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By DENNIS GRUBAUGH

    More Illinois businesses will soon be required to offer an employee retirement-plan, and the success of the state’s mandate is dependant, some say, on the way it’s administered and how many regulatory roadblocks are included.
    The devil’s always in the details, said Ken Diel, a financial planner who’s dealt with retirement needs in Southern Illinois for decades.
    “If they keep this program simple, this can work very effectively for employees who want to put some money away and for employers who don’t want to match anything,” Diel said.
    The Illinois Secure Choice Savings Program was signed into law by former Gov. Pat Quinn Jan. 5, and takes effect June 1, with employers having until June 1, 2017, to actually have a plan in place.
    The program will be mandatory for businesses that have no current retirement plan, have been in business at least two years and have 25 or more employees, Participation will be without cost to the business. All administrative costs will be covered by participant contributions.
    The program will be optional for the self-employed and small businesses with up to 25 employees.
    Participants will get a portable Roth retirement account funded by employee payroll deductions. The amount is set at a default rate of 3 percent per paycheck but can be changed up or down at the employee’s discretion.
    Employers will be required to offer the plan, but employees can decline to participate.
    Businesses that already have retirement plans are not required to participate in the new program.
    Workers may opt out of the program at any time. Participants will also be able to select from higher-risk and lower-risk investment options.
    An investment company contracted by the state will manage the plan.
    The money in the Secure Choice account belongs to the employee who can take it and roll it over into new accounts if that employee changes jobs.
    Neither employers nor the state will contribute to the account. Administrative and investment costs will be paid out of the program assets. Because contributions to the accounts are pooled and because the number of eligible participants is expected to be so large, the program will achieve cost savings through efficiencies and economies of scale. The fees are limited to 0.75 percent of all assets annually.
    Recent polling conducted by Small Business Majority shows the majority of Illinois small business owners support the concept.
    Offering a retirement plan helps small businesses compete in the job market and boosts morale among their employees, the organization said. According to the Small Business Majority, seven out of 10 small business owners in the state say they have been unable to offer a retirement plan for several reasons. They lack administrative capacity, can’t afford the cost of implementation, or are simply concerned over how to choose a plan.
    State Sen. Daniel Biss, D-Evanston, who sponsored the measure in the Senate, said 2.5 million private sector workers in Illinois have no access to retirement savings through their employers. Workers without employer-based savings options are statistically much less likely to save for retirement.

By DENNIS GRUBAUGH, the Illinois Business Journal

P01 MyJustDessertsNaykiah Jackson, an employee of My Just Desserts in Alton, proudly promotes a pie in this screenshot from the new video to be released this spring by the Alton Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau.    Alton area tourism officials will soon roll out a glitzy video campaign touting the region as a place “Where the Rivers Meet the Road.”
    A 90-second video produced by Alton native Ryan Hanlon was introduced at this year’s annual Tourism Summit held by the Alton Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau. The agency wants to use the video to build on successes it experienced in 2014 when thousands visited the region. The video, in shortened and original forms, will be introduced on Internet sites this spring. It features scenes touting the romantic appeal of life in the River Bend, set to music.
    The video will be a big part of this year’s marketing effort, said Brett Stawar, president of the bureau.
    “It’s simple economics. Tourism brings jobs and economic activity to the region, which affords a better quality of life for us all,” Stawar said. “One by one, these (events) add up to our region’s largest economic impact. Last year, the regional impact of tourism on Jersey, Calhoun and Madison counties was again near $425 million dollars.”
    The video is part of a destination marketing campaign that the bureau began several years ago to tie itself to its location at the convergence of three major rivers as well as the 33-mile stretch of the Great River Road that weaves between those rivers.
    Hanlon, owner of Route 3 Films, said he’s traveled the country and loves relaying to others the strengths of his hometown.
    “This is a project I’ve wanted to make ever since I understood what a camera was,” Hanlon said. “I like to explain to people what it’s like to grow up here. It’s difficult to explain in words what these landscapes are like.”
    Set to fast-paced, country-flavored guitar music, the video shows scenes of living and beauty throughout the market. It was well received by the audience at last month’s summit.
    Among scenes are zip lining, parasailing and wine drinking in Grafton, concerts and mansions in Alton, Historic Elsah, The Nature Institute in Godfrey, hikers, motorcyclists, rolling farmland and the River Road and its bluffs.
    Stawar said: “I’ve seen it a million times and still go wow.”
    The goal is simply to use yet another platform to drive people to the Alton region.
    The video will be part of a couple of advertising strategies. On the Internet it will be used in 15-second, 30-second and 90-second versions as part of a “preroll,” a video that advances another video, usually associated with clicking on a news story, Stawar said.
    “It will be geotargeted to ones that we think will click through to get more information, based on their demographics,” he said. “We’re targeting specifically empty nesters in a 500-mile radius of the area, with moderate- to high-income levels, and those who have also identified outdoor recreation, bird watching and natural beauty as their hobbies of interests.”
    Geotargeting is Internet marketing that plays off the geolocation of a website visitor, delivering different content to that visitor based on his or her location or other criteria.
    Among websites where people might it is CNN, which is one of the bureau’s feeder sites.

