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BN By The Numbers

Dec 16, 2015
BN Economic Development Council

Every quarter, the Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council presents its "BN By the Numbers" luncheon, spot-lightling a segment of the central Illinois economy. This quarter's event, over the noon hour tomorrow in Normal, centers on the economic development region that is the Interstate 39 corridor extending north from Bloomington-Normal to the Wisconsin border and on east to the Chicago area. The keynote speaker is Roger Hopkins, a consultant and former economic development official in Dekalb and Dupage counties.

State Farm Insurance is raising its rates for auto coverage in Illinois. The 2.6% average hike goes into effect in February. It's the second time in less than 12 months State Farm has raised Illinois rates. April's increase was less than a percent. Even together, the two hikes are less than the increase most other insurers have announced. Allstate rates are going up 5.7%. Geico has increased auto premiums significantly as well.

Job Fair Draws Hundreds

Dec 11, 2015
Jim Browne / WGLT

Hundreds of people take advantage of a job fair at Heartland Community College for former Mitsubishi workers. Several businesses had booths up in the Jon Astroth Center, including NDE/NDT Solutions. Jeff Gaines is with the metal safety company, he says folks who are willing to travel and learn could find a new career with the company.

Day Donaldson / Flickr

Next week, the Federal Reserve bank will meet and could raise the benchmark interest rate for the first time in seven years. That's the topic on Sound Money. WGLT's Willis Kern has more.

Peoria Economic Report Shows Slow Growth

Dec 7, 2015
Bernard Goitein / Bradley University CBER

The new SCOPE, Statistical Composite Peoria Economy, report shows slow growth from a year ago but troubling signs ahead. Bernard Goitein of Bradley University is the author, he says the report does contain what at first seems a contradiction, more people are working compared to a year ago, but there aren't any more jobs.

LendingMemo.com / Flickr via Creative Commons

Changes are forthcoming to Illinois' unemployment insurance program. They’re expected to please both workers ... and employers. The measure on its way to the governor would make it easier for businesses to prove worker misconduct. That could decrease employer’s costs, by exempting them from having to pay benefits. Another part of the package advantages workers. No longer will an older, laid off worker see his unemployment benefit drop because he's on Social Security. The deal took months to negotiate, and was resolved ahead of an end-of-year deadline.

Home Prices Go Up

Nov 27, 2015

Home prices are on the rise in Illinois. IPR's Sean Crawford looks at the latest numbers.

 

A Bloomington Normal Brewery has won several national medals for its products. Destihl's Dosvidanya Bourbon Barrel-Aged Russian Imperial Stout won a bronze medal at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver and two gold medals at the Festival of  Barrel Aged Beers in Chicago. Destihl was competing against 363 beers from 157 different breweries and won Best in Show. The awards coincide with the commercial release of Dosvidanya today. Destihl is the first commercial brewery in the twin cities since Prohibition ended.

The Bloomington Normal unemployment rate edged under 5% last month. The 4.8% jobless rate is down slightly from a year ago. The Department of Employment Security says there were an estimated 4,800 unemployed people in the metro area looking for jobs. The last time the October rate was this low was in 2007 when it was more than a point below the current mark. There were job gains for the month in retail trade, and professional and business services and losses in government, construction, and manufacturing.

Supporters Cheer On Mitsubishi Workers

Nov 24, 2015
Mike Matejka

As the sun sets on production at the Mitsubishi Motor Manufacturing in Normal, supporters of the workers gathered to demonstrate their gratitude in a community recognition event. Jeff Woodard of the McLean County Museum of History was among them.

Tim Evanson / Flickr

The Federal Reserve Board is often in the news and it's because they play a significant role in determining this country's monetary policy. But, just who makes up this important body? And why should you care about who they are and what they do? That's the topic on Sound Money. WGLT's Willis Kern has more.

LendingMemo.com / Flickr via Creative Commons

The Illinois Department of Employment Security says the jobless rate held at 5.4 percent in October but the state added jobs for the first time since spring. The department said Thursday in its monthly statewide unemployment report that the state added a net 14,400 jobs in October.

The total number of jobs in Illinois had declined for four straight months. Department director Jeff Mays said the state's job-creation still lags much of the country but noted the job growth was the strongest since February. The national unemployment rate for October was 5 percent.

MMNA, Inc.

Since the announcement that Mitsubishi Motor Manufacturing in Normal would close, GLT News has been checking in to see how workers and their families are coping. Like most of the people working at the soon to close plant in Normal Jerry Harcharik faces uncertainty.

McLean County is trying again for an enterprise zone renewal. Last year's attempt did not gain approval from the Governor. On Monday, the Normal Town Council will take up the revised request. The existing enterprise zone formed back in 1982 to bring the Mitsubishi plant to Normal expires next June. All other units of government in the proposed zone must also sign off on the application.

The new plan includes local property tax abatements for prospective new businesses that create 50 jobs within the zone and involve more than $5 million in private investment.

Start Up Event Spawns Businesses

Nov 13, 2015
Jim Browne / WGLT

During an entrepreneurial event at the Uptown Normal Marriot, 18 businesses, and people who want to run a businesses pitch ideas to a group of judges.

The owner of the Pantagraph Newspaper in Bloomington is highlighting some financial results ahead of its fiscal year end reports next month. Lee Enterprises reports it cut fourth quarter costs more than revenue fell.

Total revenue was down 4.4% for the quarter ending in September. Cash costs dropped 7.8% or nearly $10 million. Lee says the decline in overall revenue is an improvement from the previous quarter.

For the full year, Lee has paid down nearly $79 million in debt. Its principal debt remains about $726 million.

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.

Illinois Congressman Adam Kinzinger has issued a one word response to the rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline. That word is "crazy." The Obama Administration has formally rejected the pipeline to carry Canadian oil into the U.S. after seven years of delays and deliberations.

Kinzinger's fellow Illinois Republican, Rodney Davis was more voluble in reaction. Davis represents part of Bloomington Normal and says it puts politics over people. Davis says instead of encouraging energy independence and job growth in that industry, the President placates his political base.

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.

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.

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.

Illinois Reviewing Clean Air Rules

Oct 30, 2015

A spokeswoman for Gov. Bruce Rauner says Illinois environmental officials are working to abide by new federal power plant limits that are being challenged by more than two dozen other states. Rauner responded cautiously after the early August unveiling of President Barack Obama's much-anticipated Clean Power Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from domestic power plants.

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.

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.

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.

Future Of Solar Power Bright

Oct 7, 2015
StraightUp Solar/straightupsolar.com

As politicians stake out their most advantageous positions on Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon pollution from power plants, some are staking out the most profitable positions. That includes coal mine owners, oil companies, and those interested in solar power. WGLT's Jim Browne has more with Shannon Fulton of StraightUp Solar in Bloomington, who is also President of the Illinois Solar Energy Association.

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