Illinois Public Media News

Illinois Public Radio - Illinois Public Media News - August 14, 2012

Will County Pushes Peotone Airport While Jackson’s Absent

Story by Michael Puente

On a chilly Saturday morning back in April, U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr.  stood in the middle of a cornfield in eastern Peotone.  He was there to host a symbolic groundbreaking for a new airport he calls Abraham Lincoln National Airport.

“The point is it’s the people’s groundbreaking. We still need to have a ground breaking with the politicians at a later date when the deal is done. But right now, the ministers, they are the point,” Jackson said back in April at the groundbreaking.

A few hundred people made up mostly of ministers and church-goers from Chicago’s South side boarded buses to take the 30-mile trek south to Peotone.

At the time, Jackson touted the project as a way to bring thousands of construction jobs to his district. He proposed to start with a $200 million, 12,000 foot-long runway and a five-gate terminal. Jackson hoped the airport would eventually be three times the size of Chicago’s O’Hare International.

“We have found developers who are willing to put up $700 million of their own dollars," Jackson said. "They want to be on this land by June 1st of this year.”

June 1 came and went. Today, the site is still filled with rows and rows of corn fields.

However, Jackson isn’t the only elected official who sees big things for this patch of farmland.

“Transportation is always the pivotal part of a growing economy in a county that is going to be able to succeed,” said Will County Executive Larry Walsh.

Walsh has all long promoted the benefits of a south suburban airport.

“To create jobs and to have good paying jobs and to bring the quality of life that our people expect and deserve,” Walsh said.

Congressman Jackson wants the Peotone airport to fuel job creation not only for Will County, but Cook County’s south suburbs. He also wants those areas to have a say in operating the airport.

But that’s a non-starter for Will County.

Walsh wants Will County to have control of any airport that’s built.

“­­­If that doesn’t take place and if we can’t commitment to having that take place, then I don’t know whether we need the airport,” Walsh said.

Up until now, the debate over who gets control of a future airport has been hypothetical. But recently, the FAA approved the exact location of an airport runway and terminal in Peotone. Now, Walsh hopes to meet with Governor Pat Quinn and the Illinois Department of Transportation later this month to push for Will County to oversee the airport.

“He understands the issue but we just can’t get him to commit to our way of thinking in regards to our plan,” Walsh said.

Jackson’s continued absence could make it easier for Walsh to get his point across to Quinn.

“There is no question that Jackson’s illness. He is kind of the inspirational leader. He’s a charismatic guy. He’s in congress of course. He can make things happen there,” said DePaul University professor Dr. Joseph Schwieterman, who is an authority on urban transportation and economic development in Chicago.

“I think you might say Will County is gradually you might say gaining the edge," Schwieterman said. "Without Jackson, there’s a lot of energy that’s going to be sucked out of the Abraham Lincoln Airport faction.”

But some disagree.

“Because of this unfortunate illness for the Congressman [Jackson], there are some people who want to be opportunistic about this whole situation,” said Al Penn, who is chairman of the Friends of the Abraham Lincoln National Airport Commission (ALNAC).

Penn said that with or without Jackson, ALNAC’s mission remains the same.

“Congressman Jackson, yes is a singular voice; a very powerful, very dynamic voice in his own right but there are other people who can talk about the viability of an airport,” Penn said.

Penn argues since ALNAC is a state-sanctioned commission set up to operate an airport, Quinn should give them control.

Besides, he said, people from the south suburbs – like the ones bused in for Jackson’s groundbreaking – deserve to have first crack at airport construction jobs. After all, Penn said they did support Quinn’s re-election two years ago.

“When do they get rewarded for their loyalty for Governor Pat Quinn,” Penn said.

Penn believes Jackson will be coming back soon.

Will County’s Walsh scoffs at the notion that it’s trying take advantage of Jackson’s being out of the picture right now.

Walsh said Jackson’s absence isn’t playing a role in Will County’s moves.

“No, that’s doesn’t play a role either,” Walsh said.

Meanwhile, DePaul’s Schwieterman said this airport squabble is turning into a circus which doesn’t help either side’s cause.

“The whole thing is rather silly in a lot of ways," Schwieterman said. "The spoils of an airport really flow to a whole region regardless of who controls it."

Gov. Quinn said if the state can figure out pension reform, then there is no reason why they cannot find common ground on the South Suburban airport.

“We’re trying to do pension reform.  If we can do that I think we can also climb another mountain and get everybody singing out of the same hymn book when it comes to the third airport that we need in Peotone, Illinois,” Quinn said last week in Chicago. “It’s a bustling area of economic activity.”

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has his own airport dreams. He wants billions to expand and modernize O’Hare. Once that’s done, Emanuel said there is no need for an airport in Peotone.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - August 14, 2012

Sports Maker Breaks Ground on Rantoul Center

Story by Sean Powers

A California-based company that makes sports equipment broke ground on Tuesday on an 800,000-square-foot facility located in Rantoul’s Village Industrial Park.

