The Price of Education

When education becomes so expensive for many of those working hard to make it happen, one has to start to wonder where society is headed.  Right now, Chicago seems to be encountering this.  The city has approached the Chicago Board of Education to borrow $389 million just to keep schools open until the end of the school year, while making the necessary deposits into teachers’ pension funds.

This price tag seems rather large.  Especially when you look at the fact that – to implement it – the Education Board itself will need to borrow against the money it owes in state grants to Chicago Public Schools (CPS) – all $467 million of it.

But then you take a look at the activities of the CPS in the tech sphere.  Being America’s third largest school district in the US (with over 380,000 students) has turned it into one of the most highly reputable, at least when it comes to advanced technology.  One example of this is Newton Bateman that has implemented the Google drill. Teachers and administrators at the school have been enlisted to Googlefy the classroom, promoting Google’s products, ultimately having students make regular use of Google Docs, Gmail, Chromebooks and more.

So while the city’s schools might on the one hand be in financial distress, if they continue classroom Googlification, they potentially could be well on their way to bolstering their image.

Parks and Recreation

A serious renovation has just begun at Humboldt Park. Piet Oudolf – who was behind the very successful upgrade of Millennium Park’s Lurie Garden – was chosen by the Chicago Park District, the Chicago Park Foundation and the Garden Conservancy to lead the Jens Jensen Formal Garden restoration project.  This will involve an overhaul of the decaying infrastructure and a re-invigoration of the design features, paralleling Jensen’s infamous Prairie style. Part of what Oudolf will incorporate is a “durable” design, containing Chicago’s seasons. The Hitchcock Design Group has been commissioned as design coordinator, so that the end result will be the creation of a “community of plants that work well together and look beautiful throughout the seasons.”

For those who want to enjoy the fun parts of Chicago’s parks, the summer is the perfect time to start.  Earlier this month saw the start of Night Out in the Parks, marking Ellis Park’s fifth summer season of performances and interactive shows.  Featuring around 1,200 events, there will be something for each of Chicago’s 77 community areas.  And within the bounds of community spirit, 125 local artists and art organizations will be participating in these shows, most of which are free.

Meanwhile, to mark its 90th birthday, representatives from the Chicago Park District were at Grant Park turning on the Buckingham Fountain.  Participating in the celebratory event were both the Brookfield Zoo and the Shedd Aquarium.  In addition, those who want to memorialize the 90th birthday forever, can purchase a 1,000 pound chunk of marble for a mere $22,000….plus $299 shipping! Get in touch with Stuart Grannen of Architectural Artifacts for more details.

Boost for Chicago Businesses

With the announcement that three Chicago-based firms are being chosen to lead the Obama Presidential Center’s project management team, the reputation for successful, thriving businesses in the region is taking a positive spin. In this role, the team will be in charge of the establishment and guidance of the processes needed to ensure the center is being both designed and developed simultaneous to budget, schedule and technical stipulations as set out by the foundation.

The three firms – Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL), McKissack & McKissack and Ardmore Associates – will each bring something else to the project. JLL has the capacity to provide the project with will bring “industry-leading practices” vis-à-vis the library’s design and construction; and the other two firms have a strong niche in the African-American community as well as the Ardmore Associates being a women-owned professional services company.

Meanwhile, over in the software industry, ActiveCampaign is set to add a further 225 employees to its ranks over the next two years, more than tripling the size of its headquarters.

With such recognition and expansion of businesses in the area, Chicago looks like its setting the pace for other regions nationwide.

 

3rd Annual Small Business Forum

Two days ago, Fox Valley SCORE hosted its 3rd Annual Small Business Forum. Since Americans seem to be increasingly switching from employee to employer (becoming their own bosses), a greater need has emerged for the know-how to do this.  Learning about the political, social and economic consequences is crucial and these forums – attended by local experts – set out to assist in the matters.

The event took place at the Northern Illinois University Conference Center (in Naperville) from 8.30am to 2.30pm, and, as in the past, successfully presented take-away tools for small businesses to “advance and grow into thriving enterprises.”  Topics covered included: plan building, how to start, product/service pricing, cash flow management.  As well, participants were able to network with other SME owners to exchange information and support each other.

