Local Transportation News

Riders of Chicago’s Metra could soon be in for a treat.  But it is quite a long time coming. Given that over 50% of its rail cars have been in use for more than four decades, a renovation has been needed for a while.  And now thankfully, that will happen.

On Monday, a news conference took place discussing plans for the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA)and Rebuild Illinois Program.  With a $45 billion expenditure budget, Metra is earmarked to a decent amount of money, enough to implement some substantial changes within the next five years.

James Derwinski, CEO and Executive of the Metra Board of Directors explained:

“In the next five years, we are going to be able to put out a contract for new cars…that is the first and the biggest one passengers will see all over the system. We are going to be investing in technologies that are going to be looking at the gate circuits and also the switches out there…and start providing critical data before they fail.”

Meanwhile commuters to Indianapolis will be happy to learn that on July 1st OurBus began a trial route to Chicago.  The New York company is charging $10 for each rider, following customer feedback indicating a need for this. The route it will take will begin in Downtown Indianapolis (across from the IndyGo Transit Center), then stop in Zionsville, Lafayette and complete its route between Canal Street and the Chicago River in Jackson Boulevard.

Advancements in Local Job Creation

Finger Licking’s menu features a $22.99 lobster meal

Whenever there is new business development in an area, it leads to job creation.  Large metropolitan areas are delighted when this happens and policymakers usually do whatever they can to facilitate the process.   In this article we look at two companies: one large (Ford Motor Company) and one small (The Licking Chicago) to see what their current plans are in the region.

At the far South Side, a renovation of two Ford Plants (costing $1 billion) has  just been completed.  One of the plants was the company’s oldest continuously producing one.  It has now been completely converted to a state-of-the-art facility in order to construct the new Ford Explore.  Featuring a brand-new paint shop, advanced tooling (which will be used for the development of the new SUV line) and contemporary body shop, the remodeling took a mere month to complete.  Although there will be over 650 robots, this does not seem to have affected the massive job creation that has emerged from this project. The sentiment was echoed by Local 551 Union Chairman Alan Millender who said he was “surprised[since with] the new robots, you think would take jobs away, but it actually added jobs in Chicago. My dad worked 51.4 years here he would be amazed what this plant has come from.”

Ford Motor Company President Joe Hinrichs said:

“We’re proud of our commitment to the South Side of Chicago. 95 years of being here. This investment says a lot about the community and our support we get here, our great workforce. The Explorer Aviator is sold out for this year and we think next year as well. So, great signs for this community, including the stamping plant, and a big commitment by Ford.”

On a smaller scale, a popular Miami chain restaurant – Finga Licking – has just opened at 5045 W. Madison.  The owner – popular hip-hop/rap, artist/producer DJ Khaled – is seeking to “make the franchise accessible and bring jobs to communities that need them.”  This sentiment was echoed by Sharod Robinson, regional manager who said:

“We’re about bringing jobs and creation to the urban neighborhoods. We employee over 100 employees and all of them are from within the community.” 

Chicago: Constructing Community in All Ways

Community building can be engineered in a variety of different ways.  Some involve the actual construction of buildings, renovations, enhancements and others are more connected to development of tradition or creation of events.  In this article we look at two recent efforts in the region to build, maintain and strengthen Chicago community.

The first example is what is happening in Vernon Hills with the Hawthorn Mall property.  Centennial Real Estate is preparing to begin its $6.2 million revamp of the center court.  The goal is to construct a multi-use “central park” environment.  This will involve a complete transformation of the area, hopefully in time for the holiday shopping season.

It is hoped that this space will feature: coffee store/wine bar; two treelike sculptures; lounges on upper level and more, resulting in a “sophisticated parklike experience,” that is “interactive, engaging [and suitable] for all ages.”

Uplifting a neighborhood and providing new experiences for the youth and other demographics is another way of building community. A recent example of this is the partnership between the 8000 Euclid block club and My Block My Hood My City.   According to 8000 Euclid Block Club Founder and President, Pam Bilal, these organizations can really result in a bolstering of a city.  She said:

“In a diverse city like Chicago with a lot of segregation, often times people like to stay in their own little pocket and just take care of themselves. And we want people to understand that it’s not about the little man, it’s about the community. And we want to have a vibrant, exciting, financially stable community. So that’s why we start block clubs.”

Rehabilitative Efforts

Rehabilitating prisoners into society

Rehabilitating ex-prisoners is never ever easy.  It comes with so many challenges and despite people’s best efforts recidivism rates are huge.  Indeed, a report conducted last year found that:

“Forty-three percent of those released from prison each year recidivate within three years of release and 17% will recidivate within one year of release…Taxpayers of Illinois pay one third- or $50,835 – of the cost of recidivism…for law enforcement, court costs and the costs of imposing sentences of community supervision or incarceration in county jails or state prisons.”

That’s why the recent efforts being made on the west side of Chicago using honey bees has to be welcome news!  One example of the positive impact of this program is from James Jones who was released from prison earlier this year after a three-and-a-half-year service for drug selling.  While he has a vision for what he wants to do ultimately (truck driving and even owning a truck company), for now he is in a halfway house training to be a bee handler.

Jones is one of many individuals hired by Sweet Beginnings – skin care products maker (using honey) which has five bee farms in the greater Chicago area for its company Beelove. Clearly this name is very appropriate since it shows its love by “offer[ing] full-time, transitional jobs to previously incarcerated individuals like Jones, who need help reintegrating into society. The new hires are trained to become beekeepers and learn about harvesting honey, production, filling orders, packaging, shipping and selling.”Jones reported he felt “excited” by being given a chance.  Getting a job isn’t easy when one has had no prior experience and not even a CV.