Easton-Bell Sports is consolidating five of its smaller facilities in east central Illinois into one large structure, which should be completed by next year. The company sells equipment and accessories for hockey, baseball, softball, football and cycling.

According to the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, the new Rantoul facility will be financed with a combination of internal, private and public investment. David Vaught is the acting Director for the state’s Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. He said the state put nearly $3.5 million into the company’s expansion.

“You know, they employ a lot of people here already,” Vaught said. “They have plans to add another 50 jobs. So, the growth of jobs is hugely important as we come out of the recession. So, we’ve done all we could to help them achieve that objective.”

About 300 area employees will move to the new facility. Donna L. Flood is the Chief Operations Officer and President of Giro / Easton Cycling. She said the added space will improve operations, and ultimately lead to more jobs.

“We know that we’ll have to potentially add workers as we continue to get bigger,” Flood said. “Right now, it’s probably going to be neutral because what we’re going to bring on board in more efficiency and more operations.”

The company’s presence in Rantoul began in 1983, when Bell Sports acquired a motorcycle accessories plant in the area.

Categories: Business, Economics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - August 14, 2012

Champaign Offers Storefront Improvement Program

Story by Jeff Bossert

Champaign City Council members get their first look Tuesday night at a plan to upgrade old storefronts to their original appearance.

The program is open to owners of commercial buildings located within Tax Increment Financing Districts both downtown, and on East University Avenue. 

The program provides matching grant funds to cover half the expenses for a storefront on the ground floor, and 25-percent of any work for upper floors. The work on any one building can’t exceed $10-thousand.

Jane Addams Book Shop Manager Judy Elmore says ownership is willing to put some money into the store’s appearance, and has some ideas of their own, but would like to know more about the city’s wishes.

"Our upstairs is fine," she said.  "We have a nice brick front, so that's all really nice.  It could probably be cleaned up, but really, it's our front window and the painting around that (that could use an upgrade.)  We'd almost like to see that go back to brick, but we don't know what's underneath the paneling and such."  

The program is offered to any structures build before 1940.

Austin's Sportswear owner Autumn Bates is interested, but says funds are limited.

"I personally have worked downtown 40 years, so I'm familiar with a lot of programs that have come through," she said.  "Some have been successful, and some have been very self-serving for certain parts of the community.  Having the original facades is a great idea, but I do also know that, from the construction side of it, it is terribly expensive, and I'm not interested in re-building this building."

Champaign City Council member Michael LaDue says a 1950's or 60's veneer on a storefront doesn't serve as a good backdrop for the public art now on display downtown.

"Look at Galena (Illinois.)" he said. "People go to Galena because of the charming 19th century storefronts.  It's largely original, it's never been adulterated.  That we would make these funds available should make it fairly painless for anybody really interested."

The city council meets for a study session Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the council chambers.

Categories: Business, Economics, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - August 14, 2012

DOT Grants to Help Willard Airport Attract DC Service

Story by Jeff Bossert

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin’s office has announced federal funding for the University of Illinois’ Willard Airport south of Champaign, to be used to attract air service to Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C.

In a news release issued Tuesday, Durbin (D-Ill.) announced that Willard Airport would receive $500,000 from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Small Community Air Service Development Program. The money would fund revenue guarantee and marketing support for the new air service.

Willard Airport currently offers passenger service to Chicago and Dallas. According to the travel website Expedia, a trip from Willard Airport to Washington DC requires one or more stops to change flights.

U of I Director of Real Estate Services Bruce Walden says the funds come as a result of a research project with Sixel Consulting, analyzing where people are traveling.

"We felt that we had the best possibility of sustaining a flight if we could travel to the D.C. area," he said. "Hopefully we've done enough homework that we can also convince not only the federal government, but also the airline industry, of the validity of the route, and the likelihood that it could be sustained."

Walden said the U of I has been working with business groups in an effort to secure the required matching funds.  

Sen. Durbin’s announcement of funding for Willard Airport also included DOT funding for airports in Bloomington-Normal and Springfield.

Central Illinois Regional Airport in Bloomington-Normal will receive $500,000 to launch new air service to Washington, D.C. or New York.

Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport in Springfield will receive $250,000 in DOT funding for ground handling and marketing services to support new low-cost air service to Florida, Myrtle Beach, Las Vegas and/or Phoenix.

In the release, Sen. Durbin said that the grants “will support new air service to three important airports in Central Illinois and hopefully lead to more students, families and businesses taking advantage of these new routes”.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - August 10, 2012

Danville School Board Files Complaint Against Union

Story by Jim Meadows

It has been more than a month since the old contract between the Danville school district and its employees union expired --- and more than two months since negotiators for the two sides sat down at the bargaining table. Now, the school board has filed an Unfair Labor Practice complaint with the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board --- accusing it of refusing to come to the bargaining table.

Categories: Business, Education


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 06, 2012

Indiana’s Smoking Ban Goes Into Effect

Restaurant owners had several months to prepare for the new restriction. The smoking ban become law in March, but it didn't go until affect until the start of this month.

Businesses covered by the policy must remove all ashtrays and post signs stating that smoking is prohibited within 8 feet of an entrance.

