Rust Belt in the Red

Here's the breakdown on the deteriorating government budgets across the region, as compiled by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

I predict more cuts. Lots of them.

Projected gaps for FY2010:

Michigan $1.6 Billion
Minnesota $2.5 Billion
New York $13.7 Billion
Ohio $2 Billion
Wisconsin $2.9 Billion

Bailouts, or birthing the next big thing

John Torinus' recent column in the Milwaukee Journal reminds me....still need to read Caught in the Middle by Chicago journalist Richard Longworth.

In fact, the book is sitting in the exact same spot it was when I last blogged about it in April '08.

Friend and fellow blogger Professor Noah Hall gives it a strong review

Torinus, chairman of Serigraph, Inc, a plastics decorating firm based in West Bend, WI, seems to like it too. He says the book is light on solutions.

But he recycles several passages in his December 27, 2008 column arguing that government bailouts should strive to incentivize innovative business activity, not just recklessly throw money at problems with little forward-looking strategy or focus.

Quoting Longworth...

"Midwestern might was based, as we know, on easy access to iron and coal, on money, on new methods of mass production.

"But mostly it rested on ideas, on the minds and imaginations of a generation of entrepreneurs, dreamers, and doers, unafraid to risk all on a roll of the industrial dice.

"As in Silicon Valley now, Midwestern innovation created a new world."

Indeed, in the 20th century the Midwest pioneered premier centers of higher learning, innovative new industries, creative social programs and modern cities that set the course for America. The time is ripe, it seems, to do it all again.

Who's really Ready-To-Go?

We know the list is incomplete, as it fails to include proposed streetcar systems in Cincinnati, OH and Grand Rapids, MI.

But several Rust Belt cities intend to invest more deeply in real modern public transit in an effort to generate jobs and grow the economy, based on the U.S. Mayor's recently released Main Street Economic Recovery initiative.

Among the more exciting and ambitious projects...passenger rail in Dearborn, MI...streetcar in downtown Duluth, MN...fixed route transit in Kokomo, IN...a central hub for 8 different transportation modes in Normal, IL...bike sharing in Orland Park, IL...and light rail in St. Paul, MN.

Other cities in the region looking to bolster their transit programs with increased federal funding include:

Akron, OH
Battle Creek, MI
Beloit, WI
Chanhassen, MN
Dearborn, MI
Detroit, MI
Duluth, MI
Glenview, IL
Green Bay, WI
Harrisburg, PA
Jackson, MI
Kokomo, IN
Lima, OH
Moline, IL
Normal, IL
Orland Park, IL
Racine, WI
Riverdale, IL
Romeoville, IL
St. Paul, MN
Sheboygan, WI
St. Louis Park, MN
Tinley Park, IL
Toledo, OH
University Heights, OH

$13 billion MIGHT be a good start

With the stars seemingly aligned for a major nation-building project in America, more than 125 Rust Belt cities have published individual lists of projects to improve schools, roads, water systems, public transit and other local priorities.

Taken together, the lists - part of the Mainstreet Economic Recovery initiative led by the U.S. Conference of Mayors - call for approximately $13 billion in public works spending to rebuild cities and generate more than 143,300 job opportunities throughout the Midwest.

Some cities clearly provided more complete plans of action than others.

Akron, OH, for example - population approximately 208,000 - prepared a $925 million future-oriented spending plan to buy busses, install solar energy systems, restore neighborhood waterways and modernize schools.

Minneapolis, on the other hand - population approximately 373,00 - outlined just one priority: a $1.3 million rehab of a tunnel on 10th Avenue.

Cleveland, OH has yet to file its wish list.

My hometown Grand Rapids, MI outlined a $163 million agenda to, among other things, expand one public park, develop a couple wind and solar projects, and upgrade the sewer system.

All good and proper work that no doubt would continue GR's impressive renaissance. But it's a drop of water in Lake Michigan compared to the level of investment Michigan's second largest city truly needs to grow and sustain its health and wealth in the 21st century.

I suspect the same is true of the other 125-plus cities.

In Detroit, $832 million installs a few downtown crosswalks, replaces some bridges and removes 40,000 dead trees. What about replanting?

Which makes you wonder...what's the true cost of Rust Belt recovery and revitalization?

Getting to the heart of the matter

Michigan, it turns out, was not in a one-state recession the past couple years, as many economists and politicians believed.The state's job cuts, factory closings and bankruptcies were just early warning symptoms of failing national - and global - economic health. In other words, there's a convincing case to be made that America's recovery begins by curing what ails Michigan.

"The heartbeat of [the U.S.] economy is in Michigan," Jerome Wingo, president of the Apollo Alliance, a national coalition of economic, environmental and community leaders working to promote energy innovation, told the crowd gathered at Michigan's recent Sustainable Business Forum conference.

Will Buffalo lure more than Bass?

Uh oh. The $315 million redevelopment plan for Buffalo's inner harbor is receiving mixed reviews.

Certainly troubling is the idea of allowing the elevated highway to stand over the proposed 20-acre entertainment/residential/commercial district.

It seems odd to lead such an important urban revitalization effort with something as un-metropolitan as a Bass Pro.

And the message is off: The project is not a "lifestyle center," according to Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp Vice Chair Lawrence Quinn (as reported at Buffalo Rising.)

A revitalized waterfront is key to the health and wealth of Buffalo and the Great Lakes. But highways and suburban style shopping malls are not leading indicators of prosperity in this new era. The winning strategy invests in mass transit, local business and inviting public places.

You can do it Buffalo! If you build it they will come.

Detroit's other transportation story

Will the 24th attempt to install modern mass transit in Detroit succeed?

Conditions seem favorable.

And momentum is growing.

But Detroit has been here before....23 times!

Maybe General Motors - and their army of laid off workers - lays the track and manufactures the rail cars?

Great Lakes Penetrate the Campaign, But How Deep is Unclear

Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama today outlined a promising program to accelerate the cleanup and restoration of the degraded Great Lakes ecosystem, the economic, environmental, and cultural engine of the Rust Belt.

But in doing so he also provoked two serious questions about the extent to which both Democrats and Republicans understand and support the campaign to sustain the nation's most valuable supply of fresh water.

The first question, ironically, is about Sen. Obama's genuine level of commitment for the Great Lakes.

I reported on the Senator's surprisingly cautious approach to an easy issue like Great Lakes restoration back in September 2007. And you'd think proposing a $5 billion fund to repair sewers, cleanup pollution and restore wetlands would strike any doubt that Obama champions the cause. He certainly demonstrated understanding of the issue.

But his national camapaign's impressively wired Website fails to even mention his plan of action. So is Great Lakes restoration a serious campaign issue Obama intends to weave into his 21st century agenda for America, and thereby elevate Great Lakes issues on the national radar?

Or is just a fleeting angle to leverage while patronizing votes in the Rust Belt?

