Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 19, 2011

Borders Stores to Close by Late September

Borders says it plans to end its operations by the end of September.

The Ann Arbor-based company announced plans Monday to sell off its assets after not receiving any bids to stay in business. At its peak in 2003, Borders ran more than 1,200 stores, but by the time the company filed for bankruptcy protection in February, that number was cut in half.

Technology played a big role in the company's demise, according to Dilip Sarwate, a professor in business administration at the University of Illinois.

"It's certainly difficult to compete with the likes of Amazon," Sarwate said. "I'm not sure this could be completely avoided. Fewer and fewer people are visiting bookstores. They are going to their computers and buying books."

But Lisa Bayer, who is the marketing director for the University of Illinois Press, said while technology did play a role in Border's downfall, it could have been avoided. She said Borders simply was not prepared for the onslaught of digital reading devices.

"They didn't position themselves to take advantage of various changes," Bayer said. "Barnes and Noble has the NOOK. Amazon developed the Kindle. Borders did really nothing."

Borders did come out with an e-reader last year, known as a Kobo. Produced by an electronic company in Canada, the Kobo will still be available to people who use the software to purchase and read books.

Up until Monday, the University of Illinois Press was still doing business with Borders. Bayer said the publishing company has been distancing itself from the retail giant over the last five years for various reasons, including "very questionable" decisions by the company's management.

Bayer said the University of Illinois Press' involvement with Borders was so minimal that she does not think the bookstore's failure will have a huge impact on the publishing company.

"It's very likely they hadn't even ordered any of our books in a while," she said, noting that many of the University of Illinois Press' books are scholarly journals. "We're not as much of an interest to them as some other kinds of publishers."

Of the nearly 400 Borders bookstores slated to close, three are in Champaign, Mattoon and Peoria.

Mary Beth Nebel runs an independent retail bookstore in Peoria called "I Know You Like a Book." She said she does not think Border's demise is a sign that other retailers are destined to fail.

"I hate to see any bookstore close," she said, reflecting on Border's closure. "I think independent bookstore like I have is much different than a chain store. It's more of a community-based place. I think more people will enjoy that sort of atmosphere."

With Peoria's Borders expected to close and a Barnes and Noble still running, Nebel said she has no intention of changing the way she runs her five-year-old business.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 19, 2011

Heat Wave Affects Illinois Crop Conditions

(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)

Monday's U.S. Department of Agriculture crop report showing a decline in the condition of Illinois' corn crop has been followed by a rise in corn futures prices Tuesday on the Chicago Board of Trade.

In early trading, December corn rose 20 cents to $7.16 and 1/4 cents a bushel. University of Illinois agricultural economist Darrel Good said that is the market reaction he expected.

"We know there's a large number of factors that influence the value of corn," Good said. "But at this time of year, crop conditions and perspective production is the dominant factor. And I think that's influencing the market behavior this week, as there are some increasing concerns about the size of the crop."

The USDA reported 61 percent of the state's corn crop to be in good or excellent condition, which is down from recent weeks. Some fields have started to turn brown. Good said that shows the impact of hot, dry weather on the nation's number two corn-producing state. And with the heat wave continuing this week, he said Illinois crop conditions could take another hit when the Agriculture Department releases another report next Monday.

Good said while weather forecasters are not making many long-term predictions, some models call for at least limited relief from the hot, dry weather in the coming weeks. That could improve crop conditions.

(AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

Categories: Business
Tags: business

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 19, 2011

Arbitrator: Quinn Must Give Pay Hikes to Workers

An arbitrator says Gov. Pat Quinn cannot cancel pay raises promised to state workers.

Arbitrator Edwin Benn on Tuesday ordered Quinn to start paying the 2 percent increase within 30 days with back pay. That's according to a copy of Benn's opinion provided by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

"These are hard fiscal times for the State - no doubt. However, when the State did not pay the increase," Benn stated. "The State did not keep its promise."

While the ruling comes as a victory for AFSCME, the issue is far from settled. Roughly 30,000 state employees were affected by the administration's decision to cancel the raises.

