Illinois Public Media News
(Story updated and corrected at 2:06 PM, 1/17/12)
Kraft Foods Inc. says it will cut 1,600 positions in North America this year as it prepares to split its business into two independent companies --- one for groceries, the other for snack foods.
The suburban Chicago-based food company said Tuesday that it plans to eliminate the positions throughout the U.S. and Canada primarily from sales, corporate and other business units. About one fifth of the job eliminations are currently open positions.
Kraft spokesperson Joyce Hodel said the company has not yet made decisions about its manufacturing facilities, so the job cuts will not affect its facility in Champaign. The Champaign plant produces Kraft grocery products, including Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, Miracle Whip and Kraft salad dressings.
However, Kraft does plan to close its management center in the Chicago suburb of Glenview by the end of 2013. In addition, the company will move its Beverages unit and Planter brand to the Chicago area by December 2012. Both units are currently located in other states.
"Making these tough choices is never easy, and we recognize the impact these changes will have on many of our people and their families," according to a statement by Tony Vernon, the executive vice president and president of Kraft Foods North America and CEO of the future grocery company. "But our plan for a more nimble company, combined with the current economic and competitive pressures, led us to this point. Taking the necessary steps now will enable us to continue investing in our beloved brands to drive growth."
The corporation has approximately 127,000 employees across the world, including 46,500 in North America.
Kraft announced in August that it would split its snack and grocery business into two companies - a global snacks business and North American grocery business. Kraft said these moves are needed to help the businesses run more effectively.
A major Illinois union is accusing Gov. Pat Quinn of excluding the public from the process of deciding whether to close some state institutions.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees is angry that Quinn aides have been meeting quietly with a handful of legislators to discuss closing facilities for people with mental disabilities and illnesses.
The Illinois League of Advocates for the Developmentally Disabled also complained about the meetings Monday.
Quinn tried to close several facilities last year but was rebuffed by lawmakers. Now he is working on a new proposal, which his office says will be announced soon. The Democratic governor says closing outdated facilities will save money and improve care.
Another group, Equip for Equality, supports the way Quinn is planning the closures.
(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Radio)
Agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland Co. says it will cut 1,000 jobs from its company-wide work force of 30,000. The move will cut about 15 percent of the Decatur-based company's corporate staff.
The news is a blow to the central Illinois community. Decatur City manager Ryan McCrady said he learned about the layoffs the same way others did, through news reports. The town received no advance warning.
Decatur is home to ADM's world headquarters. The agribusiness giant employs 4,000 people in the city. McCrady said it is too soon to know how many jobs will be lost locally, but he said he expects the community will be able to handle the cuts.
"They've been through these situations before," McCrady said. "This announcement isn't great news for us. But when you package it with all the other things that have gone on, it's two steps forward, one step back. And we'll get through this."
At this point, the impact on Decatur is uncertain. ADM spokesman David Weintraub said the company will not announce any layoffs until February, after a number of employees have been offered a voluntary retirement incentive.
"Employees who are 57 or older and have seven or more years of service and are salaried can elect to retire early, and we're giving them an inventive to do so," Weintraub said. "That will reduce the number of people who are affected."
Weintraub says the impact on any specific community won't be known immediately. He said the cuts were brought on by increased competition in the global agri-processing business, and the company is now focused on ways to improve productivity, as well as reduced energy usage.
McCrady said he has been told by the company the cuts will not affect production in the city.
"That's good news because of course ADM is a big player in Decatur, but there are many other smaller businesses that supply and support them," McCrady said. "So when you have a cut in production, it's a compounded negative effect on your community."
McCrady said all the city leaders can do is wait to see which jobs ADM targets. He said the city has proven resilient in the past. He also said the Decatur economy is cyclical. McCrady points to cuts Caterpillar made in 2009 during the downturn. Since then, that company has rehired many workers and re-invested in Decatur.
ADM does everything from processing crops to make food ingredients, to shipping grain overseas. The past year has been a volatile one for agribusiness companies, with crop prices swinging wildly on global markets.
(AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
A California-based pharmaceutical company says it expects to hire 234 people by 2016 at a new operation on the site of a former Pfizer Inc. drug plant near Terre Haute.
The Terre Haute Tribune-Star and WTHI-TV report officials with California-based NantWorks LLC told the Vigo County Department of Redevelopment on Tuesday that they plan to invest $120 million at the site in a southern Vigo County industrial park.
Pfizer employed more than 800 workers there before shuttering its operations in 2008.
NantWorks officials say they expect the new plant to begin production of various drugs by 2015. It says the scientists, chemists and engineers employed by the plant will earn an average annual salary of about $51,000.
The cost of farmland in central Illinois increased by almost a third in 2011, land sales professionals say, continuing a trend of the past few years.
The average price of land in the 15 counties around Decatur rose from $8,000 an acre in 2010 to $10,500 last year, Dale Aupperle, president of the Heartland Ag Group in Decatur, told The Journal Star newspaper in Peoria (http://bit.ly/yyGV1Y ).
Continued high prices for corn and soybeans and investor demand are driving the trend, Aupperle said, one that he said doesn't represent a bubble ready to burst.
"There are people who didn't buy (farmland) in July 2010 when the average price was $7,000 an acre. They were shocked that it had gone up from $6,000 an acre the year before," he said. "Now (prime land) is selling for over $11,000. This is driven by investor demand, it's not a bubble."
University of Illinois farm economist Gary Schnitkey agrees that price increases aren't like those seen prior to farming's economic collapse in the 1980s.
"In the 1980s, when prices declined, you had high interest rates and high inflation," he said. "Interest rates are expected to remain low, and low levels tend to support land prices."
But Schnitkey thinks increases in both crop and farmland price will ease this year.