Liz Hammer works as a waitress at Benjamin's Restaurant in Covington, and she said business has not been hurt by the ban.

"We've only had two people that have even asked us if we still have smoking," Hammer said. "You know, like most people already know it, and the ones that have we just told them that it's gone statewide and we've had absolutely no problems."

Susan Smith runs the Duck's Diner in West Lebanon. She said she began preparing for the transition about three months ago by creating smoking and non-smoking dining areas.

"I lost, I think, two customers when I separated the two because there were two customers who didn't want to go to back, but in turn, I gained customers because I have a non-smoking dining room," Smith said.

Now, Smith said she hasn't seen a drop in business since the smoking ban started up.

Unlike Illinois where you can't smoke in a public place, in Indiana smoking is still allowed at bars, casinos, horse-racing facilities, retail tobacco shops and private clubs.

Backers of the measure say they want to see the law become more restrictive, while critics argue that it should be up to business owners to allow smoking.

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WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 02, 2012

Champaign County Restaurants Fail Inspections

Champaign County Restaurants Fail Inspections

(Reported by Pam G. Dempsey of CU-CitizenAccess)

Public health officials continue to give failing scores to restaurants in Champaign County each month, but after more than three years of study they still have not decided how to make those inspections routinely public.

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WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 30, 2012

Clinic, Small Business Group, Respond to ACA Ruling

Clinic, Small Business Group, Respond to ACA Ruling

A spokesman for a Champaign clinic helping those with little to no insurance sees Thursday's ruling on the Affordable Care Act as a positive, helping 30-to-50 million people across the country.

But Ben Mueller says Avicenna Community Health Center will still likely see dozens of patients who are undocumented immigrants.

Mueller serves as director of outreach and partnerships for the facility managed by the Central Illinois Mosque. He expects free clinics and hospital emergency rooms to stay in demand until more federal efforts to help immigrants are in place.

Mueller notes President Barack Obama is developing ways to address that, citing the recent order that young people from overseas without criminal records would be exempt from deportation.

"We're in a political year, and the election could bring a whole set of policies," he said. "It's conceivable in the future that legislation such as the Dream Act would provide a path to citizenship. And there's other implications for immigration reform that may provide some relief for persons who do not have health insurance that are currently covered under the Affordable Care Act."

Mueller says there's a lot hinging on policies tied to the Affordable Care Act. He says Medicaid rolls in Champaign County alone have grown from nearly 24-thousand in 2006, to 33-thousand last year.

Governor Pat Quinn says he expects to expand the Medicaid rolls with the high court's ruling, relying on federal assistance.

The Supreme Court's decision also brings to question how it will impact small businesses.

Steven Banke with the Chicago-based Small Business Advocacy Council favors health care co-ops over the exchanges that most states, Including Illinois, have yet to organize.

Benke, who chairs that group's health care committee, says that idea would bring much-needed competition to the market.

He says the difference between the two is a little complicated. Banke compares a health care exchange to the foundation of a building, while a co-op and its insurance companies, are the tenants.

"It's a type of risk-bearing entity or insurance company if you will," he said. "And it will operate on the exchange alongside of all the carriers. So we will be one of those carriers, if you will, that will show up on the exchange, and people will see us right next to Blue Cross, Aetna, United Health Care, and so forth."

Banke says one of the biggest challenges for him to provide coverage to a small office is that no one program size fits all.

He's hoping the exchange or co-op will allow them to get whatever type of health care they need.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 27, 2012

Supporters of Flex-n-Gate Unionization Rally at U of I Campus

Supporters of Flex-n-Gate Unionization Rally at U of I Campus

A rally protesting labor conditions at Urbana-based Flex-n-Gate --- and supporting a union's effort to organize workers there --- drew about 30 people on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on Thursday.

Flex-n-Gate owner and CEO Shahid Khan is a U of I alumnus and benefactor, whose donations paid for a new addition to Huff Hall. Rally organizers gathered outside the Khan Annex to accuse the industrialist of allowing unsafe working conditions at his non-union plants --- including the Flex-n-Gate Guardian West plant in Urbana.

Stephanie Seawell of the Graduate Employees Organization told rally participants holding homemade signs that the U of I plans to give Khan its Alumni Achievement Award at next month's commencement ceremonies.

"This university, the University of Illinois, is going to give an award, a prestigious alumni award, to a man who poisons his employees, doesn't give them the right protective gear, and when they say, 'hey that isn't fair' tries to get them kicked out of the housing that they live in," Seawell said.

Members of union locals and student groups at the rally accuse Flex-n-Gate of forcing workers to handle hexavalent chromium --- widely regarded as a carcinogen --- without property safety equipment. Flex-n-Gate has stated in the past that all its facilities, including Guardian West, meet or surpass federal environmental and safety standards.

The United Auto Workers union is trying to organize at non-union Flex-n-Gate plants, including the one in Urbana. Thursday's rally at the U of I was tied to a UAW rally in New York City.

Categories: Business, Education, Politics

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