WBEZ | Rachel Weber http://www.wbez.org/tags/rachel-weber Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Navistar layoffs add to doubts about incentives http://www.wbez.org/content/navistar-layoffs-add-doubts-about-incentives <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/photo/2011-December/2011-12-23/AP05060901633.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><img alt="The workers helped design International brand trucks. (AP/File)" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/insert-image/2011-December/2011-12-23/Navistar_truck_SCALED.jpg" style="margin: 9px 18px 5px 1px; float: left; width: 308px; height: 207px;" title="The workers helped design International brand trucks. (AP/File)">Sears Holdings Corp. and Chicago’s financial exchanges have quit threatening to pull up stakes now that Illinois has enacted tax breaks for them. But it remains unclear whether state incentives to big companies are wise uses of economic-development resources. A personnel shift by Lisle-based Navistar International Corp. will add fresh doubt.</p><p>WBEZ has learned that some new jobs Navistar promised under an Illinois incentive agreement are coming to the state at the expense of unionized workers in Indiana.</p><p>Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn announced the Navistar incentives last year after the company threatened to pack up its headquarters in west suburban Warrenville and leave the state. The deal committed Illinois to a $64.7 million bundle of tax credits and job-training subsidies for the company. It committed Navistar to moving the headquarters to Lisle, a couple miles east, and to adding 400 full-time Illinois employees.</p><p>Navistar’s first report to the state about the jobs isn’t due until next year, so it’s hard to tell how many positions the company has created thus far. Employees confirm that dozens of new engineers and designers are working at the Lisle facility.</p><p>Navistar is creating those jobs as it phases out its Truck Development and Technology Center in Fort Wayne, Indiana, just three hours southeast of Chicago. The latest Fort Wayne cuts came December 2, when the company laid off 130 employees, mostly engineers and designers who are United Auto Workers members. Before the layoff, some of the Fort Wayne workers had to help train their Lisle replacements.</p><p>Navistar has “rewritten the job descriptions so the people that used to do the work here — the union folks — don’t qualify anymore on paper,” said Craig Randolph, a design engineer the company laid off after 15 years at the Fort Wayne center. “So they’re eliminating the high-seniority, older employees like myself and replacing them with nonunion college kids — guys fresh out of school. And the taxpayers in Illinois are subsidizing the whole thing.”</p><p>Asked for a response, Navistar spokeswoman Karen Denning called it unusual for engineers to have union representation in the first place, a claim disputed by auto industry experts. Denning also sent a statement that said the company’s decision to shift the Fort Wayne jobs to Lisle was “based solely on our desire to compete in the global economy.” The statement added that Navistar has allowed many Fort Wayne employees to relocate to the Chicago area and stay with the company.</p><p>The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity sent a statement that doesn’t directly address whether the Navistar incentives have anything to do with the Fort Wayne layoffs. The statement says the state’s assistance to companies like Navistar over the last decade has “created and retained tens of thousands of jobs,” including unionized positions.</p><p>There’s not much proof to back up such claims. Scholars who study the effects of corporate incentives point out that companies decide where to operate based on proximity to suppliers, markets, transportation and so on. Another factor is whether workers are bargaining collectively. Just this summer, Navistar announced it was closing a unionized plant in Chatham, Ontario. The company has moved that work to nonunion facilities in Texas and Mexico.</p><p>“I don’t think that the [Illinois] incentives are causing Navistar to shift around its workforce,” said Rachel Weber, an associate professor of Urban Planning and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “But they do send a message that the public sector and taxpayers are validating these kinds of activities. And, if you asked a lot of taxpayers in the state of Illinois whether they’d want to support these kinds of activities, I don’t think they’d be so happy about it.”</p><p>Weber pointed out that the economies of Illinois and Indiana intertwine closely and said it would help both states to quit poaching jobs from each other. Eliminating state incentives for corporations, she added, would free up resources for everything from workforce readiness to small-business incubation.