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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.
    - Immigrants are filling jobs in the economy that native-born workers do not want.
    - Foreign-born consumers create a demand  for goods and services, and foreign-owned businesses in the United States generate $775 billion in revenue and $110 billion in income.
    - Every major city that grew in the population in the last Census did so because of immigrant growth.
    “They are already here, they are already part of the economy and we need to be aware of that,” Pennekamp said.

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.
    Days on the market, a key determinate on the direction of housing, improved. In Illinois, they dropped from 99 days to 80. In Metro East, they dropped from 149 to 144.
    Realtors who have been hoping for a sustained, positive glimmer since the recession are upbeat.
    “2013 continued the trend of increasing home sales and proved to be a progressive year for the housing market,” Tialdo said. “We are excited to see what 2014 will bring to our area.”
    Al Suguitan, the president and chief operating officer for Greater Gateway, which covers Bond, Calhoun, Fayette, Jersey, Madison, Macoupin, Montgomery and St. Clair counties, is more guarded in his response but admiring of the numbers nonetheless.
    “Overall, while the numbers may not show great leaps and bounds, housing activity is moving in the right direction,” he said.

    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.
    “During those years, green job growth actually outpaced all other industries after slow growth in the years 2003-2010,” Keener said. “I think the recession really allowed firms an opportunity to refocus and innovate.”
    In 2011, Illinois had 115,208 “green jobs,” with architecture and construction leading the way by industry sector. In 2011, Missouri counted 28,720 primary green jobs and 102,383 green supporting jobs.
    Illinois scored major recognition in mid-February when the governor announced that the U.S. Green Building Council had ranked the state No. 1 in the sustainable building design movement.
    Illinois has more than 29 million square feet of certified green buildings, or 2.29 square feet for every resident. Some 171 projects were certified as part of that process, far more than the second state on the list, Maryland, with 119.
    “Illinois’ national ranking is the result of the robust network of businesses committed to sustainability  working together with elected officials who understand the benefits of green building,” said Brian Imus, executive director of the U.S. Green Building Council’s Illinois Chapter.
    Top LEED projects certified in Illinois in 2013 included the Illinois Holocaust Museum in Skokie; a 57-story tower at 300 North LaSalle Street in Chicago; the Caterpillar Visitors Center in Peoria; Lincoln Hall at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana; and Springfield’s Workforce Careers Center at Lincoln Land Community College.

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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.
    Rawnie Berry, manager of the ADA Gateway Office, recently presented John Simmons and the Simmons Firm with plaques to recognize their contributions to the 2013 walk.
    “With the support of John Simmons and his firm, this year’s Metro East ‘Step Out: Walk to Stop Diabetes’ was able to raise $110,309 for the American Diabetes Association. Never before in the history of the event has this much been raised,” Berry said.
simmons-ADA2014-webManager of the ADA Gateway Office Rawnie Berry visited the Simmons Firm Alton office last week to present Chairman John Simmons, Simmons Step Out Walk team captain and attorney Chris Levy and Legal Assistant Kim Galanti with awards for their fund-raising efforts for the 2013 Step Out Walk: To Stop Diabetes.    The event achieved a fund-raising goal of 138 percent, ranking it first in the nation among ADA events that surpassed their fund-raising goals. All of the funds raised stay in the Metro area and help the Association fulfill its mission to prevent and cure diabetes and to improve the lives of all people affected by diabetes, Berry said.
    Berry attributed the record-breaking result to a personal goal set by Simmons, the walk’s Corporate Recruitment vice-chair, and Mark Hinrichs, the walk’s Corporate Recruitment chair to raise over $100,000 for this year’s race. The Simmons Firm was also the walk’s Presenting Sponsor.
    “It’s truly humbling to see how folks can rally together for a great cause,” Simmons said. “Thanks to everyone, including our own firm employees who live with diabetes, for all of your hard work.”
    Approximately 775 people attended the 2013 Step Out Walk in October on the campus of Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville. Seventy-four teams participated in the event. The Simmons Firm team, led by Attorney Chris Levy, raised the second highest amount of $4,618.
    Today, there are nearly 26 million Americans—including 22,150 in Madison County alone—who have diabetes. While an estimated 18.8 million have been diagnosed, unfortunately, 7 million people are unaware that they have the disease. If current trends continue, one in three American adults will have diabetes by 2050.
    About the American Diabetes Association:

    The American Diabetes Association is leading the fight to Stop Diabetes and its deadly consequences and fighting for those affected by diabetes. The Association funds research to prevent, cure and manage diabetes; delivers services to hundreds of communities; provides objective and credible information; and gives voice to those denied their rights because of diabetes.
    Founded in 1940, the Association’s mission is to prevent and cure diabetes and to improve the lives of all people affected by diabetes. For more information please call the American Diabetes Association at 1-800-DIABETES (1-800-342-2383) or visit http://www.diabetes.org.
    About Simmons Browder Gianaris Angelides & Barnerd LLC:

    The Simmons Firm is a national litigation firm with practices in asbestos, dangerous drug and medical devices litigation, intellectual property infringement, personal injury, environmental litigation, consumer protection and contingent fee commercial litigation. With offices in Illinois, Missouri and California, the firm has secured more than $4 billion in verdicts and settlements on behalf of thousands of individuals, families, and businesses. In addition, the Simmons Firm has pledged $20 million to cancer research and proudly supports its local communities through other charitable causes. For more information about the Simmons Firm, visit http://www.simmonsfirm.com.