By DENNIS GRUBAUGH, the Illinois Business Journal

    The miles and miles of soybean fields that sprout annually throughout Illinois represent some of the best the state has to offer the U.S. agriculture industry. Now, that notion is being planted in Cuba.
    Efforts are under way on several fronts to help the state take advantage of the easing of relations between the two countries. The biggest proposed step — lifting a trade embargo that’s been in effect nearly 55 years — could be a boon for growers and the livestock industry in general — as well as multiple other business concerns.
    “This is the one issue, I’ve never seen anything like it, where the ag industry is completely behind this,” said Mark Albertson.
    Recently returned from a lobbying effort in Washington, D.C., Albertson is anxious to talk about potential business for the Illinois Soybean Association. He’s director of strategic market development for the association, which represents both the Illinois Soybean Growers, an advocacy group, and the Illinois soybean checkoff, a contribution arm that funds research and promotion. In his work regarding Cuba, he is representing only the growers group.
    “A lot has been going on the last few days, but a lot has been going on for the last few years,” he said.
“We’ve been to Cuba four times in the last three years. We’ve also been active in building coalitions. The first was the Illinois Cuba Working Group. That coalition was created at the request of the Illinois General Assembly, which last year unanimously called for an end to the embargo and creation of the Working Group.”
    Supporters quickly realized that Illinois’ efforts could better be promoted through a national working group.
    “Everything really took off over the summer. We have more than 30 groups signed on, and more are signing on every day,” Albertson said.
    The national group is called the U.S. Ag Coalition for Cuba. It’s a “group of groups,” representing just about every commodity produced in the country, he said.
    Among the members are the National Oilseed Processors Association, which is made up of all the major soybean processors, and The Chicken Council, comprised of the major chicken-producing companies.
    Soybeans are an extension of the livestock industry.
    “Most of our soy in the U.S. is used by chickens. If not by chickens, it’s used by pigs. If not pigs, then beef and dairy. We stand behind the livestock industry 100 percent,” Albertson said.  
    The main point of the national group’s charter is ending the embargo.
    “The president came out Dec. 17 saying he would do what he could through executive action to make it easier to export. But what it’s really going to take is congressional action.”
    “We’ve been on the Hill talking to folks. It’s been very receptive,” Albertson said. He called southwestern Illinois Congressman Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, one of the group’s biggest allies.
    Davis has gone all out for the coalition’s efforts, “not just going to bat for us but sticking his neck out,” Albertson said. “He’s an up and coming star in the Republican Party and he is a leader on this issue. I can see why some Republicans don’t want Obama to get some kind of victory, but Rodney Davis has really been able to put partisan politics aside and look at some of the common sense issues And Rodney has been to Cuba. He knows the issue and taken the time to understand it.”
    Davis traveled to Cuba in 2005 as part of his duties as aide to U. S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville.

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Special to the Illinois Business Journal

Simmons conroy jayneJayne Conroy    ALTON – Simmons Hanly Conroy, a national complex litigation firm, has announced that named firm Shareholder Jayne Conroy has been appointed to the Plaintiffs’ Executive Committee (PEC) for the pending multidistrict litigation (MDL) against Syngenta Seeds Inc. concerning its genetically modified corn.
    The MDL was assigned in December 2014 to U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas Judge John W. Lungstrum, who announced the PEC appointments in an order dated Jan. 22, 2015.
    The MDL (No. 2591, IN RE: Syngenta AG MIR162 Corn Litigation) involves more than 175 lawsuits filed in eight different districts against Syngenta, the world’s largest crop chemicals company. The litigation concerns the economic impact from contamination of the U.S. corn supply with Syngenta’s Agrisure Viptera, a type of genetically modified corn that is banned in China. The lawsuits claim that Syngenta’s actions in essence destroyed the Chinese corn export market and severely harmed corn farmers and exporters.
    Simmons Hanly Conroy is one of the largest plaintiffs’ law firm in Illinois, which is the nation’s second largest corn producing state behind Iowa. The firm represents multiple clients in this MDL including a leading international exporter of agricultural products.
    Conroy has more than 30 years of experience as a strategist, trial lawyer and negotiator. In addition to her work for plaintiffs on litigation against Syngenta, her practice currently involves representing plaintiffs in a wide variety of product liability matters. These include several thousand plaintiffs who were injured by the various dangerous drugs and plaintiffs who were injured by medical devices such as DePuy artificial hips and pelvic repair system materials.  
    Conroy serves or has served as a member of Plaintiffs’ Steering or Executive Committees in nearly a dozen multidistrict pharmaceutical litigations. Since 2006, she is credited with orchestrating the settlements of thousands of pharmaceutical cases for a total recovery for the firm’s clients that approaches $500 million. Conroy also has represented several thousand victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, tragedy in a multidistrict action against the financial sponsors of terrorism. In a separate set of negligence litigations against the airlines and airport security companies on behalf of 50 families who lost their loved ones on the four 9/11 aircraft, Conroy helped forge settlements that totaled in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
    In addition to her law practice, Conroy is nationally renowned as a speaker on trial advocacy and regularly sits on panels of experts at national litigation conferences.
    SIMMONS HANLY CONROY LLC is a leading national law firm in complex litigation and represents clients throughout the country on issues involving consumer protection rights, class actions and contingent-fee commercial litigation. With 70 attorneys in six offices across the country, the firm is dedicated to its clients and has pledged nearly $20 million to cancer research. Additionally, the firm focuses on intellectual property infringement, pharmaceutical injury litigation and toxic exposure. For more information, visit http://www.simmonsfirm.com.