Friday, June 29, 2007

International Tabloid News from Michigan

If this will boost tourism making Michigan an international destination, I'm all for it. Maybe some curious Bigfoot fans will make the trek from Ireland, India, Australia, UK, South Africa, or Israel for a glimpse of the elusive creature after reading the recent "news" coverage.

Bigfoot has been sighted more in Marquette County, than any other in the UP according to Matthew Moneymaker of the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization. Members of BFRO will be in Marquette County July 12-15 searching secret locations for evidence of Bigfoot.

From the UPI coverage:

"We hope to accomplish several things. First is a direct sighting and to record that sighting. We'll be looking for evidence supporting a presence. We are going to study the environment, which is typically remote. And we hope to meet local people who might have seen a Sasquatch or heard of someone else who had an encounter," Moneymaker said.

So head up to the UP for a pasty (June 29-July 1 is PastyFest in Calumet), some smoked fish, open space and a chance to see Bigfoot.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Food Safety

Eating local sounds better every day.

News of a food safety crackdown in China is circulating the globe, yet here in Michigan efforts at food safety are winning national acclaim. The Michigan Department of Agriculture and the Michigan State Police have earned the Food and Drug Administration's annual Leveraging/Collaboration award for food safety efforts. (source)

At the same time Chinese state run media reports: "industrial chemicals not intended for use in foods had been found in products as diverse as candy, pickles and seafood. Among the substances were dyes, mineral oils, paraffin, formaldehyde and malachite green, a chemical primarily used as a dye but also used as a topical antiseptic or treatment for parasites and infections in fish."

An international consulting firm also sighted lack of refrigeration trucks as a major problem. In China there are only about 30,000 refrigerated trucks for transporting food; the United States has about 280,000.

Think global and you'll surely eat local.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Fireworks Seized Just in Time for the Fourth

Like corn on the cob and u-pick strawberries, it's definitely seasonal.

Livingston County--patriotic, conservative, independent, fun loving, entrepreneurial? Tuesday, authorities seized the "mother lode" of fireworks--$500,000 worth--enough to fill half a pole barn from floor to ceiling, according to Sheriff Bob Bezotte. The Press and Argus reports that a licensed dealer operating a stand behind a gas station, sold illegal fireworks to an undercover police officer. Investigation of the incident will continue jointly by the Michigan State Police and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Muskegon County deputies seized 6700 pounds earlier this month in a repeat visit to a man who in 2005 had 800 pounds confiscated.

And, last week in the Grand Rapids area, $40,000 worth--300 boxes of illegal fireworks--turned up during a police search of a storage facility.

The City of Lincoln Park website has an excellent fact sheet on firework safety. Check it out ahead of time for a safe holiday.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Summer Means Tourism

Pure Michigan is upon us. That's the campaign promoted by Travel Michigan featuring broadcast media spots with Tim Allen at a cost of $8.7 million on out-of-state ads and $1.5 million in the state. (source)

So, how are we doing?

In March, the Michigan Travel Commission released the Michigan Tourism Strategic Plan, the product of a vast collaborative effort initiated in September of 2005.

From the Executive Summary:
"Michigan is primarily a regional tourism destination drawing about 70% of its business from Michigan residents and 20% from residents of adjacent states and Ontario. Its reliance on this regional tourism market is problematic both in the near term and the long run. The Michigan economy has been weak for several years and is projected to remain so for some time. Population growth in this region of the US is projected by the US Census Bureau to lag the rest of the country, which poses a long term threat to Michigan’s tourism industry."

So we have some challenges.

I spoke with George Zimmermann, Vice President of Travel Michigan. "We have traditionally marketed the state regionally for budget reasons. The current Travel Michigan budget is $15.6 million, and the promotion part of that is $13.2 million." About 80% of that is spent out of state and 20% in state. The main regional markets include: Chicago, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Milwaukee and Ontario.

Good news for the immediate future: passport rules have been eased and the Canadian dollar is strong. Michigan saw improvement in May's unemployment figures in part due to 19,000 new hires in leisure and hospitality services mainly in northern counties.

