Dustin Dwyer | Michigan Radio
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Dustin Dwyer

Reporter / Producer

Dustin Dwyer reports enterprise and long-form stories from Michigan Radio’s West Michigan bureau. He was a fellow in the class of 2018 at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. He’s been with Michigan Radio since 2004, when he started as an intern in the newsroom. He left the station in 2010-2011 to be a stay at home dad, and returned to be part of the Changing Gears project, a collaboration between Michigan Radio, Ideastream in Cleveland and WBEZ in Chicago. From 2012 – 2017, he was part of the team for State of Opportunity, and produced several radio documentaries on kids and families in Michigan. He lives in Grand Rapids with his wife and three kids.

Preschool-age boy practicing writing his name at a table in a Head Start classroom.
Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

The debate over federal spending cuts has made Head Start a major topic of conversation in Washington. Leaders from both parties warn that tens of thousands of kids will lose a chance at Head Start’s preschool program, if the across-the-board spending cuts are allowed to happen.

To some critics, cutting Head Start would be a good thing. They think it is a failure, and not worth the money. 

flickr user Southworth Sailor

Today, I reported for State of Opportunity on some alarming new statistics on child abuse and neglect in Michigan.

You can click here to get the full story.

There is some debate about how to interpret a few of the statistics in the story.

One of the things I discovered while reporting the story is that it's actually hard to get good numbers on abuse and neglect in Michigan.

The state Department of Human Services provides a monthly fact sheet that includes the number of cases that were investigated, and how many were confirmed. But the numbers only cover two months worth of reports, and there's no detail on the nature of the cases, or where they occurred.

The Michigan League for Public Policy worked with the DHS to publish some more detailed measures of abuse and neglect in the latest Kids Count report.

From my perspective, even this report leaves as many questions as answers. 

That said, the statistics we do have are cause enough for concern.

Here are four to keep in mind: 

Dustin Dwyer

Yesterday, we aired an hour-long special on State of Opportunity about the importance of early childhood education. If you missed it, you can hear the full audio here. You can also download the audio on iTunes. Just search for the State of Opportunity podcast. 

This report is the result of months of work, and thousands of hours of research by Jennifer Guerra, Sarah Alvarez and me. We interviewed neuroscientists and psychologists for the latest findings on how children's brains develop. We talked to economists and policymakers about the financial payoff for investing in children before they go to kindergarten. We packed a lot of information in our special, and I hope it helps give you a sense of why preschool is so important for disadvantaged kids.

But, knowing that life is busy and your time is limited, I also wanted to share some of my main takeaways. So, after months and months of reporting on early childhood education, here are the five most important things I've learned: 

Dustin Dwyer / Changing Gears

The data is in, and the Midwest economy seems to be on the path of recovery. Our long, regional nightmare still isn’t over for many workers, but there are plenty of signs for optimism. Businesses are hiring, productivity has increased.*

Tax incentives have become the weapon of choice among states battling for new business investments. Niala Boodhoo reported in December that offering incentives has become a sort of strategy game for Midwest states hoping to one-up each other as everyone fights to grow jobs. But, as Niala reported, these are games with millions of dollars in tax breaks and thousands of jobs on the line.

Photo courtesy of Carbon Green BioEnergy

The ethanol refinery for Carbon Green Bioenergy rises up out of the cornfields outside Lake Odessa Michigan.

The refinery was built in 2006. Mitch Miller, the CEO of the company, says a lot of refineries were popping up then.

“Five years ago, ethanol was a craze,” he says. “It was the next best thing.”

Now, not so much. Refineries aren’t being built. Politicians aren’t stopping by with platoons of reporters.

Seriously, when is the last time you heard anyone talk about ethanol?

Funny or Die

The RoboCop statue is definitely happening in Detroit.

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.

Here’s what you do: Click on the video, and pop it out to full screen.

As you watch, remind yourself that this is the place they call the Rust Belt.

Remind yourself that this is the place that cannot keep its talented young people, because they say it’s too cold.

Too uninspiring.

Too boring.

Remind yourself that they say those things.

Remind yourself that none of it is true.

Then, get back to work.

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.

YouTube / YouTube

Last night during the Super Bowl, Chrysler ran a follow-up to its much buzzed-about commercial from last year’s big game.

The new commercial, dubbed “It’s Halftime in America” ran, appropriately enough, during halftime.

user trevorpatt / Flickr

Detroit is a city that fascinates a lot of people.

Its story is not a simple one, though it has sometimes been a dramatic one. So maybe it’s not surprising that we seem to hear every week about a new documentary film being made about Detroit.

Changing Gears hasn’t had a chance to see all of these documentaries, but we’ve heard about an awful lot of them.

And we’ve noticed some patterns that we thought could be helpful in case you ever decide to make a documentary about the Motor City.

So, here is our DIY guide for how to make a Detroit documentary:

fotopedia.org

You may have heard the promos on air: This afternoon, Changing Gears will host a live web chat with teachers across the Midwest to talk about the many changes in the past year, and what the future may bring. The web chat accompanies a piece by Dan Bobkoff that’s airing across the Changing Gears partner stations today.

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.

Dustin Dwyer / Changing Gears

The Amway HotelVan Andel Arena. The Grand Rapids Public Museum. What do all these things have in common? Yes, they're all credited with helping turn downtown Grand Rapids around. But they also owe their existence, at least in part, to something else: philanthropy.

Tim Beckett / Flickr

This week, Changing Gears kicks off a look at Empty across our region. During November, we’ll be looking at empty buildings, empty property — and how we can fill things up again.

In the first part of our series, I explore the economic and social cost of emptiness.

Things may be better in some neighborhoods, but problems still abound.

The numbers

John F. Martin / General Motors

Three years ago, the advanced battery industry in the United States existed only in the imagination.

Plenty of people believed electric cars would be the next big thing, and they would be powered by lithium ion batteries; the same kind of batteries that are in cell phones and laptops.

But in 2008, almost all of the lithium ion batteries in the world were made in Asia.

Randy Thelan heard that might be about to change.

Batteries come to Michigan

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