Hidden Lake’s humble new owners plant passion with vines
By DENNIS GRUBAUGH
AVISTON — There’s no hiding the hard work at Hidden Lake Winery and Banquet Facility.
Steve and Angela Gorazd haven’t stopped hustling since closing on their $1.5 million purchase of the facility on June 8 from former owner Angela Holbrook. The deal was a year in the making and tested the mettle of two entrepreneurs in their 50s.
“There’s no guidebook” for buying and running a winery, Angela Gorazd said.
Nestled in wooded, Clinton County farm country about 40 minutes east of St. Louis, the 92-acre estate first caught Steve’s eye in the spring of 2016 when he saw the notice that it was for sale. At the time he was managing field services at Boeing Co. and at the end of a 30-year career. He was thinking about retiring and going into business for himself. He was not ready to give up working, and neither was his wife, a nurse practitioner.
Shortly thereafter, the couple visited the winery on a Friday night in June 2016 and sat on the large concrete deck overlooking the winery fountain, a centerpiece of the main, manmade lake, one of two bodies of water on the pristine property.
“The weather was beautiful. We had a bottle of wine. There was somebody playing music. We looked out, and it was like, ‘Oh, my gosh’,” Angela recalled.
They were hooked, and ready to buy, but the work was only just beginning. What followed was months of negotiation, licensing efforts and financing hurdles. The Gorazds began creating their own guidebook.
The couple began negotiating in August with Holbrook, a physician at Alton Memorial Hospital, and the back and forth lasted until around November. The details of the purchase agreement took a couple more months before financing and licensing issues could be tackled.
“About six months before we closed, I started working with everyone to get licenses in place,” Steve said. “Had I bought the winery as an ongoing business, I could have rolled everything over.” His advisers told him that starting fresh would keep him from unknown liabilities.
“I struggled with getting all the winemaker licenses,” he said of the cumbersome process. At the federal level, one must go through the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and submit to investigations and background checks.
The last license he had to get was a state liquor license, but he couldn’t get that until he had the federal license in hand. However, he couldn’t get the federal license until he could send them a copy of the closing document.
One of the more unusual hang-ups came when Steve unwittingly got caught up in a debate between a federal field agent and an office supervisor over criteria for eligibility. Gorazd said he didn’t know whose instructions to follow. After some days of consternation, the supervisor had the last word, and the license went through with no further challenge.
By DENNIS GRUBAUGH
HIGHLAND — When employers in Highland look around today’s workplace, they see much the same thing as counterparts in other communities — employees lacking in some basics.
This month, the city ramps up a plan to tackle the issue head-on.
A series of weekly programming modules will be presented, aiming at building soft skills — the foundation of characteristics that employers see as essential for people to get and keep a job.
From problem solving to telephone etiquette to teamwork to critical thinking, many younger adults are showing themselves in need. What some past generations took for granted — how to act, how to dress, being on time or simply showing up for work — needs to be reinforced.
Soft skills sound pretty simplistic, right?
“Yes, they are,” said Lisa Peck, assistant city manager in Highland. “But they are what’s missing. You’d think it would be intuitive, but it’s not. It’s the thing that all the employers are complaining about. This is a national problem.”
The concern arose some months ago when Peck organized an employer roundtable to find out what local businesses needed in the workforce. Some of the town’s biggest businesses were represented — Basler Electric, Eaton, Highland Machine, Clean Uniform, the school district, the hospital, Walmart, the banks and many others.
“We surveyed them to see what the main issues with workforce were,” Peck said. “They were what most employers’ issues are, and it didn’t matter which sector they were in. It was the soft skills – and people who don’t know what’s expected of an employee now.”
One way to approach the issue was falling back on a program that Highland already had in place, a Leadership Academy conducted the past two years at Highland High School. The program grooms students to prepare for community leadership roles once they’ve emerged from school.
Modifying that program for younger adults seemed the logical approach, Peck said. Employers liked the idea.
“We incorporated their biggest concerns with workforce and developed a series of programming modules, with varying focuses,” she said.
The result is that every Tuesday night in August, participants will be able to attend two-hour professionally led sessions to be held at Louis Latzer Memorial Public Library.
Lisa Kenny, regional manager, of the Illinois Manufacturing Excellence Center, will participate, as will officials from Southern Illinois University, the Bank of Edwardsville and the Highland Chamber of Commerce.
By DENNIS GRUBAUGH
MARYVILLE — The Home Builders Association of Greater Southwest Illinois is taking video of its builder projects to a whole new level.
Sky high, in fact.
HBA is preparing to launch Home Envy, a program in which member projects are being filmed via a drone to capture not only the residence but the surroundings as well.
The unique approach will help market what the builders are doing, Tracy Butler, executive officer of HBA, said.
So far, existing homes, already built, have been the subject of shoots. The presentation is more a feature on the builders and their styles with the potential of building up their individual businesses.
“I know these builders pretty well, because of what I do. I wish other people could get to know them the same way. I think consumers would enjoy that,” Butler said. “They all have unique styles and great products.”
She hopes to formally launch the program in September.
The idea came about, ironically, because home sales have gone so well in recent years. Inventory has been in such short supply that HBA was looking for a way to supplement its annual Homes on Parade marketing event. Homes on Parade was a collective open house, usually done in June and featuring new homes in Metro East. Continuing the event depends on available inventory.
ALTON Simmons Hanly Conroy, one of the nation’s largest mass tort litigation firms recently won a $4.48 million settlement for a class of 183 properties polluted by an underground plume of benzene and other carcinogenic chemicals released from the nearby Wood River Refinery.