But like the arts, tourism promotion endured a steady funding decline from 1990 to 2005. Zimmermann said,"In 1990 we had the seventh largest state tourism promotion budget and by 2005 we had dropped to 31st. We did get a reprieve when the 21st Century Jobs fund was created. That provided a one-time funding boost that brought us up to the $15.6 million level. So this year we're back up to 17th. But with the 2007 budget we're at the end of that money."

In addition to maintaining regional promotion efforts, the next big challenge is transforming Michigan from a regional tourism destination to a national destination and ultimately, a global one. Consensus among tourism professionals holds that Michigan can become a national and global destination.

But, given the likely shrinkage of the 70% stay-at-home tourism market, what is being done to grow the other 30%--in particular, the 10% coming from somewhere other than our region?

The May 2007 Travel Michigan Newsletter reports a recent initiative to reach German travelers:
"Travel writers from the North Rhine-Westphalia area of Germany recently toured Michigan to help promote a new KLM/Northwest Airlines direct-flight from Düsseldorf to Detroit. ...The writers represented publications with a combined circulation of over 2.8 million readers. The new direct flight, which begins service in early June, is expected to encourage more visitations through the Michigan gateway by German travelers, seeking a combination of exciting city experiences, active outdoor soft adventure and a more relaxed, freshwater Great Lakes holiday."

This program was part of regional promotion by Great Lakes of North America. Zimmermann said,"The one international effort we are involved in is a consortium of the Great Lakes States, called Great Lakes of North America. It’s been around for almost 20 years. The state tourism offices in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, jointly fund regional promotion in Europe. It’s a way to have influence in the market. We are able to do promotions to get travel writers to come in and we work with tour operators to make sure they feature the Great Lakes in their catalogs and programs."

Zimmermann was very enthusiastic about recent performance of the Travel Michigan website. Michigan's tourism industry web site,, is being tauted as busiest state tourism web site in the nation. "Our marketing strategy is to get consumers to go to the website, get more information there and then travel. So this is very encouraging," Zimmermann said.

What about 2008? "With 'Pure Michigan' we feel like we have a compelling campaign at this point, but what markets we can be active in next year will be 100% dependent on budget. That will determine if can we even maintain the six primary out-of-state regional markets. That will be strictly a financial decision. Once we know what our budget is we can figure out what to do with it,"he said.

But here's the bottom line--“Visitors spend about $17.5 billion annually, which employs 193,000 people statewide and contributes $971 million in state taxes.”

Tourism, it's Pure Michigan.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

CAFE Standards--the Long View From Home and Abroad

Sometimes it takes distance to get a better view of things. Take for example the Guardian's reporting on our fuel standards controversy. Senate votes for first rise in fuel standard in 32 years. 32 years. How old were you 32 years ago?

Fuel standards were introduced in 1975 after the Arab oil embargo. Not surprisingly, U.S. automakers have a history of balking at the standards. In 1973, EPA Administrator William Ruckelshaus gave the auto industry extra time to meet a goal set for 1975. He relented after a court order required him to reconsider the time line. He said the automakers could have extra time for the sake of consumers; the manufacturers argued they might have trouble producing enough vehicles to meet demand and that was bad for the public. (New York Times, April 12, 1973)

This week, automakers didn't make that argument. Objection to the standards that passed was framed around industry profits and unreasonable expectations for improvement. Where did the public go? How about consumers?

Concessions to big oil, which avoided a $32 billion tax intended to stimulate development of alternative fuels, are obscene but not surprising.

The crisis around fuel standards is not new. Manufacturers resisting change to business as usual is not new. Saying 'no' to the auto industry, this is new.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Long View on Climate and Levels in the Great Lakes

The Chicago Tribune is a great paper. Take some time to settle in with this well done piece.

From today's Great Lakes' past may offer clues on climate, an excerpt:

"During periods of low water that lasted until 2,000 years ago, a forest stood at the bottom of Duluth harbor and in parts of Lake Huron. Peat bogs stretched between what are now the Apostles Islands near Wisconsin. At a bay above Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., successive underwater ridges were a thriving forest when Leif Ericson landed in North America, and an active beach later in dry spells as recent as the 1700s. In Lake Michigan, salvage divers in the 1980s found a grove of sunken tree trunks 15 miles off Navy Pier that date back thousands of years.

