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P01 tristarTriStar Properties, in partnership with PCCP, LLC, has begun construction of a $25 million, 673,127-square-foot speculative distribution center at the Gateway Commerce Center in Pontoon Beach. The Gateway RT Distribution Center will be built by the joint venture of Propper Construction Services and S.M. Wilson & Co.

    The commercial real estate market has been through some tough times over the last six years but it’s heating up and industrial real estate is leading the way.
    The CoStar Group, a research firm that provides information, analytics and marketing services to the multi-family and commercial real estate industry, recently issued its mid-year report on the metropolitan St. Louis industrial real estate market. Its analysis revealed that the vacancy rate in the metro market fell to 7.5 percent in the second quarter of 2014 with more than 1.25 million square feet being absorbed during that time frame. The vacancy rate has steadily declined from 8.6 percent in September 2013 and inventory (available space) has declined to a point where real estate brokers are expressing concern.
    “The market has been very good,” said Wayne Barber, a principal with the BARBERMurphy Group in Shiloh. “We’re experiencing a problem again that we have had in the past in that we are running out of inventory — the availability of existing buildings — particularly for purchase and to a lesser degree for lease.”
    The problem has been that during the recession “spec” buildings were simply not being built — partially because of lack of tenant demand and partially because of lack of available financing. Spec buildings are those that are built speculatively without a particular tenant in mind. Now, with the economy heating up, existing vacant buildings are being snapped up throughout the metro area.
    “I had a client that really wanted to buy a building of 30,000 to 35,000 square feet in the Westport area,” said John Sheehan, a principal with NAI Desco in Clayton. “We had our eye on one but we were a day late and a dollar short on this building and got aced out by somebody else. So, now they think what they’re going to end up doing is renewing where they are. There just isn’t a lot of available product out there.  They’re kind of frustrated but I think it’s just the law of supply and demand coming into play.”

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    Brock Wilkerson is on the ground floor of a high-flying business that he feels is bound for even greater heights.
    In that regard the Southern Illinois native is not unlike some of the largest companies in the country, who are chasing after the commercial drone industry, which he hopes really takes flight once federal regulators figure out a rule playbook about a year from now.
    Wilkerson’s McLeansboro-based company, Insight Aerial Productions, recently added use of an unmanned aerial vehicle to take bird’s-eye video of ground-level scenes for real estate customers and others. Previously used only fixed-wing aircraft for the work. The dual approach is providing his viewers a new perspective.
    “It’s allowing us to see things in a way that we could never see before. If we need to shoot from an airplane for higher shots, we’ve got access to an airplane. If we need to be down lower to get shots that you can’t get with a ladder or dolly, or some type of very expensive rigging, then we use the unmanned aircraft,” he said.
    Technically, he said, there are no formal restrictions for unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, but hobbyists and others in the civilian aviation side have agreed to keep such flights under 400 feet and within line of sight at the advice of the Federal Aviation Administration until formal measures are recommended by the FAA.
    “That will keep everybody safely separated until Congress writes the rules,” Wilkerson said. “Most everything you want to do, you can do below 400 feet; we manage to do a lot of what we want to do at 100 or 150 feet.”
    The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 has set a deadline of Sept. 30, 2015, for the agency to establish regulations.
    On its website the FAA goes into lofty detail on its goals to integrate small unmanned air vehicles into the National Air Space.

