Saturday, May 29, 2010

Building a better brand


By HANK DANISZEWSKI, The London Free Press

In a world where companies and even countries live by their branding, Southwestern Ontario — a huge farming and manufacturing region, with 20% of Ontario’s population — often defies recognition beyond its borders. A regional economic conference in London next week will tackle that issue. Hank Daniszewski reports.

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Southwestern Ontario is more than a place. It could be a brand. One that could be sold to the world.

That's one of the goals of the South-West Economic Alliance (SWEA) assembly to be held at the London Convention Centre June 3 to 4.

It's been more than four years since area municipalities met in Stratford to forge the alliance, an economic front for the region, and SWEA chairperson Dan Mathieson said this will be a watershed meeting for the 250 delegates.

"The biggest weakness we have is that people in governments and businesses outside the region can't identify what the Southwest does. It's time to build a brand around our economy," said Mathieson, who is mayor of Stratford.

Mathieson said SWEA must counteract the perception Southwestern Ontario is no more than an extension of the American rust belt, with a sagging manufacturing sector done in by the collapse in the auto industry.

He said the region represented by SWEA has a diverse economy with a strong and evolving agricultural base and a manufacturing sector that is fighting back with new productivity and green technologies "We have some of the most fertile agricultural land in the country. We need to talk about tourism and bioscience and other things we do well," he said.

Mathieson said his own city is a classic example of image not fitting the reality. While Stratford is known internationally for its Shakespearean festival, Mathieson said the theatres have been icing on the cake for a city that has always relied on manufacturing and agriculture.

That's why the Ontario Pork Congress held in Stratford every year gets equal billing to the Stratford Festival on the city's welcome signs.

A study done for SWEA by the Richard Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario analysed the economic development plans of 19 Southwestern municipalities. It showed agriculture was the top shared economic priority, followed by tourism and culture, green technology, advanced manufacturing and transportation and logistics.

Serge Lavoie was hired last August to serve as SWEA's full-time president and administrator.

Lavoie admits manufacturing and agriculture have been written off as "dead ends" by some policy markets battered by the economic downturn, the rising value of the Canadian dollar and trade policies.

But he said SWEA recognizes these sectors are still the key to the region's economic future."

"It's what we have been in the past. It's what we are still good at it and it's not going away. It's simply changed and we have to nurture those changes," he said.

Lavoie said agriculture has become a "different beast" branching out to green energy production and bioplastics. He said manufacturing is also evolving into more efficient and "green" technologies.

He said SWEA has been able to broaden its original municipal base by entering into formal partnerships with the universities including Western, Guelph, Windsor and Waterloo and Fanshawe College.

He said post-secondary institutions can provide expertise and research in business, rural economic development and engineering.

SWEA has also created a 45-member advisory council that includes representatives from businesses such as Libro Financial, Ernst & Young and SmartCentres.

Mathieson said it has taken years of meetings and debate to pull SWEA together. There was initial skepticism from municipalities such as Woodstock. And Elgin County and St. Thomas are still not members.

Mathieson said there were fears municipalities would have to surrender their economic development office to a bureaucratic regional super agency.

"We are not top-down, trying to control where development takes place. We are trying to bring the area together in a cohesive fashion to tell our story," Mathieson said.

Lavoie said SWEA has become more of a "think tank" and forum for the region's municipalities to work on common strategies.

"We have created a big tent where everyone can work together. That's very different from a super economic development agency," he said.

E-mail, or follow Hankatlfpress on Twitter.

Indiana to partner with Chinese on economic development

Business First of Louisville

Indiana Secretary of Commerce Mitch Roob Friday joined Zhang Yingxin, deputy director general of the China Investment Promotion Agency of the Ministry of Commerce, to sign a memorandum of understanding that outlines an economic development partnership between Indiana and the Chinese government.

The agreement outlines ways Indiana and China can strengthen trade and economic development opportunities, according to a news release from the Indiana Economic Development Corp.

According to information provided by the Indiana Economic Development Corp. for 2008, the most recent data available, Indiana exported $930 million worth of goods to China, making it the state’s sixth-largest export destination. Indiana exported $759 million worth of goods to China in 2007 and $559 million in 2006.

“As Chinese companies look to expand into the U.S., Indiana has the manufacturing and life science capabilities to attract a significant portion of this new investment,” Yingxin said in a release.