</p><p>The union, for its part, didn’t return calls about the Fort Wayne layoffs and isn’t creating a public fuss about them. That raises questions about the role of UAW Secretary-Treasurer Dennis Williams, who serves on Navistar’s board of directors under a decades-old agreement that reserved the seat for the union. Because Williams draws salaries from both the UAW and Navistar, and because he once directed a UAW region that includes Illinois but not Indiana, some of the union’s Fort Wayne members accuse him of hanging them out to dry.</p></p> Fri, 23 Dec 2011 16:22:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/content/navistar-layoffs-add-doubts-about-incentives Examining how the United Center has impacted Chicago's near West Side http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2011-05-09/examining-how-united-center-has-impacted-chicagos-near-west-side-86242 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/segment/photo/2011-May/2011-05-09/United Center.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>When the <a href="http://www.unitedcenter.com/" target="_blank">United Center</a> was built back in the early '90s many thought it would put Chicago’s near West Side on the map. The hope was the stadium would spur further economic development in the surrounding neighborhood, akin to a Wrigleyville West.<br> <br> More than 15 years later, has the home of the Blackhawks and the Bulls been a good neighbor to other residents? To find out, <em>Eight Forty-Eight</em> spoke to <a href="http://www.uic.edu/cuppa/upp/faculty/weber.html" target="_blank">Rachel Weber</a>, an Associate Director of the <a href="http://www.uic.edu/cuppa/gci/" target="_blank">Great Cities Institute at the University of Illinois at Chicago</a> and an urban planning and policy expert.</p></p> Mon, 09 May 2011 14:13:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2011-05-09/examining-how-united-center-has-impacted-chicagos-near-west-side-86242 Venture: Englewood pins hopes on new tax district http://www.wbez.org/story/asiaha-butler/venture-englewood-pins-hopes-new-tax-district-85305 <p><p>Each week on Venture, we trek out into the local business scene to see how wider economic trends are playing out on the micro-level. This week, we'll get unemployment rates for cities across Illinois.</p><p>The state's been slowly adding jobs again, but the gains aren't spread evenly. It's particularly tough to jumpstart the economy of a blighted area.</p><p>Take Englewood, for example. On 69th Street near Wentworth Avenue, there are 18 acres of vacant land that used to be Kennedy-King City College. That empty stretch of land – the size of several football fields – represents promise to many people in the community who would like to see the vast expanse translate into jobs. But they want something more than just big box stores.<br> &nbsp;<br> A financial boost might come in May, when an economic development tool—tax increment financing—likely will be approved. With the TIF as a lever, residents have what you might call a business plan for the 67th Street corridor.</p><p>Asiaha Butler is an organizer with Resident Association of Greater Englewood, known as R.A.G.E. She meets up for an interview at Dunkin Donuts off of 63rd Street in Englewood because “this is the closest thing we have to a sit-down cafe,” Butler says. But she's hoping a TIF will change that picture.<br> &nbsp;<br> TIFs have been controversial - criticized for being a slush fund for Mayor Richard Daley.&nbsp; Some tax money gets collected and earmarked to help lure business development. But TIF money often has flowed to areas that aren’t blighted.<br> &nbsp;<br> In Englewood, it’s a different story. In theory, this is the kind of area TIFs were designed for. That’s why residents like Butler are eager for the opportunity to put a renewed economic shot in their neighborhood.<br> &nbsp;<br> “Our wish list – a produce store was first off. Art gallery to some type of museum of some sort. Retail space and also office space – a couple of office buildings where people can actually lease space. Anything that would draw businesses in and anything that will keep people here,” Butler said.<br> &nbsp;<br> Butler is a young professional with a family who chose to move back to Englewood as an adult. Her grandfather was one of the first blacks to move in the neighborhood in the 1930s. He owned a candy store called Cheap Charlie’s.<br> &nbsp;<br> Today, Englewood has higher unemployment and crime rates than most Chicago neighborhoods. But it’s also a community of strong block clubs. Some R.A.G.E. members will be on a newly formed TIF advisory committee.<br> &nbsp;<br> Butler for one is doing her homework. “I remember Wicker Park being a place where most people were scared to walk down the street,” Butler said. “And it has totally turned itself around.”<br> &nbsp;<br> Butler walks around Englewood, camera in tow.<br> &nbsp;<br> “I take pictures all the time to just show the blighted areas,” she said. “And I see it as opportunity. That means basically we have a clean slate.”<br> <br> But actually filling that empty stretch of land with businesses may not be easy. Outgoing Ald. Freddrenna Lyle, 6th, says the community needs to be involved in deciding what comes in.