Michigan Business, Economy & Tourism

From classic cars to travel, energy and food, we bring you the stories of the people who fuel our economy and the policies that shape it.

There's a lot of attention and talk directed at start-ups about attracting new business to Michigan.

But writer Ilene Wolff pays tribute to some venerable long-time Michigan businesses. Her story, The Century Club: Michigan firms and businesses that have truly withstood the test of time, is in the current March/April print edition of DBusiness.

Jake Neher / Michigan Public Radio Network

  Michigan could realistically get up to 40 percent of its energy using renewable sources by 2025, according to Gov. Rick Snyder (The video of the full speech is here).

His goal of boosting renewable energy to between 30 percent and 40 percent in the next decade includes increased energy efficiency to get to those numbers. The governor says increased efficiency should play a central role in Michigan’s energy future.

Faculty at Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City will soon begin negotiating contracts through a union. 75 percent of the faculty voted ‘yes’ to join the Michigan Education Association – the state's largest teachers' union.

Michigan must divide in order to conquer

Mar 9, 2015

The Next Idea

When people think of Michigan, a number of iconic images come to mind – a long assembly line, acres of cherry orchards, miles of gorgeous coastline. This wide variety of industry, agriculture and tourism contributes to the resilience of our $400 billion economy and is what makes Michigan special. But these industries and regions also have very different requirements to help them grow. The challenge lies in how to foster growth in each one without competing against each other so that some Michigan residents win only when others lose.

Toyota is making changes to its top staff, with more North Americans rising in the ranks.

"For the first time they are elevating some Americans to some very key positions," says Daniel Howes, who recently wrote an article about the changes for the Detroit News.

The federal government wants faster Internet connections nationwide and has raised the minimum speed for what it considers broadband. That is unlikely to help the thousands of people in northern Michigan who have something like dial-up service and have for years.

Twenty-three passenger railcars have been sitting unused since MDOT got them in 2010, raising question of whether they are a waste of Michigan money, or a good investment that could help Michigan in the future.

The state hopes to use them for the proposed commuter rails between Ann Arbor and Detroit, and between Ann Arbor and Howell.

Detroit-made mini lava cakes will soon be featured on Air France flights starting March 1.

Parisian-born Chloe Sabatier is the owner of Chez Chloe in Detroit where she specializes in traditional French lava cakes. She was stunned to learn her cakes would be on-board flights Air France flights from Detroit to Paris.

Faculty members at Northwestern Michigan College will soon decide if they want a union. Ballots are being mailed today to 89 instructors at the community college in Traverse City.

The faculty has not publicly stated what it hopes to gain from a union. A spokeswoman for the Michigan Education Association, the organizing unit, declined to comment on the vote.

Marguerite Cotto, NMC’s vice president of lifelong and professional learning, says the concerns she’s aware of include issues like faculty wanting more say in how employees are evaluated.

David Cassleman

The Beach Boys hit “409” is testament to a time when car culture was king in the United States – only in America could you write a song about an automobile engine.

Now some worry that the age of car culture is ending.

But one of the biggest employers in Traverse City says business is still strong in the world of collector and classic cars. 


Technology pushes companies to work for us

Feb 16, 2015

The Next Idea

The world is rapidly changing, in case you haven’t noticed.  How we fundamentally interact with businesses, with government, and with each other is moving in directions that we are only starting to comprehend.

The Traverse City Planning Commission says “granny flats” could be a good way to combat the city’s affordable housing problem. The commission voted last night to allow homeowners throughout the city to build small apartments on their property.

Commissioner John Serratelli said the move was driven in part because of comments from downtown business owners.

“They had numbers of jobs that were unfilled because people could not afford to live in close enough proximity that they would accept the jobs,” said Serratelli.

The Next Idea

Venture capital flow into Michigan has been steadily increasing since 2008, but the state saw a remarkable uptick last year. According to a report released last month by the National Venture Capital Association and PricewaterhouseCoopers, venture capital investment in Michigan nearly doubled, up from $111 million in 2013 to $219 million last year.  

