people in Michigan without a job who wanted one.  

Michigan's jobless rate is still about 2 percentage points higher than the national average. But the state's jobless rate has been declining since September 2009.

(Flickr swanksalot)

UPDATE 1:24 p.m.:   A spokeswoman for Governor Rick Snyder says the governor expects to sign the bill which would reduce the number of weeks jobless Michiganders will be able to recieve state unemployment benefits. Spokeswoman Sara Wurfel says:

"(The governor's) priority was to ensure no one receiving unemployment benefits was cut off abruptly. It's a lifeline for Michiganders right now - we simply can't risk tens of thousands of Michigan's families immediately losing their benefits in April.  He’s continuing to work tirelessly to help turn around Michigan's economy and create more and better jobs so that we can hopefully reduce the need for unemployment in the first place."

ORIGINAL POST 12:17 p.m.: Democrats are calling on Governor Rick Snyder not to sign legislation that will reduce state unemployment benefits to Michiganders from 26 to 20 weeks. The Republican controlled legislature passed the benefits  cut Wednesday, as part of  a bill to continue extended federal jobless benefits to Michigan’s unemployed.

Royal Oak Congressman Sander Levin says the governor should veto the bill that will eventually reduce benefits for Michigan’s most in need.  

"This is the worst time to do this for Michigan workers.  I think it is reckless.  It’s inexcusable.”

Cutting state benefits will reduce the cost to Michigan businesses that must pay into the unemployment fund.  Cutting state unemployment benefits by 6 weeks could also reduce federal unemployment benefits by up to 16 weeks for jobless Michiganders. The Michigan Chamber of Commerce says the change will save state businesses $300 a year starting in 2012.

Levin says it’s unfair to shorten the period unemployed Michiganders can receive jobless benefits. 

“The governor can say to the legislature 'Get back.  Do what needs to be done here.  And stop the hijacking.'”

Federal jobless benefits for 35,000 unemployed Michiganders will expire April 1st  if Snyder vetoes the bill.

People who file for unemployment benefits next year would be eligible for fewer weeks of payments under a Republican measure approved by the state Senate. The Legislature must approve a jobless benefits package this week in order for the state to receive federal assistance for the program.

Thirty-five thousand Michiganders stand to lose their benefits if the legislature does not agree to the extension by April 1st. 

Democratic state Senator Tupac Hunter says Republicans are using the opportunity to undercut benefits for people who seek the payments in the future.

“This is 100 percent federally funded, we have an opportunity to address that today, and I think that we’ve chosen political games over helping our workers across this great state.”  

Republican state Senator Tom Casperson says the additional benefits would put too much strain on businesses. 

“Putting people into jobs is the way to fix the problem. But we don’t get there when every time we open our mouths we demonize the very job providers that are going to provide the jobs for us. This is trying to offer an opportunity for both sides; a safety net and add to the unemployment, and a fairness to the business people paying the bill.”

The bill was passed and now moves to the state House for final approval.

(Flickr ziggy fresh)

Michigan’s unemployment rate dropped slightly in February. Michigan’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate declined by 3 tenths of one percent last month to 10.4%.

The state’s jobless number was still one and a half percentage points above the national unemployment rate of 8.9%.  

Michigan’s unemployment rate has been falling since September 2009. And last month, the number of jobless Michiganders fell below a half million for the first time since November 2008.

(Flickr Steve Rhodes)

The unemployment benefits of 35 thousand jobless Michiganders are about to expire.  There is some debate whether the state should act to extend their benefits by another 20 weeks.    The debate is between those who say the benefits are critical to jobless workers and business groups that say they don’t want to be forced to pay for those benefits.  The clock is ticking.  

Khalilshah / Flickr

Michigan's unemployment rate continued in decline in January to 10.7 percent. That's the lowest it's been in more than two years. And, it's three percentage points lower than the same time last year: the jobless rate in January 2010 was 13.7 percent.

The national jobless rate in January of this year was 9.0 percent.

Carlota Soc / creative commons

A mail processing center in Flint may be slated for closure next month. The United States Postal Service may move the city’s mail sorting and processing to Pontiac.

Shannon LaBruyere is with the U.S. Postal Service. She says if the closure goes through, 113 jobs will be affected; half would be relocated to Pontiac, half would be offered other positions likely outside of Michigan.

"They will be the people who bear the brunt of the change. Our customers, from our preliminary assessments, won’t see any change in the service they receive."

USPS will hold a public meeting to discuss the possible Flint closure on March 23 at the city's Holiday Inn Gateway Centre.

The Postal Service lost $8.5 billion last fiscal year and plans to close 2,000 post offices nationwide this year. LaBruyere says USPS would save "$6.5 million dollars per year" by moving Flint operations to the Michigan Metroplex in Pontiac. 

A Washington Post article in February says President Obama's 2012 budget recommends about $11 billion in relief to help stem losses at the Postal Service:

The losses stem in part from hefty personnel costs not borne by other federal agencies. One is a requirement, imposed by a 2006 law, that it set aside money each year to cover the costs of future health benefits for its retired workers.

In the Obama administration's first substantive attempt to address the Postal Service's fiscal woes, the budget would allow the agency to pay $4 billion less toward future retiree health benefits than otherwise required. The mail agency would have to pay about $1.5 billion of those costs in fiscal 2012 and make up the difference in later years.

The budget proposal also adjusts the size of the annual payments by taking into account the size of the workforce, which has shrunk to about 583,000 full-time employees since the law passed in 2006.

Public transportation officials in Grand Rapids are excited about one detail in President Obama’s budget announced this week. A proposed rapid bus transit system in Grand Rapids is one of ten new construction projects that Obama would like to fund in 2012.

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: