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

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

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

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

Rick Snyder for Michigan / Facebook

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

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

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

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

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

user paul (dex) / Flickr

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

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

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

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

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

More from the Associated Press:

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

Excluding Wuling, GM would have been topped by Volkswagen.

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

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

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

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

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

Marcus Wong / creative commons

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jan 18, 2012
Kate Davidson / Changing Gears

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

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

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

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.

Sarah Alvarez / Changing Gears

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

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

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

user fiatontheweb / creative commons

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

More from a company press release:

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

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

user citizenofthedeep / creative commons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What lies ahead for Midwestern manufacturing?

Jan 4, 2012
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.

State revenue projections continue to climb

Jan 3, 2012

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.

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

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.

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.

Did ANYTHING good happen in 2011?

Dec 16, 2011
Adam Prince / flickr

The time for year-end lists and reflections is upon us!

By many measures 2011 has been a tough year around the state. The economy delivered another beating to Michigan, and many businesses and families have a long way to go before they start feeling a recovery.

So...that's the bad news.

But what's the good news?

Have there been things that have gone well this year for you and yours?

What are you thankful for in your community, your work, your family? 

We'll match some of these local stories with an NPR's year-end series.

Just click here to share your story.

Michigan's unemployment rate fell by eight-tenths of a percentage point last month to 9.8 percent. This is the first time since November of 2008 that Michigan's jobless rate has dropped below 10 percent. The national November unemployment rate is 8.6 percent.

The jobless rate fell by eight-tenths of a percentage point in November. That’s a sharp drop and much of it was due to new hiring. But retail was the only sector to show significant growth from month to month and much of the decline is also due to about 19,000 fewer people in the workforce competing for available jobs. All told, there are still about 457,000 people in Michigan without jobs and looking for work.

At 9.8 percent, the state’s unemployment rate is still above the national rate.

When people who have quit looking are counted, along with part-time workers who’d like to be full-time, Michigan’s rate of unemployment and under-employment is 18.8 percent. 

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - A consortium of Michigan companies says it's eager to oversee the building of a new city near Baghdad that draws on the skills of Iraqi immigrants living in Michigan.

Officials from the National Investment Commission of Iraq were announcing Tuesday that they've signed a memorandum of understanding with the consortium, MICH Development, to plan and
build a new city of 500,000 on the outskirts of Baghdad.

The agreement gives the consortium what it needs to take the next step - raising billions of dollars from banks and private investors to get the project under way by late 2012.

Although much of the building is expected to be done by Iraqi workers, Michigan companies could win as much as $1.5 billion in contracts.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Of the 263 automotive plants closed across the country over the past three decades, nearly 49 percent have been repurposed, according to a Labor Department study released Thursday.

And the pace of redeveloping them has accelerated.

The New York Times reported today that, despite the fragile economy, developers have bought as many closed plants in the past three years – 32– as they did in the previous 26 years. Lower property values and a glut of plants on the market have contributed to the trend.

The repurposed plants have welcomed traditional manufacturers, and some of have been turned into housing developments, offices and research centers which has helped affected communities rediscover needed tax revenues, according to the study, which was authored by Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Center for Automotive Research.

Regional differences influenced the fate of plants following their closures. Sites in the South and along the East and West coasts fared the best in finding new users, according to The Times, which said all 14 former plants closed in California and Texas were reused. In Michigan, the state hardest hit by closures, 43 of 105 have been revitalized.

Overall, 135 of the 263 remain vacant, including 24 that have been closed for at least two decades.

“They’re not all going to repurposed,” Jay Williams, executive director of the Office of Recovery for Auto Communities and Workers, told the newspaper. “Not every community is going to find a pot of gold at the end of this pathway.”

user danielctw / Flickr

Toyota has sharply downgraded its expectations for what it will earn in the fiscal year that ends in March. Toyota expects a net profit of $2.3 billion for the fiscal year. That’s less than half the profit it predicted in August. The automaker is blaming a strong yen, which makes its vehicles less competitive on prices, outside of Japan. It’s also blaming recent heavy flooding in Thailand, which disrupted the distribution of auto parts. Toyota is on track to lose its title as the world's largest automaker this calendar year. It sank to No.

user brother o'mara / Flickr

Extension of unemployment benefits

Congress might debate whether to extend unemployment benefits this week. It's a decision that could impact tens of thousands of Michigan residents.

From the Detroit Free Press:

Unless Congress acts to continue extended unemployment benefits, it could be a grim holiday season for nearly 160,000 Michiganders.

An end to the extended benefits would immediately impact 61,000 state residents who are getting this federal aid after exhausting their 26 weeks of state-funded assistance.

Another 98,743 people who are receiving state benefits would no longer get additional help if they are still jobless after 26 weeks.

Experts worry about future of U.S. battery manufacturing

Some experts worry about the longevity of battery manufacturing in the U.S. In Michigan, battery manufacturing is seen as a new economy in the state. The companies have enjoyed investments from private and government entities. But can this type of green manufacturing compete? The Wall Street Journal reports on the current state of some battery manufacturers:

So far, the results have been disappointing. Some high-profile battery makers have stumbled, burdened by high manufacturing costs, strong competition from Asian rivals and a slower-than-expected rollout of electric vehicles. Now the companies are responding by cutting costs, scaling back production and trying to tap other markets, such as large-scale storage for the electricity grid.

State plans to consolidate office space for workers

State officials are hoping to save money by moving workers out of leased offices and into state-owned buildings. According to the Detroit Free Press:

In the last 10 years, the state has shed close to 20% of its workers, but hasn't made similar reductions in its office space. What's more, use of laptops, cell phones and other mobile technology means far fewer state employees need their own office space.

The paper reports leases cost the state around $90 million a year.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

It could be time to crack open a modestly-priced bottle of champagne.

Analysts say, like the recent good news about retail purchases, November auto sales "may have run at the fastest pace in more than two years."

From Bloomberg News:

Light-vehicle deliveries in November, to be released Thursday, may have run at a 13.4 million seasonally adjusted annual rate, the average of 14 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. That would top the 12.3 million pace of a year earlier and October's 13.3 million rate, which was the best month since sales were helped by "cash for clunkers" in August 2009...

"November was a good retail environment for consumers overall," Erich Merkle, Ford's sales analyst, said . Consumers have been "sitting on the sidelines for quite some time. Black Friday provided that reason to get out there."

The head of Toyota's U.S. sales unit said there's a lot of pent up demand among consumers, "it's starting to push industry sales regardless of whether the economy is flat or going up."

Courtesy of Walter P. Reuther Library / Wayne State University

There may be no better example of how the industrial Midwest is changing than the site of the old Fisher Body Plant No. 1 in Flint, Michigan. It’s one of the factories sit-down strikers occupied in the 1930s. The plant made tanks during World War II. It was later closed, gutted and reborn as a GM design center. But GM abandoned the site after bankruptcy and the new occupants don’t make cars. They sell very expensive prescription drugs.

There’s one group of experts who can always tell you the history and significance of an old factory. They’re the guys at the bar across the street.

Five students from Albion College believe they know how to fix the U.S. economy. The team will share their ideas tomorrow in Washington, D.C. at the national College Fed Challenge finals.

Albion will compete against the four other regional finalists: Harvard University; Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey; Lafayette College; and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

If you think about it, class is a tricky word. What does it even mean? How do you define it?

Michigan Radio reporters and producers take a look at how social class impacts our lives - from the way we plan our cities and neighborhoods, to the way we’re treated in a courtroom.

We also hear from folks around the state as they share their thoughts on class.

Part 1

This idea of class – class warfare, class resentment. It’s everywhere. And yet, how are we defining class?

The nation's road to economic recovery will be a marathon, not a sprint. That's according to an economic forecast released today from the University of Michigan's Research Seminar in Quantitative Economics.

The economists write the U.S. economy has been battered by an oil price spike this past spring, the Japanese earthquake, and the European debt crisis.

Despite that, they say the chances of a double-dip recession are lessening:

From the report:

Economic news has improved a bit this fall, lessening the chances of a double dip. Output growth rebounded in the third quarter to register a 2.5 percent pace. Job gains have picked up a notch, averaging 117,000 since midyear. Consumer sentiment has reclaimed part of the ground lost since May. The economy remains vulnerable, however, as the main problems that have plagued this recovery persist.

The Detroit Free Press quoted U-M economist Joan Crary about the slow addition of jobs to the U.S. economy:

On the positive side, the U.S. economy added 700,000 jobs last year and 1.5 million this year, and the U-M economists predicted that the nation will add nearly 4 million jobs over the next two years.

But that will be enough to bring the unemployment rate down only moderately, from its current national rate around 9% to 8.8% in late 2012 and 8.5% in late 2013.

"The unemployment rate begins to creep down but remains uncomfortably high even at the end of 2013— 4½ years after the official end of the recession," Crary said.

In their report, the U-M economists noted the potential impact of a political stalemate in Washington D.C.:

In the current political environment, it also seems unlikely that Congress will pass any new stimulus measures. We have assumed the payroll tax holiday and investment tax incentives will be held over for another year, but neither of those extensions is a sure thing. We may well end up with a fiscal policy that doesn’t address either our short- or long-term problems.

The group is expected to put out a report on Michigan's economy tomorrow.

How does an economist define 'class'?

Nov 14, 2011
United States Census Bureau / Wikipedia

The issue of class has been in the news a lot lately. From the “Occupy Wall Street Movement” which has snowballed across the country, to “class warfare” accusations coming out of Washington, D.C.

We’ve also heard recent reports that show the nation’s middle class is shrinking while the top earners’ salaries have skyrocketed.

Over the next week and a half, Michigan Radio will explore this idea of “social class” and how it impacts our lives.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Democrats in the Michigan House are promoting legislation they say is designed to help small businesses hire more workers.

One measure detailed by Democrats on Monday would provide tax credits of up to $4,000 per person for small businesses that hire unemployed workers. The tax credits would be largest for hiring military veterans who have been jobless for a long time.

Other bills are aimed at developing a pool of money to loan to small businesses. The money would come through investments of a small percentage of state trust funds with Michigan credit unions and community banks, which in turn would make loans available to small businesses.

Democrats are in the minority in the House. The legislation could face an uphill climb to gain traction in the Republican-led chamber.

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