Piecing together those clues, climate detectives suspect Lakes Superior, Michigan and Huron may have been lower than 20th Century historical averages in the 13th and 17th Centuries and much higher in the 16th Century as well as over the last 50 years."

Thank you,
James Janega, for writing this article.

Brookings Forum on the Future of Great Lakes Economy

Looking for something to do in D.C. next week? Consider attending a forum on the Future of Great Lakes Economy, Thursday, June 28, from 8:30 a.m. to 12 noon in the Falk Auditorium of the Brookings Institution. From the press release:

" On June 28, the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program will host the first in a series of forums to highlight ways the federal government can help bolster the economic assets of the Great Lakes Region. Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.), a longtime proponent of revitalizing the region, will provide opening remarks. This two-panel discussion also includes experts from the communities, universities, foundations and associations in the Great Lakes region. Panelists will discuss the innovative efforts currently underway to boost the economic competitiveness of the region, such as technology, innovation, and environmental stewardship; and will offer federal policy recommendations designed to foster the Great Lake Region's continued growth as a vital economic engine for the nation in the years ahead."

Participants include: Michigan State University President, Lou Anna Simon; Nature Conservancy, State Director in Michigan, Helen Taylor; George Kuper, President, Council of Great Lakes Industries (based in Ann Arbor).

CAFE Standards--Senate Agreement Today?

Reuters reports that today could be the day for Senate agreement on increased fuel efficiency standards. According to the report:

"The Senate may work through the weekend on the energy legislation. In addition to fuel economy, other major provisions would eliminate billions of dollars in tax incentives for oil companies and promote home-grown energy sources, like wind power and alternative automotive fuels. "

"Stabenow and Levin met with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat and a chief sponsor of the stricter Senate efficiency proposal, to discuss alternatives. Feinstein said her team would "run the numbers" overnight and revisit the issue on Thursday."

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Great Lakes--Lower Levels Raising Concern

Visible by satellite--the earth's largest figure-ground study--the Great Lakes give shape to Michigan. The Great Lakes State is surrounded by 20% of the world's fresh surface water (source). Alaska is the only state with more coastline (we have 3,288 miles of it).

At the moment, a lot of people are worried about low lake levels and with reason. Lake Superior is at its lowest level since the Dust Bowl years. The Duluth News Tribune reports that for the first time in more than 30 years the 71-foot ship Winonah will not operate from Grand Portage to Isle Royale. reported a contentious public forum held on the Canadian side of the Soo last Thursday. It quotes Tom McAuley, engineering adviser to the IJC (International Joint Commission) and David Fay, Ontario manager of the Great Lakes St. Lawrence River Regulation Office for Environment Canada's Meteorological Services of Canada:

"For the past nine years, Lake Superior net basin supplies have been at a net loss," said Fay. "This means that more water is leaving the lake than is going in."

"It's climate change," he said. "Lake Superior is a very large lake and it hasn't frozen over in years."

McAuley and Fay agreed that more water is evaporating from the lake between the months of September and February in recent times than ever before in recorded history.

"The lowest level in the lake was in 1926 and we are just one centimeter above that right now," said weatherman Fay. "I expect it will drop below that by September this year."

Fay said he's seen credible models that predict catastrophic water loss in the lake over the next few years as well.


Cynthia Sellinger, hydrologist and Deputy Director at NOAA's Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab in Ann Arbor says,"The western end of Lake Superior has been in a severe drought since last June. Since 2003 parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan have been in and out of conditions ranging from moderately dry to severe drought. Lake Superior supplies about 30% of the water to Lakes Michigan and Huron." Less water in Superior means less water flowing into Michigan and Huron. Lakes Erie and Ontario, currently higher than their longterm mean levels,"have gotten a lot of moisture from the Gulf of Mexico,"Sellinger said.

"The upper lakes get a much of their moisture from polar air masses and from the Pacific as well. But recently there has been less of that moisture than in previous years."

Travis Dahl, Chief, Water Hydrology Branch, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Detroit Office said,"Since 1918, the record lows for Superior were set during the Dust Bowl, but the record lows for Lakes Michigan and Huron actually were set in the mid 1960s." A multi-continent severe drought was to blame.

I was looking for a comforting longterm perspective on the matter of lake levels. After all, a certain amount of fluctuation is normal and has been observed since records have been kept. The hydrologic cycle is a complex interplay of precipitation, evaporation, transpiration, percolation, runoff and outflows.

