Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 20, 2011

Governor Unveils Illinois Innovation Network

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn says Illinois could be a leader in creating start-up companies.

On Friday, Quinn announced the "Illinois Innovation Network" in an invite-only event for leaders of high-tech firms.

The network is designed to help entrepreneurs get their businesses off the ground. The idea is to connect them to free or discounted advice in areas like legal matters, real estate and business development.

"The best way to fight poverty, the best way to fight crime, the best way to keep families together is a J.O.B. - a job," Quinn said. "We want to work together as a team as a family to make things happen in Illinois."

Brad Keywell, founder of Chicago-based Groupon, is chairing the network. Keywell said that in the past 25 years, the single largest creator of new jobs in the Midwest has been businesses 5 years old or less.

The website for the Illinois Innovation Network is expected to be launched Friday afternoon.

During the same event, Quinn also announced that Illinois will be the first state to partner with Startup America - a national effort to promote innovation and entrepreneurship.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - May 18, 2011

Construction Begins on Carle Heart and Vascular Institute

Carle Foundation Hospital has begun construction on a building that will focus primarily on heart and vascular care.

The nine-story Carle Heart and Vascular Institute, located on the hospital's campus, will include eight catheterization labs and upgrades to technology. The facility will also house intensive care beds that are currently located in buildings constructed in the 1960s and 1970s.

"We have a real need here to improve our facilities," Carle CEO James Leonard said. "We have fantastic technical capabilities. We have great people, but we're really out of space. The demand continues to increase for all cardiovascular care, both around heart attacks as well as strokes."

During a dedication ceremony Wednesday, the Institute's medical director, Matt Gibb, emphasized the center's role in treating health conditions that can worsen over time, such as a stroke, diabetes, or a heart attack.

"The tower will be a true environment for healing," Gibb said. "It will be a place where we can help patients prevent and beat heart disease, and also return to normal life following an event like a heart attack."

Hospital officials estimate the center will have a $100 million impact on the local economy, and create up to 150 jobs during the two years it takes to construct the building.

The $220 million project, which was approved by the state in 2010, will be financed with cash and the sale of bonds.

It is scheduled to be completed in 2013.

(Design courtesy of Carle Foundation Hospital)

Categories: Business, Health, Technology

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - May 03, 2011

U of I Academic Senate Cites Concerns Over IT Changes

A plan by University of Illinois administrators to place information technology directly under their control isn't sitting well with the Urbana campus Academic Senate.

The faculty-student body opposed the move Monday on a 61-to-14 vote. U of I Chemistry Professor Al Scheeline said consultants suggested the changes to IT just days before administrators approved them in February.

He said no faculty saw the report in that time, and they still don't have a clear idea of what the impact will be. Scheeline said the suggested savings of $18-million a year by the year 2013 are up in the air as well.

"Were the costs accurately figured out? Were the benefits accurately figured out? Was there sufficient breadth in looking at those costs and benefits? I have to clue to the answer of any of those questions," Wheeler said. "And I don't know we would have come up with any different answer if we had those answers, but the faculty just feels like it's been cut off from asking the right questions before precipitious actions were taken."

The Urbana campus Student Body President says plans to centralize Information Technology could mean a loss of autonomy for many who are used to making decisions at their level. David Olsen said the changes could take power away from faculty and researchers.

"How does academic and research educational IT fit into the broader IT picture, and how will that be impacted?" he said. "Will faculty and students who use these IT resources every day, especially in fields like computer science and electrical and computer engineering, how will those fields be affected?"

As with nearly all the votes taken by the Academic Senate, the vote is merely advisory. The Urbana campus' new Executive Chief Information Officer, Michael Hites, said the changes should allow the university to better prioritize certain projects, but he says some are misinterpreting the change in plans. He said the changes won't impact collegiate support groups or research departments like the National Center for Supercomputing Applications.

The Senate's Executive Committee and IT committee will continue to discuss the plans over the summer. Urbana campus Interim Vice Chancellor and Provost Richard Wheeler said the proof will come in the way the changes work out. But he said serious discussions on IT governance on campus are just getting under way.

"There are a lot of pretty good people who are applying themselves to coming up with solutions that will work." said Wheeler.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 26, 2011

Facebook Challenges Chicago-based Groupon

Chicago-based Groupon is getting some stiffer competition.

Facebook has launched a new program that's a direct challenge to Groupon.

You can add Facebook to the increasing list of web sites with products similar to Groupon. Google is also offering its own brand of daily deals sent straight to your Inbox, along with countless smaller web sites.

