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p01 ground breakingOfficials from icon Mechanical and Granite City broke ground in April for icon’s new Heavy Metal Shop. From left: Bob Belobraydic, Sheet Metal Shop manager – icon; Todd Jeffries, vice president of Industrial Operations at icon; Tom Murawski, VP of engineering at icon; Tim Schaeffer, executive VP & partner at icon; Jeff Smith, CFO at icon; Mike Thomas, senior project manager, icon; Rich Lackey, sheet metal estimator at icon; James Amos, economic development director, city of Granite City; and Rosemarie Brown, executive director, Chamber of Commerce Southwestern Madison County. IBJ photo/Dennis GrubaughBy DENNIS GRUBAUGH
    GRANITE CITY — Construction has begun on a 14,400-square-foot building for icon Mechanical, a growing company that continues to bring new life into the city’s aging downtown core.
    It will be the latest building in the company’s campus, which is spread over several blocks. This building is going up in the 1600 block of Edison Avenue.
    icon is a mechanical engineering and construction firm specializing in the design, fabrication, installation, modification and service of process piping, industrial ventilation, and commercial HVAC. Its customers through the years have included the likes of General Motors, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Toyota/Bodine.
    The work it does has applications in laboratories, hospitals, power plants and more. This building will allow icon to produce heavy metal, prefabricated duct on a larger scale.
    “It’s giving us the capacity to continue to grow,” Chief Financial Officer Jeff Smith told the Illinois Business Journal.
    The company already has buildings devoted to sheet metal, pipe fabrication, warehousing and modular assembly space —some 125,000 square feet in total, in Granite City. There is also an office in St. Louis and a service and safety operations office in Madison, Ill.
    The firm was opened in 1995 by founding partners Mike Bieg, Tim Schaeffer and Joe Parise, who died in 2006. Jeff Smith was added as a partner in 1998 and three others have since come aboard. The company is now owned by a group comprised of Bieg, Schaeffer, Jeff Smith, Jeff Rush, Todd Jeffries and Tom Murawski.
    The company has 105 professional staff and another 150 employees in the field.
    Scanning the terrain around him during a groundbreaking in April, Smith counted at least six houses that have been removed for expansion of various sorts at icon. Most of those properties were long past their prime.
    “We’ve taken down several houses, and the neighbors have been really good seeing the improvements,” Smith said. “It’s good for the community.”
    James Amos, economic development director for the city of Granite City, said icon Mechanical is a “part of most the major projects happening in the region right now.”
    “To have their headquarters right here in downtown Granite City and investing in the community is a tremendous thing for us,” Amos said.
    Amos said icon is a model for growth.
    “They are growing in terms of business. They are growing in terms of the type of business they are going after. That’s what this is all about, this particular building,” he said.
    Amos pointed out that icon, over the last several years, bought up a good portion of several blocks in and around 16th Street, not just houses but other properties, including industrial.
    The company’s work is spread across the United States, but more international work is in the offing. Recently, icon worked a project in Mexico and is looking at the potential on the Caribbean island of St. Croix.
    The prefabricated structure will begin arriving in May and should be completely assembled by August, the partners said.
    They expect the investment will be in the range of $3 million.