When asked point blank if there was anything she could say to assuage fears about the impact of falling lake levels, Sellinger said,"not really." Ouch.

"We've had a lot less moisture and more evaporation in the upper lakes. But the lower lakes have been receiving more precipitation from the Atlantic hurricane tracks. So you're getting a mixture of things affecting the region,"she said.

"Increased hurricane activity resulting from climate change will likely bring more moisture into the region of the lower lakes. You can't say that overall that global warming is going to suck the lakes dry, but they do respond to climatic events,"she said. Such events include the year-long severe drought affecting Superior right now, previous multi-continent severe droughts and ongoing events like increasing global air temperatures and ocean temperatures. (The Aral Sea disaster was brought on by human activities, namely massive river diversions.)

What does this mean for human activities? Shipping is already affected. As reported in yesterday's Lansing State Journal, Saginaw River traffic has slowed in part due to water levels. The Toronto Star reported last week, " Windsor harbour master Bill Marshall says low water levels mean ships are forced to carry lighter loads, which in the end means higher prices for consumers." As for recreation, some boaters will not be able to launch from their home docks or marinas (source).

A multitude of government agencies--Canadian, U.S. and bi-national--collaborate to monitor and steward the Great Lakes. The lakes have always commanded our respect and humility. As vast as the lakes are, global changes will have an impact.

From the Great Lakes Atlas published by the U.S. EPA, Great Lakes National Program Office:

"Warmer climates mean increased evaporation from the lake surfaces and evapotranspiration from the land surface of the basin. This in turn will augment the percentage of precipitation that is returned to the atmosphere. Studies have shown that the resulting net basin supply, the amount of water contributed by each lake basin to the overall hydrologic system, will be decreased by 23 to 50 percent. The resulting decreases in average lake levels will be from half a metre to two metres, depending on the GCM [general circulation model] used."

Walk lightly, everyone.

(Since this was posted the Independent (UK) has published Climate change blamed as Superior shrinks, June 20, 2007)

Monday, June 18, 2007

Antics with Semantics or How to Insure the Invisible Partner (update)

Good news for non-heterosexual households in Michigan. Michigan State University has a plan to continue providing benefits to persons formerly known as "domestic partners." Now these family members will be called "other eligible individuals" for the sake of conforming to the restrictively interpreted language of Michigan's man/woman marriage amendment. MSU will begin a pilot program with the new language July 1 and review it annually.

According to a June 15 piece from Inside Higher Ed, "The new policy doesn’t distinguish between same-sex and opposite-sex living arrangements, and in fact it would cover people who aren’t really couples in any sense, but who merely share a home."

The message in Michigan seems to be: if you are gay or lesbian and in a committed relationship, in order to receive the employment benefits that accrue to heterosexuals in partnered relationships, your relationship must be rendered invisible. If your relationship is invisible, you can have benefits. The proponents of the marriage amendment said they didn't want to take benefits away from anyone, just clarify the definition of marriage. Mission accomplished.

Update: Late this morning, University of Michigan announced,"Effective Jan. 1, 2008, a new category of dependent called Other Qualified Adult (OQA) is being offered to all benefits-eligible U-M employees. A set of specific eligibility requirements defines the criteria required for OQA coverage."

OQAs or OEIs? Neither has the same ring as "spouse."

Related Post: "The Law is the Law"

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Dad's Rear View Mirror

My dad is one of those eighty-somethings the Big Three find burdensome. He just keeps going. And he has the kind of pension that workers my age can only dream about, you know, a defined benefit plan. Not a princely sum, but when combined with Social Security and some small investment dividends, enough for a single elderly man who has no debt.

Due to the normal aging process and a stroke, he can no longer enjoy the physical activities he did earlier in his retirement--fishing, golf, bowling, dancing. But his wits are quick and he exercises them regularly with crosswords and a fierce game of Scrabble. He still has his mind, thank god. And he still speaks it.

1. "Live within your means and pay yourself first. " Suze Orman is cashing in on these morsels of common sense. But this means something coming from a guy who was born in 1923, developed his world view during the Great Depression, and came of age during World War II. Dad finds distressing the rise in foreclosures and personal bankruptcies. He finds the elimination of defined benefit plans even more distressing, given the current negative savings rate.

