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U.S. manufacturing is heading for a slowdown, according to IHS Global Insight.

Economist Michael Montgomery says right now, manufacturers are happy because so many companies are replenishing their inventories.

However, "inventories are a short-term plus," says Montgomery. "Over the long term, they don't mean very much at all."

He says it won't be slamming the brakes on. "It's sort of a midcourse correction, as opposed to a big sea change in the world," says Montgomery. "But it's enough to slow growth."

Racine Boat Manufacturing Company Plant, Muskegon, MI
Flickr user Wystan/creative commons

It’s probably pretty stressful being a high school principal, for all kinds of reasons.

But Eric Alburtus, principal of Portage Central High School, spends a big chunk of his time worrying about the arts. He’s specifically worried about the kind of human beings our schools are producing, when kids must fulfill heavy requirements in math and science, yet they barely have a chance to study music, choir, theater, or the visual arts.

(For a more complete look at the state’s requirements, click here.)

Alburtus says arts classes give kids a chance to discover new worlds and different ways of thinking and creating.

For months, we’ve been embroiled in Detroit’s bankruptcy and attempts to save what there is worth saving.

It is hard to pick up any national publication without finding stories about Detroit, few of them good. There are a spate of new book titles too, which mostly chronicle the city’s decline and fall.

Yet I’ve just been reading an utterly fascinating and inspiring new book about a time when Detroit really did save, or at least help save, the world.

The book, just published by Houghton Mifflin, is The Arsenal of Democracy: FDR, Ford Motor Company, and Their Epic Quest to Arm an America at War.

This is a book with characters larger and more bizarre than life. It tells the story of a Detroit-based triumph that the experts said was impossible. And every word in it is true.

Curbed Detroit video screen shot

Shinola makes handcrafted wristwatches in Detroit, and now they're donating four clocks for display in the city.

Today they unveiled one of the Shinola City Clocks at Cobo Center. Other clocks are also located at Eastern Market, Midtown and the College for Creative Studies, according to the Detroit News:

The other three clocks, which also went up Friday, are at Eastern Market’s Shed 3, in Midtown at a future dog park at Cass and West Canfield, and at Shinola’s headquarters at the College for Creative Studies.

Here's a video from Curbed Detroit showing the clock and its second hand at work.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

CHICAGO (AP) - Chicago and the Detroit area stand to reap millions of dollars in federal grants and private sector investment as part of White House initiative to boost innovation in manufacturing and create jobs.

The White House says President Barack Obama will announce Tuesday the creation of two manufacturing institutes. The Detroit-area institute will focus on lightweight metals, while the Chicago hub will push innovation in digital manufacturing and design.

Plymouth Preservation Network / Facebook

In the Wayne County city of Plymouth, a group is trying to preserve the last remnant of a factory that was once a deep part of the community - the Daisy Manufacturing Company.

Fans of the film "A Christmas Story" may recall the Red Ryder Daisy Air Rifle.

Yes, that red rifle that Ralphie pined for would have been made at the former Daisy Factory.

Joining us is Wendy Harkins. She is president of the Plymouth Preservation Network.

User: Brother O'Mara / flickr

Roads will be a priority in 2014, lawmakers say

"State legislative leaders say boosting funding for roads will top their priority list in 2014. Governor Rick Snyder has been urging lawmakers to increase road and infrastructure spending by more than a billion dollars," Jake Neher reports.

Teams start counting vacant buildings to help fight blight in Detroit

"A large-scale effort to count Detroit’s blighted and vacant buildings starts in earnest today. Seventy five teams of surveyors will assess and map more than 350,000 parcels of land across the city," Sarah Cwiek reports.

Manufacturing announcement expected in Flint

"Top officials with General Motors, the UAW and Michigan government will be in Flint today for what’s being called a “significant manufacturing” announcement. GM spokesmen are not saying what the announcement at the Flint Assembly Plant will be," Steve Carmody reports.

Steven Depolo / Creative Commons

Can a Michigan investment fund make big money by investing only in mid-size Michigan companies?

That’s the idea behind the Michigan Prosperity Fund.

It’s the brainchild of Michigan native Martin Stein, founder and CEO of private equity firm Blackford Capital.

Stein previously based Blackford out of LA, but says he started noticing a trend: about 70% of the companies he invested in were in the Midwest and on the East Coast.

“So, on the business side, it made a lot of sense for us to be closer to where we were investing in companies,” says Stein.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Federal, state and local government officials are meeting with Genesee County business leaders today to discuss ways to build up the county’s manufacturing industry.

After decades of decline, Genesee County’s manufacturing base has been growing since the recession.

Much of the growth has been tied to the auto industry.

Janice Karcher is with the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce. She says Flint-area manufacturers are about more than cars and trucks.

Detroit Bikes Facebook Page

A  Detroit-based bike manufacturer is holding its grand opening event tonight. Detroit Bikes is part of a mini-trend of companies like AutoBike and Detroit Bicycle. But it's the only company making bike frames in the city.