Ameren is disputing news reports that its latest filing for electric delivery rates in Illinois amounts to a rate hike.
But spokesman Leigh Morris said some customers would see an increase in delivery rates, but not others. He says this is the first rate application Ameren is seeking in connection with an upgrade of the electric grid --- and he said it's based on a new formula that accepts a lower return on equity and accounts for lower interest rates.
"This is based on actual spending," Morris said. "There's not forecasting involved with this. And this rate case will result in an overall reduction of approximately $19 million. That's an annual number."
However, Morris said customers in Ameren Illinois' Rate Zone Two - the former CILCO territory - will see an increase in rates. He said the other two zones, which serve former Illinois Power and CIPS customers, would see modest decreases in their rates.
But a spokesman with the Citizens Utility Board said there's more to the latest Ameren rate case than an initial change in rates. Jim Chilsen said the Ameren filing also sets the stage for Ameren's rate structure throughout the rollout of the improved electrical grid.
"Consumer advocates need to get involved, and need to make sure that Ameren is sticking to the law and that Ameren is being fair to consumers," Chilsen said. "And this is one of the biggest cases that we'll ever deal with, because it's determining what this formula will be that will determine rates for up to the next decade."
Morris said the rate filing with the Illinois Commerce Commission replaces a rate hike request filed last February. The new filing covers the first $17 million of what will eventually be $625 million in electric grid improvements over the next decade. If approved, the new rates should take effect in October.
Morris said consumers will be able to learn how the rate request would affect their personal electric bills starting Feb. 1. He said Ameren customers will be able to use the online rate estimator at IllinoisRateFaces.com, or call Ameren Customer Service at 1-800-755-5000.
U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) says banks need to be more transparent as college students start up bank accounts.
In a visit to the University of Illinois' Urbana campus Tuesday, Illinois' Senior Senator called on financial institutions to voluntarily adopt a disclosure form for fees. The announcement comes after Bank of America and other institutions imposed and quickly canceled monthly fees on debit card holders.
Durbin says institutions should all adopt a 1-page disclosure form created by the Pew Charitable Trusts, rather than the more than 100-page statements currently released by most banks. He says the form should be as simple as reading health information labels at grocery stores.
"And you know where to look for calories, for sodium, for carbohydrates, for other things that might be important to you," Durbin said. "This kind of disclosure form brings that kind of information when it comes to financial institutions."
Greg Anderson with University of Illinois Employees Credit Union says the disclosure forms are worth a look.
"What we've seen in the past with truth in lending that he spoke of, truth in savings, the Credit Card act of 2009, all spoke to more disclosure, making it easier for consumers to compare, and credit unions fall right into that," Anderson said. "I think it's kind of a natural for us to take part and follow with that."
Durbin has written a letter to Illinois' State Board of Higher Education as well as the Federation of Independent Illinois Colleges and Universities, asking their help in contacting lending institutions.
None of the 79 Sears and Kmart stores that Sears Holdings Corp. plans to close are in Illinois.
The Hoffman Estates-based retailer announced the specific stores it would close on Thursday. It said earlier this week that it would close up to 120 stores nationally after poor holiday sales.
The Indiana stores slated to close include Kmarts in Indianapolis' Pendleton Plaza and St. John, as well as a Sears store in Anderson. A Sears location in St. Louis, Missouri's Crestwood Plaza is also closing. The dates of the closures haven't been announced, and the company says it can't yet verify the number of impacted employees.
The retailer had reached an agreement with Illinois officials to keep its headquarters in Illinois. Gov. Pat Quinn had said the store closings don't affect that agreement.
Quinn signed legislation guaranteeing the company $15 million in tax breaks during the next decade. The company had threatened to move its headquarters from the state before securing the tax incentives.
The tax breaks depend on the company's ability to maintain 4,250 jobs at the Sears headquarters in Hoffman Estates.
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
The showcase summer festival Taste of Chicago will be shortened and moved to later in July next year.
City of Chicago officials said Wednesday that the lakefront festival will run five days from July 11 to 15 in Grant Park. The festival traditionally ran over the Fourth of July holiday and last year was 10 days long.
Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events spokesperson Cyndi Gatziolis says the shortened schedule will make the Taste more accessible to smaller restaurants and help the city save money.
"There's a cost to being out there every single day, and that certainly is one of the reasons why with this financial model we're looking to (will) save some of that money," said Gatziolis.
This is the first year Taste of Chicago will be run by the city's Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. Last year, the city tried to privatize the event, but those plans fell through when the only bidder threatened to charge admission. The Taste of Chicago was then turned over to the Chicago Park District. Days after last year's festival ended, the head of the Chicago Park District said the city lost money on the event.
There are also changes to the Chicago Gospel Music Festival, which will be staged at several locations, including the South Side's Bronzeville neighborhood. The gospel festival will run from June 21 to 24.
Other large events on the city's calendar in 2012 include the Chicago Blues Festival in June, the Chicago Air and Water Show in August, the Chicago Jazz Festival in late August and early September, and the World Music Festival in mid-September.
A new investment group has completed its purchase of the company that owns the Chicago Sun-Times.
A spokesman for Wrapports LLC says its transaction to buy Sun-Times Media Holdings LLC closed Monday. Sun-Times Media also owns a chain of newspapers in suburban Chicago and Indiana.
Sun-Times Media filed for bankruptcy in March 2009 and was led out of bankruptcy later that year by an investment group headed by Mesirow Financial president James Tyree. Tyree died earlier this year.
While the newspaper has slashed costs and cut dozens of staff positions, the Sun-Times won a Pulitzer Prize earlier this year for local reporting.
Its new ownership group is led by technology investor Michael Ferro Jr. and Timothy Knight, the former publisher of Long Island, N.Y., newspaper Newsday.
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