So can any these discount deals really put a dent in Groupon, one of the fastest-growing companies in the world?

"At the end of the day, I think it benefits Groupon as well," said Andrew Razeghi, who's with Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management. He said bigger companies can help promote the business as a whole.

"If you get Facebook promoting deal sites, 500 million people, it's only going to help Groupon over time," Razeghi said. "So it'll probably grow the category overall and everybody in it is going to be better off over time."

A Groupon spokeswoman would not comment for this story.

(Photo courtesy of Franco Bouly/flickr)

Categories: Business, Technology

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 12, 2011

Chicago’s Adler Planetarium Loses Bid to Land Shuttle

Disappointment today at Chicago's Adler Planetarium, as the museum was snubbed in its bid to host one of the retiring space shuttles.

The Adler piped the NASA announcement live into its 3-D Universe Theater. The assembled crowd offered polite applause as the winning institutions were announced: museums in Los Angeles, New York, Washington, DC and Florida.

Adler president Paul Knappanberger offered congratulations, though said he was a bit perplexed by the New York museum's success. He says it's a missed opportunity for the planetarium.

"A shuttle would have been a game changer, I think," he told reporters. "It's a national treasure, it's an icon of American achievement. I don't think any other artifact approaches that icon status."

The Adler is expected to get one of those other artifacts as a consolation prize -- the shuttle flight simulator used to train NASA astronauts. It's reportedly three stories tall and replicates the shuttle's crew compartment. Knappenberger called it the "next best thing," and said the museum will likely build a new enclosure to hold it.

Knappenberger says the failed shuttle campaign was funded almost completely with donated money and services.

(Photo courtesy of John F. Kennedy Space Center/Wikimedia Commons)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 12, 2011

Adler Planetarium Bids to Call Space Shuttle Home

Chicago's Adler Planetarium is scheduled to find out Tuesday if it will be the future home of a NASA space shuttle.

NASA has four space shuttles it's looking to put on display. Adler Planetarium is one of 21 museums or science centers bidding to be the new home of a space shuttle.

The Smithsonian Institution has already laid claim to the oldest of the shuttles, Discovery. That leaves the fates of Atlantis, Endeavor and Enterprise up in the air. NASA estimates the cost to display one of the shuttles is around $28.8 million.

Adler Planetarium is facing off against other institutions such as the Museum of Flight in Seattle and the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. NASA is scheduled to announce the winning homes of the shuttles on Tuesday at noon from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

(Photo courtesy of John F. Kennedy Space Center/Wikimedia Commons)

Categories: Education, Science, Technology


AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 07, 2011

U.S. to use Facebook, Twitter for Terror Alerts

The U.S. government's new system to replace the five color-coded terror alerts will have two levels of warnings - elevated and imminent - that will be relayed to the public only under certain circumstances for limited periods of time, sometimes using Facebook and Twitter, according to a draft Homeland Security Department plan obtained by The Associated Press.

Some terror warnings could be withheld from the public entirely if announcing a threat would risk exposing an intelligence operation or an ongoing investigation, according to the government's confidential plan.

Like a gallon of milk, the new terror warnings will each come with a stamped expiration date.

The 19-page document, marked "for official use only" and dated April 1, describes the step-by-step process that would occur behind the scenes when the government believes terrorists might be threatening Americans. It describes the sequence of notifying members of Congress, then counterterrorism officials in states and cities and then governors and mayors and, ultimately, the public. It specifies even details about how many minutes U.S. officials can wait before organizing urgent conference calls among themselves to discuss pending threats. It places the Homeland Security secretary, currently Janet Napolitano, in charge of the so-called National Terrorism Advisory System.

The new terror alerts would also be published online using Facebook and Twitter "when appropriate," the plan said, but only after federal, state and local government leaders have already been notified. The new system is expected to be in place by April 27.

The government has always struggled with how much information it can share with the public about specific threats, sometimes over fears it would reveal classified intelligence or law enforcement efforts to disrupt an unfolding plot. But the color warnings that became one of the government's most visible anti-terrorism programs since the September 2001 attacks were criticized as too vague to be useful and became fodder for late-night talk shows.

The new advisory system is designed to be easier to understand and more specific, but it's impossible to know how often the public will receive these warnings. The message will always depend on the threat and the intelligence behind it.

