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Business and Economy

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.

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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.

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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.

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