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By DENNIS GRUBAUGH
    COLUMBIA — City officials plan to move forward this year on a long-stalled effort to build an interchange to help develop more than 2,000 acres of prime land along Interstate 255 just east of the Mississippi River.
    The project has been in limbo for years, delayed by both political and financial considerations, but the outcome may be different this time, since a more regional approach is being used, says Columbia’s community and economic development director.
    “There’s been interest in that development since at least the 1970s, and it’s not surprising because it’s the last big area of developable land relatively close in to St. Louis,” Paul Ellis said.
    Plans for an interchange were developed about a decade ago, but were placed on the shelf during the recession. The site is Ramsey Road and I-255, but the project is commonly known as the Fish Lake Interchange. It is part of what Columbia calls the I-255 Development District, or the American Bottom area, entirely within Columbia’s limits. There is quite a bit of unincorporated land between the district and neighboring Dupo to the north that could be annexed.
    “We will probably, depending on the developer and the property owners, annex more land, but we will work cooperatively with Dupo on where the boundaries are,” Ellis said.
    The Fish Lake Interchange plans were approved in 2007 by the Illinois Department of Transportation while Mary Lamie was still regional director over IDOT District 8. Lamie is now executive director of the St. Louis Freight District, and Ellis is now a member of the freight district’s board.
    Years ago, Columbia and Dupo had many fruitless meetings trying to reach various intergovernmental agreements. Dupo was pursuing development of its own Discovery Business Park and was hopeful of building an interchange at 255 and Davis Street Ferry Road — less than two miles from where Columbia wants to see its own interchange.
    Eventually, the recession came along and both efforts were sidelined.
    “It was not our finest moment,” Ellis says. “But we laid the groundwork and it’s a no brainer that people would be looking to develop this property. Things are different now and I’m relatively confident we can have forward movement on it.”
    To that end, Ellis and others are enlisting a number of supporters.
    “We met with St. Clair County officials last week and we’re meeting again (soon) with Dupo officials.  We’ve got a really good dialogue going now with Dupo, which hasn’t always been the case,” he said in late December.
    Much of the engineering work and archaeological and environmental studies are already done, he said.
    The biggest obstacle is money. An interchange that would have cost only $17 million in 2007 is now estimated at $27 million.
    “We’re hoping as we get all this new funding for transportation projects at the federal, state and regional levels that there is a way to make that interchange a reality,” he said.
    Ellis said the project could be a key benefit for Union Pacific’s Dupo Yard, a large intermodal and rail operation. He has a letter of support for the Fish Lake Interchange from railroad officials.
    Union Pacific would like to expand that operation to keep up with competition, he said.

By DENNIS GRUBAUGH
    A slow, but steady post-recession decline in student population has community colleges around Illinois exploring avenues to rebuild headcount.
    An improving economy, it appears, is putting workers back in the job market — and taking them away from school campuses, causing administrators to rethink their program offerings.
    Statewide, enrollment is way down from the 372,566 fall enrollment of 2011 when America began climbing out of its economic malaise. As of Fall 2015, that number stood at 317,192, a decline of 55,374 or 14.8 percent over four years, according to the Illinois Community College Board.
    In the current fall enrollment, only 12 of 39 community college systems in Illinois gained students. Lewis and Clark Community College, based in Godfrey, was one of the 12.
    “We are 0.9 percent up compared to last fall,” said Kent Scheffel, vice president of enrollment services at LCCC. “In Illinois, the state average was a 5.6 percent drop, so we feel real good about a 0.9 percent (increase),” he said.
    LCCC’s fall enrollment is 7,971, some 68 more students than last fall.
    The region’s other community college, Southwestern Illinois College, based in Belleville, lost 22.2 percent of its student headcount since Fall 2011 — from 12,779 to the current 9,943. The decline in the past year was 5.7 percent.
    SWIC declined to comment for this story, but colleges in general have been addressing the same situation.
    “The economy has made a difference,” Scheffel said. “We’ve seen a drop in the number of 25- to 49-year-old students, and we attribute that to individuals who are finding jobs. That’s not good for us, but it’s still good news. It’s a plus for the region. We’re happy to see them go back to work, and it just means we have to work a little harder on our end to keep our numbers up.”
    Lewis and Clark is actively looking into new programs to tap into change. One is to establish a maritime institute, which would train such professions as barge pilots and deckhands.
    “There are going to be a lot of retirements in the barge industry, and we were approached about creating a program. We are in an ideal location for it obviously,” Scheffel said.
    The board has already approved the idea, but the program is still some time from being established.
    “We’d still have to buy equipment and that sort of thing and still go through the necessary steps with the Illinois Community College Board,” Scheffel said.
    LCCC in some ways is still riding a crest its enjoyed for two decades. Its student headcount has gone up in 19 of the last 20 years, with last year being the one exception — a large exception — when it declined 617 students. The headcount since Fall 2011 is down by 5.7 percent (8,451 to the current 7,971).
    In Illinois, only one community college system has more students today than it had in 2011 — that being the College of DuPage. However, it lost students this fall, down 2.2 percent year over year.
    In a survey conducted as part of the recent fall enrollment count by the Illinois Community College Board, most colleges attributed the decline to the workforce trend.
    Lewis and Clark has managed to keep pace by implementing several programs, including the new 5,000-square-foot St. Louis Confluence Fab Lab opened this November at the Historic N.O. Nelson Complex in Edwardsville. There, students are offered 3D printing, CNC, metalworking, welding, wood/plastic working, clean manufacturing, design, finishing and electronics.
    “It’s modeled after the fabrication labs offered by (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). In fact, there was an MIT representative who provided comments at the grand opening,” Scheffel said. “Somebody who has an idea for an invention can put the whole idea into place and develop a prototype.”

p01 STL RegionalPaul Voorhees adjusts a tow bar as he prepares to move a 1958 Piper Tri-Pacer at St. Louis Regional Airport.