Keynote speaker was Anderson’s Bookshops and Anderson’s Bookfair’s co-owner, Becky Anderson whose topic was the impact on the local community of small businesses.  As a fifth generation family business manager (which started back in 1875 in Napervile) Anderson was President of the American Booksellers Association  for seven years and a year ago started her four-year term on the Naperville City Council.  Her mantra of “put your money where your heart is – home,” has resulted in her making her a true “treasure to her business and community.”

Chicago’s New Developments

Chicago will soon be home to the world’s largest ever Starbucks.  In 2019, North Michigan Avenue will have a Starbucks Reserve Roastery measuring 43,000 square feet, spanning four floors, offering customers a “fully sensorial coffee environment dedicated to roasting, brewing and packaging.”

The Mayor is wholly supportive of this move, seeing the benefit of the city’s “Magnificent Mile,” which he said “brings in millions of visitors from across this globe.”  Rahm Emanuel thus believes it to be the  perfect location for a world-class coffee destination.”  Further, for the economy as a whole it is a positive move, given that it is making a large investment in Chicago and will be of benefit to locals as well.

The development has been received by other business people as well.  For example, Crate and Barrel founder Gordon Segal, commented that it will have a “unique way of becoming a beacon for a brand.”  He added that he “can’t think of a better retailer than Starbucks to offer Chicago something new and exciting with its Reserve Roastery.”

Other developments in progress include: One Bennett Park (a 70-floor tower at 451 E. Grand that started building last spring) designed by Robert A.M. Stern, a New York architect; Optima Chicago Center II a 57-story tower at 220 East Illinois.

 

Earnings and Stock Price Up for United Despite Violent Treatment of Passenger

An United Airlines Boeing 767-300 gets loaded at Chicago O’Hare (KORD/ORD) for the flight to Europe. Photo by Lasse Fuss

Although United Airlines has had a rough time this past month dodging bullets in response to last week’s violent treatment of a passenger, quarterly earnings were higher than expected.

United Continental Holdings Inc was forecast to earn 38 cents per share in the first quarter of 2017 by Wall Street analysts. Instead, the major airline company posted 41 cents per share. Revenue was up to $8.42 billion, a 2.7 percent increase from last year, and better than the predicted $8.38 billion.

“In the first quarter of 2017, our financial and operational performance gives us a lot of confidence about the foundation we are building,” stated Oscar Munoz, CEO.

United’s stock closed on Monday afternoon up 2 percent, to $70.77 from its close on Friday. The stock rose even higher in after-hours trading, reaching $71.55 per share, almost back to its previous price before the incident of April 9.

The incident involved cell-phone videos depicting a bloodied passenger being dragged off a United flight by policemen to make room for United personnel. Without venturing into whether United was within their legal rights to call law enforcement to force the man off the plane, the bad publicity was not good for the stock price.  Yet, it seems to have taken only a bit more than a week for the shares to bounce back, and the company’s revenues did even better than expected.

The company said that it is hoping for improved customer service in the future.

“It is obvious from recent experiences that we need to do a much better job serving our customers,” Munoz said. “The incident that took place aboard Flight 3411 has been a humbling experience, and I take full responsibility. This will prove to be a watershed moment for our company, and we are more determined than ever to put our customers at the center of everything we do. We are dedicated to setting the standard for customer service among U.S. airlines, as we elevate the experience our customers have with us from booking to baggage claim.”

Mayor Emanuel Defies AG Sessions on Chicago’s Sanctuary Policy

Rahm Emanuel, former White House Chief of Staff (2009-2010), Mayor of Chicago since 2011

Attorney General Jeff Sessions hunkered down on his threat to halt funding to what are being called “sanctuary cities” in response to the city’s controversial policies regarding treatment of immigrants.

Defiantly, Mayor Rahm Emanuel responded by reiterating his promise to “continue to welcome” immigrants to Chicago, despite the Attorney General’s threats to block federal money for law enforcement.