Gov. Quinn has said he had no choice since the legislature just did not allocate enough money in the budget to pay employees in 14 state agencies.

AFSCME appealed that decision to the arbitrator who last year worked out a labor deal with the governor to issue 2 percent pay increases starting July first of this year.

The arbitrator noted he has power to interpret only the labor deal, and it is up to the courts to decide if the state has the authority under the law and constitution to cancel the raises because the legislature did not to fund them.

A spokesman for the Gov. Quinn said the administration will appeal the arbitrator's ruling.

"Funding these raises would mean that these agencies would not be able to make payroll for the entire year, disrupting core services for the people of Illinois, including children, the elderly and those with special needs," Quinn spokesman Grant Klinzman wrote.

In the fall, AFSCME supported the governor over his opponent, state Sen. Bill Brady (R-Bloomington). The union contributed more than $200,000 to Quinn's campaign.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 19, 2011

Blood Service Agencies Serving C-U, Springfield, Quad Cities Merge

A trend toward consolidation is working its way through the industry that provides blood to hospitals. Urbana-based Community Blood Services of Illinois is merging with a larger firm, Quad Cities-based Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Services.

The Urbana center's chief executive, Pat Kovar, said the jobs of the 71 employees under his watch are safe.

"Realistically we would expect over time you always have some normal attrition, and candidly there may be some employees here who just won't want to continue even though they'll have a job and maybe even doing the same thing, so we'll see," Kovar said, "Right now there are no planned reductions or layoffs as a result of the merger."

Kovar said blood agencies around the countries are considering consolidation as hospital systems merge and the health care industry prepares for big changes in the years ahead. He says the Urbana office will still supply blood for the five hospitals currently in its service area, including Urbana, Danville, Mattoon and Effingham.

Officials hope to complete the regulatory process and make the merger official by November.

Categories: Business, Health

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 19, 2011

Urbana City Council Upholds Mayor’s Veto of CVB Funding

The Urbana City Council has narrowly upheld Mayor Laurel Prussing's veto of funding for the Champaign County Convention and Visitors Bureau. Council members voted 4-to-3 against overriding Prussing's veto of those funds.

Some council members say they wanted to find some funding for the agency, but also wanted more evidence of its performance. Members agreed the the department offers a valuable service, but not at a level of $72,000 a year. The mayor wants to use the money for two police positions instead.

Alderwoman Diane Marlin said she regrets the council was being forced to choose, saying Urbana needed both economic development and public safety.

CVB President and CEO Jayne DeLuce said she is looking forward to engaging in additional dialogue with the city, and finding a funding level that leaders are comfortable with.

"I think for a long time, there has been some opportunities where maybe there hadn't been engagment in the past," DeLuce said. "And I'm all willing to do that. Because we have the documentation of what we do. We have great things that we're trying to move forward with. But we do truly need countywide support to be able to do that, because it's really hard to be able to look at say, 'how do you move forward without one of the major stakeholders in the picture?"

DeLuce said the CVB now needs to do a better job of reporting its value to stakeholders, something she says wasn't done well before she arrived 18 months ago.

Alderman Charlie Smyth said discussions will start with $20,000 dollars of unallocated funds to the CVB, and build from there over the next few weeks. But he said any agreement will include expectations in terms of performance.

"I think there's sentiment on the council to fund CVB at some level that we think is appropriate that we can afford," Smyth said. "And at the same time, there's a legitimate concern that we get our money's worth from them."

Aldermen Dennis Roberts, Robert Lewis, Diane Marlin and Charlie Smyth supported Prussing by voting against the override, while Brandon Bowersox, Eric Jakobsson, and Heather Stevenson voted to override. Smyth said he hopes to find about $50,000 by time talk on CVB funding wraps up, likely sometime in August.

Marlin also said she was happy to see the Champaign County Board is considering a funding level of its own for the CVB at its meeting on Thursday.

The city council has also finalized a 1-percent tax on package liquor, along with hiking Urbana's hotel-motel tax from 5 to 6 percent. It's expected to raise $270,000 and pay for raises for the city's AFSCME and police unions. Only Alderwoman Heather Stevenson voted down the fee hikes, saying she was never contacted by Prussing about them, and did not have time to gauge their impact from local businesses.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 18, 2011

Casino Opens In Des Plaines

After a decade of legal battles, Illinois 10th casino has finally opened.

