Builders nationally are feeling rejuvenated after a rough half-decade, but locally some contractors are still waiting for the recovery to kick in.
Tim Garvey, chief executive officer, bemoans the members he’s lost in recent years at Southern Illinois Builders Association. Two of them were among the longest-tenured. J.J. Wuellner and Sons in Godfrey closed its doors this year after 111 years in business. And Keeley Brothers, a highway contractor from East St. Louis, shuttered its doors a few years ago after being in business since 1895.
“Most of our members have survived the tough times, and they are not over yet,” Garvey said. “It takes some strength and belt tightening and a resolve to make it. I’m pleased that we haven’t had more that have gone by the boards.”
Garvey makes no bones about what he says is needed, and that is long-term infrastructure spending plans at both the state and federal level, goals that seem heady given the mid-term election season.
Those are measures that he and other builders are pushing in Springfield, Ill., and Washington, D.C.
“One of the big things facing us as a nation is the transportation trust fund going broke. We are dwindling reserves down to fumes, and we have to address that highway reauthorization this year. It’s kind of tough, because 2016 (an election year when little gets done legislatively) will come quicker than you know it.
“That’s on the highway side. On the building side of things, we’re seeing some light at the end of the tunnel, but not so much in this state, despite the fact that you’d expect to have some sort of largesse, having the president of the United States being from this great state of ours,” he said.
Illinois needs to approve a new state capital bill, he said, and generate money by maximizing its bonding authority. Gov. Pat Quinn said during his budget address on March 26 that he would appoint a bipartisan commission to come up with a new capital plan.
“What we’re really looking for, is a truly long-term, sustainable infrastructure funding plan, both for roads and for all aspects of infrastructure — schools, bridges, roads, airport, waterway systems and treatment systems,” Garvey said. “Everybody’s talking about what kind of shape the roads are in after the bad winter we went through, but if the condition of the roads drops from 85 percent satisfactory conditions to 65 percent in five years, with no additional revenue, that crisis is going to grow in tremendous proportion,” Garvey said.
Stephen E. Sandherr, CEO of the Associated General Contractors of America, said recently that funding of projects is at “chronic levels” and must be addressed.
“It is encouraging to see President Obama pushing for a long-term bill to fund desperately needed highway and transit investments,” Sandherr said in a statement. “We look forward to reviewing details about the measure, which recognizes the federal transportation funding shortfalls that threaten to curtail investments in highway and transit projects as early as this summer. The president clearly understands that any new transportation bill must include new sources of revenue to meet the needs of our aging transportation system.”
Sandherr’s group is also encouraged by the position taken last month by Dave Camp, Republican chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, who acknowledges the coming highway trust fund crisis in a recently issued tax reform discussion draft.
“However, the most significant impact of these announcements should be to motivate Congress and the president to fix the Highway Trust Fund before this summer and to enact a new, fully funded, long-term measure before Sept. 30,” Sandherr said.
Andrew Flach, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, who represents a wide swatch of southern Illinois, notes that Davis serves on the transportation and infrastructure committee.
EAST ALTON — “Temporary” housing built nearly 75 years ago for World War II-era munitions workers will soon be replaced by 46 new single-family homes in a village-initiated redevelopment project in East Alton.
The $16 million Emerald Ridge project will begin redevelopment of the neighborhood known as the Defense Area. It’s a major step toward fulfillment of a promise made by Mayor Fred Bright when he first campaigned for the office in 1997.
The federal government developed the Defense Area housing in the years just before the war to house people who came to the area to work in the nearby Winchester-Western (now Olin Corp.) ammunition plant.
The tightly clustered housing was intended to be temporary, but plans to raze the structures went by the wayside amid a postwar housing shortage. The homes were sold to their occupants initially but over time the overwhelming majority became rental property.
“Old Army housing is what they look like,” the mayor said.
Through the decades, more and more of the units fell into disrepair. In recent years, the village government has acquired and demolished some units but most of those still standing are in poor condition. Only a handful are owner-occupied.
Bright said it wasn’t easy to get the ball rolling.
“The first phase will cost $16 million,” he said. “We don’t have that kind of money.”
Village officials enlisted the help of the Southwestern Illinois Development Authority and the Illinois Housing Development Authority. St. Louis-based Rise Community Development came on board as the project developer.
Illinois and federal tax credits helped generate more than $13 million in private investment. Additional funding came from the village and Madison County. A $184,000 grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity will pay for energy-saving features.
Demolition and foundation work began in March. Overall, the project is expected to create more than 80 jobs. Completion is expected sometime next year.
Eighty of the old housing units will be replaced. Emerald Ridge will include 23 two-bedroom homes, 11 three-bedroom ranch-style homes and 12 four-bedroom town homes. Each home will have a two-car parking pad. All will comply with the Enterprise Green Community program, exceeding Energy Star 3.0 standards for energy efficiency.
The homes will be available for rental to people earning up to 60 percent of the area median income, or $40,260 for a family of four in Madison County. Ten will be designated for extremely low-income people with disabilities or special needs who earn no more than 30 percent of the average median income – $16,110 for a two-person household.
Rents will range from $575 to $735. Qualified renters will be allowed to purchase their homes after 15 years.
Residents of the homes being demolished are eligible for relocation assistance. Those who are interested in one of the new homes and are qualified will be temporarily relocated and offered new units as they become available.
The redevelopment area includes the 300 and 400 blocks of East Drive, the 600 block of North Drive and the 300 and 400 blocks of Ohio Street. North Drive, East Drive and Ohio Street will be resurfaced.
