Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 23, 2010

Unemployment Down in November in Illinois Metro Areas

Once again, unemployment is down from a year ago, in all 12 of Illinois' major metropolitan areas.

The Illinois Department of Employment Security reported that November was the third month in a row that unemployment has declined in all 12 metro areas from a year ago. It's the fourth month of such declines for the Champaign-Urbana and Danville areas, and the fifth consecutive month of declines for the Decatur area.

In Champaign-Urbana, the November unemployment rate was 8.2 percent, down from 8.9 percent. In Danville the rate was 11 percent, down from 11.7 percent, and in Decatur, the rate was also 11 percent, down from 12.1 percent.

November unemployment ranged from 7.1 percent in the Bloomington-Normal area to a high of 13.7 percent percent in Rockford.

Figures for 18 east-central Illinois counties showed jobless numbers improved from a year ago in every county but Douglas. November unemployment for Douglas County was 9.2 percent, up from 9 percent percent a year ago.

While the unemployment rates are better than a year ago, the total numbers of non-farm jobs have gone down in Danville and Decatur, and are unchanged in Champaign-Urbana.

Statewide, only Rockford and the Illinois side of the Quad Cities showed an increase in non-farm jobs from November of last year. IDES spokesman Tom Austin says the unemployment rate and the survey of non-farm jobs are compiled separately and do not always correlate. He says that among the contributing factors are workers who find jobs outside of their county or metro area.

Illinois' statewide unemployment rate was 9.2 percent. That's just below the 9.3 percent national average.

(Additional reporting from the Associated Press)

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 21, 2010

Huston Patterson Employees Continue Workers’ Strike

A marathon strike at Decatur's Huston Patterson plant has dragged on for months, and there does not appear to be an agreement in sight between union officials and the printing company.

Workers began picketing on June 30 outside the company's headquarters to protest contract changes that took affect in August after their old contract expired. The modified contract includes a 15-percent wage cut, mandatory overtime, and reductions in healthcare benefits. Pat Shields is president of the Graphic Communications Conference International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 219M. He said many of the picketing workers have a 15-to-30 year history with the company and have no intention of standing down.

"Our only demand is to sit down and negotiate," Shields said. "We want to talk, and we have no pre-conditions others than let's sit and talk."

Shields contended that the company refuses to negotiate directly with the union, which is why a federal mediator is in place to open up dialogue between the two sides.

William Kaucher is with the District Council 4, the umbrella organization that oversees Decatur's printers union. Kaucher said he does not understand why the company's president and CEO, Thomas Kowa, will not negotiate with union members in Decatur. Kaucher said he successfully worked with Kowa a few years ago on a contract for employees at the Sigma Graphics printing company in Ottawa, Il., and negotiations over that deal lasted a day.

"He claims financial hardship," Kaucher said. "The guy's can understand that right now, but why would you change work rules that have been in place when it doesn't affect the bottom line? What this comes down to is this is more dictating than negotiating."

Kowa declined a request for comment.

Huston Patterson has replaced workers who are on strike, but Kaucher said any new contract would have to guarantee that those employees regain their jobs.

The number of workers on strike has dropped in recent months, but union officials say they will continue picketing for as long as possible. On Tuesday, the United Council Staff Union of Illinois donated $5,000 to the striking workers. Other strike funds through local unions and contributions from individuals have been used during the last several months to support the Huston Patterson employees.

Categories: Business, Economics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 18, 2010

UI Leaders Want Extension Service to Establish Central Campus Location

University of Illinois administrators want its Extension service to develop a campus-level location to better promote its mission and fundraising.

The campus review of Extension has been completed, in a year when some offices have closed and jobs have been cut. But the report does not suggest eliminating any more jobs. In the latest of cost cutting measures entitled 'Stewarding Excellence', Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Richard Wheeler said Extension should consider moving from its current location within the school of ACES to a campus level position.

The letter co-signed by Vice President and Interim Chancellor Robert Easter also suggests that would increase U of I Extension's visibility and opportunities for funding. But Wheeler says a lot has yet to be determined, including making sure that any further re-structuring be done while considering USDA regulations.

"Making sure that we are staying within the permissible ranges of that extensive regulatory system, and the funding mechanism for that matter," Wheeler said. "Most of extension money comes from outside the campus, and will be very crucial. But I don't think any of us can anticipate exactly what organization will emerge at the end."

The 'next steps' for U of I Extension also asks that its Interim Dean Robert Hoeft and Associate Chancellor Bill Adams generate a plan to implement these recommendations, which include combining the functions of Public Engagement and Extension into one office to 'bring coherence to an outreach portfolio that has traditionally been diffuse and poorly aligned.'

