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    Granite City schools this month become the first in the region to enact a program aimed at keeping high school graduates in their hometown, potentially as future business leaders.
    Called CEO, for Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities, the program allows students to take a real world view of life by looking through the lens of local business leaders, who serve as mentors.
    The program originated through the Midland Institute for Entrepreneurship in Effingham, which has generated praise for its students’ success stories.
    Midland breeds creativity by getting students outside the four walls of a school, to change the traditional learning process. Instead of taking tests, the students are given problems and asked to solve them. They must develop business plans — and start real businesses — as part of the coursework.
    “When you see these kids, hear them and learn what they’ve accomplished, you’d think they were in their mid-20s,” Marc Voegele says. “This program fast forwards their creativity, their self-discipline, their maturity and their outlook.”
    Voegele is serving as president of the board overseeing the program in Granite City, where he, too, graduated high school. His company, Express Employment, is one of the sponsoring businesses.
    “I’m in a position to help with this, and I’m glad to do it. The only way this will work is with the support of the business community,” he said.
    The program comes to Granite City, thanks in part to Jonathan Ferry, the city’s director of economic development, who learned about the Midland Institute early last year.
    For local schools, CEO follows a previous program in which Ferry and school leaders worked for about two years with University of Illinois Extension and Madison County Employment and Training on an extracurricular program that would teach leadership skills in the fall and entrepreneurial skills in the spring.
    The earlier program targeted sophomores and juniors primarily, but it wasn’t working as well as hoped.
    “We had 20 to 25 students who would begin the program in the fall and by the spring had about four students who would finish it. The weakness with that program was it was extracurricular and it was competing against every extracurricular program out there,” Ferry said.
    He and others were looking for alternatives in March 2013, when they went to visit a business conference being hosted by the CEO class in Effingham.
    “We went to check it out, and it seemed to line up exactly with what we were looking for,” Ferry said.
    Ferry sold it to the school district and to local businesses, in part by bringing in Craig Lindvahl, the executive director of the Institute, to speak on the subject.
    The primary sponsoring businesses were asked to pledge $1,000 a year for three years.
    “We got about $90,000 in pledges in a four-month time span,” Ferry said. “As familiar as they are with the business world, the trends and the changes and the needs of the workforce, it really didn’t take much selling — they just got it.”
    Voegele agreed with that assessment.
    “Not only is (CEO) a good idea, but it’s got a proven track record. There is definitely a need for entrepreneurs. The existing companies we have here today wouldn’t have been here without entrepreneurship,” Voegele said.

P01 collinsville city hallAn artist’s rendition of what the front of Collinsville City Hall on South Center Street will look like when a streetscape program is completed this year. The former post office site across from City Hall was razed last month for parking to accommodate the surroundings.    COLLINSVILLE — On her Destination Collinsville game board, Erika Kennett has three strategic pieces that she moves about, in order to lure investment.
    The city’s director of economic development calls them “my three chess pieces.”
    One of the enticements is the availability of retail development space in Collinsville Crossing, the complex that includes the Walmart Supercenter along Interstate 55/70. She includes the 108-acre Maag Farm property that is for sale just to the south, as part of her strategy.
    Her two other chessmen are the Eastport Plaza area for corporate/office space and the Horseshoe Lake Road/I-255/Fournie Lane/McDonough Lake Road area for light industrial use.
    All three development possibilities position the city in coming years, she said.
    “Here in Collinsville, we are poised for growth,” she said.
    The city recently extended 10-inch water and sewer lines to the area along Horseshoe Lake Road, west of Illinois Route 157, opening up the possible development of 150 acres.
    “We’re not Gateway Commerce Center (in Edwardsville and Pontoon Beach),” she said. “We’re not going to be able to get the 2-million-square-foot buildings. But we are primed and ready for the 100,000-(square-foot) multi-tenant buildings.”
    She added: “At the cost of $700,000 we were able to put this infrastructure in place, so that we are ready, now that the economy has turned around, for those types of businesses to come in.”
    The general area could also support residential development. A new, 10-inch sewer main extension serves 138 new family homes, 200 existing homes and opens up 300 acres of developable ground in the Sugar Loaf area.
    The nearby Eastport area, which is on the south side of Horseshoe Lake Road, has been a big draw for many years and while things slowed down during the recession, there is renewed interest in it. Dynegy Homefield Energy, which took over marketing for Ameren, located there and brought with it 100 jobs. Lindenwood University Belleville has signed a long-term lease on the former Sanford Brown business school building on Eastport Plaza Drive and will be opening a satellite campus there in the fall.
    “The city has spoken to two building development companies that are interested in building buildings again in Eastport. The conversation had always been going on, but then the market collapsed,” Kennett said.
    “We’re coming back to the table, and I think that is really important, very telling. What we’re hearing from the brokers in Eastport is they are running out of existing facilities. They’ve got businesses that want to come to the city, they like the interstate access, but the challenge is we are running out of available space. That’s a good problem to have.”
    Getting developers to say yes is tough because financing is still a challenge.