The agreement was signed at the U.S.-China Advanced Technology Vehicle Summit, which is being held this week in Indianapolis. The event brought a delegation of more than 70 Chinese automakers to Indiana to meet with Indiana companies that make components for hybrid and plug-in electric vehicles.

The event is being presented by the Energy Systems Network, a nonprofit organization that is focused on the growth and commercialization of Indiana’s clean-technology and energy sectors.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

CanAm Wind Energy sets itself to be an industry force

By Matt Glynn
The Buffalo News

Call it tilting at the wind power industry.

Buffalo Niagara Enterprise is teaming up with Greater Rochester Enterprise and the Niagara Economic Development Corp. in Southern Ontario to try to attract investments in that segment of renewable energy.

The initiative, called CanAm Wind Energy, will debut at the 2010 Wind Power Conference and Exhibition, scheduled this week in Dallas.

The three groups are pitching their collective territory as suitable to support the manufacturing, assembly and distribution of wind energy-related components.

The collaboration is designed to better position the three areas to compete as one against big regions in the West and Midwest angling for the same type of investments, said Paul Pfeiffer, a BNE spokesman.

The three groups want to use a unified approach working with government leaders, businesses, universities and other nonprofit economic development groups.

"Each community stands to benefit from the joint effort," Pfeiffer said.

For instance, promoting a bigger roster of suppliers in the CanAm Wind Energy territory increases the area's overall appeal to potential investors, Pfeiffer said. And an investment by a company could generate more business for suppliers from across the territory.

Tom Kucharski, BNE's president, said that development of the wind energy sector suffered during the economic downturn but that interest seems to be picking up again.

"We're betting it will be part of an industry solution going forward," he said. "And what we have here matches up really well with what it looks like the industry will be needing."

Through CanAm Wind Energy, the three groups play up their binational location, proximity to major markets, existing base of suppliers and transportation infrastructure, as well as the strong wind patterns in the Great Lakes area.

Renewable energy is one of the industry clusters the BNE targets for jobs and investment. Kucharski said the region is home to many suppliers that serve other industries, such as the auto industry, that could diversify their businesses by making parts for wind turbines.

The effort will include promoting the region, connecting businesses with resources available in the region and finding ways to increase resources for new and existing companies.

The binational initiative was formalized through a memorandum of understanding among the three organizations. About $10,000 will be spent on the CanAm Wind Energy effort in Dallas, with a grant from National Grid covering about half of those expenses, Pfeiffer said.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Michigan's Lieutenant Governor urges port communities to work together

By Dave Alexander | Muskegon Chronicle

MUSKEGON -- Michigan's port communities should take lessons from the state's development of an emerging advanced battery manufacturing sector, Lt. Gov. John Cherry said Thursday in Muskegon.

Speaking to the Michigan Port Collaborative at the Holiday Inn Muskegon Harbor, Cherry said the port communities have the built-in advantage of promoting the state's No. 1 resource -- the Great Lakes.

At a time of "resource scarcity," the 100 port communities across the state must work together on a common strategy to improve the state's harbors, what Cherry calls Michigan's "front doors."

Advanced battery plants now being developed from Midland to Holland -- including the fortu PowerCell plant in Muskegon Township -- are the result of a strategic plan to make Michigan the leader in powering future electric vehicles, Cherry said.

Similar efforts to bolster activities such as commercial shipping and recreational boating can produce similar economic development gains, he said.

"The more attractive our port cities, the more attractive the state of Michigan is for those seeking a home or a business in our state," Cherry told the 110 port officials from Detroit to Marquette gathered here. "With batteries, we took action quickly and worked together to achieve our goals. The ports must do the same." More here.

Gov. Doyle: Announces $1.6 million for Wisconsin’s coastal communities

Contacts: Laura Smith, Office of the Governor, 608-261-2162
Carla Vigue, Department of Administration, 608-266-7362

MADISON – Governor Jim Doyle announced today $1.6 million in grants to protect and enhance Wisconsin’s coastal communities and natural resources. The Governor awarded 39 grants that will be used by nonprofit organizations, as well as local, state, and tribal governments to assist with projects totaling nearly $5.4 million.

“Our wise stewardship of Lake Michigan and Lake Superior is critical to the long term environmental and economic health of Wisconsin,” Governor Doyle said. “The Great Lakes provide us with drinking water, commerce and recreation. They are critical habitat to countless species of plants and animals. I am pleased to announce these investments to support efforts to protect our coastal resources, ensuring that the integrity of our lakes will be maintained for future generations.”