2. "Sometimes you just don't get the tiles." Scrabble wisdom at its best. The point being, make the most of what you have. Life isn't fair; it just is. Again, highly credible coming from a guy who turned down a college scholarship so he could work full time to pay the sanatorium bills for a sister ill with TB. He completed college after the war, in night school, while working full time and raising a family.

3. "The only constant is change." Heraclitus or my dad, Henry? Doesn't really matter. That's the New Economy in a nutshell. Like it or not, it's here.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Hello, New Michigan

"A New Agenda for A New Michigan" by the folks at Michigan Future, Inc. lays out strategies for finding our way along this path.

From the report:
"Our agenda to help better position Michigan and its regions to succeed in a knowledge-driven economy is centered on (1) developing a culture, and (2) making key public investments that are aimed at preparing, retaining, and attracting talent."

It lists three characteristics of successful regions in the new economy:

"*Learning. Instilling the love of learning may well be the most important foundation for economic success in a world characterized by accelerating creative destruction of both jobs and enterprises."

Learning is good. Schools are good. Public schools are good. Don't cut education funding; pamper your schools with more funding.

"*An entrepreneurial spirit. This is more than starting a business, although we need far more of that. It is a community that stops thinking of employment as a long-term entitlement to a good job and starts valuing competition and constant reinvention of one’s career."

That means empowered, creative people ready to try new things even when the big boys say it can't be done. It means thinking creatively about who you are now and who you can become. It means tooling and retooling yourself as technology changes. It means community support of lifelong learning.

"*Being welcoming to all. The places that do the best in attracting talent from anywhere on the planet win. This means building a culture that condemns rather than tolerates discrimination and segregation, as well as welcoming, with open arms, talented people from outside Michigan."

Being welcoming to all. Michigan, we have a long way to go on that one, starting with the fallout from the "marriage amendment" to the state constitution. We must start by welcoming the minorities and quirky, creative people already among us. Don't scorn or drive out the populations whose very existence forces us to question cultural assumptions. The presence of people doing things differently is a living witness that keeps us alert to our own complacence. Take a deep breath and understand that we need to be diverse, that we already are, and that it is a gift.

International Tabloid News from Michigan

Michigan couple finds baby on MySpace (Australia) Lookout, Craig's List.

No charges in wheelchair-truck ride (Canada) North American drivers heaved a sigh of relief for the trucker whose grille snagged an occupied wheel chair last week. There but for the grace of god...

Former treasurer of Michigan county gets top sentence in Nigerian scam (Austria) Snopes explains this confidence method, also known as 4-1-9 or advanced fee fraud. If you get an email from a stranger in Nigeria promising a lot of money in return for a little, remember--no free lunches. Not even in prison.

Michigan hotel pulls ladies-only floor plan (Canada) Marriott's intention for its new Grand Rapids hotel seemed good--safe space for business women traveling alone. But response from "international clients was negative. " This wouldn't have anything to do with certain ladies flying into Grand Rapids for the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival, would it? Ahem...On a positive note, rooms and the lounge on the floor in question still will feature details to please lady travelers: chenille throw blankets and jewelry holders.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Driving the News--Automakers Push Back in Washington

Reuters reports today (Auto giants complain against Congress) that Detroit automakers continue to push back against Senate changes to CAFE standards. According to the article, GM, Ford and Chrysler lobbyists continue to make the argument that the "Big Three" are uniquely important to the American economy and so "deserve special consideration."

The article, sounding a little bloglike, quoted anonymous industry sources worried about congressional retribution for years of resistance to improved mileage and efficiency standards.
"'We went off the tracks somewhere,' said another official from the same company. 'The auto sector stopped having a huge economic impact and has become part of the problem.'" So there is some self awareness. That's encouraging.

Stabenow says part of the problem is that the industry is "not telling its story well." That sounds accurate. If you've been accustomed to "special consideration" for decades, explaining yourself to a hostile crowd might be a new experience.

Part of the story still to be told is why these companies can meet tougher standards abroad, but not at home.

Levin and Stabenow figure prominently in the piece as working toward an alternative to the leading Senate proposal that "would require a 4 percent annual improvement in fuel economy beginning in 2011. Under that plan, vehicles would have to average 35 miles per gallon by 2020."