The second question Obama's announcement prompted for Great Lakes policy junkies is "Whazzup with the Republicans?"

In the rush to burnish their own Great Lakes credentials, the chairmen of the Republican parties in six Great Lakes states rushed to issue a statement that exposed their own lack of sophistication on the issue:

"John McCain has made his commitment to supporting the Great Lake Compact abundantly clear."

That's outstanding. But the Great Lakes Compact, an agreement to strengthen and unify water withdrawal standards across the region, is just one component of the comprehensive program needed to protect, enhance and sustain the Great Lakes.

What about invasive species? Or the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement? Or funding to cleanup the dozens of highly toxic Areas of Concern? What about investing in crumbling sewers that pollute rivers?

So, as the enviros say, we've taken "a constructive first step" in the search for a Great Lakes president.

But we still have a long ways to go.

What does the DNC see?

You'd think the Democrats would have more fire in their bellies considering the intense level of disgust the average voter seemingly has with the state of the union.

But in perhaps the most scripted party convention in history (at least until the Republicans meet next week in Minneapolis) the Dems are at least focused - they claim "united" - on the broad outlines of a three-pronged agenda to "Renew America's Promise." Generate jobs. Establish a national health care system. Invest in kids.

It's all feather light on specifics. But a handful of speakers on the stage at last night's convention proceedings, many of them not surprisingly members of the Great Lakes delegation, talked like they truly want to win in November.

Senator Hillary Clinton got off a clever blast painting President Bush and the Republican nominee John McCain as bosom buddies:

"It makes sense that George Bush and John McCain will be together next week in the Twin Cities. Because these days they’re awfully hard to tell apart."

Congressman Rahm Emanuel from Illinois seized on over spending and record national deficits and cracked "Mr. President, we will be forever in your debt."

Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey called the President of United States a "clown" (although the comment does not appear in his official remarks) and delivered what could become the convention anthem when he said the Republicans are "asking for four more years. How ‘bout four more months?"

Then there was former Virginia Governor Mark Warner, who played it safe in his remarks, but still managed to sum up in a couple sentences the principal challenge now confronting the Rust Belt and ultimately the USA:

"In a global economy, you shouldn’t have to leave your home town to find a world-class job," Gov. Warner said. "If you can send a job to Bangalore, India, you sure as heck can send one to Danville, Virginia and Flint, Michigan and Scranton, Pennsylvania and Peoria, Illinois."

A New American Gothic?

The first thing I thought of when I saw the picture of Maynard Kaufman and his wife, Barbara Giesler in front of their solar panels...


...was the 1930 American Gothic painting by Grant Wood.


Seems like an interesting comparison to illustrate that "the kind of people" in America is changing dramatically.

Ohio Talks Transportation

Ohio ramps up its statewide "Transportation Conversation" this month to promote more mobility choices, stimulate economic development, and maximize public investment.

Click here to take the survey, watch some videos, and see the calendar of events.

It's encouraging to see the Buckeye State put the power of the people at the center of envisioning the state's transportation future.

But in many ways the answers are clear: fix up the roads, adapt the cities to encourage more walking and biking, and urgently expand public transit.

A prosperous future, citizens will likely say, requires more than a rail line serving the Cleveland airport and bus rapid transit on Euclid Avenue.

Michigan Targets Water Tech Innovation

In perhaps the most encouraging sign yet that Michigan intends to move its carefree water policy into a 21st century increasingly defined by water scarcity and conflict, state officials are quietly shaping a strategy to position the Great Lakes State as a leading innovator in the promising field of water tech.

The so-called Michigan Water Technology Cluster, led by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, aims to generate jobs, attract private investment, and boost the state's overall competitiveness by promoting the research, development, commercialization, and deployment of modern technologies and management practices to sustain essential water resources.

According to planning documents obtained by the GLG, the MEDC's 2008 goals include: 1) establishing the Water Tech Cluster as a strategy to identify, evaluate, and pursue water-related economic development opportunities; 2) Identifying, selecting, and launching two to four demonstration projects; and 3) Honing a plan for 2009 and beyond that positions Michigan as a center of excellence for the advancement of sustainable water use technologies and management strategies.

States like Arizona and cities such as Milwaukee and Cleveland already are advancing similiar initiatives to get out in front of what's expected to be a growing multi-billion dollar global business as population growth, pollution, climate change, and other trends outstrip the availability of clean fresh water.

In Michigan, the effort aims to leverage the state's advanced manufacturing expertise, water-related academic expertise, and robust freshwater resources to:
  • Promote the efficient use and reuse of water;
  • Retain and attract water-dependent businesses;
  • Develop and expand the water technology and services supply chainl; and
  • Promote and develop ecosystem restoration technologies.
"The Water Technologies Cluster Initiative was officially launched on April 11, 2008," agency documents state. "The MEDC established a planning group with representatives from academia [including Dr. Nancy Love from the University of MI and Dr. Joan Rose from MSU], state government [including MEDC, MI Dept. of Environmental Quality, and MI Dept. of Agriculture] and industry [including Dow Water Solutions, Siemens Water Technologies, and NSF International]."

"The aforementioned planning group is in the process of developing short and long term objectives, which will include the identification and implementation of, possibly up to three Water Technologies [Centers of Excellence] by the end of 2008."

Great Lakes Restoration Blips on MI Radar

Contrary to a recent report in the Detroit News, the State of Michigan and, more specifically, the current cast of characters running the joint, have done little publicly to compel Congress to fully fund the $20 billion proposal to clean-up and restore the Great Lakes.

There's likely been behind-the-scenes conversations, and terse letters quietly mailed to the White House and federal administrators.

But Governor Jennifer Granholm has not made the urgent economic and environmental importance of Great Lakes restoration a recurring theme of her speeches to rally citizens.

Officials in neither the Michigan Economic Development Corporation nor the state Department of Environmental Quality have publicly stated restoration of the Great Lakes is a top priority and backed it up with bold and sustained action.

And I'm willing to bet a charter fishing boat trip on Lake Michigan that a poll of the State Legislature would reveal only a handful of lawmakers actually are aware there's a huge regional campaign undereway right now that's advocating for a historic Great Lakes clean-up.

It's just not been a priority. But now in the twilight of its reign, it appears Gov. Granholm's Administration is intensifying its interest in the restoration effort. Which is a fancy way of saying they'll produce another report on the matter.

"We want to make the White House a true partner," Lt. Gov. John Cherry told the Detroit News. "It's the right thing to do as stewards of this resource (and) it's the right thing to do for our economic development."

There's Gold in Them Thar Hills

There's plenty of evidence to suggest Michigan is stuck in the olden days.

The union strikes.

The plans for new coal-fueled power plants.

The old sewers which, in some corners of some cities, literally are still made of wood.

But nothing screams "1800's" quite like the idea of prospecting for gold, which is what a Canadian company is doing in the Upper Peninsula.

