Business and Economy

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.

Tribune Tower For Sale

Oct 9, 2015
Business2Community

Tribune Media says it's hired a real estate investment banker to explore the sale of its Tribune Tower, its headquarters that sits on three acres along Chicago's Michigan Avenue. Tribune Real Estate President Murray McQueen says the landmarked building is expected to attract interest from "a broad range of private and institutional investors and developers." The 36-story, neo-Gothic building houses the Chicago Tribune and other tenants. The building has 737,000 square feet, but the entire site is zoned for up to 2.4 million square feet.

Davis, Bustos Head To Cuba

Oct 8, 2015

U.S. Reps. Cheri Bustos and Rodney Davis say they're traveling to Cuba as part of an agricultural trade mission. Bustos and Davis plan to promote economic development and trade opportunities for Illinois farmers. Bustos is an East Moline Democrat and Davis is a Taylorville Republican. They leave on Sunday and return on Wednesday.

Staff / WGLT

The town of Normal could generate more than $6 million in additional revenue once the 1% sales tax increase goes into effect next year. A quarter of that is earmarked to community-wide mental health improvements. The remainder is up for grabs.

Hammons Normal Marriott Subject Of EEOC Suit

Oct 6, 2015
WGLT

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is suing the owners of the Uptown Normal Marriott. The lawsuit, filed last week, alleges black employees at the hotel were subject to racist comments, including remarks about slavery. Sheri Smith is a spokesman for the John Q. Hammons Hotel Management of Springfield, Missouri. She says the company doesn't comment on pending litigation, but did read a statement, part of which defends the company's track record.

The CEO of Commonwealth Edison says the utility is continuing to push for changes that failed to win legislative approval in the spring. Anne Pramaggiore told an audience at the City Club of Chicago that a 20-11 so-called "smart grid" law has led to savings and a more reliable power network. But she says further improvements -- like microgrids that can keep electricity flowing when there's an outage, and charging stations for electric cars -- depends on help from Springfield.

UAW local 2488 officials had hoped to have a contract agreement with Mitsubishi ready for rank and file members to approve Sunday. However, no deal has been reached and the current contract, already extended on a short-term basis was extended again. The latest extension will expire at 11:59 p.m. tonight.

After scrapping a planned strike authorization vote, leaders of the union covering workers at the Mitsubishi plant in Normal have set an informational meeting on Sunday for members. The meeting will run from two to four p.m. on Sunday at Parkside Junior High in Normal.

The company earlier this year announced plans to end production of the Outlander Sport and close the plant next May if it cannot find a buyer.

www.gotcredit.com via Creative Commons

The Flash Index of the Illinois economy dropped half a point in September to 106.0. That’s the lowest level for the Index in 14 months.

University of Illinois economist Fred Giertz compiles the Flash Index from Illinois tax receipts. He says it’s too soon to know if the September drop is a one-time thing, or something worse.

Nearly two thirds of United Auto Workers at Fiat Chrysler voted to reject a proposed contract agreement with the company. The union says 65 percent of the membership voted against the pact.

The vote was a slap to President Dennis Williams who pitched the deal as a fair way to compensate workers yet keep the company competitive. Williams says in a statement that he doesn't consider the vote a setback because it's part of the contract process.

IL AG Seeks Details From Volkswagen

Oct 1, 2015
Flickr user David Villarreal Fernandez via Creative Commons

Attorney General Lisa Madigan says her office has asked for detailed information from Volkswagen in an investigation conducted by dozens of state attorneys general.

Flickr user Tyrone via Creative Commons

ConAgra Foods will receive an unspecified amount of Illinois tax credits in exchange for 150 new jobs in the state as it moves its headquarters from Omaha, Nebraska, to Chicago. The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity confirmed Thursday that Con Agra will benefit from a corporate-recruitment tool that Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner put on hold in June amid an ongoing budget impasse with Democratic state lawmakers.

Deere & Co. says it has reached a tentative agreement with the United Auto Workers union, which represents 10,000 Deere employees at 12 factories in three states. The Moline-based manufacturer of farm equipment and other motorized gear announced the agreement Thursday. The new contract replaces a six-year contract that expired Wednesday at midnight. The new contract is for six years and will be voted on by union members.

Mitsubishi Workers have scheduled a strike authorization vote tomorrow. This is in spite of plans to end production in the plant in late November and to close the facility next May. The UAW Local 2488 Facebook page posted the vote announcement this morning. The company and union have extended the existing contract twice, once for more than a month and more recently for a couple days. The pact sunsets tomorrow night. A strike authorization does not guarantee a walkout.

More East Peoria Caterpillar Layoffs

Sep 30, 2015

Caterpillar is placing 230 East Peoria workers on indefinite layoffs starting in mid-October.  The announcement brings the total layoff number at the East Peoria facility to 500 people since January.  The news comes a week after Cat announced it’s cutting as many as 10,000 jobs in the coming years as it pushes to reduce costs and address downturns in key markets.  Company spokeswoman Lisa Miller says the latest layoffs are in response to current market conditions to bring production in line with demand.

