Illinois Public Media News
Illinois' economy is not growing yet, but it's one point closer to doing so, according to the University of Illinois's Flash Index.
The monthly reading of the state economy was at 95.9 in January, up from 94.9 in December. Any number below 100 reflects economic contraction. But U of I Economist Fred Giertz said the Index has shown gradual improvement over the past eight months.
"This is one of the bigger jumps," Giertz said. "Any one month, you have to be careful about it - it could be an anomaly. But it's going in the direction that's expected, of a substantial increase, which is what's happening at the national level."
Giertz referred to national economic figures, which showed a sharp drop in the unemployment rate in January, even though job growth was weak. Illinois's 9.3% unemployment rate for December was slightly better than the national rate of 9.4% --- although Giertz said both were high, considering the improving economy. Now that the national rate has fallen to 9%, Giertz said he wants to see how the new state numbers stand in comparison, when they're released in about a week.
The Flash Index is based on Illinois tax revenues. Giertz said January's improvement was due to growth in state income and sales tax receipts, rather than corporate taxes.
Mitsubishi Motors North America said Friday that it will begin production of a new SUV crossover at its plant in Normal, Illinois next year, promising to keep the facility open less than a month after its 1,100 union employees agreed to wage concessions.
The state of Illinois said it will give the company $29 million in tax incentives as it begins production of the new Outlander Sport.
The new vehicles, which Mitsubishi started making late last year, will replace four existing models now made at the Normal plant that will be phased out, Mitsubishi Motors North America President Shinichi Kurihara said Friday at the plant.
"Mitsubishi Motors remains fully committed to producing vehicles in Normal," he said. "We will build vehicles here not just for the United States, but for many nations around the world."
Mitsubishi has said the new model is part of its worldwide efforts to rejuvenate sales. It plans to produce the vehicle for North America as well as emerging markets such as Brazil and India.
Gov. Pat Quinn, who was with Kurihara at a news conference, said the state agreed to the incentives to help keep the plant - one of the largest employers in the Bloomington-Normal area - open.
"Mitsubishi's decision to produce a new generation of automobile here in Illinois is a strong testament to the strength of our work force and the state's appealing business climate," Quinn said.
The facility's union workers recently agreed to cut their pay by $1.67 an hour, a concession Mitsubishi said it needed to keep the plant open. In all the plant employs 1,300 people, about half of whom commute from surrounding communities and as far away as Peoria and Champaign, the company has said.
The plant now makes the Galant, Eclipse and Spyder and the Endeavor sport utility vehicle. All four will be phased out over the next few years.
A suspicious brown paper bag at the Champaign City Building this morning turned out to be nothing more than food.
A bomb squad unit was called after a city worker reported a suspicious package left outside the building at a little after 7 a.m. Champaign Deputy Police Chief Troy Daniels said emergency crews used a large water cannon to destroy it.
"The way we look at it is this could also have been an explosive," Daniels said. "We've seen across the country where packages have been called in and they were explosive, and what happens is if you just go up to it and start to manhandle it, you can be very badly injured or killed."
Daniels said most suspicious packages reported to police are found not to be dangerous, but he said precautions are always taken keep everybody safe. Traffic was blocked off on a section of Neil Street, between University Avenue and Park Street near the location of the package. City employees were allowed back in the building by 9 a.m.
The parent organization of Provena hospitals in Urbana and Danville is exploring a merger with another Catholic hospital system.
In a joint release, Mokena-based Provena Health and Chicago-based Resurrection Health Care say they have signed a non-binding Letter of Intent to look into combing their organizations.
In the release, Provena Health President and CEO Guy Wiebking said that a merger would "leverage the benefits" of their health care services under the federal health care reform law. Resurrection President and CEO Sandra Bruce said their common heritage as Catholic healthcare organizations could be a foundation for improved care in the communities they serve.
Provena Health and Resurrection Health Care operate six hospitals each, and dozens of other facilities, including clinics, nursing homes and home health agencies. Most are in Illinois. Their joint release states that combined, the two organizations would have a medical staff of nearly 5-thousand physicians and over 22,000 other employees.
The University of Illinois' Interim Chancellor and Provost have proposed that the Institute of Aviation be closed, following suit with recommendations made by a faculty committee.
In a letter distributed around campus this afternoon, Vice President and Interim Chancellor Robert Easter said, "As an institution, we must examine carefully our core missions and determine how to support and enhance those missions so that we may best serve our students, the state and society. We have arrived at the difficult conclusion that closing the Institute best serves those interests."
The letter was also signed by Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Interim Provost Richard Wheeler.
Administrators will ask that the Faculty Senate's Educational Policy Committee hold a public hearing on the proposal. After last September's 'Stewarding Excellence' review, the U of I's Illinois Business Consulting Group was asked to evaluate the marketability of a stand-alone and self-supporting flight certification program. The IBC concluded that there wasn't sufficient demand to support the expansion of such a program. Last year, Easter estimated the university could save up to $750,000 a year by closing the program.
