Week in Review for week ending Sept. 14, 2019

CHICAGO

Uber Freight to place 2,000 jobs in historic Old Main Post Office.  The Downtown Chicago office building, under renovation after many decades as Chicago’s main post office, will be the headquarters of Uber Freight, a division of Uber Technologies.  The firm, which is developing technologies in heavy-truck gig driving, expects to occupy 463,000 square feet in early 2020.  Venture capitalists believe that the gig-economy business model is well adapted to truck transportation.  Uber Freight expects to operate nationwide from its Chicago headquarters.

The Old Main Post Office redevelopment extends downtown Chicago’s office boom from the West Loop further south along the Chicago River.  Riverfront redevelopment along this strategic stretch extends south of Roosevelt Road to “Burnham Bend,” also called Chicago’s “Neighborhood 78.”  The Illinois Innovation Network, a public-private partnership, is using the redevelopment possibilities of this South Branch location (once the site of a meandering bend of the Chicago River) to strategically maximize the value of the South Loop as a place for high-tech job creation and development.

Uber Freight already has approximately 1,000 employees in downtown Chicago, who will move into the renovated space as it becomes available for occupancy.  Uber’s decision to site its freight headquarters in Chicago is testimony to the Midwestern city’s historic location as a center of worldwide logistics and goods-shipping engineering.

GAMBLING

Illinois Gaming Board moves forward on new ethics rules.  The rules will govern the conduct of new entrants in the Illinois casino industry.  Illinois gambling will expand significantly over the next three years, as new casino licenses are awarded and existing casinos add sports betting and other amenities.

As one part of this expansion, the General Assembly enacted SB 690 this spring.  Among other provisions, this law required the Illinois Gaming Board – the State agency with overall responsibilities over the gaming industry – to adopt new rules to crack down on various forms of unethical conduct and conflicts of interest.   

In response, the Gaming Board has adopted new gambling ethics rules in compliance with SB 690.  These rules will now be scrutinized by the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR), a bipartisan arm of the General Assembly that looks at administrative rules such as these to confirm that they implement the law in compliance with the text of the law and the intent of the General Assembly.  The Gaming Board rules were adopted on Friday, September 6.

HIGHER EDUCATION

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign once again places in top 50 ranking.  The U.S. News and World Report ranking of America’s top colleges and universities is published each September.  The U.S. News survey found that the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Illinois’ flagship public university, has presented metrics that enable it to achieve a tie for 48th place.  To compile this 2019-2020 academic-year ranking, U.S. News gathered data from an institution’s undergraduate, masters’ degree, and doctorate programs.  Only the most highly selective research universities were eligible to score highly in this ranking.

The University of Illinois (UIUC) tied with the University of Texas (Austin) in 48th place based upon the data considered by U.S. News.  This was ahead of other highly-regarded state flagship universities such as the University of Georgia (#50), Ohio State University (#54), and Penn State (#57).  Two Illinois private universities also scored well, with the University of Chicago scoring #6 nationwide and Northwestern University scoring #9.  The U.S. News ranking was published on Monday, September 9.     

JOBS

Amazon praised for strong job creation in Illinois.  The online retailing giant, which implements its delivery business model from a network of distribution warehouses, has opened more than 20 facilities in Illinois during the past four years.  Amazon has hired more than 11,000 full-time employees and thousands of part-time employees. 

In its latest job announcement, Amazon will hold a Career Day in Chicago on Tuesday, September 17.  Registration is required, and registrants will learn where the hiring event is being held and how to attend.  The firm offers a $15 minimum wage, some healthcare benefits, 401(k) matching, and up to 20 weeks of paid parental leave.     

Sears Holdings successor firm announces additional job cutbacks.  Operating under the supervision of a bankruptcy court, the former Sears Holdings – now renamed Transform Holdco – continues to cut back its U.S. retailing operations and its associated professional and management work.  The Sears-operator holding company has announced plans to eliminate a further 250 positions at its Hoffman Estates, Illinois headquarters in northwestern Cook County.  The move, announced September 5, adds to concerns in Hoffman Estates that the holding company faces an uncertain fate.  As Sears, Roebuck & Co., the predecessor firm was once the largest brick-and-mortar retailer in the U.S.

PUBLIC SAFETY

IEMA observes September as National Preparedness MonthNational Preparedness Month is aimed at encouraging families to acquire and maintain self-sufficiency in emergencies.  The Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) is paying special attention to financial preparedness and lifesaving skills.  Many other actions help to increase community preparedness, including family disaster planning, child and youth preparedness, and neighbor-to-neighbor help.  Ready.Illinois.gov contains many preparedness tips.

TAXES

Illinois Property Tax Relief Task Force begins operational meetings.  Much of the operations of the multimember Task Force will be dealt with by seven defined subcommittees, which have posted a schedule and began meeting this week.  Subcommittee members from both parties heard testimony on issues such as property taxes levied by school districts and opportunities for the consolidation of units of local Illinois government.  Republican Task Force members are speaking out on the need for the General Assembly to take serious actions aimed at true property tax relief for Illinois homeowners and senior citizens.  Subcommittee meetings are open to the public.

ILLINOIS HERITAGE

Farmers like Rep. Charlie Meier help State insect, the monarch butterflyRepresentative Charlie Meier grows corn and beans on his family farm near Okawville in southwestern Illinois.  To help drain his land and reduce soil runoff, Rep. Meier and his family have sown selected seeds of long-rooted grasses and prairie flowers on the filter strips that line their arable fields. 

Filter strip plant selection is an important and growing component of overall Illinois agricultural management.  Many varieties of prairie plants are adapted to grow long roots in Illinois soil, maximizing the volume of water they can slow down and the volume of the chemicals they can pull out of the runoff.  Milkweed, one of the prairie flowering plants or “forbs” adapted to Illinois soil, is also an essential habitat for the monarch butterfly, Illinois’ state insect.  Representative Meier has planted wetland milkweed on parts of his filter strips and is encouraging his fellow farmers to do likewise.  His bipartisan, pro-milkweed HR 166 was unanimously approved by the Illinois House this spring.