Illinois Public Media News
The mayor of Villa Grove says the future of the Douglas County community's downtown remains a question mark after fire destroyed a 100-year old building Wednesday night.
Seventeen different departments fought the blaze, many of them staying throughout the night. There were no injuries. The State Fire Marshall is still investigating the cause. Villa Grove Mayor Thelma 'Boots' Blaney said the building was vacant, and most businesses on the north side of downtown, across Main Street, are open. But she said it will take some time for a local bar, beauty shop, and jewelry store to clean up from smoke and water damage.
Blaney said the firewall around the structures did its job, or the entire block would have been lost. She says those helping out overnight Wednesday motivated each other.
"The businesses just stepped up to the plate," she said. "We have pizzas and all kinds of drinks and ice. People were donating. Businesses were donating. You know, they all just stepped up to the plate, and the firefighters helped them keep going too."
Fire departments helping out included those from St. Joseph, Broadlands, Tuscola, Savoy, Philo, and Comargo.
"Right now, our main concern is getting it cleaned up and the safety of everyone, and trying to go from there," Blaney said. "I mean, it's just like everywhere else, you know, Villa Grove has been struggling. Lord knows what's going to hold up for the future."
Villa Grove Police say the buildings that were destroyed formerly housed the local Moose Lodge and a Chinese restaurant, but the structures had been empty for at least 10 years.
IBM has dropped out of the Blue Waters Supercomputer project going on at the University of Illinois' Urbana campus due to apparent cost and technical concerns.
But the university's National Center for Supercomputing Applications said the company's decision is not expected to mean a setback for water-cooled supercomputer. The contract was terminated Saturday.
A joint statement released Monday by the company and NCSA stated that the technology ultimately developed "required significantly increased financial and technical support by IBM beyond its original expectations."
NCSA spokeswoman Trish Barker said efforts to replace IBM are already underway.
"We definitely need to identify a different technology, a different hardware that will be used in this project," Barker said. "At this point exactly what that will be, because obviously we're really early on in that process. But it will be a pretty quick turnaround to identify a different technology that will be used."
Barker said she still believes Blue Waters has the same timeline, and should be operational by summer 2012.
She said NSCA entered a dispute resolution with IBM in April, but could not come to a resolution. She said this does not impact other projects on campus involving the computing giant. IBM will be returning the $30 million it has received to date for the project, and NCSA will return equipment delivered by IBM as part of the contract.
The project is funded by the National Science Foundation. An IBM spokeswoman couldn't be reached for comment.
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
Illinois-based Kraft Foods announced Thursday that it plans to split into two separate companies by the end of next year.
One company would focus on international growth by selling snack products, like Oreo cookies, Trident gum, and Cadbury chocolates. The snacks business is estimated to have revenue of about $32 billion.
The other part of the company would stick to the North American grocery business, which would include Kraft cheese and Maxwell House coffee. Kraft estimates revenue of approximately $16 billion for that part of the company.
"Our strategic actions have put us in a position to create two great companies, each with the leadership, resources and strong market positions to realize their full potential," Chairman and CEO Irene Rosenfeld said in statement.
The move by Kraft comes at a time when other companies, including Wal-Mart and Target, are trying to respond to one-stop shopping needs by adding more grocery store choices. University of Illinois finance professor Heitor Almeida said Kraft's decision is a smart one because it'll allow the company to spend more time focusing on opportunities for growth.
"It should be ok for the company as a whole, including the employees and everything," Almeida said. "I guess one concern is whether the North American grocery business might become a target for an acquisition for another company because it's clearly the less glamorous one."
While investors reacted well to the news, analysts were skepticism about the strategy and as to whether the deal, when fully formed, will provide shareholder value. Some analysts question the split of what they see as overlapping businesses.
"We are surprised,'' said Morningstar analyst Matt Arnold. "It's definitely a change in philosophy; they used to say we will win with scale. It's tough to say if there is pressure from investors."
Aside from the spinoff plans, Kraft announced that its second-quarter earnings climbed 4 percent to $976 million, or 55 cents per share, from $937 million, or 53 cents per share, a year ago. The food maker's stock gained 92 cents, or 2.7 percent, to $35.22 in premarket trading.
Kraft runs a major food processing plant in Champaign. The company says there are no immediate plans to change its operations in the state.
Sales of homes, jewelry and other assets that once belonged to a former Decatur resident convicted of investment fraud have raised more than $7 million. But that's less than a third of the money William Huber was convicted of stealing.
The (Decatur) Herald & Review reports (http://bit.ly/pVqG6C) that court documents indicate most of Huber's former assets have been found and sold.
That includes homes in Florida and California as well as cars and clothes. One of the more recent sales was $39,000 worth of jewelry.
Huber was sentenced to 20 years in prison in December after he pleaded guilty to running a Ponzi scheme that stole $23 million from investors.
Huber is now 62 and in prison in California. He's appealing his sentence claiming it's too long.
U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk are questioning airline fare increases after a ticket tax holiday was created by the partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration.
The two Illinois senators have sent a letter to the head of the Air Transport Association asking why most carriers aren't passing the savings along to customers.
Other senators also are putting pressure on the carriers about the fare increases, and so is U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
The FAA shutdown eliminated the airlines' authority to collect ticket taxes, which funds the FAA and airport construction. But nearly all carriers raised fares equal to the taxes.
Kirk, a Republican, and Durbin, a Democrat, say they worry the recent price increase is "a collective effort to take advantage of federal inaction.
Chicago-based Groupon is facing a fierce new competitor in the group discount market. Amazon.com is launching Amazon Local and promises to save consumers 50 percent or more on daily email deals.