EDWARDSVILLE — Technology is making even the most remote points on the planet more accessible, and Illinois entrepreneurs are among those clamoring to ride the global trading wave.
The water can be difficult wading, though, especially during a slowdown in the global economy and particularly when you’re not sure where to start.
“As we cross global borders in terms of international transactions, risk becomes a major factor. I hear from many of our clients almost every day that they have to become more creative not to lose to competitors,” said Silvia Torres, director of the Illinois SBDC International Trade Center at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, a part of the School of Business. The center provides free, detailed assistance to entrepreneurs — and a network that can connect them to worldwide markets.
Some of the biggest challenges also represent opportunities. Among them are advancing technologies, innovation and research strategies, finding supply chain partners and providers, the increased costs of shipping, rising wages in China and the Eurozone crisis. The list of regulations and documentation is a daunting one and prompted the center this past month to stage a seminar in which the many issues could be openly discussed.
A lot is at stake in understanding the export system. Some $65 billion in goods was sent out of Illinois last year. Some 75 percent of the value is from the state’s larger employers. But 90 percent of the state’s exporters are small- to medium-size businesses.
“We are a very active state; we shipped to 215 countries last year,” Torres said.
The most recent numbers show:
- Illinois is the fifth-largest exporter among states. The top three destinations are Canada, Mexico and China.
- A little over 64 percent of U.S. exports came from manufacturing in 2011.
- Some 632,800 jobs were supported by exports.
The SIUE trade center is part of a 12-center network in the state that jointly reported more than $800 million in export business that it assisted in 2012. This past year, the SIUE center reported more than $57 million in such business.
The Trade Center’s funding comes from two sources. Half comes from the U.S. Small Business Administration, channeled through the state’s Department of Economic Opportunity, and the other 50 percent comes from SIUE. The Trade Center is part of the school’s Small Business Development Center.
The Trade Center provides information at no cost on various aspects of exporting, from companies who are just starting out to more seasoned operations that need advice on business plans, distributors, agents, etc.
The local center works with SIUE faculty and students toward its goals, as well as 11 foreign offices through the State of Illinois Office of Trade and Investment. The newest office is in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Torres underscores a program called ISTEP (Illinois State Trade and Promotion program), which started with the Small Business Jobs Act in 2010, as a three-year pilot program. Some states have already discontinued funding but Illinois is continuing it with internal funds. Basically, it’s designed to provide companies with financial and technical assistance in three categories — group trade missions, individual foreign market missions and achieving product compliance certification.
Funding is available on a first-come basis, she said.
Under group trade missions, ISTEP helps to reimburse 50 percent to 75 percent of travel costs, not to exceed $5,000 per company. Partial reimbursement is available for up to two company representatives.
Under individual foreign market sales missions, ISTEP helps to reimburse up to 75 percent of related travel costs, not to exceed $7,500 per company. Partial travel reimbursement is available for only one company representative.
Simmons Firm takes on Johnson & Johnson subsidiary, secures $3 million verdict for child’s birth injuries
Court finds Janssen Pharmaceuticals’ Drug Topamax caused child’s cleft palate
ALTON — A jury has awarded a $3 million verdict to the family of a 5-year-old child born with bilateral cleft palate and lip as a result of the mother taking Topamax during pregnancy.
The Simmons Law Firm, a national complex litigation firm headquartered in Alton, represented parents Kelly and Brian Anderson against drug manufacturer Janssen Pharmaceuticals, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, in trial in the Court of Common Pleas in Philadelphia County.
The jury ruled defendant Janssen Pharmaceuticals failed to include the appropriate warning labels about Topamax’s risk to cause birth injuries like cleft palate on the drug’s label. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration required the pharmaceutical company to update Topamax’s label in 2011, three years after the child’s birth.
“The result sends a clear message to the manufacturers of Topamax that failing to disclose the dangers associated with their medication is inexcusable,” said attorney Andy Williams of the Simmons Firm. “On behalf of the Anderson family and their child, we are proud to have held Janssen Pharmaceuticals responsible for its decision to sell Topamax without adequately warning families of the serious risks present during pregnancy.”
Topamax is prescribed to help prevent certain types of seizers and to prevent migraine headaches in adults. The Antiepileptic Drug Pregnancy Registry reports a 3.8 percent prevalence of oral birth defects in children exposed to Topamax in utero during the first trimester. Two of the particular risks listed by this registry are cleft lip and/or cleft palate in newborns, which is known to develop in the first trimester of pregnancy before many women even know that they are pregnant.
Anderson took Topamax to treat migraine headaches in 2007 while pregnant. She was unaware of the dangerous effects it could have on her unborn child. In August 2008, Anderson’s child was born with bilateral cleft palate and lip. The child has required 14 procedures, including four surgeries, to treat the condition.
“The outcome is not about the money,” the family said in a prepared statement. “It’s about a jury giving us justice for us and our child. We hope this will help make sure no other children have to live with the injuries our daughter has endured.”
The case is In Re Topamax Litigation Kelly Anderson and Brian Anderson v. Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc., F/K/A Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
About Simmons Browder Gianaris Angelides & Barnerd LLC:
The Simmons Firm, headquartered in Alton, is one of the country’s leading asbestos and mesothelioma litigation firms. With offices in Illinois, Missouri and California, the firm has represented thousands of patients and families affected by mesothelioma throughout the country. The Simmons Firm has pledged more than $20 million to cancer research and proudly supports mesothelioma medical researchers throughout the country in order to find a cure. For more information about the Simmons firm, visit http://www.simmonsfirm.com.