The grants will support projects that will protect and sustain resources in coastal communities. Funds will be used for enhancing public recreational access to the lakes, wetland preservation, storm water management, education, habitat protection, and the protection of critical land.

As Chair of the Council of Great Lakes Governors since 2004, Governor Doyle has led major efforts to protect, preserve and improve the Great Lakes for future generations. His work to identify key priorities to protect the Great Lakes became the foundation for the work of the Great Lakes Action Plan. Governor Doyle also helped make history with the passage of the Great Lakes Compact, ensuring the protection of the world's largest fresh water basin for generations to come, and has taken aggressive steps to stop the spread of Asian carp and other invasive species into the Great Lakes.

Recipients for this year’s grants were recommended by the Wisconsin Coastal Management Council, a Governor-appointed citizen and governmental advisory group. The Wisconsin Coastal Management Program, which administers the grant program, balances natural resource protection and sustainable economic development along Wisconsin's Great Lakes coasts. Additional information about the Coastal Management program can be found at

A complete list of grants can be found at:

Analysis: Great Lakes Wind Development Too Risky

By Russ Harding
Mackinac Center for Public Policy

More than any other state, Michiganders identify with the Great Lakes. They are essential to the state's tourism industry and provide extensive recreational opportunities to boaters, fisherman, and those who stroll the many miles of pristine beaches. It seems hard to believe that anyone would want to put the Great Lakes at risk for the unproven development of off-shore wind energy.

On-shore wind energy is expensive and off-shore wind energy even more so. A study done for the Heritage Center for Data Analysis titled "A Renewable Electricity Standard: What It Will Really Cost Americans," quantifies the economic cost of wind energy. The study predicts that using on-shore wind to provide electricity for a family of four as opposed to coal would increase monthly bills from $188.66 to $339.58. For off-shore wind that climbs to $403.65.

The impact from development of wind farms in the Great Lakes is arguably a much greater concern than high energy costs, especially for communities along the Great Lakes that depend on tourism for their economic livelihood. Constructing hundreds of wind turbines in the water, each approaching 400 feet in height with blades as long as 70 feet, would transform the scenic vistas of the Great Lakes into one of an industrial complex. Hardly "pure Michigan."

It seems ironic that state officials who were more than enthusiastic about banning directional drilling for oil and natural gas under the Great Lakes (even though the nearest structure would be at least a quarter of a mile inland from the lakeshore) seem to be content with locating wind farms in the waters of the Great Lakes.

The Great Lakes are Michigan's irreplaceable treasure. Any claimed benefit from developing wind farms in the Great Lakes is not worth the risk.

Progress and Pride: Solar seems like Great Lakes Bay Region's salvation

By Kathryn Lynch-Morin | The Saginaw News

SAGINAW — Over the past six months, the San Jose, Calif.-based solar technology company known as GlobalWatt has been quietly settling into its new digs on Saginaw’s northeast side.

The same 74,000-square-foot facility that once housed Enterprise Automotive Systems — where workers performed processing operations on aluminum engine blocks for Saginaw Metal Casting Operations — soon will be the production home of advanced solar modules and power systems for use by the military, in the aftermath of emergency situations such as earthquakes and hurricanes, rural farming, and other specialty applications.

Since December, when the company announced it would locate in Saginaw, GlobalWatt’s Chief Executive Officer Sanjeev Chitre has been reiterating the importance of the Great Lakes Bay Region’s automotive past and how it will play a role in GlobalWatt’s — and the region’s — future success.

“Without the existing expertise and infrastructure of the automotive industry, we wouldn’t have been able to do this in such a short amount of time,” Chitre said.

While Chitre says GlobalWatt didn’t go out looking for an empty auto plant, he admits the coincidence is undeniable.

“It’s the way the universe worked out,” Chitre said. “It was just a fate.”

GlobalWatt is not alone in its solar or alternative energy efforts, as Dow Chemical Co., Dow Corning Corp., Hemlock Semiconductor Corp., Suniva, Evergreen Solar, Dow Kokam, Merrill Technologies and others are part of an emerging alternative energy manufacturing chain that experts say will forever change the region’s employment and economic landscape.

Saginaw Future Inc. President JoAnn T. Crary said those employers see a benefit in the workforce of the Great Lakes Bay Region. More here.

GE and Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation Announce Great Lakes Offshore Wind Partnership

GE and Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation (LEEDCo) of Northern Ohio announced today a long-term partnership beginning with the development of the first fresh water offshore wind farm in the US and involving a broad range of other initiatives.

