Business and Economy

OSF Healthcare

OSF Healthcare is raising the lowest wage it is paying workers to $10 an hour. That's $1.75 per hour higher than the minimum wage in Illinois. Kristin Williams is the OSF's Vice President for Compensation and Benefits. Williams says the move stems from the religious organization's social justice values.

She says the federal poverty line for full time workers with families was one of the guides used to establish the new minimum.

Devyn Corp., Tarter Construction, Farnsworth Group

David Bentley has been active in downtown Bloomington for 20 years, buying property, rehabbing it, and running it. His latest proposal includes developing the Pantagraph building into a boutique hotel. Bentley tells GLT's Charlie Schlenker he partnered with the city in 2007 and 2008. He agrees with Mayor Tari Renner that a downtown hotel will help the coliseum as it has the economy in Uptown Normal.

The city working with consultants SB Freidman to vet a proposal from Bentley's Devyn Corporation and Jeff Giebelhausen plan for the Front and Center block.

Todd Ryburn / Wikimedia Commons

The Bloomington City Council voted to contribute $50,000 over the next five years to the McLean County Museum of History's $3 million capital campaign. During his regular Sound Ideas interview, Mayor Tari Renner said the museum is of strategic importance in future, possible downtown redevelopment plans.

John Lloyd

Other than a house or a college education, buying a car is the largest purchase many Americans make. There's a lot of stress associated with it. WGLT's Charlie Schlenker talks with Dan Deneen, a McLean County Attorney who frequently represents car buyers against dealerships. To buy a car the low stress way, Deneen says approaching a car purchase should be done systematically.

When you go to a car lot, Deneen also says, take an extensive test drive.
 

Urban Land Institute

One of top urban planners in the U. S. gives high marks to the way Normal planned its uptown redevelopment. Tom Murphy, former Pittsburgh mayor and now with the Urban Land Institute, says the neighboring Marriott and Hyatt hotels are obviously a part of a well-thought out plan.

New Trade Pact Meets Skepticism

Nov 5, 2015

The U-S Secretary of Agriculture says a new international trade partnership will help farmers and ranchers in Illinois, if it gains congressional approval. But some Chicago representatives are already skeptical of the plan. IPR’s Alissa Zhu reports.

Ronald C. Yochum Jr. / Wikimedia Commons

A leader in urban renewal says hotels can be useful tools in redevelopment efforts, but they need to be part of a larger strategy. As Mayor of Pittsburgh, Tom Murphy led an unprecedented redevelopment effort, relying on public-private partnerships. In this excerpt of a Sound Ideas interview, Mike McCurdy talked with Murphy, now with the Urban Land Institute, about Uptown Normal and Downtown Bloomington redevelopment efforts.

Champaign Urbana will take an employment hit over the next two years with the departure of the Kraft Food cheese making operation. Kraft Heinz announced a transition to dry and sauce production in Champaign and said there would be job losses, but declined to say how many. Kraft is currently the largest industrial employer in Champaign with 1,800 jobs.

Economic Development officials in the Champaign Urbana area say they were not notified in advance of the change and will be contacting Kraft Heinz.

State Supreme Court Again Rules For Philip Morris

Nov 4, 2015

The Illinois Supreme Court has once again ruled in favor of tobacco giant Philip Morris, saving the company from a 10-billion-dollar lawsuit. IPR's Brian Mackey has more on the decision.

A high-frequency commodities trader has been found guilty of disrupting commodity futures prices to make $1.4 million. A federal jury convicted Michael Coscia of fraud and spoofing. The 53-year-old Coscia was accused of fraudulently earning money through the Chicago-based CME Group, the world's largest operator of futures exchanges, and European futures markets in 2011. Coscia of Rumson, New Jersey artificially bumped up commodities prices by placing orders that he cancelled within milliseconds.

Harvest Nearly Complete

Nov 3, 2015
IH Case Co.