“I’ve always seen Chicago as a welcoming city,” Emanuel said in an interview. “It welcomed my grandfather 100 years ago, we continue to welcome entrepreneurs, immigrants, and I would just say think of it this way: Half the new businesses in Chicago and the state of Illinois come from immigrants, nearly half,” he added. “Half the patents at the University of Illinois come from immigrants, and so we want to continue to welcome people, welcome their ideas, welcome their families to the city of Chicago, who want to build the American dream for their children and their grandchildren.”

The Mayor was reacting to Sessions’ announcement that he would order the Department of Justice to make the receiving of federal grants conditional on compliance with immigration law. This statement reinforces the executive order on sanctuary cities that newly elected President Donald Trump signed back in January.

Caterpillar Closing its Chicago Plant

Photo courtesy of Shaun Greiner

Peoria, Illinois-based Caterpillar Inc, announced last week that it is planning to close its Aurora, Illinois plant by the end of 2018. The closure will result in the loss of about 800 jobs. The plant makes large-wheel loaders and compactors for construction and other industrial uses.

The facility will retain about 400 of its total 1200 workers, including those in product support and engineers.

Nearly three months ago the company first revealed that it was considering the closure of the plant, which is in a suburb of Chicago, and moving the jobs to different locations in Little Rock, Arkansas and Decatur, Illinois.

The 800 out of work employees will be allowed to apply for positions in other facilities owned by Caterpillar.

Alphabet Buys YNoFace for $4.5 Trillion. Not!

An artist with a unique sense of humor, fertile imagination, and or an ironic way of looking at the world, claimed he became the richest man in the world when Google’s parent company, Alphabet, bought his art business in exchange for stock.

Antonio Lee, owner of YNoFace Holdings, is a 32-year-old painter who works in acrylics, filed a report with the Securities and Exchange Commission falsely claiming that Alphabet gave him 4.5 billion Class A shares in its company as payment for YNoFace Holdings. That number of shares is about a factor of ten larger than the actual number of outstanding shares, and would be worth an estimated $3.6 trillion, making Lee richer than Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and Jeff Bezos, all together!

The false filing seems to have done little damage other than to Lee’s credibility, although it has gotten him so free publicity. There is no evidence that anyone believed his filing claim, that he profited in any way, or fooled any investor.

The former barber and retail agent, who paints his subjects without faces, told the Chicago Tribune that he always wanted to be rich, “so I could have more free time with my family.” He is a divorced father of three.

The filing did make its way into the SEC’s Edgar database, which takes online submissions of regulatory filings. Every year as many as 800,000 forms are filed with the SEC, or an astounding 3,000 every working day. The government does not check the filings, and frequently doesn’t even remove the ones found to be false.

“The SEC can’t stop them,” Lawrence West, a former SEC associate enforcement director. “They can only punish the filer afterward and remove the filing from the system. So, caveat lector — let the reader beware.”

The government can choose to charge false filers with a civil-fraud lawsuit, or even a federal criminal prosecution can ensue.

This was not the first-time Lee filed a false form with the SEC. On October 19 Lee said that the Bank of America bought a share in YNoFace Holdings for the company’s stock worth $88 billion. Apparently, he was still not rich enough.

The Art Institute of Chicago Wins Interactive Award at SXSW

And the winner was: The Art Institute of Chicago for its digital tool called JourneyMaker in the Visual Media Experience division.

The tool allows families to create their own personalized tour of the Art Institute museum ahead of time, to make their “in-person” visit more rewarding.

The yearly Interactive Innovation Awards entered its 20th year at this year’s SXSW conference, and gave out a total of 13 awards. The awards cover a wide range of categories, including wearable tech, VR & AR, smart cities and new economy.

Visual media experience, the category for which the Chicago Art Institute was recognized, awards projects that “create content and deliver it in a way that moves beyond passive viewership by providing a more immersive and engaging entertainment experience.”

JourneyMaker was launched last year. Users create a personalized tour of the museum choosing one of eight storylines, like Superheroes or Time Travelers. They then select the works found in the museum that they would like to visit that fit within their chosen theme. When you are done, you can even print a hard copy of the guide you just created, and come well-prepared for some great museum fun.

The main goal of the tool is to make what otherwise could be a daunting, confusing experience at the museum into an organized, enjoyable journey which the whole family planned together in advance.