Aaron Selbig

Experts say the affordable housing problem in Leelanau County has reached “critical mass” – the point where talk must turn to action. A meeting on the subject Thursday morning drew a crowd full of developers and government officials.

Sarah Lucas from Networks Northwest led the meeting. She says that when people think of the term “affordable housing,” they might see an image of a large, run-down apartment building on the edge of town. But in Leelanau County, that public perception is changing.

Michigan saw the third highest drop in union membership in the nation last year, according the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

It says membership dropped from 16.3 percent to 14.5 percent in 2014 – the first full year Michigan’s right-to-work law was in effect. The law made it illegal to require workers to pay union dues as a condition of employment.

Residents of northern Michigan got a surprise last summer. They found out some drilling for oil and gas can be done confidentially. That unnerved some people in Emmet County, who now want their local government to do something about it.

Deal would lower electricity rates in the Upper Peninsula

Jan 14, 2015
user: adamshoop / Flicker

Governor Rick Snyder has announced a preliminary agreement that would lower electricity rates in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

Rates have jumped in the Upper Peninsula to subsidize an aging coal-fired power plant in Presque Isle, which lost its largest paying customer – a mining company.

Tom Carr

Artisan cheesemaking is on the rise in Michigan, though it’s not an easy business to get into. The number of small, independent cheese producers in Michigan is expected to nearly double in the near future.

Sue Kurta is among those leading the way. As she stirs the curdling milk that will become Swiss cheese, you can see the colorful tattoos that cover her arms. They’re pictures of pineapples, a cruise ship and other upbeat things.

“It stirs for quite a long time like this and if you don’t give it a toss, it can mat together,” Kurta says.

Oil and gas exploration could pick up near Traverse City and Manistee this year. Late last year, a company based in Colorado called Wyotex Drilling Ventures applied for permits to drill five wells in Manistee and Grand Traverse Counties.

It’s a small sign of life for an industry that has been on the decline in northern Michigan. If approved, the wells will be drilled into a formation called the A-1 Carbonate. That layer of the earth has produced a modest amount of oil and gas in Michigan. It’s been drilled in various parts of the state for more than 30 years.

Grayling Fish Hatchery

A federal business loan will help a trout farm expand production in Grayling. The development loan approved by the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce is for $210,000.

Sales of cars surged in December, and analysts believe that the year's total will exceed 17 million, making it the fifth straight year of growth for the industry.

Cheap gas prices helped make that happen, as sales of trucks, SUVs and luxury vehicles rose rapidly. Jeep's sales, for instance, were up 40 percent on increased consumer demand for crossover SUVs. Meanwhile, demand for hybrid and alternative-fuel vehicles shrank.

Scott Painter, founder and CEO of auto sales website TrueCar, says those trends aren't necessarily good for the industry as a whole.

More than 60 million cars, trucks and SUVs have been recalled this year — nearly twice the previous record. That translates to nearly 1 out of every 4 cars on the road recalled for a safety-related defect.

But analysts say those recalls say more about the way the industry has restructured than about overall car safety.

During this holiday season, we hear Nat King Cole crooning about those chestnuts again. Did you know that Michigan leads the nation in chestnut production?

Yet most of us have never eaten a chestnut. That is something Dennis Fulbright wants to change. He's a plant pathologist and professor with Michigan State University.

Criminal charges have been filed in federal court in Massachusetts, following an outbreak of fungal meningitis that hit Michigan in 2012.

Most people charged worked at New England Compounding Center, a shuttered pharmacy in Boston that sold steroid shots that infected people nationwide.

The tainted shots were sent to a few clinics in Michigan, including one in Traverse City.

Is Michigan just too modest, too Midwestern in the way it treats its prominent entrepreneurs? Jeff DeGraff thinks the answer might be yes.

DeGraff is a clinical professor of management and organizations at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan and our partner for the Next Idea. Jeff DeGraff has two questions for listeners:

How would you identify the best and the brightest? And what kinds of help would you give them?

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