The Interim Director of the Institute of Aviation, Tom Emanuel, said the news did not come as a surprise.
"There have been some restrictions to our enrollment, and the fact that all the faculty were taken from the program (and moved to other departments) by central administration a year or so ago," he said. "That left us in a pretty precarious situation, I mean, how can you have a program without a faculty base?"
The courses are now being taught by academic professionals and faculty from other departments. Aviation currently has about 160 students. Emanuel said he will suggest merging Aviation with another department when the Faculty Senate's committee meeting is held, which requires 30 days' notice. March 8th has been set as a tenative hearing date.. U of I administrators have guaranteed that current students would be allowed to complete the program, so the Institute of Aviation wouldn't be eliminated until the spring of 2014 at the earliest.
The president of the University of Illinois says if it were up to him, faculty and staff would get raises in the years to come.
Many U of I employees have had to deal with flat salaries for the past two years, and most also had to take unpaid furlough days last year. But U of I president Michael Hogan says an administrative review and restructuring program has already lead to five million dollars in savings, and it will pay off in the longer term.
"I feel confident, with the reforms we're putting in place and with other measures we've taken, that we'll begin to see enough of a kitty of money that we can begin certainly avoiding furlough days and begin reinvesting in our faculty, not just in raises but hopefully in new appointments and new hires," Hogan said in an interview and call-in show Wednesday night on Illinois Public Media.
Hogan frequently voiced his displeasure with the backlog in state funding. He says budgeting would be much more accurate without more than $400 million the state of Illinois owes the University, including $60 million in scholarship money through the Monetary Award Program, or MAP, the state- sponsored scholarship program for students in need.
Emergency crews in Illinois spent all day Wednesday helping stranded motorists and clearing snow-covered roads following this week's large blizzard.
The state police and the Illinois Department of Transportation restricted access to certain parts of major interstates, so that crews could do their job. But by the end of the day, just about everything that was restricted was re-opened, according to Illinois Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Patti Thompson. The only area still closed off to non-emergency vehicles is I-55 at Lakeshore Drive.
"If you do have to go out, make sure you have that survival kit in your car," Thompson said. "If you do get stranded out there, it could still be a while before someone could be there to assist you."
While the snow is being cleared, it is going to be dangerously cold on Thursday. People are encouraged to drive with a cell phone, bottled water, food, flashlight, and a blanket.
As part of an administrative restructuring plan at the University of Illinois, U of I President Michael Hogan has named two new vice presidents.
Lawrence Schook, who works in the Department of Animal Sciences on the Urbana campus, will serve as the vice president for Research. Meanwhile, U-I-C's Vice Chancellor of Research, Joe Garcia, has been named as the Vice President of Health Affairs.
"We can be proud that the University of Illinois has within its faculty and administration scholars with as much relevant leadership experience as Larry and Skip to step into these key roles at such a crucial time for the University," Hogan said in a prepared statement.
Both will serve on an interim basis while a search begins to find their permanent replacements. The University of Illinois' Board of Trustees approved the creation of the two vice president positions last November.
Conditions are improving along county roads in Champaign County, but authorities still say traveling is not a good idea.
Emergency Management Agency director Bill Keller says highway crews stopped plowing overnight because of low visibility but resumed before dawn. Since then, he says they've made headway on most primary county highways despite high winds.
"As soon as those die down, the crews can clean things up quicker, and we should be in fairly good shape by tomorrow morning," Keller said. "We'd still like to deter people from being out. Number one, it's not really safe, and number two, it gives our crews a better chance to get stuff cleaned up without all that traffic out there."
Keller says any drifting is happening mainly on east-west roads. He says thanks to light traffic, they've not had to rescue many stranded motorists on county roads.
Illinois State Police say state highway conditions in East Central Illinois were improving late this morning, but they don't stay that way for long due to blowing and drifting.
Sergeant Bill Emery says most of the 17 accidents handled by troopers since early this morning have occurred on Interstate 57 between Mattoon and Rantoul, but he says only one of them resulted in minor injuries. They've also responded to more than 100 vehicles in ditches. But Emery says US Route 150 between Mahomet and Mansfield is impassable, as is Route 128 north of Shelbyville.
He says anyone leaving the house for even a minor errand needs to prepare as if they were taking a road trip. "Make sure you have plenty of gas in your car before you take off, even if it's just to the store," Emery warned.. "If you look up in the Chicago area, there were many people along Lake Shore Drive who were in traffic for hours due to what was happening maybe just a mile ahead of them, like a crash, and (they were) running out of gas."
Emery says troopers are relocating stranded motorists, but they shouldn't expect their vehicles to be towed for two to three days because of the weather and road conditions.
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