Federal agriculture officials say the harvest is drawing to a close in Illinois. The USDA's weekly crop report says the corn and soybean harvests are 96 percent finished in Illinois. The sorghum harvest is 91 percent complete. The corn harvest is far ahead of last year at this time. The report says that winter wheat planting is about 89 percent finished and rated in fair to excellent condition. The harvest finishes after Illinois saw a warmer and drier October than average according to the state's climatologist with the Illinois State Water Survey.

Wilson Hui / Flickr via Creative Commons

Caterpillar has started laying off Decatur workers. Company spokeswoman Rachel Potts confirmed the employee notifications, but says the company won't be releasing the total number by location. In September, the Peoria-based manufacturer announced that it's planning another round of job cuts that could exceed 10,000 people through 2018. The company says it'll cut as many as 5,000 people mostly by the end of this year from its salaried and management workforce.

Medical Marijuana Weeks Away

Oct 29, 2015

Illinois will begin its first medical marijuana sales within the next two weeks and public sentiment ranges from cautious to elated. State officials say required ID cards are being mailed this week to 3,200 approved patients. Lab testing of legally grown marijuana has started. A half-dozen retail shops are licensed and ready. It will be a big moment for the 2-year-old pilot program. Patients will finally get a chance to buy a drug legally that some admit they now purchase on the black market. Some say they will drive long distances to buy their first legal weed.

Exelon Corp. says it will wait a year to decide if it will close its nuclear plant near Clinton, Illinois. Exelon owns Illinois' 11 nuclear reactors. Plant spokesman Brett Nauman says an industry group that arranges power purchases for southern Illinois has agreed to re-think its business practices.

Nauman says the Clinton plant has lost 350 million dollars in the last six years because of low natural gas prices.

Nauman says the industry group decision on market reform does not lessen the legislative push.

The Illinois Department of Corrections says it will return five semi-trucks to a company that has walked away from a contract after the state failed to pay. The Larson Group agreed to six-year contract in 2010 to lease five trucks to the agency for $68,000 a year. The company decided to walk away from the contract a year early because the department owes more than $17,000. An IDOC offshoot called Illinois Correctional Industries used the trucks. IDOC spokeswoman Nicole Wilson says the agency is scheduled to return the trucks Thursday. Right now they are parked at a warehouse in Lincoln.

The Illinois Department of Employment Security reports the jobless rate dropped in September in all of the metro areas the agency tracks. But the department's director says job growth remains weak.

The Bloomington Normal unemployment rate is 4.3% down from 5% in September of last year. That's the lowest rate for September since 2007 when it was 3.9% in the twin cities. The metro area rate is the lowest in the state.

The Moody's credit rating agency has downgraded $26.8 billion in Illinois' general obligation bonds, saying the move was due to the state's weakening financial position during the year. In lowering the bond rating to Baa1 from A3, Moody's Investors Service said its expectation is that the ongoing stalemate on the budget due July 1 will lead to further deterioration of the state's finances.  

The lower a state's credit rating, the tougher, and more expensive, it is to borrow money.

Delays Keep Market Street Closed

Oct 22, 2015
Jim Browne / WGLT

It'll be a while longer before West Market Street in Bloomington opens to traffic and pedestrians. The city says problems with soil under the train trestle are causing another delay. Market Street was closed early this summer. Delays go back to the fall of 2014. Now the city says the street will open on November 7th instead of this weekend. Work on the trestle will enable high speed passenger trains to go over Market Street on the way between Chicago and St. Louis.

Caterpillar Earnings Fall

Oct 22, 2015

Caterpillar was stung by ongoing weakness in the mining and oil and gas industries during the third quarter and revenue fell short of expectations. The Peoria construction and mining equipment maker lowered its full-year earnings forecast with expectations that the costs of restructuring the company will rise sharply. Shares fell more than 2 percent before the opening bell Thursday. Last month Caterpillar announced another round of job cuts that could exceed 10,000 people through 2018.

