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Business and Economy

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.

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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.

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.

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