<br> <br> “So now that we are here with a blank slate we are taking a new look at we’re going to have community meetings again,” Lyle said. “The community, at a minimum, they want some retail.”<br> &nbsp;<br> Lyle recognizes that blight may be the reason a TIF-generated economic development project belongs here.&nbsp; But it’s also what makes even a vast vacant area like hers a hard sell.<br> &nbsp;<br> “The problem is because it’s blighted and because business people are very conservative, they don’t take risks,” Lyle said. “That’s not how they make money by taking risks and having a vision of what’s to come. It’s going to be a hard sell. That’s why I say it may take multiple developers.”<br> &nbsp;<br> Rachel Weber is an urban planner and policy professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago. She’s also an expert on TIFs. She agrees Englewood is the exact kind of neighborhood that TIFs are for. But the downside of a TIF in a blighted area is that it’s seen as a silver bullet.<br> &nbsp;<br> “What we found is that that’s not always the case. You really need to have independent market interest in an area,” Weber said. “TIF alone is not going transform a neighborhood that has no retail activity to a thriving commercial district.”<br> &nbsp;<br> Weber says about one third of Chicago’s TIF districts are dormant – mostly in neglected areas on the South and West sides.<br> &nbsp;<br> “You need the city to overcome some of the sort of the site-specific impediments of the area so you may need to sweeteners, some city incentives,” she said.<br> &nbsp;<br> But she says residents need to be business-savvy.<br> &nbsp;<br> “There are certain kinds of businesses that are going to ignore sort of an urban-format store at all costs,” Weber said. “They only are comfortable in a suburban retail strip so it doesn’t make sense to pursue retailers that will have no interest in moving to the city.”<br> &nbsp;<br> Weber says Englewood has many community assets to flaunt. Public transportation is plentiful.&nbsp; There’s an expressway nearby. Englewood is home to major institutions such as a hospital and a brand-new Kennedy-King campus. There’s also density.<br> &nbsp;<br> Jake Cowan is with LISC Chicago, a nonprofit that helps jumpstart community organization and development. He says residents can be resourceful -- helping create, for instance,&nbsp;a clean and neat neighborhood appearance for interested developers.<br> &nbsp;<br> “So things communities can do to help encourage that are as simple as working on cleaning up vacant lots in their community,” Cowan said. “Things like a block club adopting a couple of lots or a church adopting a couple of lots. Just going out with trash bags and trash cans.”<br> &nbsp;<br> Englewood residents may earn below the city’s median household income. But there’s something else the neighborhood has to offer in a business relationship– concentrated buying power.<br> &nbsp;<br> According to LISC, Englewood residents have $109 million buying power per square mile – $25 million more than a typical Cook County square mile.<br> &nbsp;<br> Every week on Venture, we bring you something called the Windy Indicator. That's where we try to get a read on the wider economy by looking at one small piece of it.<br> <br> This week, we bring you the Lamb Index. Orthodox Easter is this coming Sunday, and for a Greek boy like WBEZ's Alex Keefe, that means leg of lamb, studded with garlic, slathered in lemon and olive oil and roasted “to rich perfection.”<br> <br> So what's the price of family tradition?<br> <br> Last year it was around $3.89 a pound, now it's more like $4.50, according to Nick Tsoukas, manager of Olympia Meat Market in the West Loop.<br> <br> Historic floods in New Zealand and Australia, where about half our lamb comes from, have crippled imports, Tsoukas says. Couple that drop in supply with Americans' increasing taste for the meat, and Tsoukas says his wholesale price for an entire Easter lamb has about doubled since 2010. So this year for the first time, he's asking customers to put a deposit down on their holiday supper.<br> <br> “Always seven or 10 people don't show up for their lambs, so now it's a different ballgame,” Tsoukas said. “It's going to be $200 for one lamb. We can't afford to lose that.”<br> <br> Tsoukas said Easter orders are down a bit from last year. But he thinks people will wind up buying lamb in spite of the price.<br> <br> “I think people are still going to buy lamb just because it's Easter,” Tsoukas said. “Whether the price will be very high or not, it's part of their tradition.”<br> <br> So is there any chance of Greek people across Chicago serving chicken instead this year? Tsoukas says, not a chance.<br> <br> Next week, our Windy Indicator meets the man behind the machine – the vending machine, that is.<br> &nbsp;</p></p> Mon, 18 Apr 2011 05:11:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/asiaha-butler/venture-englewood-pins-hopes-new-tax-district-85305