Details of the Mitsubishi severance package are in the new contract approved recently by the United Auto Workers. The agreement comes as Mitsubishi prepares to end production next month and shut down the plant by June.

IL Unemployment And Jobs Both Down

Oct 16, 2015

The Illinois Department of Employment Security says the statewide unemployment rate fell in September but the state lost jobs. The department says in its monthly report unemployment fell to 5.4 percent in September. That was down from 5.6 percent in August but still higher than the 5.1 percent national rate. The department pointed out that Illinois lost a net 6,900 jobs in September. Department director Jeff Mays said the state's job growth is "dismal."  

Home sales in Bloomington Normal were up 21% last month from September of a year ago. The Association of Realtors also says through three quarters of the year, home sales are up 7.6%. Growth for the third quarter slowed from previous quarters this year. Third quarter sales increased just under 4% as the area absorbed news of the coming Mitsubishi plant shutdown.

The average price of a home sold has increased slightly for the year and for the month.

Sales of new homes remain a very small part of the total. All of the growth last month was in sales of existing homes.
 

A third consecutive overall index drop in a monthly rural bankers survey suggests an economic slowdown is ahead for rural parts of 10 Western and Plains states. The Rural Mainstreet Index sank to 44.4 this month from 49.0 in September and 50.0 in August. The overall index is computed from various economic category scores, and survey organizers say any score below 50 suggests that factor will decline.

Flickr user Simon Cunningham via Creative Commons / lendingmemo.com

Illinois' lack of a budget means public pensions systems won't get their state contribution next month. That won't stop retirees from getting their checks. However, there could still be an impact. IPR's Sean Crawford reports.

Licensed under Creative Commons

Worries about layoffs at Caterpillar have yet to take energy out of the Peoria home sales market. Becky Peterson is the President of the Peoria Area Association of Realtors.

"It has been the highest level in the past eight years. It is not since 2007 that we have had as many homes sold. Sales gained 9.2% from sales a year ago."

Jim Browne / WGLT

The state of McLean County is not as good as it has been, but by working together area governments can get things back on track.  That common theme was presented by all four speakers at the annual Chamber of Commerce event.

Illinois wants insurance companies in the small group market to submit changes to their small business policies as quickly as possible following a bipartisan adjustment to the nation's health care law. President Barack Obama signed legislation last week that gives states flexibility about whether to change the definition of ``small business'' under the law.  

In an Oct. 9 memo to insurers, the Illinois Department of Insurance says it will keep defining ``small'' as employers with 1 to 50 employees.  

Mississippi River Gets Poor Grades

Oct 14, 2015
Green Fire Productions

A report card is out on the Mississippi River basin, and the grade is not good: a D+, with the river's aging transportation infrastructure topping the list of concerns. America's Watershed Initiative planned to release details of their report at a news conference Wednesday in St. Louis. An early synopsis was provided to The Associated Press. The report card assessed categories such as the abundance of clean water, flood control and risk, ecosystem health, the economy and recreation. The category of biggest concern was the condition of infrastructure such as locks and dams.

Devyn Corp., Tarter Construction, Farnsworth Group

The potential developer of a boutique hotel in downtown Bloomington has a complex legal history with the city. David Bently has extensive holdings in the downtown area and recently bought the Pantagraph Newspaper building. But, speaking on GLT's Sound Ideas Mayor Tari Renner says the city would have to be cautious in entering into an agreement with Bently.

Bently has so far been unsuccessful in a suit over the city's distribution of Tax Increment Financing District money, though that has been appealed to the state supreme court.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has slightly lowered its corn and soybean harvest estimates based on updated harvest figures across the U.S. Farmers are expected to bring in 13.56 billion bushels of corn, about 1 percent lower than the September estimate, but still the third largest crop on record. Record per-acre corn yields are expected in 11 states including Iowa, Nebraska and Wisconsin and Illinois. Soybean production estimates are also 1 percent lower. But the 3.89 billion bushels would be the second largest on record.

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