Gamblers flocked to the Rivers Casino's grand opening in Des Plaines Monday. The license had long been dormant since originally being approved for the city of Rosemont in 1999.

In 1997, a gambling boat failed in East Dubuque, freeing up a 10th casino license. That began the saga of communities wrangling to sweep it up, with cities betting on a casino's ability to increase municipal revenues. For a time, Rosemont was going to be the spot, until fears of mob ties required a bidding redo. The Illinois Gaming Board finally awarded the coveted license to Des Plaines in 2008.

Gov. Pat Quinn says he respects that drawn-out process.

"I think that is a model that we need to keep an eye on," Quinn said. "It was a very competitive process and the gaming board, our Illinois Gaming Board, the regulators oversaw that process and ensured maximum competition."

The opening of the Des Plaines casino comes after lawmakers recently passed a measure that would massively expand gambling in the state for Chicago, Danville, Rockford, a south Chicago suburb, and Lake County.

The measure still has not been sent to Gov. Quinn, who has not indicated what action he will take on the bill when he gets it. Though, Quinn has been less enthusiastic about the plan, calling it "top heavy."

Gaming Board Chairman Aaron Jaffe has been highly critical of letting politicians decide casinos' locations.

It is expected Rivers Casino's success could be hampered by adding more casinos in and around Chicago.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 18, 2011

Borders Seeks Approval to Liquidate

There will be no storybook ending for Borders. The 40-year old book seller could start liquidating its 399 remaining stores as early as Friday.

The chain, which helped pioneer the big-box bookseller concept, is seeking court approval to liquidate its stores after it failed to receive any bids that would keep it in business. The move adds Borders to the list of retailers that failed to adapt to changing consumers' shopping habits and survive the recession, including Circuit City Stores Inc., Mervyn's and Linens `N Things.

Borders is expected to ask a judge to approve a sale to liquidators led by Hilco Merchant Resources and Gordon Brothers Group. Liquidation sales could start as soon as Friday if the U.S. Bankruptcy Court of the Southern District of New York approves the move at a scheduled hearing on Thursday. The company is expected to go out of business by the end of September.

Borders attempt to stay in business unraveled quickly last week, after a $215 million "white knight'' bid by private-equity firm Najafi Cos. dissolved under objections from creditors and lenders. They argued the chain, which has 399 stores and 10,700 employees, would be worth more if it liquidated immediately.

"We were all working hard towards a different outcome, but the headwinds we have been facing for quite some time, including the rapidly changing book industry, eReader revolution, and turbulent economy, have brought us to where we are now,'' said Borders Group President Mike Edwards in a statement.

Simba Information senior trade analyst Michael Norris said a Borders liquidation could have far-reaching effects, putting thousands of people out of work at a time of high unemployment, even possibly cause sales of electronic books to fall.

"Bookstore employees don't just sell books, they sell the activity of reading, and this decision throws thousands of them out of work,'' said Simba Information senior trade analyst Michael Norris. "This industry is going to slowly figure out that a lot of e-book readers still use bookstores all the time to discover what's new before heading home to buy it for their e-reading device.''

Borders entered the electronic book market with Canada's Kobo Inc. last year. Owners of the Kobo e-reader will still be able use Kobo software to buy and read books. A Borders spokesperson declined to comment about what would happened to e-books bought from Borders.com

It has been a long fall for Borders since Tom and Louis Borders opened their first store in 1971, selling used books in Ann Arbor. At the time, the brothers were mostly interested in offering other bookstores a system they developed for managing inventory.

But in 1973, the store moved to a larger location and shifted its focus to selling new books and expanding, helping pioneer the big-box bookstore concept along with Barnes & Noble Inc. At the time, Waldenbooks and B. Dalton mall chains, with small stores and 20,000 to 50,000 titles, were growing rapidly. The new superstores, by contrast, offered between 100,000 and 200,000 titles, as well as enticements to linger like comfortable chairs and attractive lighting.

