Cars and movies bookended the topics covered at Wednesday’s Morning Edition, a monthly gathering that features short talks by community and business leaders.
Up first was Jean Jennings, the high-energy president and editor-in-chief of Automobile Magazine, which has offices above Champion House at the corner of Fourth & Liberty.
She described the current market for magazines in general as crappy (well, she didn’t use that word, but she could have). “As the car companies go, so go the car magazines,” she said, noting that the auto industry traditionally spends billions of dollars on advertising in print, radio and TV. “This has been a very bad year.” That said, Automobile Magazine is bucking the trend, she said. Jennings attributes their success to making the magazine a good read, not just a road test report – Jerry Seinfeld was a guest columnist earlier this year, for example.
Asked what she thought about a federal bailout for domestic automakers, Jennings described herself as a “total shill” for the industry, and contrasted it with “those venal bastards on Wall Street who are playing with fire.”
“At least the car business makes something that we love and need and want,” she quipped.
She also was skeptical about Chrysler’s recent news that they’ll have electric cars on the market by 2010, noting that the final testing on batteries for the vehicles won’t be done until a few months before the cars are scheduled to go on sale. Then she spotted former Chrysler exec Tom Sidlik in the audience, who’s now chair of Eastern Michigan University’s board of regents. “You thought that’d be a cushy retirement – that didn’t work out for you, did it?” she joked, referring obliquely to the departure of EMU’s previous president, John Fallon, and the controversy surrounding how university officials handled the aftermath of a murder on campus two years ago.
Sidlik was likely part of the posse for the next speaker, Susan Martin, EMU’s new president. Martin kept up the energy with a rapid-fire litany of the university’s priorities and values – students, community service, fiscal stability, integrity, “getting things done, not just talking about it,” among others. She went door-to-door last night in the freshmen dorms, introducing herself and asking students how they were doing. Of all the people she talked to, only one problem arose – a hole in a window screen was letting bugs in.
Enrollment declines have been plaguing universities, causing competition as they “fight for each others’ lunch.” This semester, though, EMU has seen a 4 percent increase in enrollment. Martin went on to praise the many academic programs on campus, saying: “We have everything – and we have a woman running the place.”
Bob Guenzel, the Washtenaw County administrator who’s known in some circles as Mr. Mellow, took the podium next to talk about the countywide Blueprint to End Illiteracy (not to be confused with the Blueprint for Homelesssness or the Blueprint for Aging).
At least 30 agencies are involved in the effort, working strategically with funding from the Knight Foundation, the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation and, most recently, $50,000 from the Washtenaw United Way. A pilot project is being developed to launch in January, working with families at community centers and libraries. Guenzel urged people to consider how they might help, either through donations, becoming a volunteer tutor, or setting up a literacy training program in their workplace.
Next up was John Hilton, editor and co-owner of the Ann Arbor Observer. He gave an overview of the monthly publication’s online efforts over the years, describing it as “a tale of trial and error and error and error and error.”
“When you’re out there on the bleeding edge,” he said, “you do bleed quite a bit.” They’re now undertaking a major redesign of their website – led by Valerie Mates of UnixMama.com – and plan to launch the changes in mid-October.
Finally, Jan Lockwood – director of the Michigan Film Office in Lansing – spoke of how tax incentives for film production companies, enacted earlier this year, are bringing business to Michigan. She expects expenditures by these companies to reach $200 million this year, though she admitted those figures are difficult to track. Anecdotally, retailers and other companies report increased business when film crews come to town. Downtown Home & Garden, for example, sold out all its hats to the crew of “Youth in Revolt,” which shot a scene just down the street from the store at Ashley and Liberty, Lockwood said.
She said one of the biggest challenges is finding people in Michigan with the skills to work on these films – grips, gaffers, production assistants, writers, producers and such. Her office plans to hire a workforce development expert to help boost training efforts – anyone interested in the job can contact her here.
Lockwood ended by saying she met George Clooney years ago when he was in Detroit to shoot a film.
“He brought me a cup of cappuccino,” she recalled. “I didn’t save the cup and I’ve regretted it ever since.”
Morning Edition is an event of the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce, and is emceed each month by Russ Collins, executive director of the Michigan Theater. The next meeting is Oct. 15 – all are held at Weber’s Inn, 3050 Jackson Ave.