Michigan’s unemployment rate ticked up one tenth of one percent in July to 8.8%.  

It’s the second consecutive month the state’s jobless number went up.   The increase is blamed on the number of new job seekers entering the market outpacing the number of job openings.

Bruce Weaver is an economic analyst for the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget.  He says the rising unemployment number should not be a concern.

Detroit Bikes Facebook

There are a couple of relatively new companies making bikes in Detroit.

Shinola makes them (along with watches, leather goods, and journals). Detroit Bicycle Company makes 'em.

Michigan manufacturing is getting a boost from a group of Dutch companies which are starting production of a wide range of green technology products in Brighton.

This week, the companies are starting to roll out wind turbines, heat exchangers,  water purification systems and other green technologies.

Jan Verwater is with the Michigan company partnering with the Dutch manufacturers. He says Michigan’s large production capacity gives it an advantage in attracting high tech businesses.

Flikr

New data from the Brookings Institution shows a relatively strong economic recovery going on in Metro Detroit.

The Brookings Institution’s MetroMonitor report has been watching how the country’s 100 largest metro areas recover from the Great Recession.

Metro Detroit has posted one of the strongest recoveries—in part because the area slid into an earlier and deeper recession than most places around the country.

There’s a phenomenon that happens sometimes after a major stock market crash which is known by the ghastly name, “Dead Cat Bounce.”  We saw a lot of that back in the fall of 2008.

The Dow Jones averages would plunge 500 one day. The next day, they’d recover, say, 50 points, before falling even further later in the week. What was that brief rally all about? Well, it wasn’t about any real improvement in the market.

Greg Flinchbaugh / Creative Commons

Steelcase, the world’s largest office furniture maker is celebrating 100 years in business. But sales of the metal filing cabinets Steelcase is named for are declining; same with traditional cubicles and other large pieces of office furniture. Steelcase is changing its identity.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Steelcase doesn’t manufacture much office furniture in West Michigan anymore, but it still has about 3,000 employees here. They gathered for the birthday celebration at the Grand Rapids headquarters for cake and a balloon drop.

Dustin Dwyer / Changing Gears

This month, we’re taking a look at some of the hidden assets of the industrial Midwest – the parts of our economy that don’t often get noticed when we talk about our strengths.

We found one hidden asset right smack in the middle of our manufacturing sector. It’s a machine that’s in literally thousands of factories across the Midwest. And, though, you might not have heard of it before, the CNC machine – and the people who operate it – are at the core of our economy.

CNC stands for computer-numerically-controlled. And what the computerized machine does is it machines things. That sounds ridiculous unless you know that machine is not just a noun. It’s also a specific manufacturing process.

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.

Cliffs Natural Resources

If you’ve been following our coverage of iron mining in the region, this might interest you.  Cliffs Natural Resources, North America’s biggest iron ore supplier, is scrapping plans to build an iron nugget plant in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

A nugget is just a little clump of very pure iron.  Big deal?  Well, here’s why the new nugget technology matters … and why Cliffs spent years studying it in cooperation with Kobe Steel of Japan.

Remember, the iron-rich regions of Michigan and Minnesota:

  1. provided the iron ore
  2. that made the steel
  3. that helped the industrial Midwest become the industrial Midwest.
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Vice President Joe Biden says good paying manufacturing jobs are vital to the U.S. economy and the American Dream of home ownership and upward mobility.

Biden made his comments following a tour of American Seating Company in Grand Rapids. The company has been making seats for busses, trains and stadiums in West Michigan for more than a century.

“It’s not the only source of good paying jobs but I see no way in which we can meet that American commitment to that dream unless we once again reestablish ourselves as the manufacturing hub of the world with high end products,” Biden said.

American Seating Company

Biden visited a Grand Rapids Public High School back in October to promote the President’s jobs bill. Biden returns this week, this time he’s expected to talk to workers at a manufacturing plant about the administration’s tax plan that’s supposed to boost American manufacturing.

Biden will visit American Seating Company in Grand Rapids on Wednesday. American Seating Company has been making seats for tour busses, trains, and big stadiums for about 125 years. Dave McLaughlin is Vice President and General Sales Manager of Transportation Products Group at American Seating. He’s been working there for 27 years. He says the company is trying not to view Biden’s visit as simply a political event.

“I’m sure there are people that are looking at it as a political event,” McLaughlin said, “We really need help as a nation in rebuilding our manufacturing infrastructure.”

The company employs 500, mostly unionized workers. Most are in Grand Rapids, but all in the United States. McLaughlin says about 75-percent of the company’s goods and services are sourced from companies based in Michigan, Ohio or Indiana.

“We just like to do things here,” McLaughlin said simply. “Now having said that we clearly are in the minority.” He says labor costs are the biggest challenge in staying in the U.S.

So if labor costs are the challenge, what can the U.S. government help manufacturers out with?