    People who know the commercial development industry know the challenges it faces, the headaches of dealing with older structures, the high cost of building new and so forth.
    But in public-private partnerships, the two most important variables are time and money, says Peggy Blanchard, the chair of the International Council of Shopping Centers’ Central Divisional Public Sector Alliance. The more time it takes a developer to get a project up and going, the less likely he is to lean toward a community that throws up a number of obstacles.
    “The landscape of development is changing, and we have to be prepared in order to meet those challenges,” said Blanchard, who is also economic development director in the city of Barrington.
    She was among speakers at the council’s annual Downstate Illinois Alliance Luncheon, held this year in Columbia, Ill. The Metro East event traditionally brings together a number of players in the industry, from builders to municipal leaders to economic developers to retailers to legislators.
    This year, a panel of experts offered insight on how to drive retail development in the region. They reflected extensively on a locally generated report that shows an estimated $1.2 billion annual “leakage” of sales in Metro East because of its failure to attract some retailers. According to the same research, St. Louis City and County enjoy a surplus of $800 million annually. In other words, southwestern Illinois appears to be losing much of its retail money to Greater St. Louis.
    Columbia Director of Community and Economic Development Paul Ellis said the annual leakage by individual Metro East counties is: $158 million for Monroe County, $329 million for St. Clair County and $267 million for Madison County.
    “That’s a lot of sales going away,” Ellis said. “Everything from motor vehicle parts to home furnishings stores to electronics and so on.”
    The state in general, he said, fares poorly. Illinois has an annual leakage of $10 billion, compared to Missouri’s surplus of $1.2 billion and Indiana’s surplus of $3.5 billion.
    The research was pulled together by Chad Holland, managing broker/owner for CR Holland commercial real estate in O’Fallon.
    The shopping center council brought together several people to discuss ways to cut down on the leakage.
    Mark Kohl, the vice president of development for Drury Development Corp., said Illinois is fighting many perceptions, some of them overstated.
    “We talk to people across the country, to find out where they are developing, etc. We had a conversation recently with a restaurant group ... and they said, ‘We’re building just about everywhere but Illinois.’ We asked the question, and it came back to construction costs, labor costs, bureaucracy, impact fees and finally taxes. Any one of those things is an impediment. Whether it’s the truth or not, it’s out there. It’s tough to break. And we hear it on many occasions.”
    Stephen Bell, a founder of Tricorp Management Co., which runs about a dozen TGI Fridays outlets, said he believes the biggest challenge to development is the sheer variety of competition. The casual dining industry, he said, is running up against the categories of quick dining (fast food), fast casual (like Panera’s) and a relatively new concept of smaller, serve-yourself restaurants.

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Early registration now open for September 5K race, hosted by Simmons Hanly Conroy

    ALTON – Early registration for the 6th Annual Alton Miles for Meso 5K Race & 2K Fun Run Walk, hosted by Simmons Hanly Conroy and organized by Metro Tri Club, is now open.
    The event returns Saturday, Sept. 27, to Simmons Hanly Conroy’s Alton office at 1 Court St. in honor of National Mesothelioma Awareness Day. The event will feature a variety of family-friendly activities and benefit the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization, an independent non-profit organization dedicated to banning asbestos and funding research for asbestos-related diseases through education, advocacy and community.
    “While promising research continues for mesothelioma, prevention remains the best cure,” said Linda Reinstein, ADAO president and wife of Alan Reinstein who lost his battle to mesothelioma, a cancer caused by asbestos exposure, in 2006. “This is a great opportunity for ADAO, and we appreciate Simmons Hanly Conroy’s support of our work to educate everyone about the dangers of asbestos.”
    Mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases kill approximately 10,000 Americans every year. Though it is a heavily regulated substance, asbestos is not banned in the United States despite being classified as a human carcinogen in 1976 by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
    The Alton Miles for Meso race has developed a reputation as a race the entire family can enjoy in support of a good cause, said Todd Adamitis, chief operating officer of Simmons Hanly Conroy.
    “Our ultimate goal is to fund-raise and raise awareness in honor of Mesothelioma Awareness Day by providing a family-friendly event that the entire community can be proud of,” Adamitis said.
    A variety of family-friendly activities including live music, free food, face-painting, a kids’ game zone and a dog adoption event will take place during this year’s race. The 5K race offers a competitive course for
    local runners. The overall top five male and top five female runners of the 5K race will receive significant cash prizes.
    “Compared to past years, we only awarded cash prizes to the overall top three male and female runners in the Age Group 5K race. This year we are expanding that number and awarding cash prizes to the overall top five male and female runners,” said Mike Wever, Miles for Meso Race director and president of Metro Tri Club.
    The overall first-place finisher in both the males and female division will receive $500; second-place male and female runners will receive $250; third, $200; fourth $100; and the top fifth male and female runners will receive $50. In addition, the top three male and top three female finishers in every age group will receive a custom Miles for Meso medal.
    This year participants can create a team in honor of family, friends, or community members who have suffered due to asbestos-related diseases. ADAO will also host a virtual race for those who cannot attend but would like to have someone run on their behalf or in memory of a loved one.
    Registration costs $25 through Aug. 31; $30 through Sept. 19; and $35, Sept 20 through race day. Race day registration is also available starting at 7:30 a.m. and the race and walk will begin at 9 a.m. Everyone who registers will receive a long-sleeve, technical race shirt and a goody bag from sponsors.
    To learn more about registration and the race, visit http://www.milesformeso.org .

    About Miles for Meso

    Miles for Meso is an initiative of the Simmons Mesothelioma Foundation that was established in 2009 to raise funds and awareness for mesothelioma, a rare cancer caused by asbestos exposure. Miles for Meso races have been held across the country from New York, to Florida to Washington State and several locations in between. Together, Miles for Meso events held have raised nearly $400,000 to benefit mesothelioma research and awareness.

    About Simmons Hanly Conroy

    Simmons Hanly Conroy, headquartered in Alton, Ill., is one of the country’s leading asbestos and mesothelioma litigation firms. With offices in Illinois, New York, Missouri and California, the firm has represented thousands of patients and families affected by mesothelioma throughout the country. In addition, Simmons Hanly Conroy has pledged nearly $20 million to cancer research and proudly supports its local communities through other charitable causes like Miles for Meso. For more information about Simmons Hanly Conroy, visit http://www.simmonsfirm.com.