Immigration-boxcar-mexicansbwA yesteryear photo of migrant workers in the railroad yards outside Granite City. English teachers who visited such groups had difficulty finding classes because their students were living in boxcars, which seldom stayed in place. Photo courtesy of the International Institute of St. Louis.

    Southwestern Illinois leaders say immigration reform is necessary to boost the region’s economic well-being, and they are stepping up a campaign to elicit support.
    Efforts under way on both sides of the Mississippi River are painting the issue as more than a line in the sand separating the United States and Mexico. Without reform, they say, there is serious risk of not having a skilled workforce to do the jobs that will soon be vacated by baby boomers; falling further behind other communities; and losing out on potentially valuable resources in sciences and other fields.
    Jim Pennekamp, special assistant to the chancellor for regional economic development and executive director of University Park at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, was part of a
four-person panel that presented a recent program on immigration in Belleville. He cited a study released in July by the International Economic Development Council, which offers some eye-opening details on the potential economic development impact of immigration.
    Key to community advancement, he said, is understanding that:
    - Immigrants contribute skills that may not otherwise be easily available.
    - Some 65 percent of all foreign students in the United States are studying science, technology and math, so-called STEM curriculum. In advanced degree programs, some 40 to 45 percent are in STEM.

Home-For-Salephoto courtesy Associated Press

A sold sign is posted outside a home sold recently in Springfield. Until January, Metro-East home sales were rebounding, and most observers believe they will head back up after the weather-related setbacks of recent weeks.
    The door is finally cracking open to improvements in the housing market, and local realty agents are offering cautious but hopeful projections for 2014, despite the wintry setback of the last several weeks.
    Realtors in St. Clair, Monroe and Clinton counties sold more homes in 2013 than they did in the previous five years, according to Tricia Tialdo, president of the Realtor Association of Southwestern Illinois.
    It’s a trend mirrored throughout the state, comparing year to year.  Illinois saw an overall 18.9 percent increase in closed sales from 2012 to 2013, according to the Illinois Association of Realtors. Median sales prices jumped from $138,500 to $150,000 in the same span. The median is a typical market price where half the homes sold for more and half sold for less.
    In what the state association calls its Metro-East MSA, which is made up of the above counties and neighboring counties represented by the Greater Gateway Association of Realtors, closings jumped 14.4 percent but median prices dipped slightly, from $115,000 to $111,900.

    From composting to transportation, “green collar jobs” are increasingly recognized as a vital part of the economy, but the sustainability of the movement is harder to predict, a bit like monitoring a plant in its growth stage.
    The proof will come with time, supporters like Nate Keener say.
    “Right now, a majority of employers surveyed are saying that they fill their ‘green jobs’ by either promoting from within or adding additional duties to existing employees. However, a majority also state that energy efficiency and reducing costs through environmental action are very important. So, this means that prospective employees are well served by learning ‘green skills’,” he said.
    Keener, the director of sustainability at Lewis and Clark Community College in Godfrey, has spent almost two years building a program complementing the green movement. From now until May 1, his department is offering a series of green speakers on Thursdays on topics from architecture to engineering to farming. Beyond that, the college has or plans to have dozens of courses that serve related needs.
    It all goes to serving a big movement, according to the numbers.
    The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy organization based in Washington, D.C., define a green job as one that produces goods or services that benefit the environment or conserve natural resources; or one in which workers’ duties involve making their establishment’s production processes more environmentally friendly or use fewer natural resources.”
    By that definition, there were 3.1 million “Green Goods and Services Jobs” in 2010 and 3.4 million in 2011.


Metro East American Diabetes Association raises over $110,000 with help of the Simmons Firm

    ALTON – Thanks to the support and effort of Chairman John Simmons and Simmons Firm employees, this year’s Metro East Diabetes fund-raiser, STEP OUT: Walk to Stop Diabetes, raised over $110,000, the most ever raised for the event. The result has ranked it as the most successful American Diabetes Association walk in the nation.