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.

Second City’s Second Airport Preparing to Take Off

Midway Airport-Chicago. Photo by Vmzp85.

On Chicago’s southwest side there is a lesser known airport known as Midway International Airport, that is about to play a game called catch-up. Last month the city finalized a plan to inject a $248 million boost over several years, into the devilment of this city-owned airport.

The plan includes modernization which will expand the airport plus grow the retail options, security and parking areas. Millions of people travel through this airport each year, and delaying its much needed facelift is no longer an option.

Chairman of the aviation committee of the Chicago City Council, alderman Mike Zalewski explained the council’s decision: “To be a competitive option, Midway needs to provide the best products, services and resources to its traveling public.”

The improvements are urgent, as many of the country’s older, larger airports find themselves in fierce competition with a growing number of newer, regional hubs with modern facilities designed to create a much-improved consumer experience, helping to boost revenue.

Midway is looking to improve its own financial situation with this huge investment from the city. It is one of only two US airports which posted a loss for operations in 2015, the other one the Bangor International Airport in Maine. The reported loss is in contrast to Midway’s place as one of 25 airports in the country with over 10 million airplane emplacements the same year as it reported a loss. Because the airport has no way to bring in the much-needed non-aeronautical revenue through the purchase of food, goods and services by consumers passing through the terminal, Midway is under huge financial pressure.

Illinois Grand Appliance Moving HQ to Wisconsin

The Racine County Economic Development Corporation announced last week that Grand Appliance and TV is planning to move its corporate headquarters from Zion, Illinois, just north of Waukegan, to Sturtevant, Wisconsin.

The move will cost an estimated $8 million including the building of a new corporate headquarters. The move will bring about 142 jobs to Sturtevant over the next three years, including 120 jobs that the company will be moving from Illinois, and an additional 20 new jobs.

Company President Mark Reckling said, “Southeast Wisconsin provides an ideal location that supports Grand Appliance and TV’s growth plans.”

The company has 20 stores with 300 employees throughout Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin. There are five outlets in the Chicago area.

On March 7 the village of Sturtevant will decide if it should contribute $450,000 to Grand Appliance and TV to help fund the project. The money would come through a tax incremental financing district.

The new headquarters will be constructed at the Renaissance Business Park east of Interstate 94. It will be 137,000 square-feet, the majority dedicated to warehousing. The new facility will also include and consolidate two distribution centers Grand Appliance runs already in Sturtevant, as well as the corporate headquarters.

Sears Firing 130 from Corporate Headquarters in Hoffman Estates

Sears Tower in Chicago Skyline. Photo Courtesy of John G. Suhayda

In a major restructuring bid which will cost the company upwards of $1 billion, Sears Holdings Corp will be laying off 130 employees from their executive offices in Hoffman Estates, Illinois. The company announced that the layoffs are due to a slowing of their traditional retail business.

The details of the firings were elaborated in an email sent by the Sears CEO, Eddie Lampert to the employees at headquarters, on Thursday.

Lampert stated in the memo that the layoffs are part of their cost-cutting plan which are

“necessary to create a more nimble operating structure capable of driving the company’s strategic transformation forward.”

Lampert has already announced earlier this month that Sears will be closing 150 stores over the next two months. Lowering overhead, especially at the corporate level, is also part of the plan.

Sears posted a 16 percent loss in revenue during the fourth quarter of 2016, about $6.1 billion. The hopeful holiday season proved flat for Sears, so cost-cutting seems the best choice to staying in business.

Two major trends have taken their toll on the iconic retail department store chain, which also owns Kmart stores: more on-line sales, and slower mall traffic. Over the past eight years the company has most likely lost about $9 billion as their traditional business model has come under increasing pressure.

Cosmetics Retailer Lush Moving to Mag Mile

Photo of Lush display by Olivier Bruchez

Although the move for Lush is only two blocks south to North Michigan Avenue, the new venue will be worlds away. The move is part of an overall facelift for all their branches to bigger, better, and more user-friendly spaces.