(Illinois Business Journal/Dennis Grubaugh)
 

By DENNIS GRUBAUGH
    EAST ALTON — Big River Aviation is starting small at St. Louis Regional Airport, but the company’s on a flight path to greater heights.
    Owner Paul Voorhees is working out of three tiny t-hangers, temporary space as he pursues plans to either lease or build bigger hangar space on the airport grounds.
    He is starting a flight instruction school as well as building up his existing small-aircraft repair shop — both of  which fit the needs of the airport. After 30 years as an aircraft mechanic, Voorhees has his own customers but also anticipates some spillover work from the airport’s major tenant, West Star Aviation, which specializes in larger-aircraft repairs.
    The airport has not had a flight school since the closing of Langa Air in 2009.
    Voorhees, 49, opened his new maintenance shop in September.
    “He’s had airplanes flowing through there ever since he’s been here,” Regional Manager Dave Miller said.
    Voorhees is well-known in the air community in Missouri and Illinois where he serves as an instructor. He has been an airplane mechanic since 1986 — starting with his days in the U.S. Marine Corps.
    “I started Big River Aviation in  2008 and worked out of the cab of my truck. I would drive from airport to airport and do a mobile service.” At the same time he had a full-time job running the A&P School for St. Louis Public Schools, one of only four high schools in the country with FAA-certification authority.
    He’s a rare breed, a mechanic who’s also a pilot and an instructor. He got his flying certificate in 1990.
    His credentials are spelled out on his business card, which lists him as an “A&P” (a mechanic certified by the Federal Aviation Administration to work on both airframe and power plant); an  “IA” (an inspection authority, also sanctioned by the FAA); and a pilot.

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    ALTON — With the support of Simmons Hanly Conroy Chairman John Simmons and firm employees, the Metro East Chapter of the American Diabetes Association’s 2015 Step Out: Walk to Stop Diabetes raised $158,090.30 to benefit diabetes programs in the St. Louis metropolitan area. This year’s fund-raising amount exceeded the walk’s goal, making it one of the most successful in the nation.
    “We can’t thank John Simmons and the staff of Simmons Hanly Conroy enough for their gracious support of the Metro East Step Out: Walk to Stop Diabetes,” said American Diabetes Association Metro East Manager Rawnie Berry. “The firm has long been a supporter of the Metro East Walk as a Presenting Sponsor and Corporate Walk Team.  For the past several years Chris Levy, Kim Galanti, and Liz Whitehead have raised over $1,000, earning each the title of ‘Walk Champion.’ The fund-raising success we have achieved year after year has a lot to do with the firm’s unwavering support.”
simmonsjanuarypicRawnie Berry, manager of the ADA Metro East Office, recently presented (from right) John Simmons a plaque and Chris Levy, Liz Whitehead and Kim Galanti with medals and T-shirts to recognize their contributions to the walk.    More than 680 people walked in this year’s event, with 124 teams aiding in fundraising efforts. The firm’s team, led by mesothelioma attorney Chris Levy, raised nearly $6,000 to benefit diabetes research. Berry recently presented John Simmons with a plaque and Chris, Kim, and Liz with champion T-shirts and medals, to recognize their contributions to the 2015 Walk to Stop Diabetes.
    “It’s great seeing so many people in the community rally around a cause,” Simmons said. “Some of our own firm employees have diabetes, so being a part of this event really means a lot to us. Thank you to everyone for their hard work in helping to find a cure.”
    More than 29 million Americans suffer from diabetes, and 8.1 million people are unaware that they have the disease. Nearly 100 people lose their lives to this disease every day. According to the ADA, if trends continue, 1 in 3 adults will have diabetes by 2050. Funds raised at the event stay in the St. Louis metropolitan area and help the ADA fulfill its mission to prevent and cure diabetes.
    
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 call the American Diabetes Association at 1-800-DIABETES (1-800-342-2383) or visit www.diabetes.org.
    
About Simmons Hanly Conroy, LLC
    
    Simmons Hanly Conroy LLC is one of the nation’s largest mass tort law firms and has recovered more than $5 billion in verdicts and settlements for plaintiffs. Primary areas of litigation include asbestos and mesothelioma, pharmaceutical, consumer protection, environmental and personal injury. The firm’s attorneys have been appointed to leadership in numerous national multidistrict litigations, including Vioxx, Yaz and Toyota Unintended Acceleration. The firm also represents small and mid-size corporations, inventors and entrepreneurs in matters involving business litigation. Offices are located in New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, St. Louis, and Alton, Illinois. Read more at www.simmonsfirm.com.