They are to develop a preliminary report by early spring. Wheeler says there's no clear-cut model from other states for running the extension service. He said the present model has just worked for Illinois, since the programs involve more than agriculture.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 17, 2010

Wind Turbine Project Gets Smaller As Urbana Residents Learn About Energy Plan

Wind Turbine Project Gets Smaller As Urbana Residents Learn About Energy Plan

A plan to generate renewable energy by constructing three wind turbines on the University of Illinois' South Farms site has been scaled down to one turbine located on the corner of Old Church Road and Philo Road.

The project is estimated to cost $4.5 million, and the university said it can only afford to support one tower with that budget.

"It's unlikely we'll be able to do more than one at this time," said Morgan Johnston, the University of Illinois' sustainability and transportation coordinator.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 14, 2010

Carle Foundation Hospital Prepares for New Addition

The Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board has given Carle Foundation Hospital the green light to build a nine-story patient bed tower that will house the hospital's Heart and Vascular institute.

The $200 million project has been on hold for more than a year because of the sluggish economy, but is now moving forward through the financial backing of bonds and private donations.

Included in the new tower will be work spaces for cardiovascular, neuroscience, and intensive care services to better address emergent, acute, and chronic conditions. The new tower will also include 136 single patient rooms that will replace inadequate rooms from older buildings on the hospital campus that date back to the 1960s and 1970s.

"There is dedicated family space in each of those rooms, and lots and lots of natural light coming in through," said Stephanie Beever, the hospital's vice president of Business Development. "There's lots of glass in this building that our research has shown will actually help patients improve, get better quicker, and hopefully get home quicker."

Revised construction costs for the patient bed tower are $17 million less than what was originally projected a couple of years ago. Officials from Carle estimate that the tower will have a $100 million impact on the local economy.

Up to 250 workers will be hired to work on the constrution of the new tower. ManorCare nursing home in Urbana will be torn down in January to make room for the new patient tower with construction set to begin in March. The project is scheduled to completed in June 2013. It will be located on Coler Street between Park and Church Streets.

Categories: Economics, Health
Tags: economy, health

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 14, 2010

Budget Limitations Damper U of I’s Ability to Catch Copper Thieves

The theft of more than $10,000 worth of copper building materials taken last week from the University of Illinois' Natural History Building has prompted university police to look at efforts to protect its other copper-rich buildings.

Skip Frost, the Patrol Division Commander with the University's police department, said the incident was the largest of its kind on campus in recent memory. Frost said the university is in talks with building contractors to figure what can be done to prevent more thefts from happening.

"What we'd like to do and what we're able to do are two different things," Frost explained. "There are so many things that could be done, including securing (copper) in a better fashion, having better key card access, and improving locks, but you can put all those things in there, that does not mean crime is not going to occur."

Copper prices went up in November, and have continued to rise this month, reaching more than $4.00 per pound. Ameren spokesperson Brianne Lindemann said she expects there will be more thefts from homes and businesses as commodity prices for copper go up.

"You need to secure any building that you have," Lindemann cautioned. "You definitely want to keep some lights on. You just want to make sure that those buildings look like somebody has been in there.

Tags: crime, economy

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 08, 2010

University of Illinois Officials Investigating New Revenue Options

University of Illinois officials on the Urbana campus are moving forward with a series of revenue-generating measures after studying a Stewarding Excellence @ Illinois report released last spring.

The report proposes a host of options to improve the university's financial standing, including raising overall enrollment so that more out-of-state students who pay higher tuition can be admitted. University spokeswoman Robin Kaler noted that the U of I will tread carefully in its efforts to boost revenue by looking at how doing something accepting more students could affect the university's commitment to quality education.

"If you cannot maintain the quality, there's absolutely no reason to do something like that," she said. "Every decision we make about what to implement, what not to implement will have that consideration first."

The Stewarding Excellence report also suggested setting up a system in which every faculty member would be required to submit their teaching, research, and public engagement contributions in an annual report that would be factored into the evaluation of promotion and tenure.

"It just seems unwise to tie any kind of financial metrics based on instruction, or other revenue generating activities into the academic evaluation system," she said.

University of Illinois Interim Vice President and Chancellor Robert Easter said he encourages different departments on campus to find research areas where they can collaborate, and work to develop grant-funded research professorships.

Easter also said the U of I will create a faculty-led commission to explore other income-producing activities like professional development training programs and partnerships with academic institutions in other countries.

Categories: Economics, Education

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 08, 2010

Talks Continue About Plan for New High School in Champaign

The search for a site in Champaign to house a new high school continued Tuesday night in the second public forum with members of the Champaign school board.

The Unit 4 School District is considering seven spots in the city to build the new school to accommodate a growing student population and expand educational resources. The potential sites includes four plots of land near the north end of Prospect Avenue. Two are west of First Street and south of Windsor Avenue, and one is west of I-57 in Northwest Champaign.