Under the new partnership GE will provide direct-drive wind turbines to LEEDCo's 20 megawatt offshore wind project in the Ohio waters of Lake Erie. The partnership and project is a significant step towards accelerating the deployment of offshore wind in the Great Lakes. The announcement was made at the American Wind Energy Association's annual WINDPOWER Conference in Dallas.

"Ohio's greatest potential for creating wind energy is offshore in Lake Erie, and this partnership marks a significant step forward," said Ohio Governor Ted Strickland. "In Ohio, we have all the right assets to make offshore wind energy successful, including an innovative workforce and the manufacturing strengths that would allow us to build all the component parts for wind turbines. This partnership will not only advance offshore wind technologies, it will also advance Ohio's economy. We are eager to continue the state's strong collaboration with GE and LEEDCo as we pursue this exciting, first-of-its-kind initiative for Lake Erie."

The LEEDCo-GE partnership builds on the momentum of a four-year effort by The Great Lakes Energy Development Task Force and other partners in Ohio to establish an offshore wind industry on Lake Erie, leveraging the region's strong manufacturing base. More here.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Bold experiment produces few jobs

Billion-dollar fund developed to diversify, save state's economy


Four years after Michigan launched the 21st Century Jobs Fund to diversify its economy and create jobs, the first two major initiatives under the 10-year, billion-dollar program have generated mixed results so far.

A handful of small companies that received loans look promising, a handful have failed and only a small number of direct jobs have been created. Venture capital firms outside the state that were awarded millions have been slow to invest in Michigan businesses. And the majority of the grants, loans and investment dollars went to recipients in one city: Ann Arbor.

On the positive side, many of the small companies that received loans say the money has proved critical to their survival. "It's really helped enable a lot of growth in our company," said Michelle Crumm, co-founder and chief business officer of Adaptive Materials. The Ann Arbor maker of portable fuel cell power systems for the military used the $6.3-million loan it received to buy new manufacturing equipment and to develop its products.

The jobs fund has been the centerpiece of Gov. Jennifer Granholm's economic development strategy. But critics say the money could have been better spent. Others accuse the state of trying to pick winners by funneling millions to only four industries: advanced manufacturing, alternative energy, life sciences and homeland security and defense.

"It's very difficult to pick the right technologies and industries," said Lou Glazer, president of Michigan Future, an Ann Arbor think tank, and a former deputy director of the Michigan Department of Commerce. "Government doesn't know how to do that very well." More here.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Ohio's economic development plan is a model for Wisconsin

Sparked by the success of a referendum in Ohio earlier this month to enlarge bonding for economic development by $700 million, there is a growing interest in a similar initiative in Wisconsin.

By a solid margin of 62%-38%, voters in Ohio authorized the four-year expansion. The plan builds on the creation in 2002 of a $1.4 billion bonding program to promote innovation and long-term growth.

Ohio's economy, which has lost 635,000 jobs since 2000, is just as challenged as Wisconsin's, and voters there bit the bullet and supported a large-scale initiative called the Ohio Third Frontier. The commitment of more than $2 billion for economic development in that state dwarfs all job-creation initiatives in Wisconsin.

The Third Frontier leaders rolled out some impressive statistics to make the case for the additional $700 million of investments in promising industries, technologies and entrepreneurs. They did not use the normal metrics for investing, like return on equity. Instead, they looked at creation of companies and jobs and the amount of tax revenue flowing from the new economic activity. More here.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Minnesota starts to shake off unemployment blues

Employers add 10,200 workers in April; jobless rate at 7.2%

By Julie Forster

Kristin Johnson was laid off in October from a marketing job at Target Corp. after six years with the retailer. When she started her job search, the market was grim. But in recent months, Johnson noticed a marked change in promising job postings. Last week, she clinched a new job at better pay and with similar benefits.

"I couldn't be happier," said Johnson, 30, who on Monday starts her job as a consumer marketing manager for a custom jewelry company in the Minneapolis warehouse district.

Johnson's story replayed thousands of times illustrates a labor market in recovery as employers start to hire again. Minnesota went into the recession ahead of the U.S., starting with an earlier downturn in the housing market. Now, it is coming out ahead of the nation.

Minnesota employers added 10,200 jobs in April, the state reported Thursday, helping to push the unemployment rate down slightly to 7.2 percent, versus 9.9 percent for the nation. That is the largest gap between the two on record.