For example, if there is a specific threat that terrorists were looking to hide explosives in backpacks around U.S. airports, the government might issue a public warning that would be announced in airports telling travelers to remain vigilant and report any unattended backpacks or other suspicious activity to authorities.

If the intelligence community believes a terror threat is so serious that an alert should be issued, the warning would offer specific information for specific audiences. The Homeland Security secretary would make the final decision on whether to issue an alert and to whom - sometimes just to law enforcement and other times to the public.

According to the draft plan, an "elevated" alert would warn of a credible threat against the U.S. It would not likely specify timing or targets, but it could reveal terrorist trends that intelligence officials believe should be shared in order to prevent an attack. That alert would expire after no more than 30 days but could be extended.

An "imminent" alert would warn about a credible, specific and impending terrorist threat or an on-going attack against the U.S. That alert would expire after no more than seven days but could be extended.

There hasn't been a change in the color warnings since 2006, despite an uptick in attempted attacks and terror plots against the U.S. That's because the counterterrorism community has found other ways to notify relevant people about a particular threat. In December 2010, intelligence officials learned that a terrorist organization was looking to use insulated beverage containers to hide explosives. That information was relayed to the aviation industry to be watchful. Less formal warnings like that will continue under the new system.

In the past, there was no established system for determining whether to raise or lower the threat level, said James Carafano, a national security expert at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think tank. In part because of this, travelers heard about nonspecific orange threats in airports since August 2006 when the government responded to an al-Qaida plot to detonate liquid explosive bombs hidden in soft drink bottles on aircraft bound for the United States and Canada.

While there was coordination among U.S. counterterrorism officials about the threat, "It was pretty much kind of a gut call," said Carafano, who was on a 2009 advisory committee to review the color alerts and suggest ways to improve them.

According to the draft plan, before an official alert is issued, there is a multi-step process that must be followed, starting with intelligence sharing among multiple federal, state and local agencies, including the FBI, the National Counterterrorism Center and the White House. If the threat is considered serious enough, a Homeland Security official will call for a meeting of a special counterterrorism advisory board. That board would be expected to meet within 30 minutes of being called, and if it's decided an alert is necessary, it would need to be issued within two hours.

"The plan is not yet final, as we will continue to meet and exercise with our partners to finalize a plan that meets everyone's needs," Homeland Security spokeswoman Amy Kudwa said.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 25, 2011

Durbin, Kirk Question Nuclear Experts

U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk says the size of the evacuation zones around the six nuclear power plants in Illinois should be reviewed.

Kirk and fellow U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin held a forum Friday with a panel of four nuclear experts that resembled a congressional hearing to talk about safety in Illinois in the wake of the disaster in Japan.

Four of Illinois' 11 reactors are almost identical to those involved in Japan's nuclear crisis. Exelon Corp. owns the plants and says they're safe.

Officials sought to assure the senators that Illinois plants are safe and have multiple layers of safeguards.

Kirk and Durbin also were interested in making sure the state's stockpile of potassium iodide pills for people in evacuation zones is consistent with new 2010 census numbers.

Meanwhile, officials in Iowa were questioning just how safe are nuke power plants in and near Iowa?

Nuclear power plants in and around Iowa generally are operating safely, but there have been violations in the past as more safety questions arise because of the nuclear crisis in Japan and as Iowa lawmakers consider legislation making it easier to build another plant in Iowa, according to Nuclear Regulatory Commission records.

Illinois has a nuclear plant in Cordova, located on the Mississippi River across from Davenport. Iowa has one nuclear power plant, the Duane Arnold Energy Center near Cedar Rapids. Nebraska has two plants on the Missouri River - The Fort Calhoun Station north of Omaha and Cooper Station near Brownville.

The Des Moines Register on Friday reported the plants have had no fines in the past five years, but have been cited by federal regulators.

The newspaper, which reviewed Nuclear Regulatory Commission records, reported that Nebraska's Fort Calhoun Station is one of three plants in the United States facing the highest level of regulatory scrutiny. That's because the plant's safety systems were found last year to be in danger of flooding, according to records.

Inspectors found the plant didn't have enough sand to fill bags that operators planned to place on a flood wall to protect buildings and equipment.

"We're going through all our procedures in fairly quick order not only for NRC, but also because of events in Japan," said Fort Calhoun spokesman Jeff Hanson.

There's an adequate stockpile of sand in place now, but the plant will continue to be inspected frequently because the violation was consider a "substantial" safety risk.

The other plants in or near Iowa were cited for less serious problems, records show.