Folks in the UP, remember, are still fighting off the idea of digging for copper and nickel beneath some of the more untouched landscapes in the nation.

Success in the new economy, we're constantly reminded, depends on innovation and mining the minds of creative people for new ideas.

Michigan, however, seems all too comfortable rooting around in the ground for minerals and water.

Hopefully the Deadwood development strategy is taking its last breaths.

Cutting Carbon Is All That Matters

It was a solid one-two punch.

On Wednesday of this week a coalition of scientists and environmentalists released a report revealing that climate change threatens to inflame all that ails the Great Lakes ecosystem, dropping water levels lower, skewing fish and wildlife habitat, stirring up stronger storms that overflow outdated sewers and increase water pollution. The region's credible experts, in fact, agree the changes already are underway.

Then, on Thursday, the prestigious Brookings Institution issued a report revealing vital evidence about the geography of carbon emissions - a key accelerant of climate change - from the nation's 100 largest metro areas. Greater Great Lakes cities such as Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Toledo, Columbus, Madison, and Lansing log some of the highest emmissions per capita from residential and transportation sources. Rochester, Chicago, and Buffalo log some of the lowest in the nation, but can, must, and will do better.

So, thanks to Brookings, we know more about where the big sources of carbon pollution are located and we have good baseline evidence from which to gauge future progress. And thanks to the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes coalition we have a deeper understanding of what's at risk if we fail to act. And it's already clear we know a great deal about how to solve the problem - aggressively promote energy innovation, ramp up invest in modern public transportation, encourage urban revitalization and density, to name a few.

Clearly the charge of my generation - I'm 33 - is to confront the naysayers, push them to the sidelines, and put the solutions swiftly into play. Smart public policies and spending decisions can help the Great Lakes, I believe, translate these truly ominous threats into real opportunities. By reinvigorating and refocusing its innovative talent and industrial might, the mega region can position itself to help lead the globe out of this mess and turn a buck doing it. Frankly, what else matters if the knock-out blows of climate disruption threaten to plunge the world into chaos.

Regional Real Estate Promises ROI

Despite the housing crisis, job losses, factory closings, and fear of change, the greater Great Lakes region is the place to buy real estate these days.

The Mega Midwest is home to five of the top 10 fastest growing markets in the United States, according to Money Magazine.

Here's the list:

1. McAllen, TX
2. Rochester, NY
3. Birmingham, AL
4. Syracuse, NY
5. Buffalo/Niagara, NY
6. New Orleans, LA
7. Scranton, PA
8. Grand Rapids, MI
9. Baton Rouge, LA
10. El Paso, TX.

The New Economy of Water

More and more entrepreneurial minds are discovering that, in an age that prizes and rewards information and innovation, inventing new ways to better manage, clean, and conserve fresh water likely will work to generate new economic opportunity.

I first came across the idea of a private sector-led effort to establish a pioneering - and hopefully profitable - hub of water research in the Great Lakes region in 2002 when I met Tom Newhof. At the time, Mr. Newhof, president of the consulting firm Prein and Newhof, was working to transform a historic water treatment plant in downtown Grand Rapids into the Global Enterprise for Water Technology.

I wrote about Mr. Newhof's campaign in 2004. But the effort ultimately was unsuccessful due to a lack of venture capital and, in my view, vision and imagination on the part of a risk averse business community.

In recent years, similiar ideas have popped up in Detroit, Milwaukee, and Washington D.C, as well as Arizona and New Mexico.

Now it seems Bay City, MI is the latest community to recognize that a worldwide market for new knowledge and expertise to improve water resource management clearly exists

''This is a race,'' Ziggy Kozicki, former assistant dean at Davenport University, recently told the Bay City Times. ''Someone in the Great Lakes region is going to establish a center where all of this takes place.''

Where Innovation is Inevitable

Like most states on the American side of the Great Lakes, Ontario maintains your typical economic development agency. Expectedly, it works to lure companies, attract investment, generate jobs, and otherwise pump up the province's prospects for growth. One major distinction from similiar operations in the U.S. seems to be that those Canadians spell labor with a 'u.' As in, we have a strong labour force.

But the province, unlike most states, also staffs a Ministry of Innovation. And that suggests government leaders there embrace the notion that competing in the 21st century requires organizations, strategies, and ways of thinking that are fundamentally different from those deployed in the Industrial Era.

Think of Orwell's Ministry of Truth, where old poems are rewritten to represent the new ideology. Radically different moves and language are essential to the rise of any transformative regime, good or bad.

Clearly the region's old institutions have lost traction in the modern era considering the decades of job loss, budget breakdowns, and other troubling trends.

So, in a knowledge economy where big bold ideas seem to be the lucrative new raw materials, what better public platform to establish than a Ministry of Research and Innovation. What better post to establish than Minister of Innovation.

At a time when traditional economic development missions feverishly try to adapt tax cuts, job training programs, and corporate relocation packages, and hand pick pet industries like life science, energy innovation, or homeland security, at least a segment of Ontario governance seems to be pursuing a much more systemic, holistic, and distinguishing approach.

Here's why the Ministry of Innovation was established, according to the agency website:

"Places that invest in innovation, that stroke the creativity of people, that market their ideas most effectively will become the home to the most rewarding jobs, to the strongest economies and to the best quality of life. We want Ontario to be that place where innovation is inevitable.

"The Ministry of Research and Innovation was created to focus on the government’s commitment to innovation as the driver of growth across all sectors of the economy."

No Risk in Reinvestment

So, the experts from Michigan State University head to the state Capitol today to sponsor a public forum that asks 'Is Michigan's infrastructure at risk?'

The answer to that question, of course, is a resounding 'yes.' But the issue is not limited to Michigan. It's a super regional Great Lakes problem, which means it's a national problem.

The roads and highways obviously are crumbling. The bridges are rusting. Some, tragically, have collapsed. The schools are underfunded. The airports are increasingly expensive and inconvenient. The IT is limited, unless you're at Starbucks. There's really no substantial modern public transit to speak of, except in isolated spots like Chicago, Minneapolis, and maybe Cleveland. And the sewers are overflowing and bursting onto the Great Lakes.

More than ever, the region and the nation needs an aggressive strategy to invest in itself. Not to spend money blowing up and rebuilding nations halfway around the world.

To what extent is our infrastructure at risk? Or, put another way, how mainstream is the idea of literally rebuilding America?

The conservative Detroit News - the voice of the auto industry - today calls for as much as a 50 cent raise in the gas tax "to finally answer our responsibility to the national and state infrastructure."

"Because of decades of neglect," the op-ed reports, "keeping up with [road] repairs and building needed new capacity will cost an estimated $320 billion a year. Currently, the 18-cent federal gasoline tax raises roughly $85 billion."

Obama Sharpening the Michigan Message

In a speech to the Detroit Economic Club one year ago this month, presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama had this to say to the Motor City....