    Manufacturers and contractors are walking a delicate balance these days. On one hand they want to be able to land the big projects. On the other they’re worried about having enough skilled people to do the job.
    Today’s concern about good jobs is becoming tomorrow’s concern about good workers.
    “There’s a drought of up-and-coming vocational workers,” said Jonathan Ferry, the economic development director of Granite City. “Every time I go and talk to our manufacturers, they’re like, ‘We don’t know where we’re going to get workers’.”
    The dichotomy of present and future workforce needs is exacerbated by the state itself, which no longer finances education the way it did. Some electives, like vocational education, are simply not being offered enough.
    “We’ve been forced to step into the breach and take up some of the slack,” said Tim Garvey, chief executive officer of the Southern Illinois Builders Association. Around 15 years ago, his organization began a series of Construction Industry Career Expos, which are today conducted for high school students twice a year, once each in Southern and Southwestern Illinois, to encourage young people to enter building fields.
    In that expo, trades unions offer hands-on booths and exhibits appealing to a wide variety of vocations, from carpentry to crane operation.
    “They’re getting very creative in simulating jobs in construction,” Garvey said of the trade expo participants.
    Some 1,000 students attended the Southwestern Illinois Expo held in recent years in Collinsville. Next year, the event will be held at the Belle-Clair Fairgrounds in Belleville.
    Garvey, who sits on multiple pension boards, says it’s easy to anticipate the coming shortfall: The average age of workers in those pension plans is around 40. And that number is growing older with time.
    Couple the aging workforce with the frustrated workforce — those people who are simply leaving vocational careers for lack of work — and you’ve got a real problem, he said.
    The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce has estimated that by 2022 the United States will fall short by 11 million the necessary number of workers with postsecondary education, including 6.8 million workers with bachelor’s degrees, and 4.3 million workers with a postsecondary vocational certificate, some college credits or an associate’s degree.
    Ferry said vocational work is no longer a romantic aspiration for young people — or their parents, who are telling children that manufacturing is not a viable career path. As a result, kids think in terms of college, but not necessarily technical school.
    That notion belies the facts, Ferry contends.
    “We need toolmakers, electricians, mechanics, machinists, and if you look at some of the most successful educational systems in the world, one of them is Switzerland,” he said. “Seventy percent of their students go into vocational programs. Only 20 percent go to college, and they have one of the healthiest economies, arguably, in the world. They attribute that to their workforce.”
    Ferry thinks there is an opportunity to create a workforce base locally that will become a magnet to potential manufacturers, but it’s up to the region’s leadership to move that direction.
    “As other places say, ‘We don’t have the workers,’ maybe (businesses) will come here. If we can make this a hub for manufacturing operations, it will support our existing manufacturers and it will increase our educational attainment rates.”

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Attorney Michael Stewart secures confidential settlement against Gateway Regional Medical Center, guards

    ALTON – A confidential settlement was reached recently, just before trial, in a wrongful death lawsuit concerning the death of 42-year-old Anthony “Todd” Burkey, of Granite City.
    Burkey died Dec. 2, 2011, while being restrained by three security guards in the emergency room at Gateway Regional Medical Center in Granite City. The lawsuit alleged the attack was motivated in part by the guards’ prejudice against Burkey as an individual with a mental disability.
    Simmons Hanly Conroy Attorney Michael Stewart represented the family, including wife Crystal Burkey and his teenage son, against the hospital and the three security guards: Charles Knapp, Dylan Ritchie and Shane Biggs. Knapp and Ritchie were also indicted by a grand jury for involuntary manslaughter.
    “The settlement is a fair result,” Stewart said. “However, no amount of money can ever compensate for the loss of a father or husband, but the family is thankful that those responsible have been held accountable.”
    Todd, who was physically disabled from a previous work injury, was admitted Dec. 2, 2011, to the hospital for undiagnosed medical and mental health disorders after causing a disturbance in his neighborhood.
    Hospital staff requested security guards to transfer Burkey to an inpatient room. However, the complaint alleged the guards threw Burkey to the floor without justification or provocation, then pinned him down by lying on top of him, which led to his suffocation. Instead of checking his condition, hospital surveillance tape allegedly showed the guards laughing and talking in the room for several minutes before they realized Burkey had died.
    The complaint also alleged the guards failed to report Burkey’s condition to their supervisors in a timely manner so medical treatment could be provided.
    Burkey was a member of the Labor Local 338. He enjoyed playing the guitar, working on cars and loved dogs, according to his obituary.
    The case was Burkey vs. Knapp, No. 12-L-000652 (Madison County, IL).
    Headquartered in Alton, Ill., with more than 70 attorneys and 150 support staff, Simmons Hanly Conroy  has since 1999 recovered more than $5 billion in verdicts and settlements. Learn more at www.simmonsfirm.com.