"Levin and Stabenow were still working out details and mustering support among colleagues for their initiative, which would mandate a range of 36 miles per gallon for compacts, sedans and wagons by 2022 and 30 mpg for sport utilities, light trucks and vans by 2025."

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Between Jobs--Jackson Converts to a Cool City

Somewhere between our beefy manufacturing legacy and the New Economy -- between east Michigan and west Michigan -- sits the city of Jackson (pop. 36,316). If you look closely, you'll see signs of its transitional status--lots of houses for sale, lots of vacant commercial properties, a 'COOL CITY' neon sign in the Chamber of Commerce front window.

What makes Jackson a "Cool City?" It's the Armory Arts Project, an economic development effort transforming the historic 19th-century Jackson State Prison site into a live/work space for artists. It garnered the 'Cool City' designation from Governor Granholm in 2004 as part of the Cool City Pilot Program.

A generation of Jackson workers spent their lives with Goodyear Tire. From 1937 to1983, Goodyear operated a massive manufacturing facility on a 59 acre site. Colorado-based Kinder Morgan now operates a gas-powered, electric generating plant on the site. In the past year several more plants have closed, TRW and Eaton among them.

Redevelopment for economic development continues to be a focus of the Enterprise Group of Jackson, an alliance of several organizations devoted to keeping Jackson County economically viable. Jackson County has four tax-free "Renaissance Zones" and a long list of corporate/commercial properties available for development.

I spoke with Jane Robinson from the Enterprise Group about the Armory Arts Project,"We did an initial feasibility study in partnership with Art Space, a Minneapolis-based group that cultivates space for artists around the country,"Robinson said.

Robinson says the project is already having a positive impact on the downtown with new residential development and shops moving in. "Property values on the street with the Armory have risen 972%,"Robinson boasted.

"What makes this project unique in the country is our incredible historic site. There is a four-story high gallery, eight smaller galleries, workshops, a ceramics studio, and a large scale art production studio all available for the tenants at no extra cost,"Robinson said. "In future plans for the Armory, we will have a 'creative innovations center.' This will be a learning environment where manufacturing and artistic communities come together for collaboration." According to Robinson, business and marketing workshops will also be available to artist/residents.

Groundbreaking happened in November 2006 with a completion goal of January of 2008, which Robinson expects to meet. There are 62 units--some apartments, some lofts. "We kept the integrity of the buildings with the exposed brick walls and coved ceilings. 40 units are already reserved. We have attracted artists from around the country--Miami, Atlanta and Chicago, as well as from across Michigan,"Robinson shared.

This Saturday, June 16th, at 4p.m. there will be a tailgate reception and hard hat tour of the project. Robinson welcomes all creative people who might be interested to the Saturday event.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Michigan's Economy: Time for Two Steps Forward

Earlier this week, Reuters reported that Michigan was the only state with a declining real GDP (gross domestic product) last year. A sadly unique position, but that isn't the whole story. The Free Press followed up with a more comprehensive assessment of our condition. And this is what we need, realism and hope together.

We took one step back; we are poised to take two steps forward.

From the Free Press article:

"Michigan ranked sixth among the 50 states in attracting highly educated workers." While we are seeing a reduction in manufacturing jobs, positions requiring higher education are increasing. Engineers are coming to Michigan. Let's not cut higher education funding, please.

"Michigan ranked 19th overall in the 2007 State New Economy Index, up from 34th in the 1999 version of the report and up from 22nd place in the 2002 index."
We are shifting to high-tech and knowledge-based enterprises.

Michigan "boasts a $376-billion-a-year economy, roughly the size of Sweden's, and remains a top 10 state in total output, exports and manufacturing, despite the elimination of one in four factory jobs since 1999."
In spite of shrinking manufacturing, we still have high output compared to other states.

"U-M alone has been spinning off an average of eight to 10 high-tech firms each year for the past five years, said Ken Nisbet, executive director of U-M's Tech Transfer office." Universities are doing their part to generate enterprises for the New Economy. As I said, cutting higher education funding--not a good choice right now.