"I know these are difficult times for automakers, and I know that not all of the industry's problems are of its own making. But we have to be honest about how we arrived at this point."

"For years," the senator said, "while foreign competitors were investing in more fuel-efficient technology for their vehicles, American automakers were spending their time investing in bigger, faster cars. And whenever an attempt was made to raise our fuel efficiency standards, the auto companies would lobby furiously against it, spending millions to prevent the very reform that could've saved their industry. Even as they've shed thousands of jobs and billions in profits over the last few years, they've continued to reward failure with lucrative bonuses for CEOs."

"The consequences of these choices are now clear. While our fuel standards haven't moved from 27.5 miles per gallon in two decades, both China and Japan have surpassed us, with Japanese cars now getting an average of 45 miles to the gallon. And as the global demand for fuel-efficient and hybrid cars have skyrocketed, it's foreign competitors who are filling the orders."

On Meet the Press earlier this month, the senator had this to say to host Tim Russert...

"Detroit ended up making investments in SUVs and large trucks because that's where they perceived a competitive advantage and that's where they felt they could make the most profit," the senator said.

"I think it was a mistake for them not to plan earlier. Now we're seeing a huge growth in fuel-efficient cars that is benefitting the Japanese automakers, and Detroit is getting pounded some more. And I think that we can make those cars here in the United States."

Stumping in Michigan - and Detroit - this week, the senator spoke with a less confrontational tone...

"We want the strongest possible auto industry," Sen. Obama said in an interview with the Detroit Free Press. "But unless we change some of how we do business, we won't be competitive in the global marketplace."

And raised the potential for partnership....

"The auto industry is on the move but they can't do it alone," Sen. Obama said yesterday according to Gongwer News Service. "They need a partner in the White House and when I am in the White House they will have a partner."

Detroit's Disdain for History

Old Tiger Stadium in the Corktown neighborhood isn't the only incredibly meaningful historic structure that's contributing to the City of Detroit's decline rather than powering its renaissance.

It's one of many.

Henry Ford's pioneering car factory, for instance, lies in ruins just a short drive from the crumbling ball park. The facility once stood as a symbol of American - and Michigan - strength and innovation.

Today the brick walls are tagged with graffiti and the windows are broken and boarded. Boxes are stored inside. But the sign out front says the place should be a museum.

"Home of the Model T," it reads. "Here at his Highland Park Plant Henry Ford in 1913 began the mass production of automobiles on a moving assembly line. By 1915 Ford built a million Model T's. In 1925 over 9,000 were assembled in a single day. Mass production soon moved from here to all phases of American industry and set the pattern of abundance for 20th century living."

The building today, like once vibrant Tiger Stadium, represents a very different extreme: the poverty of leadership, pride in place, and an ability to make things happen.

“This is an old city," Timothy J. McKay, executive director of the Greater Corktown Development Corporation, told the New York Times. "But history here is discounted by a lot of people.”

Wire to Wire Week with World's Wind Leader

On Monday May 5 Vestas Wind Systems fired off a terse letter to Michigan bemoaning the lack of courage and umph in the state's proposed renewable energy law. Essentially, Vestas said 'we want to make next generation energy technology in your stumbling, unemployed state but your policy isn't drawing us in."

Today, the company announced plans to construct the world's largest wind-turbine-tower manufacturing plant in.....drum roll.....Colorado.

The move will leverage approximately $250 million in new investment and employ 400 people by the end of 2010, according to the report in the Denver Post.

"This definitely helps create the cluster effect in Colorado," Craig Cox, executive director of the Interwest Energy Alliance, told the Post. "Vestas is one of the biggest names in wind, and certainly other supplier companies will want to locate closer to the market and closer to other manufacturing companies like Vestas."

Culture Change Comes to C-Town

What's the quickest way to change an entrenched culture that clings to the past, fears the future, and is hesitant to change no matter how many young people, jobs, or good ideas leave? Welcome new people. Signs of the shift in Cleveland....

"I see a lot more Asians on the street than I used to, especially Asian-Indians," Alyssa Naragon told the Plains Dealer.

The report reveals that Ohio lost about 24,000 white people from 2000-2007. But a surge in minority populations - most notably a 32 percent boom in Asians, one of the more educated demographics in America - led to an overall gain of 102,000 new residents in the state.

Wind Proponents Say MI Proposal is Hot Air

Legislation to promote energy innovation now under consideration in the Michigan Senate will do little to stimulate wind power production in the state, could actually retard industry growth, and should be squashed if it reaches the governor's desk in its current form, according to a group of the nation's leading wind power authorities.

The concerns, outlined in a May 6, 2008 letter the American Wind Energy Association sent to Governor Jennifer Granholm, is the first direct public opposition to a package of legislation designed to spur energy innovation passed by the Michigan House of Representatives in mid-April.

Michigan, once an innovative industrial powerhouse, has done little but slash jobs, shudder factories, and cede population for three decades. But the state strives to organize much of its economic recovery plan around the booming global renewable energy industry.

The Great Lakes region's blowing wind resources have the potential to power hundreds of thousands of homes with clean energy, stimulate $80 billion in new economic activity, and generate 300,000 jobs, according to the United States Department of Energy.

Most agree Michigan, one of the windier states in the region, can capture a significant share of that market with the proper policy and spending strategy.

The bills recently passed by House lawmakers would, among other things, require utilities to satisfy 10 percent of energy demand with renewable sources like wind and solar by 2015.

Environmentalists rushed to support the legislation.

Traditional business leaders are keeping a watchful eye on the proposals as they head to the Senate.

But the nation's leading wind power advocates, including Vestas, the world's largest wind turbine manufacturer, and Rich Vander Veen, president of Michigan-based Mackinaw Power, say the proposal fails to establish a meaningful market for wind energy. The proposal, as passed, does not effectively incentivize wind power production; contains weak bench marks for renewable energy production; and could potentially undermine the wind industry in Michigan

“The House legislation, as a package, cannot accurately be described as a renewable energy standard, and the public should not expect economic benefits to result from the package," the letter states. "To avoid unwarranted market and public confusion created by opaque legislation, our industry asks for your assurance of a veto should such legislation reach your desk."

Fill 'er Up with Nonsense

The Guy household keeps two gas guzzling trucks - one Ford, one GMC - in the driveway. But we don't support rolling back any fuel taxes, as Senators John McCain, Hillary Clinton, and a small band of shortsighted pseudo-leaders now propose. If anything, fuel taxes should go up.

That could not only encourage conservation, it would also generate a windfall of public money for investment in American energy innovation, modern mass transit systems, and basic road, highway, and bridge maintenance. Rather invest in those basic elements of civilized society over the need for new tires and alignments the pot holes raise for the household fleet because cities and states can't afford to repair roads.

Responsible conservatives understand this reality, as the right-leaning Grand Rapids Press reminded us yesterday.

But "the people need relief," says the political leadership in New York.