The trend represents a return to normal. At the end of 2006, Minnesota had lost the historic advantage of having an unemployment rate better than the U.S. rate. Traditionally, Minnesota's rate had been 1.5 to 2.5 percentage points lower. For some of 2007, its jobless rate actually jumped above the national rate. In May 2009, the state had a full percentage point advantage, and the spread has been widening since.

In Minnesota, more people are finding work across a broad base of industries. Consumers are starting to spend again, and retail employers are hiring. The retail and wholesale trade sector showed strong signs of job growth. Manufacturers added jobs for the fourth month in a row, as factories ramped up to meet an increase in orders. Those sectors were particularly weak during the recession and are typically the first to lead a recovery.

Minnesota's economy wasn't as damaged as the economies of states such as California and Florida, which had more severe downturns in the housing and construction markets, said Scott Anderson, senior economist with Wells Fargo. More here.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

GLIDE receives $75K to help budding companies

State Rep. Matt Lundy (D-Elyria) and State Sen. Sue Morano (D-Lorain) announced May 10 that the state will spend $75,000 to help a local program that encourages new high-tech companies to create jobs. The Great Lakes Innovation and Development Enterprise (GLIDE) will use the state funds to expand their services to more budding companies.

“To compete for high-tech jobs for Ohio the state must continue to invest in GLIDE. By helping the companies grow, we are able to grow new jobs for Ohio,” Lundy said.

GLIDE was founded in 2001 as a partnership between Lorain County Commissioners, Lorain County Community College and the Ohio Department of Development. Their mission is to promote job creation and economic growth in Lorain County and northern Ohio. GLIDE serves as a business incubator to support all facets of the start-up, development and growth of technology based companies. More here.

Chrysler to rehire 379 in Kokomo

Chrysler says it will rehire 379 laid-off workers and hire 20 new supervisors to build transmissions at its operations in Kokomo, Ind.

The company said Tuesday that it will invest $43 million in equipment to expand the Kokomo operations, which include casting and transmission plants.

Some of the workers have already been brought back, said Chrysler spokeswoman Jodi Tinson.

The factories will build components and transmissions that accompany four-cylinder engines in Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep small and midsize vehicles.

Chrysler says the investment was made possible because of a tax abatement granted by the City of Kokomo.

Business-friendly bills signed into law in Green Bay


In an area continuing to weather the lingering effects of one of the worst economic downturns since the Great Depression, Gov. Jim Doyle on Monday signed several pieces of legislation aimed at creating and retaining jobs and industry in the state. More here.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Mich. economic agency defends itself after audit



The head of Michigan's economic development agency said it will defend itself Wednesday from lawmaker criticism after an audit said some companies that received tax incentives didn't live up to agreements on how much they would pay workers.

Michigan Economic Development Corp. CEO Greg Main said agency officials will detail their review and audit practices for the tax credits at a House Tax Policy Committee hearing.

The MEDC has been under fire since the auditor general report on Michigan Economic Growth Authority tax incentives was released last month. State Sen. Nancy Cassis, R-Novi, wants the auditor general to do a more thorough review of tax credits for the 2008 and 2009 tax years because much of the audit focused on earlier years.

Cassis called the report "troubling" and said further investigation is needed.

"To put Michigan back on the right track, we must regain confidence in state programs, like MEGA," Cassis said in a statement. "This is done by being watchful and accountable with taxpayer dollars."

But Main said the follow-up report Cassis ordered will just duplicate a similar review already has started within the MEDC.

MEDC officials are upset they didn't get a chance to testify at last week's hearing of the Senate Finance Committee, which Cassis chairs.

Main said the agency agreed with much of the audit, but he has issues with how it and the MEDC have been portrayed by some lawmakers.

"I think there was an attempt to impugn the integrity of this organization and the companies who have used this program," he said.

MEDC started audits of every tax credit awarded since 2006 before the auditor general report was released last month. Those audits, done with the help of an outside firm, are to verify job creation numbers reported by companies. The audits should be finished this year.

MEDC also began conducting pre-audits before issuing tax credit certificates to companies this year and doing criminal background checks on many types of tax credit applicants. Pre-audits include on-site visits and reviews of documentation needed for verifying the number of employees hired and wages paid by companies receiving tax credits.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm ordered the background checks after a convicted embezzler out on parole was awarded a $9 million tax incentive in March. The credit was rescinded before RASCO CEO Richard Short got any money, and he would up in jail.