Our unemployment rate is high. Our work force is shrinking. The number of businesses employing one to four people is growing and there is growth in high-tech. What does this all mean for our future? I'm not sure and neither are the professionals. As with any statistics, you'll find naysayers and optimists citing the same figures to make their cases.

Here's something true: time is not on our side. Our economy and morale cannot tolerate anymore state level budget crises. Our legislators must set aside partisanship, ideology, and electoral desires to work together on behalf of the entire state. They need to muster the same creativity and pragmatism of downsized workers starting small businesses in many of their districts. They need to think outside the hundred-year-old box of a manufacturing-based economy, and fast.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Great Arts State?

Yesterday, Governor Granholm released some arts funding that had been frozen since the shameful budget standoff in March. $3.6 million will be released. Sounds good and arts organizations are certainly grateful. But another $3.6 million will be cut from the $9.4 million fund for the arts. Arts groups are looking at a cut of about "36% overall."

The Free Press reports that,"State arts funding in Michigan has now fallen 73% from its peak of $24 million in 2000." It goes on to report," Since 2001, Michigan's national rank in per capita arts funding has dropped from 4th to 35th." 35th in per capita arts funding and this when our population is declining? Pretty damning.

How can this be happening? Michigan is home to: Interlochen Center for the Arts, founded in 1928 and the 2006 National Medal of Arts recipient; University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre and Dance; Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp, training youth for more than 40 years; the Detroit Institute of Arts (fifth largest fine arts museum in the U.S.); Ann Arbor Pioneer High School Music Department--the National Grammy Signature School for 2005-2006 and one of the top 7 in the country the previous two years; the Detroit Symphony Orchestra; the Ann Arbor Film Festival, oldest festival in North America that showcases independent and experimental film; MOCAD (Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit); Cranbrook, founded in 1904 and renowned for arts education; and the Sphinx Organization, bringing cultural diversity to classical music. And so many more extraordinary arts organizations.

Can the Great Lakes State become the Great Arts State? Not at this rate. Individuals and private funders continue to make up the difference as state funding declines. Ask any parent of a high schooler involved in arts (or sports for that matter). But there is a limit to those private resources.

The arts can thrive broadly only if they are understood as integral to the commons--a public good, which enriches all communities and citizens.

Do we need the arts to survive? No. The arts won't fill an empty belly. But we do need the arts to be fully human. The arts enliven hearts and minds and souls. We don't need to choose between food and joy. Work, art, human dignity--these are inseparable.

Friday, June 8, 2007

More International Tabloid News from Michigan

Comic relief for a weary global village, courtesy of Michigan. By now you've probably seen it--the guy in the wheel chair stuck to the grille of a semi near Paw Paw. Thank goodness no one was hurt. This story has been making its way around the globe since Wednesday.

What's interesting is the variability of the details (was it a 2, 4 or 6 mile ride) and the inventive headlines:
An odd hood ornament (Canada)
No injury in wheely scary semi ride (Canada)
US man survives truck 'road' trip (Australia)
An electric, wild ride (South Africa)
Man cheats death on lorry (UK)
Wheelchair man gets highway ride (BBC)

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Automakers Resist CAFE Standards--Lost Boys in Neverland

According to the AP, the leaders of the General Motors, Ford and Chrysler Group told Congress that improving fuel efficiency standards for US automakers will harm the industry. They worry that the standards will add to the burden of plant closings and job losses. They worry that the resulting cars will be unpopular with consumers. They worry that some of the standards are just not attainable. It's time to grow up.

Last I heard, the burden of plant closings and job losses was felt by workers and communities, not "the industry." Most folks I talk with would be thrilled with a car, SUV or truck that could get even 30 miles per gallon, given gas prices of late.

Here's what I don't understand: how can these manufacturers, who successfully compete in markets abroad with stricter standards, say higher standards in the US are just not workable?

As an L.A. Times Editorial put it on May 9, 2007: "The United States lags behind other industrialized countries when it comes to fuel efficiency mandates, according to a 2004 study by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. While it's hard to compare standards because of different approaches and units of measurement, Pew found that, even five years ago, the European Union and Japan required car fleets to get better than 37 mpg. U.S. carmakers currently sell vehicles in Europe and Japan, so there's no technological reason they can't introduce more fuel-efficient cars in the domestic market."