The new store just opened last week, and offers 2,200 square-feet of floor space where customers will be encouraged to touch and feel the merchandise. The experiential sales floor model will be coming to all Lush’s 250 North American stores over the next 3 years.
Brandi Halls, director of brand communications at Lush, explained that the past ten years saw a quick expansion of the number of Lush shops, leaving many too small for the company to give its customers the kind of experience they would like.

The new shops are more than doubling in floor space from the previous design, with plenty of room for rainbow colored bath bombs piled in displays, grocery store style; areas for cosmetic consultations; and even sinks for demonstrations of products.

“With a lot of our more innovative products, people aren’t always sure how to use them, so demos let customers get their hands in the water and feel it on their skin,” Halls said.

Not all the current locations will be abandoned. Any store already reaching 1,500 square feet will remain, but the interior design will be re-done so that it matches the ideal interior. The template for the new look is the company’s London flagship store, which has 10,000 square-feet of space. So far, the company has relocated or redesigned about 30 stores, including the one on Michigan Avenue.

Hooters Experimenting with Less Tight Tops for Waitresses

Hooters restaurant at 1001 Claren Circle in Morrisville, North Carolina. Photo by Ildar Sagdejev

Despite being known for its tightly topped waitresses, one member of the chain of Hooters Management Corp., a licensee of Hooters of America, has decided to loosen up its style. Hooters Management announced the opening of “Hoots” in Cicero, Illinois, right outside Chicago, where the waitresses will be dressed in less conspicuous uniforms.

Customers will order their meals at the counter, and not at tables. Both waiters and waitresses will be on staff to take orders. Since this is still in testing mode, only about a dozen or so items will be available on the menu. Of course one of those will still be chicken wings.

This experiment with less provocative dress for their waitresses comes at a moment when the restaurant industry has shown flat customer traffic. The NPD Group does predict, however, that fast-food restaurants will be growing in the coming months, while sit-down chains will suffer.

There were 337 Hooters branches in the United States in 2015, a loss of three restaurants from the previous year.

Disney Teams with Luxe Bloom to Promote ‘Beauty and the Beast’ with Long-Lasting Roses


Luxe Bloom Roses: Photo courtesy of
Kurman Communications, Inc.

Chicago’s Luxe Bloom, seller of unique preserved roses, is joining Disney as a marketing partner for their upcoming live-action re-make of “Beauty and the Beast.”

Disney reached out to Luxe Bloom through their global marketing department. Jan Coleman noted that:

“The roses will be adored by fans young and old and be a very stunning enhancement to the film’s marketing campaign.”

The film will star Emma Watson as Belle and Dan Stevens as the Beast, and is scheduled to premiere on March 17. In the iconic Disney cartoon a rose is the symbol of the Beast’s chances of finding his previous human form again through the power of love.

The partnership will make Luxe Bloom part of Disney’s social media-focused promotion of the film. They will also participate in the staging of the Hollywood premier, helping to create a magical atmosphere so vital to a Disney movie launch. The premier will feature a Rose Wall created by Luxe Bloom, which will act as the backdrop where prominent celebrities will be photographed.

The deal with Disney will also allow Luxe Bloom to sell “Beauty and the Beast” rose arrangements on their website and on Amazon. They will offer a $55 single red rose in a glass cloche all the was up to a crimson rose box of 16 roses for $399.

Luxe Bloom roses are unique in their lasting power. They are specially treated to maintain their beauty for at least two months without water or refrigeration. The roses come from Ecuador, and the company uses an “ancient all-natural method” to keep the roses looking fresh for many weeks.

Other companies have become believers in the magic of Luxe Bloom roses: Langham Hotels in Chicago and New York buy their wares; and Saks Fifth Avenue and the Red Door salons are also clients. Former Fortune 500 executive Shelley Rosen founded Luxe Bloom in 2013.