In the past five years, the Iowa plant received notification of four violations that occurred between 2003 and 2009, said Renee Nelson, spokeswoman for NextEra Energy Resources, which owns 70 percent of the plant.

No fines were issued. The violations involved a diesel generator problem, a deficiency in drills and planning, failure to complete a checklist before moving fuel bundles and failing to properly notify health personnel.

"Protecting the health and safety of the public through safe power operations is always our top priority. We take any and all feedback from the NRC very seriously," said Renee Nelson, spokeswoman for NextEra Energy's plant in Iowa.

Nelson said two of the findings occurred and were resolved to the satisfaction of the NRC more than two years ago. Both represented "low safety significance," she said.

The other findings were related to events in 2003 and 2004, and were specifically related to proper procedure use, not plant safety, Nelson said.

The NRC determined that the plant "operated in a manner that preserved public health and safety and met all cornerstone objectives," according to the agency's latest assessment released March 4.

Last week, NRC Chairman Gregory B. Jaczko said U.S. nuclear plants "are designed to withstand significant natural phenomena. ... We believe we have a very sold and strong regulatory structure in place right now."

But the Union of Concerned Scientist, a Cambridge, Mass.-based nonprofit that focuses on environmental and safety issues, said U.S. plants have "the same key vulnerability" that led to the crisis in Japan.

"The basic problem is that the Japanese reactors lost both their normal and back-up power supplies, which are used to cool fuel rods and the reactor core," the organization said in a statement.

Victor Dricks, a NRC spokesman in Dallas, whose regional includes the Nebraska plants, told the Register that redundant safety systems, backup power supplies and several methods for shutting down reactors at U.S. plants make disasters such as the one in Japan extremely unlikely.

Most plants get their electricity from two or three high-power lines. If those should fail, there are two sets of backup diesel generators that come on automatically and are housed in buildings designed to withstand tornadoes, fires, earthquakes, floods and tsunamis, Dricks said.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 24, 2011

Illinois to Online, Out-of-State Shoppers: Pay Up

Illinois tax collectors have a message for residents who skirt sales taxes online and out of state: Start paying up.

The cash-strapped state will step up enforcement this year of the decades-old "use tax," which applies to many items bought online or in another state. Officials have added reminders on this year's paper and online tax forms about the tax.

The state has made a recent push to collect sales taxes from retailers like Amazon.com Inc. and Overstock.com Inc., approving a law this month that led both companies to drop affiliates in the state.

But Susan Hofer, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Revenue, says auditors will target "big ticket" purchases, like boats sold in Florida, over smaller purchases online.

"If you go online and buy a book on Amazon, it's your conscience that you have to live with," Hofer said.

The tax applies to any purchases made with a sales tax rate lower than Illinois' 6.25 percent, to protect in-state retailers that charge the tax.

For shoppers who didn't keep their receipts, the state has published a list of suggested "use tax" amounts based on income: $15 for people who made $20,000 last year, $27 for people making $50,000, and $52 for people making $100,000.

That's not including taxes on major purchases like boats or cars.

Residents can also pay back taxes on purchases as far back as 2004, thanks to state law passed last year.

The revenue department estimates that Internet shopping could have generated $153 million last year if online retailers were taxed at the state rate. Illinois lawmakers have tried to collect from Amazon and others, which say they shouldn't pay taxes in the state because they don't have offices there.

Gov. Pat Quinn signed a bill this month that charges sales taxes on online purchases made through Illinois affiliates of online companies. That led to Amazon announcing it would end its relationships with state affiliates.

Hofer acknowledged the difficulty revenue auditors face with online shopping.

"How would I or one of our enforcers know if you went home every night and spent five hours shopping on Amazon?" she said.

The state won't have statistics on how many residents will pay until the end of tax season, Hofer said. But interviews with accountants suggest most people either haven't made untaxed purchases or aren't reporting them.

"I've had one client out of 300 volunteer to pay it," said Julie Herwitt, a Chicago accountant. She said she believes most of her clients don't know the tax exists.

At the Bird Armour LLC accounting firm in Springfield, fewer than 5 percent of the 350 returns finished so far have made "use tax" payments, managing member Michael K. Armour said.

"I must admit that I am surprised at the number of people that have come forward," he said.

Last year, the state collected an estimated $4 million to $6 million from the tax. The department hopes that will double this year, Hofer said.

"We expect that people will pay what they owe, recognizing this is part of their responsibility as a citizen," she said.

(Photo courtesy of Rob Lee/Flickr)


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