The project, which aims to replace Central High School, would be funded with more than three million dollars in facilities sales tax money coupled with a tax referendum of at least $50 million dollars that would have to be approved by voters.

Jamar Brown's 9-year-old son is poised to one day attend Central High. Brown said with an influx of students filling up the school's classrooms, he is worried about the quality of education.

"Yes, the classes should be mixed, but just when you have 30 students, it's very hard for the teacher to effectively teach all of them," Brown said.

Brown said he is considering sending his son to a private high school unless a larger public school is built in the district. School Board President Dave Tomlinson said the district does not intend to eliminate any of the seven prospective sites from its list just yet. He also said that if plans for a new school go forward, Central High will not be torn down.

"There's never even been a discussion about we're going to get rid of that as a Unit 4 building," Tomlinson said. "We're going to build a new high school, and we're going to re-use the Central High School facility as something else for the district."

Questions about the project can be e-mailed to CentralComments@ChampaignSchools.org.

(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 03, 2010

Mobile Food Pantries Making Stops in Champaign County

Free mobile food pantries will be dispatched throughout Champaign County starting this weekend.

The United Way is teaming up with several labor groups to distribute nearly 40,000 pounds of food from the Eastern Illinois Food Bank to low-income families in Rantoul, Mahomet, Champaign and Urbana during the first three Saturdays of the month.

According to U.S. Census Bureau, more than 18 percent of people in Champaign County were living in poverty in 2008, which during that year was about six percent higher than the state's overall poverty level. Eric Westlund, the AFL-CIO Community Services Liason, said the poverty level in Champaign County has not changed substantially, but he said there is still a significant need to feed hungry families.

"You can't really tell by looking at somebody if they're in poverty or not," he said. "It's just not something that's visible, but believe me there's just so many people out there that can use a little help, especially at this time of the year."

Each mobile pantry can feed up to 150 families. Westlund said many children in low-income families are not getting enough protein, which is why the pantry will offer a lot of canned fruits and vegetables.

"We're looking to feed these kids so that they are healthy," he said. "There's a little peanut butter in there, and they'll get some cookies, but there will be fresh produce and other things to offset that too."

The food will be distributed Saturday at the First United Methodist Church, 200 S. Century Blvd., Rantoul at 10 a.m. and at the Mahomet United Methodist Church, 1302 E. South Mahomet Road at 12:30 p.m. On Dec. 11, the pantry will distribute goods at Stratton Elementary School, 902 N. Randolph St., C. Distribution at 10 a.m. On Dec. 18, the final pantry will be set up at Prairie Elementary School, 2102 E. Washington St., U. Distribution at 10 a.m.

Categories: Economics, Health
Tags: economy, health

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 01, 2010

Letters to the Future Part of Last Leg of Champaign 150th Celebration

The head of Champaign's 150th Anniversary Celebration said dozens of people of all ages have already sent in their writings on Champaign's past, present or future for the "Letters to the Future" project.

Project Manager LaEisha Meaderds said they are looking for letters to put in a time capsule, to be ready when the capsule is opened 50 years from now, in 2060.

"We've received several letters from just individuals throughout the community," Meaderds said. "We received a stack of letters from Next Generation School, from just a couple of weeks ago, from 7th and 8th graders. And their wit and their insight into what the future would hold are very interesting."

Meaderds said letter-writers should focus on one of three topics --- their personal family ties to Champaign, a description of life in Champaign today, or their hope or dream for Champaign's future.

Letters will be accepted until January 14th, 2011. One hundred and fifty of them will be chosen for display, and then included in the Anniversary time capsule. The capsule will be buried in March, when the year-long 150th Anniversary Celebration comes to a close.

The March wrap up to the Champaign Sesquicentennial will be more low-key than first envisioned. Meaderds said a budget crunch in city government and the generally weak economy mean the concluding celebrations will be smaller than first intended, and plans for installing a commemorative fountain in downtown Champaign have been put on hold.

But Meaderds said they have managed to adjust the 150th Anniversary Celebration to changing economic realities.

"Our planning started before the real downfall began," she explained. "And I think that we've been really, really smart to try and keep our costs as low as possible, and really just spend wisely --- but still at the same time, celebrate our city, celebrate our community and put on a good show."

The 150th Anniversary Celebration started last March with an exhibit on Champaign history, followed by a downtown music festival in July. Meaderds said a youth art competition is part of the Celebration's conclusion this coming March, in addition to the "Letters to the Future" project and the time capsule.

For more information on the Champaign 150th Anniversary Celebration, visit the project's website (www.champaign150.com) or call 217-403-8710.


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