And a gas tax holiday would encourage tourism and boating, according to elected officials in Michigan.

Aspirants for public office in Indiana are actually running on the idea.

Meanwhile, a formidable chorus of independent-minded leaders and analysts is pushing back with common sense.

"It's a quick fix for people who believe cheap gas is their birthright," Tom Kloza, chief analyst at an oil research firm told CNN Money. "It's not a prudent thing to do."

"Somewhere down the road you have to use less," Kloza added. "As painful as it might be, higher prices do sway behavior toward a more energy disciplined America."

Mad about Great Lakes Manufacturing

Looking to cash in on the tech revolution? Financial guru and host of CNBC's Mad Money Jim Cramer says forget about Apple and Sun Micro. "They're just refining luxuries."

Invest instead, he says, in future-oriented American manufacturing outfits and, more specifically, two Cleveland-based companies - Eaton and Parker Hannifin - that produce vital goods and have a level of growth and innovation levered to the global economy.

"These stocks have become not metal benders, but new technology stocks," Cramer said on last night's broadcast. "That's right. When you think tech you probably think of Texas Instruments or Cisco or National Semi. Gimme a break. What are those companies really doing? They trying to build a better gadget. Maybe make some chips for a flashier camera. Come on. That's old tech.

"The manufacturers, the companies like Eaton, that make things the world really needs, like technology that reduces carbon emissions or allows us to save energy, that's technology. These are real things, real necessities, that the rest of the world is buying because [America] makes them better and cheaper."

Cramer's analysis - and the profit performance of companies like Eaton and PH - is a breath of fresh air for Great Lakes industry. Not only is it welcome publicity for a sector shedding jobs, shuddering factories, and struggling to reorganize for global competition. But many prophets of Great Lakes 3.0 - including some analysis on this page - suggest that manufacturing won't lead to prosperity in a 21st century economy that rewards higher education and creativity.

But the reality, Cramer rightly reminds us, is that not everybody in the manufacturing business is a high school dropout. The Great Lakes sector, for instance, boasts some of the best research, development, and engineering expertise in the world. Focusing that talent on timely and strategic innovations - like technology under development at Parker Hannifin that cuts fuel consumption in delivery trucks by 50 percent - points the way to big pay offs.

“The Street’s just not bullish enough on this one," Cramer says. "Buy some Parker Hannifin.”

True Transit Tidbit

"For the cost of two or three highway interchanges, we could develop a corridor between two major cities," Amtrak CEO Alex Kumant told NBC Nightly News tonight about the Acela which, at a top speed of 150 MPH, is America's fastest - and most popular - passenger rail service.

Plans reportedly are on the shelf to expand 100 MPH routes routes connecting Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit, and Cleveland. But America doesn't yet embrace investment in rail infrastructure as a realistic strategy to promote transportation. Nevermind economic prosperity, environmental protection, and opportunity for people from all walks of life. Ironic for a nation that grew up on - and is now stumbling in a number of ways without - extensive commuter rail service.

Name That Transit Tune

The marching band played across the street. Blowing bagpipers walked all around the grounds. And inside the Michigan Capitol yesterday the activists that make up the state's increasingly loud public transportation movement all sang the same song: modern mass transit is key to achieving economic competitiveness, environmental stewardship, and social justice in the 21st century.


As a whole, Lansing is tone deaf to the urgent need for imagination, leadership, and unity on the public transportation issue. Speaker of the House Andy Dillon, for instance, who was scheduled to speak in the afternoon press conference, showed up for a minute, posed for a couple photo opps, then mysteriously exited stage left right in the middle of the briefing. I'm guessing he wasn't rushing to catch the bus.

There is, however, a handful of strong voices emerging in the Legislature. State Representatives Hoon-Yung Hopgood and Marie Donigan, both from metro Detroit, and Tom Pearce, from the Grand Rapids suburb of Rockford, are three stand out acts. The pressing question is how much longer will they play solo.

"Michigan's dream has always been two cars in every driveway," said Rep. Pearce, a Republican. "But now we're beginning to understand that not everybody has a driveway. Not everyone has a car."

"The costs of owning a car in this day and age. The environmental concerns that vehicles create. The economic effects [of investment in mass transit]. These are all reasons pushing us to prioritize public transportation," Rep. Pearce continued. "It is certainly time for public transit to grow in the State of Michigan."

Prospecting for Wind

There's still a handful of influentials left in states like Michigan poo-pooing the potential for energy innovation to generate jobs, stimulate investment, and help reverse decades of decline.

But the experience of states like Montana, which two years ago adopted the modest goal of achieving 15 percent renewable energy by 2015, tells a different story. Check out this sampling of quotes from an article titled 'The New Gold Rush,' which ran yesterday in the Great Falls Tribune:

"In a way, it's like a mini-little gold rush," Bozeman attorney Hertha Lund said about negotiations between landowners and wind developers.

"The Montana market has gone absolutely crazy with leasing the past few months," said Sarah Hamlen, a Montana State University Extension agent in White Sulphur Springs. "A lot of landowners are getting hit by a variety of different companies."

"They wanted to make me a millionaire," said Gordon Brittan, director of Wheeler Center for Public Policy at Montana State University. "Some big money is being made."

"It's real jobs," said Cascade County Commissioner Peggy Beltrone. "It's a tax base increase in areas that have had declining tax base."

Translating the Terrible Transition

Richard Longworth's new book - Caught in the Middle - has sat on the desk here for several weeks. Right on top of Lincoln's Sword and Me Talk Pretty One Day, one of those rare laugh-out-loud reads.

I'm sure Mr. Longworth's book, subtitled America's Heartland in the Age of Globalism, is really smart, and full of common sense revelation. That's why I bought it.

But with chapter titles like 'From Rust to Bust,' 'Left Behind,' and 'Flunking Out,' I'm content reading Jack and the Beanstalk to my one-year-old daughter. We're planting seeds for bigger and better things.

Here's what Mr. Longworth, a decorated journalist and senior fellow at the Chicago Council of Global Affairs, told the Grand Rapids Press yesterday in advance of a visit to that city tonight...

"You are in a terrible period of transition. The Industrial Age created the Midwest, and that age is over. It's time we started talking together, planning together and working together. Michigan is not in competition with Indiana or Ohio. It is in competition with China."

The View from Germany

The German magazine Spiegel dispatched a correspondent to Pennsylvania to cover the race for the American presidency. The good news is that the global press is paying more attention to the urgent issues in the greater Great Lakes region. The bad news is that the global press is paying more attention to the urgent issues in the greater Great Lakes region. Here's an excerpt from yesterday's report:

"Pennsylvania, like Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois, was once one of the country's industrial powerhouse states. But today, the landscape in cities like Reading is no longer shaped by factories, but by discount chains like Wal-Mart and a generous smattering of fast-food outlets. The city's crowded row-house neighborhoods look run-down - with well-paying jobs a rarity, many homeowners cannot afford repairs and upkeep. Reading is one of America's losers."