Amazon Local has tip-toed into six markets around the US, and Chicago is its latest hold. With more than 140 million users across the globe, Amazon Local could become the industry's leader.
RJ Hottovy is a senior stock analyst with Morningstar. He said, "I think consumers may be more apt to open up the email or listen to the daily deal from Amazon, so it could have the potential to be a very disruptive force."
But at the same time, Hottovy thinks the scores of copy-cat deal sites could become a bad thing for featured businesses. "I feel like the market may be nearing saturation and it's going to be more and more difficult for rivals to have deals that stand out among consumers at this point," he said.
And in another nerve-wracking move for established internet companies, Amazon.com, Inc. announced Thursday that it reached an agreement with NBC Universal to license and stream movies.
So now online entertainment companies Hulu and Netflix are joining Groupon in the "what exactly does this mean for us?" waiting game.
More than three dozen Illinois mayors signed a letter Friday urging President Obama and members of Congress to take action on the nation's debt ceiling crisis, or risk another recession.
They say if lawmakers don't reach an agreement on a debt-limit solution before the Aug. 2 deadline, basic city services that rely on federal funding may not get supported. At that time, the Treasury Department will be forced to prioritize its spending commitments.
St. Joseph Mayor B.J. Hackler said he is concerned about highway construction projects that could be put on hold in his town if the debt ceiling is not raised.
"So, if people can't get to your town, they're sure as hell ain't going to build anything," Hackler said. "It got to be resolved. They got to unite together in some fashion to solve this problem."
Hackler also expressed concern about funding for water and sewer projects in St. Joseph.
Meanwhile, Danville Mayor Scott Eisenhauer said he is concerned about the impact on Social Security and Medicare payments. He said he is also worried federal funding for Danville's Mass Transit District could be jeopardized.
"Right now we are experiencing 50,000 riders a month," Eisenhauer explained. "If in fact that program were to be reduced or halted in any way, how will those individuals get to places where they need to be?"
Champaign Mayor Don Gerard said not raising the debt ceiling could put a damper on job growth and economic development in his city.
"You know, trying to get our job growth back up and our economic development, I think that's just one of the key factors," Gerard said. "It's hard to move forward with recruiting new business if we're not sure we can keep our roads and our infrastructure in shape."
Others mayors to sign the letter included Rahm Emanuel of Chicago and Laurel Prussing of Urbana.
In a statement, the Treasury Department did not provide details on the bills it would pay should the government default on its debt obligations. President Barack Obama on Friday urged Democrats and Republicans in the Senate to come together on a plan that can pass the House and that he can sign into law.
The U.S. Department of Justice says Caterpillar Inc. has agreed to pay $2.55 million to settle allegations that it violated the U.S. Clean Air Act.
The department said Thursday that it believed the Peoria-based heavy equipment-maker had shipped more than 590,000 engines that lacked proper emissions controls. The engines were for vehicles made for highway travel and for other purposes.
Engines lacking such controls can emit excess nitrogen oxides and other pollutants that can harm human health.
As part of a consent decree signed with the department, Caterpillar also must continue recalling the engines to make repairs.
Caterpillar spokeswoman Bridget Young says the company denies any wrongdoing and will comply with the decree.
The Citizens Utility Board says most smart phone users are paying too much for their service, because of wireless data plans that are too big for their needs.
At a Champaign news conference on Thursday, CUB spokesman Patrick Deignan said an analysis they commissioned of Verizon bills nationwide showed that their average smart phone customer used less than 500 megabytes of data per month --- far less than what was provided by Verizon's lowest data plan. Diegnan said that industry-wide, the available data plans were either too big, or too small.
"Verizon, for example, their standard data plan for a smart phone is two gigabytes," he said. "AT&T and T-Mobile, I believe, offer 200 megabyte plans. But we're not seeing a plan to fit the average user, which is about 450 megabytes a month."
Deignan said that means many wireless customers are buying plans that are too big for their needs, causing them to pay for capacity they don't use. He said CUB is calling on the wireless industry to improve the situation for consumers --- by offering lower-tier data plans of 500 megabytes to 1 gigabyte, as well as family share plans and rollover data to help wireless customers make their money go further.
In the meantime, the consumer group is inviting smart phone users to run their wireless bill through CUB's online Cellphone Saver, to find out how where to cut unused data or unwanted services. Diegnan said that the Cellphone Saver program has analyzed more than 19,000 bills since its launch three years ago -- and found savings in 70% of the cases.
A spokesman for the wireless industry could not be immediately reached for comment.
Illinois is joining a growing number of states making oral chemotherapy treatments more affordable.
For years, cancer drugs were usually injected. But scientific advances have made oral treatment possible, and in many cases, preferred. The problem is they usually come with a higher cost and insurance policies will not always pick up the tab.
Governor Pat Quinn has signed a law that will require health coverage of both types of treatment at a similar cost to the patient. Supporters of the new law say it will improve the quality of care patients receive.
"As an oncologist, I see firsthand the struggles cancer patients go through as they fight this devastating disease," said Dr. Katherine Griem, chair of the American Cancer Society's Illinois chapter. "One thing they shouldn't have to struggle with is how they get the treatment they need."
Griem said the law, which will take effect in January, will give those fighting cancer one less thing to worry about.
Oral chemotherapy drugs are preferred for certain types of cancer. They are also part of the growing trend of so called 'smart drugs" that are designed to attack only cancer cells, which better protects the immune system. Griem said smart drugs target the cancer and have been found to result in fewer side effects. While they come with a higher price tag, they can also reduce therapy time and save on long term medical costs.
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