Kmart Corp. saw the potential and acquired Borders in 1992, forming a book unit with Waldenbooks. It then spun the bookstores off as a separate company in 1995, the same year Amazon started selling books online.

Borders was slow to adapt to the changing industry and lost book, music and video sales to the Internet and other competition. Sales sales began to fall, leading to a revolving door of CEOs. By the time Borders' current CEO, financier Bennett LeBow, came aboard in May 2010 after investing $25 million in the company, bankruptcy was already looking like a strong possibility.

Borders filed for bankruptcy protection in February after being hurt by tough competition from online booksellers and discounters. It hoped to successfully emerge from bankruptcy protection by the fall as a smaller and more profitable company, but pressure from creditors and lenders eventually led the chain to put itself up for sale and finally, seek approval to liquidate.

At its peak, in 2003, Borders operated 1,249 Borders and Waldenbooks, but by the time it filed for bankruptcy protection in February that had fallen to 642 stores and 19,500 employees. Since then, Borders has shuttered more stores and laid off thousands.

Borders says it expects to be able to pay vendors for all expenses incurred during the bankruptcy cases.

(AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, file)

Categories: Business, Economics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 18, 2011

Summer School at UI Focuses on Carbon Capture and Storage

More than 50 graduate students and young scientists from all over the world are at the University of Illinois this week to study efforts in cutting down on greenhouse gases.

They are taking part in a summer school program put on by the IEA Greenhouse Gas R&D Programme, a group created under an Implementing Agreement with the International Energy Agency.

Robert Finley, the director of the Advanced Energy Technology Initiative with the U of I's Prairie Research Institute, said Illinois is home to significant research in carbon sequestration. He said part of the summer program involves visits to Decatur's Archer Daniels Midland Company, where a project is underway to store about a million metric tons of carbon dioxide created by ADM's ethanol production.

"It is really gratifying to see the level of interest and help these students gain understanding that they might potentially utilize in their career as we try to address climate change issues," Finley said.

By the end of the week, Finley said the students will share presentations on topics ranging from the best approaches to capturing carbon dioxide to the cost of storing it. He said he is hopeful the students will advance this technology.

"It's an important technology to perfect because there are a lot of questions about it," Finley said. "People ask is it safe? Is it affective? What is it going to do to the cost of electricity? So, all those questions need to be answered to make sure we have this available as one of the portfolio of options."

The summer school's presence at the U of I marks the first time in its five year history that it has been held in the United States.

Categories: Education, Energy, Science

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 18, 2011

Twenty-One Illinoisans on Obama ‘Bundler’ List

About twenty Illinois residents have made the list of big campaign fundraisers for President Obama's re-election effort.

The Obama campaign late last week released a list of about 250 people they're calling "volunteer fundraisers." The more common name for these big ticket supporters, though, is "bundlers." They each raised more than $50,000 for the campaign by getting their friends to give, too.

The list includes the chairman and CEO of ComEd, Frank Clark, and a co-owner of the Chicago Cubs, Laura Ricketts. Also highlighted: Penny Pritzker, who led Mr. Obama's 2008 fundraising committee, and Michael Sacks, an investment banker who last week was appointed to help lead a business commission by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Emanuel, a recent White House chief of staff, didn't himself donate to his old boss, or make the list of big bundlers. But his brother, Hollywood agent Ari Emanuel, did.

All told, the president raised some $86 million since beginning his fundraising drive in April. That is when he visited Chicago for an evening of back-to-back-to-back events.

(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 16, 2011

Former Illini and NBA Star Williams Signs with Turkish Team

New Jersey Nets point guard and former Fighting Illini standout Deron Williams says on Twitter that he has officially signed with Turkey's Besiktas.

The All-Star guard has posted a picture of Friday's agreement with Besiktas bearing his signature on his Twitter account. Williams says on Twitter: "just made it official, headed to Turkey...signed with Besiktas.''

Williams averaged 20.1 points and 10.3 assists for the Nets and the Utah Jazz last season.

Categories: Education, Sports

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