Detroit and Grand Rapids: Fellows Not Foes

In an otherwise sharp column yesterday about Detroit's exhausting mass transit pickle, Free Press editorial writer Jeff Gerritt suggests that Grand Rapids, Michigan's second largest city, is competing against the Motor City for federal transit funding no different than Denver, San Diego, or Portland.

But a closer look at the situation reveals that, at this moment, greater Grand Rapids actually is one of the biggest allies in the campaign to finally put modern public transportation on the ground in Detroit. In fact, one of the more strategic moves transit leaders in Southeast Michigan can make right now to advance their own efforts is to support a proposed permanent Bus Rapid Transit line in West Michigan.

How's that? Well, in December 2007 metro Grand Rapids became the first city in Michigan history to gain access to the federal New Starts Program, the nation's primary funding mechanism for major mass transit projects.

The program is exceptionally difficult to tap into because the process is rigorous, dozens of cities are in line for funding, and the program tends to favor states and cities that have previously filed successful applications. Detroit, for example, has yet to break into the fund.

But greater Grand Rapids cleared the high hurdles. In a decision that could trigger as much as $29 million in federal funding, the feds approved Grand Rapids' application to build a $40 million Bus Rapid Transit line serving one of its busiest urban corridors.

By doing so, Grand Rapids now stands on the verge of not only building its own permanent public transportation line, but also putting Michigan and its major cities on the official federal transit funding radar for the first time.

Put another way, Metro GR is poised to open the door to hundreds of millions of dollars in future federal funding for the long stalled light rail train on Woodward Avenue in Detroit, for example, or commuter rail line from Ann Arbor to Detroit.

This is the break Michigan's mass transit movement has been waiting for.

The immediate challenge is to prompt Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm and the Legislature to identify approximately $8 million (over the next three years nonetheless) in state funding that enables Grand Rapids to "match" the generous federal grant. That would gain the entire state official membership in the New Starts Program and position places like GR and Detroit to start modernizing their mass transit infrastructure.

State leaders, however, are short on both funding and leadership when it comes to public transportation.

So you'd think Detroit, acting in its own self interest, would stand shoulder to shoulder with Grand Rapids in the State Capitol advocating for the vital state appropriation and a standing process to do it more often.

But few people in the Motor City recognize the significance of what's happening in Grand Rapids. And those that do, as Mr. Gerritt's column reveals, view the city as out-state competition rather than a cross-state colleague.

Obama on PA: Reality or Overreaction

“You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them," Senator Barack Obama said while campaiging in San Francisco, CA.

"And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or antitrade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

Dry Wells and Wet Slides

The western Milwaukee suburb of New Berlin, which drinks from its wells faster than nature can recharge them, has been called 'Exhibit A' in the case of the greater Great Lakes region's quiet water supply planning crisis.

But it's hard to empathize with the good people struggling through shortages there when they approve construction, of all things, a new water park.

Ironically, the popular fear hovering over Great Lakes society is that the parched people of distant lands like Georgia, Arizona, or even Asia are the ones standing at the front of the line to siphon off the region's fresh water.

But clearly the most immediate threat is much closer to home. New Berlin, like neighboring Waukesha, and countless other cities, townships, and villages - both inside and just over the edge of the Great Lakes drainage boundary - are sticking more straws into the big lakes and digging deeper into aquifers to keep up with increasing demand, even questionable proposals like a water slide.

Meanwhile, the freewheeling approach lowers water tables, sparks small water wars, and runs up municipal water costs in Michigan and parts of Ohio, Illinois, and Wisconsin. The lack of clear, common, and consistent standards to promote sustainable water use also sends a dangerous signal that Great Lakes water is free for the taking.

“We have seen the enemy and he is us,” Ron Kuehn, the Madison-based lobbyist who represented Wisconsin farmers in state water use negotiations, told me in May 2005.

So the debate goes on in Wisconsin...

...and in Ohio...

...and Michigan.

Read All About the Rust Belt Reinvention

Searching for signs of light at the end of the Rust Belt's post-industrial tunnel? Look no further than today's headlines. The movement toward modernity is alive, and making news.

Steel City Chips Away At Its Rust Belt Image

A Rust Belt Rebirth Buds Before Our Eyes

From Rust Belt To Innovation Zone

Forging Rust Belt Economic Appeals

The stories remind us that getting the nation's Heartland back on track is as much a PR battle as it is a campaign to update antiquated economic, environmental, and social agendas. Want more proof? Civic leaders in Erie actually formed a task force to spread the good word during a month in which visits by presidential candidates and a convention of GE shareholders are expected to attract the national spotlight to their town.

“We would like all [the media] to write glowing reports,” John Oliver, the president of VisitErie, told the local paper. “But I don’t know that we expect that. We’ll be successful if they don’t begin their stories with a negative first sentence.”

Tomorrow's Tech Towns

Great Lakes 1.0 was about exploring waterways, trapping fur, chopping lumber, raising forts, planting crops, and settling a new American frontier.

Great Lakes 2.0 was about pioneering an incredible era of industrialization, building powerhouse cities like Chicago, Cleveland, and Detroit, establishing civic institutions and contracts, and defending the nation.

Now the region is slowly upgrading its purpose and priorities with a new operating system of economic, environmental, and social platforms to meet the challenges and opportunities of a global community.

Call it Great Lakes 3.0. And innovation remains a constant, driving force.

Philip Auerswold, the public policy professor at George Mason University, provides some useful evidence of the transition. He recently surveyed technology trends and generated a list of innovation hot spots in the United States.

The goal of the study, he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, was to identify tech potential in places beyond usual metro suspects like Boston and San Fran.

His findings, based largely on the increase in the number of science-based patents in a given city, reveal industry and commerce in the greater Great Lakes region continues to evolve for the Digital Age.

Here's his Top Ten up-and-coming tech hubs:

  1. Columbus, OH
  2. Santa Fe, NM
  3. Palm Beach County, FL
  4. Houston, TX
  5. Milwaukee-Waukesha, WI
  6. Pittsburgh, PA
  7. Boise City, ID
  8. Iowa City, IA
  9. Lake Charles, LA
  10. Yuma, AZ

"Some places believe that manufacturing is dead or dying. We don't," Jim Paetsch, director of corporate relocation, expansion, and attraction at Milwaukee 7, an economic development organization, told Forbes about the study.

"Manufacturing is certainly different today than it was even 10 years ago. Our strategy is to become the leading global center for the technology-intensive manufacturing enterprises of the future."

Three Serious Streetcar Studies on Track

At least three Midwest cities are seriously pushing toward the construction of a modern streetcar system to diversify their transportation strategy, spark urban revitalization, attract talented workers, and strengthen competitiveness in the global economy. And Columbus, OH appears to be closest to actually laying the track.

