Mission critical – Turn Detroit into a tech center and How much should I contribute to my 401?

Tipping back in a cheap office chair, the former auto executive points beneath the folding table that is his desk. "We had a ton of people working for us," Shaw says, crossing his stocky arms over his chest. "Now you have to do it all yourself. See that trash can? If I want it emptied, I empty it myself."

Two of Shaw’s colleagues at Clean Emission Fluids grin knowingly. All three once worked for auto companies or their suppliers. Today, as Shaw says, they are wearing many more hats than they ever did working for the Big Three: They are engineering, assembling, and marketing a highly sophisticated biodiesel blending machine that they hope will propel their three-year-old startup to huge success.

The machine makes any biofuel easily available in whatever mixture of traditional diesel and alternative fuel a trucker or fleet might choose. The result is cleaner-burning engines. [Read the full article]

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Question: I’m 42 years old. What percentage of my weekly paycheck should I contribute to my 401(k)? –Gary, Bronx, New York

Answer: For anyone still toiling away in his or her career, it’s the Mother of All Retirement-Planning Questions: How much of your salary should you contribute to retirement accounts to have a reasonable shot at a comfy post-career life?

Yes, I know that many people believe that picking the right investments is the most important thing you can do to assure a secure retirement. And that’s not surprising considering how much attention the financial press lavishes on the performance of stocks, bonds, mutual funds, ETFs and dozens of other investment choices.

But while smart investing is certainly important, it’s unlikely that even Buffett-esque investing skills will yield an adequate nest egg if you’re not saving enough.

Which makes it all the more ironic that your question has no exact answer. [Read the full article]

New Orleans’ Mardi Gras is often called the "world’s largest free party," but for the people who build the parade floats, make the costumes, serve the refreshments and put up the out-of-town guests, it’s big business.

Carnival means cash for companies like Haydel’s Bakery, which sells about 50,000 king cakes during the festivities, and Giacona Container Company, which makes the souvenir cups that are tossed from parade floats.

Mardi Gras is "almost recession proof," says Barry Kern, president and CEO of Blaine Kern Studios, which designs and builds floats for all of the major Carnival krewes.

But Kern’s year-round business, which includes tours and corporate events, has definitely felt the pinch. "It was almost like a spigot got turned off," he says of the past year. "A lot of that corporate business disappeared. [Read the full article]

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The real estate roller-coaster ride continued last year as the median price of U.S. single-family home plunged 11.9% to $173,200.

The housing situation had been looking up earlier in the year, with prices gaining ground in the first nine months. But the increases weren’t enough to push the median home price above 2008’s bar of $196,600, according to the National Association of Realtors.

And then, prices fell in the fourth quarter, dropping 2.9% compared to the previous three months and 4.1% compared to the last quarter of 2008.

Still, the quarter-over-quarter drop was encouraging to NAR, which tracks home prices and sales.

"This is the smallest price decline in over two years, with the most recent monthly data showing a broad stabilization in home prices," said Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist. [Read the full article]

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