  1. Tax incentives: “Certainly a way of mitigating that fact of life could be through tax breaks of one sort or another,” McLaughlin said.
  2. Strengthening the Buy America content provisions: “They could raise that threshold to the point where it’s more difficult for offshore organizations to meet,” McLaughlin said.
  3. Have local, state, national projects buy American made products: “It seems ridiculous to me to see those dollars go offshore when quite often they don’t get reinvested back into the United States,” McLaughlin said.
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.

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.

Image by John Klein Wilson / Michigan Radio

As 2011 comes to an end, we look back at some of the economic and housing stories we covered in the last year. The housing slide slowed in the last year, but Michigan was still near the top of the home foreclosure list. The decrease in home values continued to have grave implications for local governments reliant on property taxes (One caller described the fall in housing prices in his six-word story, "$80,000 to $11,000, Northwest Detroit").

In six words or less, here's how people categorized their housing experiences in Michigan:

And here's a small sampling of Michigan Radio stories about the economy and housing:

The industrial Midwest might not be the industrial Midwest if it weren’t for the iron-rich regions of northern Minnesota and Michigan. These iron ranges have long supplied domestic steelmakers, depleting the highest quality ore along the way. Now, a plant in Minnesota is testing a process to dramatically upgrade the low-grade ore that remains.

To understand why this matters, keep in mind how steelmaking has changed.  The old recipe for steel calls for iron ore, coke and a blast furnace.  But now, more than half of American steel is made in electric arc furnaces, which use electricity to melt scrap steel into new steel.

You can find those ingredients in your own kitchen or garage.

Sarah Alvarez

Today’s American manufacturing industry is a shadow of what it once was. It’s lost millions of jobs and thousands of factories.

Many of us know what some of those factories looked like in their heyday. Not because we visited the factories ourselves, but because we watched them on T.V., with Mr. Rogers as our tour guide. Mr. Rogers’ factory videos started airing in the early nineteen seventies and ran through the late nineties.

Through these kids watched how all kinds of things in the world around them were made, like construction paper and graham crackers.

These places were full of old looking metal equipment and conveyer belts lit by florescent lights. They were also full of people, workers were busy pumping out things like trumpets and shoes and flashlights. I wanted to know if the factories in some of these video's had survived all the upheaval in manufacturing over the last few decades.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

At least 35 West Michigan companies are looking to fill manufacturing jobs. The companies were scouting out new workers at a manufacturing job fair in Grand Rapids Monday.

This is the first time Grand Rapids Community College has held a job fair specifically for manufacturers. Michael Kiss has been with the college for 25 years. He’s heads the school’s Department of Manufacturing and Applied Technology. "There's 35 companies here, but probably another 100 that are looking to hire," Kiss said.

He says they decided to host the fair because he’s been flooded with calls from companies this year that are trying to fill jobs in the manufacturing field.

Isn't manufacturing dead?

It’s not dead yet; not at all,” 40-year old Grand Rapids resident Eric Mallett says about manufacturing.

Niala Boodhoo / Changing Gears

(We're having technical problems with the "audio processing" file above. To listen, please click on the second file.)

Steve Job’s death last week has reminded everyone firsthand the notion that everyone has ideas, and very few become actual products.

That’s because ideas need a push. In some cases, a big push from science to become reality.

It sounds obvious, but when we’re talking about actual products, that translate into actual jobs, and actual economic activity, it’s worth exploring.

That’s why I was so interested to learn more about Battelle Memorial Institute.

Innovation can strike in a variety of ways.

Economic Policy Institute

A report by the Economic Policy Institute looked at the growing trade deficit between the U.S. and China and its effect on jobs.

The group found the trade deficit with China has been a "prime contributor to the crisis in U.S. manufacturing employment."

From the report:

Between 2001 and 2010, the trade deficit with China eliminated or displaced 2.8 million jobs, 1.9 million (69.2 percent) of which were in manufacturing. The 1.9 million manufacturing jobs eliminated or displaced due to trade with China represents nearly half of all U.S. manufacturing jobs lost or displaced between China’s entry into WTO and 2010.

The report finds that the number of Michigan jobs displaced by the trade deficit with China totaled 79,800. That accounts for 1.75 percent of total employment in the state in that time period.

Despite being a heavy manufacturing state, Michigan was not the hardest hit state by the trade imbalance.

From the report:

Jobs displaced due to growing deficits with China exceeded 2.2% of total employment in the 10 hardest-hit states (i.e., jobs lost or displaced as a share of total state employment): New Hampshire (19,700, 2.84%), California (454,600, 2.74%), Massachusetts (88,600, 2.73%), Oregon (47,900, 2.71%), North Carolina (107,800, 2.61%) Minnesota (70,700, 2.61%), Idaho (17,400, 2.54%), Vermont (7,800, 2.37%), Colorado (55,800, 2.30%), and Rhode Island (11,800, 2.24%).

The report concludes, "the U.S.-China trade relationship needs a fundamental change. Addressing the exchange rate policies and labor standards issues in the Chinese economy are important first steps."

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