The city last week announced a financial plan for a proposed 2.8 mile route connecting neighborhoods, downtown business districts, and The Ohio State University. Revenue from a special surcharge on sports and entertainment events, parking meters, rider fares, advertising, federal grants, and annual contributions from the University would fund the construction, extension, and operation of the $103 million High Street line, which is viewed as the first leg in a much more comprehensive system circulating people around the central city.

Parts of the community are skeptical the thing will work.

But experts forecast the route will generate 3,000 new jobs, $2.7 million in new income tax revenue, and as much as $764 million in new economic activity after five years.

"This is a step toward attracting and retaining young creative and entrepreneurial professionals in the region," Chester Jourdan Jr., executive director of the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, said in a press release.

That seems to be the emerging consensus among future-oriented cities in the nation's heartland. Cincinnati, as another example, continues to debate a proposed $182 million streetcar line linking the University of Cincinnati, a medical hub, and the riverfront.

Leaders there hope to secure federal funding for the project, which will likely slow things down as they navigate the government's onerous process.

But Mayor Mark Mallory says the effort is a key "public improvement project" that deserves public funding.

Grand Rapids, MI, too, is taking a hard look at streetcar transit. A local task force recently agreed to the initial route for new service. And consultants and civic leaders continue to study whether investment in the proposed project is practical. Findings of the feasibility study are expected in June 2008.

"The development potential is huge," Peter Varga, CEO of the transit agency serving metro Grand Rapids recently said about the proposed initial route, which would run past several surface parking lots, vacant lots, and underutilized properties ripe for reinvestment.

Relieving, or Inflaming, Traffic

"I don't know if it's going to be better," Clinton Township resident Carol Jaeblon told the Detriot News about the move to build her street out from 2 to 5 lanes. "I think it will just bring more congestion."

That might seem like an uneducated prediction from a nagging 62-year-old woman who likely knows boo about traffic management. Even the newspaper headline claims 'Cass [Avenue] work to relieve congestion.'

But it's getting so that you don't need an engineering degree to understand that it's impossible to build your way out of traffic jams if all you build is bigger and wider roads. The expert projection is Cass Avenue will carry 40,000 cars in 20 years, up from the current 27,000.

That's what happens when there's only way to get around. People in Michigan and much of the Midwest have incredibly limited and unrealistic transportation choices beyond the automobile. So the roadways fill up, and making them wider is an expensive, artificial, and temporary solution to the problem. Even grandmas get it.

Who Cashes In On Clean Tech?

Won't our economy get hammered by China and India, Wired Magazine asked Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp about imposing strong standards to eliminate pollution in the United States?

"It's inevitable that those countries will adopt caps, too," he said. "We will gain a competitive advantage by going first. The real question is, do we want to import clean tech from Germany, Japan, and China or export it to the rest of the world?

Guess the City


Could be Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit, Muskegon, Gary, Milwaukee, or countless other cities in America's Heartland. But this video was shot in Youngstown, OH by, literally, Some Dude.

The point is Rust Belt cities stand united in the fight against basically the same economic, environmental, and cultural problems. They're all asking "what went wrong," as the Infidels put it in the song accompanying the above video.

That, in a way, is helpful because they all share a stake in the same agenda for revitalization. Educate more people. Modernize basic infrastructure. And reassert that can-do spirit.

Shanghaiing America's Heartland

This is what they're building in Shanghai, a city that, according to Wikipedia, is widely regarded as the citadel of China's modern economy.

It's the world's first high speed maglev train, and it reaches 200 mph in 2 minutes. The thing topped out at 311 mph in 2003 test runs. And the max speed during normal operation is a brisk 268 mph.

That means, if we were building this sort of advanced transportation technology in the United States, you could get from Detroit to Chicago in just over one hour. It's at least a 4-hour car ride if you're hauling the mail down I-94.

Chicago to Minneapolis, nearly a 7-hour drive, would take less than 2 hours. Cleveland to Pittsburgh? Be there in 30 minutes. No gas fillups, no traffic jams, no exorbitant downtown parking fees.

But we're years - perhaps decades - away from building this sort of future-oriented infrastructure in America, even as a host of economic, environmental, and demographic trends now point to aggressive investment in modern mass transit solutions. Pennsylvania, Baltimore, and California are studying the idea. Yet, under the current transportation investment approach, we can't even keep Amtrak on time and out of the red.

So it wasn't surprising to hear John Austin, director of the Brookings Institution's Great Lakes Economic Inititiative, on public radio yesterday urging the presidential candidates to focus on a new generation of domestic public investment. It's essential, Austin suggested, to maintaining and enhancing the region's - and the nation's - competitive advantage in the global marketplace.

"It's embarassing, as the Europeans and the Chinese are building world-class infrastructure, like a tunnel linking France and England, we still have leaky and dated infrastructure around what is the largest trading point on earth."

Granholm Gingerly Pushes Back on Coal

The intense focus on energy innovation arguably was the lone bright spot in the otherwise uninspiring Rebuilding Michigan's Motor forum earlier this week. Everbody from citizens to CEO's wanted to know what exactly the state is doing to promote alternative and renewable energy sources and accelerate the growth of a modern economy.

As with the public transit issue, Governor Jennifer Granholm struggled to strike with straight answers and specific actions. But the conversation did produce what just might be the governor's strongest statment yet against the fossil fuel industry, which right now is aggressively pushing to expand in Michigan.

"What could we do to help our Big Three [car companies] to compete on the world stage [in alternative fuel cars]," asked Ron Joppie, the owner of Charlotte-based Christiansen's Furniture, Inc.

"This is another reason why Michigan is unique, Ron, because of our history with the auto industry," the governor replied. "All this movement now toward the hydrogen fuel cell, or the electric vehicle, the plug-in hybrid, we have in Michigan more research and development into the next engine than all of the other states plus Canada plus Mexico combined."

"The whole world is looking to move into battery technology, etc," the governor continued. "We in this state are uniquely positioned to lead that as well. We have led it in the past. We can still lead it. The irony is that the technologies associated with creating the next engine, whether it's the battery technology, those will be able to be used in stationary applications, too, in your home.

"There's a whole movement away from coal-fired power plants and from gasoline, all of those fossil fuels we want to break away from, and Michigan is uniquely positioned to do that given that we have the right policy framework."

MI Gov. Granholm Goofs Transit

Lindsay Davis, a 23-year-old former ballet dancer, recently left Cincinnati to take a job at the Cleveland Clinic. She loves that life in C-town is so affordable. But one of her least favorite things about the metro region is "how dependent people have to be on their vehicles. I wish Cleveland had a better public-transportation system," she recently told the Plains Dealer.

Less than three hours north in Michigan, there's a debate raging about how the state urgently improves it's ability to attract and retain young talented workers just like Ms. Davis. One reader wrote into a Detroit Free Press forum on the topic to say "if I had the opportunity for a job in Michigan I would take it. However, my current locale in the Northeast supplies me with ample subsidized public transportation. If Michigan really wants to come back, first thing that needs to happen is a public train system."