Congress wants to overhaul the CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) system to a fleet average of 35 miles per gallon for a manufacturer's cars and trucks by 2020, but automakers are balking...again. Fortunately, "Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow, are working on an alternative that would direct regulators to improve standards to 36 miles per gallon for cars by 2022 and 30 mpg for pickup trucks, sport utility vehicles and vans by 2025. Levin said it would offer “significant incentives” for the industry to develop new technologies." (AP)

Surely, improved CAFE standards and alternative technologies are not mutually exclusive. What is possible? Happy consumers, cleaner environment, industry originating and owning advanced technology--win-win-win, right?

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

"The Law is the Law"

The list of public institutions discontinuing same-sex domestic partner benefits in Michigan grows daily. MSU will no longer offer benefits and the existing benefits will end when current contracts expire. (According to Pam Beemer, assistant vice president for Human Resources at MSU, 54 people currently use the benefit at MSU.) What took them so long? University of Michigan made that announcement immediately after the February 2 Court of Appeals ruling.

According to Rusty Hill, spokesman for Attorney General Mike Cox, "the law is the law." So public institutions will need to find creative ways to rename and restructure the benefits extended to same-sex domestic partners. And it behooves them to do so immediately, unless they want to lose valuable employees to more welcoming states and employers.

The law doesn't deny the right to provide health insurance or other benefits to domestic partners; it denies the right to equate the benefit in any way with the benefits given to straight married people. Certainly, human resources and legal departments can work around that. Let's see...what might we call this employment benefit? "Health Insurance Allowance" to be used at employee discretion? Fine. Call it something else, but don't leave couples and families with children in the lurch.

Chevy Volt, Could it Really Become a Reality?

If you attended this year's North American International Auto Show in Detroit, you probably noticed the Volt, a concept car boasting 40 miles on a single charge of a plug-in battery. It was futuristic, sporty, and elegant. It was an idea, a really good idea.

Yesterday, GM entered into contracts with two battery suppliers, LG Chem and Continental Automotive Systems, with the hope of finding the right battery configuration for the Volt. But here's the rub--it's really the battery technology that is still a concept. The creation of the Volt depends on mass production of a battery that only exists in the lab environment at present.

From the Free Press:
"This technology is developing rapidly," Denise Gray, GM's director of hybrid energy storage devices, said. "These contracts are an opportunity to deeply understand the differing battery technologies before making a product decision."

Research and development is expensive and time consuming, but the only way to solve this puzzle. Good luck, GM. We're pulling for you.

Friday, June 1, 2007

The New Michigan: Mississippi, But With Snow

Thank you Toledo Blade for being so darned blunt.

The Ohio-Michigan rivalry: historic, year-round, generational, played out on the football field and the press -- your adversary's failings are fair game, but in this case the Toledo Blade is spot on. Today's editorial, Michigan on the Rocks, chides legislators for missing the chance to make meaningful, structural, future-oriented changes to our state finances. Instead, Democrats caved to the no-tax ideologue Republicans, made cuts to higher education (our principal means of developing a high-tech, knowledge-based economy), and rolled over debt to the 2008 budget putting it $1.6 billion in the red from the get-go.

The legislature was responsible for resolving an extremely urgent and important issue. Yet, in the end they were reactive and avoidant, rather than pro-active, largely because of a silly tug of war entrenched in partisan politics. Democrats and Republicans all had a role in this masochism tango. Good luck in the next election cycle. This "balanced" budget puts off until tomorrow what should have been done last year. Politics as usual. Avoidance of responsible tough decisions.

Democrats, it won't suffice to blame the stubborn Republicans. Republicans, it is no excuse to blame domineering party leadership. Did the "no-tax" posturing look gubernatorial? No. But, it sure worked.

Reminds me of those late 1990s infommercials about the power of OPM. You know, Other People's Money. With OPM you can make your dreams come true. You can use OPM for unbelievable leverage and then when the going's good bail with your winnings, fat and happy. This was all about power, not Michigan's future. This was about leveraging power for future electoral gain. This was about making your opponent look weak and ineffective. This was about creating a paper trail and scenario to point to in future elections. So who won what?

We the people of Michigan, seem to have won the chance to witness "Michigan Budget Woes, the Sequel" in 2008. Too bad the sequel is never as good as the original.