Flickr user Donnie Ray Jones via Creative Commons

The owners of Illinois' horse race tracks say the industry is struggling to survive, but key players diverge on how to salvage the industry. As Amanda Vinicky reports ... decisions by a state board Tuesday could determine tracks' fate.

Mitsubishi Motors North America

Mitsubishi Motors and the UAW Local at the plant in Normal have extended their collective bargaining agreement another couple days. The contract had been set to expire at Midnight on the 29th, but will now run through October 1st. The two sides are negotiating even as Mitsubishi prepares to end production at the plant in November. It is the second extension. The original contract expired at the end of August. The company is seeking a buyer for the facility in hopes of salvaging about 1,200 jobs there.

Illinois Hosts Dairy Tour

Sep 29, 2015

Illinois officials are hosting visitors from nearly 20 countries which are potential milk buyers. Representatives from the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Mexico, Nepal and Thailand are among those participating in this year's Illinois Dairy Tour. The event began Monday at Rolling Lawns Farms in Greenville. It was there that in 1915 one of the state's first Holstein cows was registered. Warren Goetsch is acting director of the Department of Agriculture. He says Illinois is 22nd in the nation in producing milk, and the Dairy Tour is a key part of the state's marketing plan.

LendingMemo.com / Flickr via Creative Commons

Bloomington-Normal's unemployment rate declined last month compared to a year ago. The Illinois Department of Employment Security says the jobless rate dropped 1.2% to 4.5%.

That remains the lowest metro unemployment rate in the state. Peoria's rate went from 7 to 6%, but the area lost 2,600 jobs. Other areas seeing job losses last month were the Illinois side of the Quad Cities, Springfield, Kankakee, Decatur and East St. Louis.

Department Director Jeff Mays says that a portion of a decline in unemployment rates occurs when people drop out of the labor force.

Caterpillar Eliminates 10,000 Jobs

Sep 24, 2015

Buffeted by poor sales, Peoria based Caterpillar says it'll reduce its workforce by 10,000 by the end of 2018, with nearly half of those jobs being eliminated by the end of this year. Rachel Potts, spokesperson for the heavy equipment manufacturer, says the jobs will come from throughout the company:

"We are contemplating restructuring actions that could impact more than 20 facilities, and we are not saying specific locations today we are looking at those facilities around the world."

IPR's Brian Mackey

Labor unions are going on the road to make their case against Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner’s pro-business agenda. The latest in a series of events took place in Springfield. IPR's Brian Mackey has more.

Unionized workers in several state agencies were set to lose their jobs in a week. But they'll keep them, at least for awhile longer. IPR's Amanda Vinicky reports.

Governor Bruce Rauner's office confirms: layoffs of unionized state employees are on hold. That's due to a lawsuit filed by a trio of unions.

"While it's within the authority of the governor to initiate a layoff, under the contract they can only do so for a legitimate reason." Anders Lindall is the spokesman for AFSCME, which represents some 107 workers affected by the news.

The head of the effort to rescue use of the Mitsubishi Plant says there have been some nibbles on a buyer. Kyle Ham heads both the Economic Development Council for Bloomington Normal and the Mitsubishi Task Force.

"I am personally aware of automakers that are looking at the facility and have begun to do the due diligence process."

Ham says the plant has not been on the market that long and possible buyers have a lot of work to do.

Durbin Backs Oil Pipeline

Sep 21, 2015
Enbridge LLC

A crude oil pipeline through central Illinois south to Patoka in Marion County, sees inevitable, despite concerns about the effect of a spill on creeks in McLean County. And the pipeline has a supporter in the US Senate, Democrat Dick Durbin. During a recent visit to Bloomington-Normal, the senior senator says the pipeline is the lesser of two evils. He says transporting the oil on trains has proven dangerous, and points out the state is already criss-crossed with existing oil and natural gas lines:

Illinois' unemployment rate dropped to 5.6 percent in August but state officials point out that the number of people with jobs also declined. The Illinois Department of Employment Security said in its monthly report on statewide unemployment Thursday that the jobless rate fell from 5.8 percent in July. Nationwide unemployment was 5.1 percent in August. The department said Illinois lost a net 900 jobs in August. The number of unemployed workers fell 3 percent to 362,500. Department director Jeff Mays said the figures indicate many people continue to leave the workforce.

Home Sales Slow Seasonally

Sep 16, 2015

More homes are changing hands compared to a year ago, according to the latest twin city numbers. So far this year, 1,911 homes sold. That's up more than a hundred from a year ago. The increase is nearly 6%.  Amanda Wycoff, president of the Bloomington-Normal Association of Realtors, says inventory on the market is shrinking.

The price of a new home is about $325,000. That's a price decline of about 7% from a year ago. The price of an existing home is up slightly.

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