These two comments, I'm convinced, represent the attitude of the younger generation of citizens and workers now taking the stage in American life. Elected leaders and public officials in the greater Great Lakes, then, can no longer claim to support the economic revitalization of the Rust Belt without an aggressive and well-honed platform to maintain, enhance, and expand rapid mass transit service in central cities.

Like roads and highways to the Industrial Era, light rail lines, streetcar circulators, and commuter trains are essential instruments of any legitimate strategy to pursue prosperity in the Digital Age.

That's one reason why Governor Jennifer Granholm's performance in the Rebuilding Michigan's Motor forum was so dispiriting to anybody with a vision of Michigan 3.0. The governor, who has made urban revitalization a centerpiece of her economic development initiative, had several opportunities to claim leadership on the transit issue during the one-hour forum. Not once did she respond with the urgency, clarity, and resolve the issue now demands.

Sure Gov. Granholm's responses acknowledged, in a superficial sense, the proven link between good transit and a city or state's competitiveness in the modern economy. But, instead of bravely affirming the bold and specific steps Michigan must take to even begin building a basic urban public transportation system, she cravenly bowed to the status quo with veiled answers that steered away from the transit issue and, in one instance, even devolved into a rambling diatribe about the lack of road funding and the abundance of pot holes.

"As we talk about diversification of transportation options and bringing people into Michigan, what is your vision for the connectivity issue and developing a statewide public transportation policy for rail lines, streetcars, connecting cities and suburbia, the Upper Peninsula and Lower Peninsula," Grand Rapids resident Casey Dutmer asked Gov. Granholm.

"Seventy-seven percent of [new economy] companies take the availability of mass transit into account when they're deciding where to locate," Dutmer continued. "But Michigan has no statewide transit policy. We have federal funding approved for a bus rapid transit system here in Grand Rapids. We hope that you will support the state funding we need to match the federal funds."

"The most vibrant states and the most vibrant cities are the ones that have a robust public transportation system. There's no question about it," Gov. Granholm responded. "Michigan has our heritage with the auto industry [which] has obviously caused us to grow up and be reliant on vehicles. But as we as a nation move toward other solutions, like alternative and renewable energy, but also to create cities that are compact and dynamic, we must have transportation solutions that meet our needs.

"I've appointed a transportation task force which is supposed to come back to me with suggestions on public transit as well as how we have better roads in Michigan, how we fund the roads, and how we make sure that our roads are smooth. We do not have enough money right now in our transportation system overall. Certainly that's true on public transit. And it's true as well on the roads. We can't operate in the same way we have."

Stop. At this point, it seemed, the governor was well positioned to explain that, while Michigan has budget troubles, the state has plenty of money. It spends billions of dollars each year, in fact, on a variety of economic development programs and infrastructure. The problem is that the current investment strategy is fundamentally out of alignment with the needs of a modern economy. The pattern of government spending is programmed for 1950, not projecting toward 2050.

The state, for example, is considering new coal plants when the future is in wind turbines. It facilitates sprawling development out into the corn fields when 21st century wealth and innovation seems to concentrate in high density urban centers. And, as the price of gas skyrockets, climate concerns mount, and traffic grows increasingly congested, Michigan is focused exclusively on building more and bigger roads instead of diversfying its transportation system with alternatives like light rail lines that we know generate far greater economic, environmental, and social returns on investment compared to roadways.

So instead of spending hundreds of millions of dollars to widen that highway through downtown Grand Rapids Mr. Dutmer, the governor might have said, we are going to modernize fiscal spending, identify the critical state funds necessary for that bus rapid transit line, and give people in Grand Rapids more mobility options.

An out-of-the-box response like that would help transfigure the entrenched thinking about transit in Michigan. It would shine a bright light on Michigan's archaic development strategy, change the very nature of the state's mass transit debate, and arguably pick up the pace towards economic recovery. Instead, the governor opted for the easy and familiar talking points. She continues...

"I know alot of people care about the roads and the potholes and all of that. When I became governor, 72 percent of our state roads were in good condition. And I said we have got to get it to at least 90 percent. It's now 92 percent, although you'd never know because you probably travel along a lot of local roads and end up getting jarred all over. People don't know the difference between a state road and a local road."

"The local units of government need the funding to be able to repair those roads, too. And that's why the current method of funding transportation systems in Michigan is not adequate. I don't think we should go to a gas tax but I think there are other solutions and I'm waiting for the experts to come back and tell me the best way to do it."

That road raging response, remember, was the answer to a mass transit question.

The people of Michigan, meanwhile, hunger for leadership in a changing world.

X Doesn't Mark the Spot in MI

I'm honestly trying to get out of Michigan here with news and analysis from other Great Lakes states. But day after day these past couple weeks it seems Michigan is brimming with easy examples that illustrate how and why the region is struggling to transition into the modern era.

And I'm not even going to touch on the disappointing, nay almost frightening, Rebuilding Michigan's Motor forum that featured Governor Jennifer Graholm last night.

No, today's post is about the $10 million competition to produce a market-ready automobile capable of 100 mpg announced yesterday by X Prize.

Sixty-four teams to date have entered the race. Not one is from Detroit, the supposed epicenter of transportation innovation.

California already has entered 14 teams. New York is sending four. Wisconsin two. But only one team - Ann Arbor-based Michigan Vision - so far hails from Michigan, a state so closely aligned with the image of advanced auto R&D that X Prize actually quotes Gov. Granholm on their website.

“A competition to advance commercially viable, energy efficient and climate friendly vehicles can inspire the discovery of critically needed breakthrough technologies...it is likely that our best and brightest will be well represented at the starting line,” the governor says.

But a quick search of the headlines reveals that the Michigan media and, by extension, the population is barely aware that the race is on to push the limits of fuel efficiency. In the first 100 hits of a Yahoo News search, it appears only three news outlets in the state cared to cover the X Prize story, which was covered by, among others, the New York Times, USA Today, and the NASDAQ wire.

Grand Rapids-based WOOD TV 8 lifted the feed from the Associated Press.

Lansing-based WLNS gave the news a paragraph.

And the Detroit News filed a report from its Washington bureau that mentions New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced the competition and leads with a quote from the CEO of an Ohio-based insurance company expressing support for the competition. Not one person from the Motor City offers any insight.

Ironically for this post, the Detroit News also today published a story reporting that GM is likely to lose a quarter of a billion a year selling its electric Volt. But, in that same piece, CEO Bob Lutz reveals that his company's slow-go approach to the hybrid vehicle market has likely cost GM billions in sales as consumers perceive the company's technology slipping off the cutting edge.

Still time to enter Team GM in the X Prize games, Bob, and at least promote the hope that those five teams from Europe aren't going to eat Michigan's lunch without a good clean fight.