Non-Browning GMO Apples to Hit the Stores in the Midwest

In what the food industry is hoping will be the breakthrough product for genetically modified organisms, (GMOs), a non-browning apple is about to be introduced in Midwestern grocery stores, perhaps as early as February 1st.

This high-tech apple will be sold under the brand Arctic Apple. The first introduction will be a test run to see how well the public accepts the controversial apple, which will be sold pre-sliced. The industry is hoping that the convenience of pre-sliced apples that do not turn brown will overwhelm the suspicion consumers have of GMOs.

Both critics and supporters of GMOs say that this product could be a “tipping point” in the country’s hot debate over the merits and dangers of genetic engineering, especially as it relates to food. Until now supporters of genetically engineered food have argued that the technology protects crops, bringing down prices, reducing the use of pesticides, and bestowing other benefits. The Arctic Apple is one of the first GMOs marketed directly to consumers strictly for its convenience factor.

“What companies are desperate for is some really popular GMO product to hit the market,” said McKay Jenkins, the author of a forthcoming history of the debate. “Any successful product could lift the cloud over GMOs.”

Despite the fact that there is a consensus among scientists that GMOs are basically safe, over the course of about 30 years environmental and consumer groups have been able to limit the use of GMOs to commodity crops like soybeans and corn.

The question the Arctic Apple will put to the public is whether the convenience of having pre-sliced apples that do not turn brown outweighs the bad rap GMOs have in the eyes of consumers.

“I don’t know what their chances are – it’s a very polarized debate,” said Michael White, an assistant professor of genetics at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. “But I think this is huge. What the Arctic Apple is doing, trying to push GMOs on their own merits, could lead to a more positive discussion.”


More Jobs at End of 2016 Than at Beginning of the Year

Illinois Unemployment rate by county.

Although the last month of 2016 was disappointing for Illinois job-wise, the year as a whole finished in the black.

At the end of 2015 the unemployment rate in Illinois was 6.1 percent, higher than the 5.7 percent the rate reached at the end of 2016. But the month of December, 2016 was not a good one for employment. The state lost about 16,700 jobs that month alone, bringing the unemployment figure up to its final rate for the year, from 5.6 percent at the end of November, 2016.

November also had a net loss of jobs instead of the predicted gain. Illinois ended up losing 4,500 jobs in November rather than gaining 1,700, which had been forecast.

Jeff Mays, the director of the Department of Employment Security, said December’s job drop was “troubling, to say the least.”

Illinois is experiencing the same job loss trend as the rest of the country, but slightly more pronounced.  The rate of job growth in Illinois was 0.5 percent, a bit slower than the nation’s figure of 1.5 percent. The country also saw a slight rise in unemployment for December, to 4.7 percent, significantly lower than for Illinois.

“Illinois needs structural reforms and a balanced budget to attract new jobs and investment in our state,” said Sean McCarthy, acting director of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

One Company’s Layoffs Is Another Company’s Hires

Chicago skyline seen from Cortland Street Drawbridge. Photo courtesy of John G. Suhayda.

Computer hardware engineers who got the axe last September during a massive downsizing at Motorola’s Chicago headquarters soon found that they were in demand by some of the country’s most successful high tech companies.

It was only a matter of weeks before these newly unemployed engineers were fielding job offers from company’s like Google, Facebook and Apple, who held recruiting events. Amazon also made offers to several of the engineers.

What were these computer-high tech giants hoping for? Mostly to bring these highly skilled workers back home to Silicon Valley. In the case of Google, however, their goal was a bit different, and unique. The search engine giant used the Motorola layoffs to recruit hardware engineers, for the first time, to work in their Chicago office. Until this time Google’s only Chicago hires had been for jobs in software development.

Some of the former Motorola engineers who were at the meeting said that Google had organized a gathering within two weeks of being fired. There were at least 200 hardware engineers in attendance, all of which had been fired by Motorola. During an information session the Google reps demonstrated some of its new hardware products and then discussed bringing jobs in computer hardware development to their Chicago office for the first time.