Founded by Brenda Palms Barber in 2005 in North Lawndale, the idea behind it was to “provide the workplace skills former inmates needed to rebuild their lives.”  Barber explained:

“The typical reaction we get when [former inmates] come to us is ‘What?,'” said Barber. “They don’t believe we are a real business until they see the products in stores. Then they realize they’re being hired by a real company and it boosts their self-esteem.”

And it’s working.  Close to 500 workers have been hired and have been offered 90-day employment and training with a $10 per hour starting wage.  What’s really impressive is the statistic that less than 4% of workers have returned to prison since the program has started.

In related news, a new appointment has been made at the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC).  Rob Jeffreys – a renowned criminal justice expert – has been in the industry for more than 20 years having worked at the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections in corrections management.   He is Chief of Staff at the Agency, directing the Office of Human Resources (ODRC), IT and Strategic Initiatives Bureaus; he will now become Bureau Chief of Classification and Reception at ODRC.

Chicago and Educational News

Englewood is getting a new high school.  The public educational institute will open its doors later this year and will feature modern, high-tech, quality facilities.  This is particularly good news for the neighborhood since over the last few years it has witnessed the closure of many schools.

An opening day was held this past Saturday at the Kennedy King College’s gym which seemed like a graduation ceremony!  Attended by parents of future students, this $85 million STEM school – located at the old Robeson High School at 6835 S. Norman – will initially be available for 9th-12th graders.  According to Janice Jackson, CPS CEO:

“Our design was to ensure this was a neighborhood school. We’re so excited to bring a high-quality option right here in their backyard that the students can go to and be proud of.”

Taking an umbrella look at comprehensive look at how Emanuel Rahm is leaving his Mayorship we find that there is an “all time high graduation rate nearing 80 percent…within the Chicago Public Schools system.”  Also the rate of learning has increased to 96 percent throughout America’s schools districts, even compared to far wealthier ones.  According to Emanuel:

“There was never a problem we pushed down the road or kicked the can on. We confronted every problem: Everything that had gotten worse because we had avoided making tough calls, we confronted head on.”

Rahm’s achievements since taking office include: STAR program; formation of the free, pre-K program for 4 year olds; getting more money for a new school funding formula.

Clean Energy in Chicago

clean energy

Committing to 100 percent clean energy is not only great for the environment but is also a very good business decision. This is probably why “the world’s most influential companies [are] committed to 100 renewable energy.”  Chicago has now followed suit, becoming the nation’s “largest city” to make this commitment. What this means is that the 2.7 million inhabitants will be subject to clean and renewable energy in all buildings by 2035 and by 2040 all 1,850 CTA buses will be electrified.

Thanks to Resolution R2019-157 a transition plan has been codified. Thus by the end of next year a timeline and milestones will be put in place.  Locals have been very involved in this endeavor which, according to Jobs to Move America (Illinois) Campaign Director Kassie Byer is “integral to its future success.”  She said:

“The Chicago Collective who wrote this resolution, proves that not only can Chicago build a climate-safe future for next generations, but that a truly just transition also creates good, family-sustaining jobs.”

Over in Bronzeville positive effects are being felt thanks to ComEd. The Beethoven Elementary School has a pathway that is now lit up thanks to off-grid lights powered by renewable energy!  ComEd installed the 30-feet tall RPUs via mini power plants which do not connect to the electric grid.  Instead they get their energy from battery storage, solar panels and wind turbine and are manufactured by ARIS Renewable Energy.

Chicago’s New Business Developments

Chicago skyline

It is anticipated that this new facility will actually create 48 permanent jobs, which in turn will revitalize Chicago’s neighborhoods.  This is good for the entire city of Chicago.  As Alderman Michael Scott Jr. said, it’s not just the jobs that this creates for Chicago.  The positive effect of this is the transformation of the community and its surrounding residents.   

This is not the only construction happening in Chicago. In fact, if one takes a look at the city’s skyline they will see a whole slew of high rises and tower cranes as new projects begin and others take root.  The fact is, 2019 is set to welcome the construction of 4,400 units comprising offices, hotels, condos and other buildings.

Regional Business Workshops

For low cost and free business workshops, training, classes and discussions. Business management and marketing, tax preparation, expansions, development.  How to start a business locally (new business registration, compiling a business plan, etc.)

Market Expansion in Chicago

There are many opportunities in Chicago for those wishing to start a business, expand on their projects or move in a new entrepreneurial direction. This Friday is the Annual Food Policy Summit.  Taking place at the south Shore Culture Center, the event – from 9.30am to 5.pm – is organized by the Chicago Food Policy Action Council (CFPAC) in conjunction with the Detection and Classification of Acoustic Scenes and Events (DCASE).  Now in its 14th year, a series of workshops, food demos and resources will be available.  Click here for more information. 

Small business owners and will be able to learn how they can participate in the City Markets program as well as benefit from Chicago’s vending opportunities.

Next week on March 18, a workshop will be hosted by the Chicago City Markets Team, in conjunction with Logan Square Farmers Market and Bronzeville Boxville Market executives.  Discussions for new market applicants will be centered on how to find a market most appropriate for one’s needs.

In other Chicago business expansion news we see the movement of security integrator Security 101 opening a new office in Chicago.    It will be run by David Ritland who is both owner and president; a man who has expanded another company – The Sentral Group – to five American and one Mexican plant.  CEO of the firm, Steve Crespo said:

Chicago is an exciting market with a number of growing businesses and organizations needing quality integrated security to protect employees and assets. Dave and his team will be backed by the Security 101 organization and its other franchise offices.”