p01 PattonU.S. Steel’s Granite City Works plant manager Michael Patton speaks to a crowd assembled for this year’s Business and Industrial Appreciation Evening held by the Chamber of Commerce Southwestern Madison County.By DENNIS GRUBAUGH
    Resurrection of some processing units and the return of workers at U.S. Steel’s Granite City Works have the plant’s manager optimistic about the future.
    Businessmen got a rare bit of insight into the company’s plans when Michael Patton spoke to a crowd assembled for the Business and Industrial Appreciation Evening held in April at Gateway Motorsports Park, sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce Southwestern Madison County.
    Patton said he was sitting in his management office at the USS Minntac steel plant in Mountain Iron, Minn., when he received the call in April 2016, and “the opportunity to come back home” to Granite City.
    The return was bittersweet because the plant was down more than 1,000 employees, laid off when much of the plant was idled in December 2015.
    “I am from Granite City,” he said. “I actually grew up two doors down from Fornaszewski’s Music Store. I used to look at the steel plant growing up.”
p01 honoreesPaul Wellhausen addresses honorees during the Business and Industrial Appreciation Evening held in April at Gateway Motorsports Park.    The restart of what’s known as the B Blast Furnace, an ironmaking facility, should be done in June. That facility had actually been rebuilt just prior to the idling of the plant in 2015.
    “That means we’ll also start our BOF shop and our new, $100-plus million casting machine, which is the first- or second-most capable casting machine in the United States of America, which is one of the big advantages that we have,” Patton said.
    When Patton returned to the mill in 2016, there were only 370 workers. By the time the company announced this year that it was reopening the blast furnace, there were 700-plus in the complex because the company had brought back hot strip mill operations in February 2017.
    “Our intentions are to land somewhere in the 1,200 to 1,300 range with steelworkers and a little over 100 managers,” he said.
    “We’ll probably make 1.4 to 1.5 million (net tons) in steel production with the one blast furnace,” he told the audience.
    “We also plan to continue to bring in big slabs from our Gary, Ind., facility as well as our Mon Valley (works) facility in Pittsburgh,” he said.

p01 AJSmithA.J. SmithBy ALAN J. ORTBALS
    Which counties are getting the biggest bang for their tax buck? In Illinois, Madison, Monroe and St. Clair all rank in the top 10, according to a recent report by Smart Asset, a personal finance technology company headquartered in New York, N.Y.
    “We’re a personal finance technology company,” said A. J. Smith, Smart Asset’s vice president of financial education. “We have tools online to help people with big financial decisions. Free, online automated tools to help with decisions like — how much house can I afford? How much money do I need to save for retirement? How much can I expect to pay in property taxes if I move to specific area? We do studies that dive into the numbers and data to get people thinking and talking about these important issues,” Smith added. “Oftentimes the financial discussions get pushed aside in the excitement and worried about later. So, we produce these studies to help people with these issues. What are the property taxes?  Are you happy with those property taxes? How do those taxes fit into your budget? Are you budgeting well for that? Are you surprised by it? The goal is to get people thinking and talking and acting intentionally about their finances.”
    Smart Asset’s Biggest Bang for the Buck report aims to find the places in the United States where people are getting the most for their property tax dollars, Smith said. They do this by looking at school rankings, crime rates and property taxes for every county in the nation, state by state.
    To rate educational quality, the firm calculates the average math and reading/language arts proficiencies for all the school districts in the country. Within each state, schools are ranked between 1 and 10 (with 10 being the best) based on those average scores.
    For each county, Smart Asset calculates the violent and property crimes per 100,000 residents.
    Based on the school and crime numbers, the firm determines a community score — the ratio of the school rank to the combined crime rate per 100,000 residents.
    Then they use the number of households, median home value and average property tax rate to calculate a per capita property tax collected for each county.
    Finally, Smart Asset arrives at an Overall Value Index by calculating the ratio of the community score to the per capita property tax paid. This, they say, reveals the counties in each state where people are getting the most bang for their buck, or where their property tax dollars are going the furthest. St. Clair County received an OVI of 94.76; Madison County recorded an OVI of 89.03; and Monroe County came in at 82.13. Sangamon County was tops in the state with a OVI of 99.55.
    In terms of property taxes, Madison County comes in 39th in the state with an average property tax rate of 1.95 percent of home value, well below the state average of 2.13 percent, according to the report. Similarly, homeowners in St. Clair County pay an average of $2,618 in property taxes, $1,200 less than the state average.
    “That’s great news but they’re just telling us what we already knew,” said Deb Treat Frazier, CEO of the Realtor Association of Southwestern Illinois. “We know that we have great schools, we have a lot of growth, a lot of new construction going on and Scott Air Force Base is booming. Now the rest of the country is seeing that this is a great place to live. And, we have all of that while being part of a large metropolitan area with all that that offers.”


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    ALTON – Simmons Hanly Conroy has announced the 14th Annual Simmons Employee Foundation Golf Tournament will benefit Join Hands ESL. The East St. Louis organization is dedicated to empowering the city’s youth and families by giving them the resources needed to find a pathway out of poverty. The tournament will take place Friday, June 22, at the Spencer T. Olin Golf Course in Alton, Illinois.