Monday, October 28, 2013

Huntley Snags Cargo Equipment Corp. $3 Million HQ

Thursday evening October 24, 2013, the Huntley Village Board passed in Inducement Resolution proposing a $3.3 million industrial revenue bond issue to finance construction of a new 40,000 square foot headquarters and manufacturing facility for Cargo Equipment Corporation on George Bush Court in Huntley Corporate Park. Cargo Equipment, which is moving to Huntley from its smaller Elgin plant, makes bungee cords, ratchet straps and other load securing equipment for the moving and trucking industries. Construction on the new facility will begin in the spring of 2014, and will double the size of Cargo Equipment’s present plant.

The new Huntley plant will ultimately employ about 45 people. Cargo Equipment President Jeff Iden cited Huntley’s lower construction costs and its location at the new interchange of I-90 and Illinois 47 as key factors in selecting Cargo Equipment’s new location. In proposing the industrial revenue bond issue to finance the new plant, Huntley Village President Charles Sass said Cargo Equipment joins six other major businesses which have moved to Huntley within the last two years. The new facility should be operational by fall 2014.

Chicago Streamlines Rooftop Solar Power Permits

A new building permit process developed with the aid of a $750,000.00 grant from the U. S. Department of Energy’s Sun Shot Rooftop Solar challenge has cut the time involved in pulling a City of Chicago building permit for rooftop solar power installations from a month to a single day, and cut the permit fee to $275.00. Chicago’s new website is touted by city officials as a “one stop shop” for approval, installation and connection of rooftop solar power panels.

Chicago’s electric utility Commonwealth Edison is preparing a year end launch for an online tool which will enable solar power users to receive utility bill credit for connecting their solar panels to Com Ed’s grid.

Chicago Infrastructure Trust Off To Slow Start

In March 2012 Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and former President Bill Clinton sat together in a press conference at a carpenters union hall and announced formation of the Chicago Infrastructure Trust, a public/private partnership designed to find money from the private sector to invest in improvements in local government buildings and other infrastructure. The city ordinance creating the Trust was passed at an April City council meeting, and a board of directors for the Trust was appointed in June 2012. Then it took eight more months for the board to name venture capitalist Stephen Beitler as executive director of the new entity.
In his first eight months on the job, Beitler has invested most of his time in locating permanent office space for CIT, setting up the Trust’s computer systems, and reworking the Trust’s public website after it was hacked. The efforts to find private investors in the Trust has been limited to issuing an RFQ for registered securities dealers to place CIT investment vehicles, and three iterations of an RFP for “Placement Agents” to sell $83.1 million in investment vehicles to fund energy efficiency projects for 214 Chicago Public School lighting efficiency installations, Department of Water Management conversion of one pumping station from steam to electric power, and 208 various energy efficiency projects for Chicago’s Department of Fleet and Facility Management.
This first $83.1 million placement, dubbed “Retrofit One,” is intended to produce $8.8 million in annual electric bill savings to CPS and the City. Although the proposed terms of the investment instruments to be offered have not been made public, amortization of $81,3 million over 15 years at the current market rate for tax free pubic educational institution bonds of 5.25% would mean that 90% of the expected energy savings would be returned to investors, and only 10% of predicted savings would be realized by municipal government.
The financing for Retrofit One was supposed to be closed by summer 2013, but so far no registered securities dealer or dealers have been selected to place the investment. Meanwhile, Chicago Public Schools has already spent the $19.5 million allocated from Retrofit One for 241 school building lighting improvements, and that work has been completed. CPS hopes it won’t have to look elsewhere for the cash to pay for this work.
Public/private partnerships have been touted as financing vehicles for infrastructure at the federal, state and local levels recently. I have been involved in projects where this sort of investment has been successful, but the Chicago Infrastructure Trust seems to be struggling mightily to figure out how to find private sector investors, and how to move projects forward to closure in a timely manner.

The Construction Economy Is Better, But Not Much

Nationwide, overall construction growth slowed from July’s 1.4% to less than half that rate, at 0.6% for August, according to the federal Commerce Department numbers released October 22. Housing construction was up 1.2% in August, with other sectors of the construction economy lagging far behind housing. On the same day, the U. S. Department of Labor announced that construction businesses added 20,000 new jobs in September, a 3.4% increase over the last 12 months to a total of 5,826,000 construction employees across the nation.
Pointing out that both these sets of figures are from the time right before the federal government shutdown, Associated General Contractors Chief Economist Ken Simonson points out that catastrophe “likely disrupted a wide variety of projects and may have caused private investors and developers to delay decisions about new projects or plant expansions.”
Among Midwestern states, Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin see construction contractors returning to work, while Indiana and Ohio suffered increases in the levels of idled construction equipment and tradespeople.

Now that the federal government shutdown is over, at least for the next three or four months, appropriations committees in the House are starting work on spending bills which will help contractors who depend on infrastructure work. Wednesday, October 23 the House passed the first such bill – the Water Resources Reform and Development Act – which funds flood control, waterway and harbor construction at a level $4 billion less than the Senate version passed last May, and $15 billion less than the 2007 appropriation bill, which is the last time Congress acted on waterway appropriations.

OSHA Moves Against Palumbo, Telegraphs Fourth Quarter Enforcement Agenda

Emphasizing the chilling effect of employer lawsuits against whistleblowing employees, OSHA last Thursday ordered Palumbo Trucking, Inc. to pay a penalty of $60,000.00 to a driver and a mechanic who reported a potentially unsafe truck to the North Branford, Connecticut police and the Connecticut DMV. Each former Palumbo employee is to receive $10,000.00 in compensatory damages and $20,000.00 in punitive damages for Palumbo’s violation of the whistleblower retaliation provisions of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act. Palumbo was also ordered to pay each worker’s attorney fees in the action, to provide neutral job references for both the driver and the mechanic, and to give all its workers a fact sheet on worker rights under the Act.
Meanwhile, various OSHA documents recently released have telegraphed to employers the enforcement agenda of the agency for the remainder of calendar 2013. Employers will find OSHA inspectors checking their facilities to make certain appropriate unlocked, unobstructed and clearly marked exit doors and exit routes for employees are provided, in compliance with 20 C.F.R. 1910.36. Make sure all your employees know how to get out alive in the event of an emergency.
OSHA’s new Hazard Communication Standard requires employers to train all employees on new chemical labeling and Safety Data Sheet formats by December 1, 2013. Make sure your employees know how to read labels of hazardous chemicals in use at your facilities and on your rigs, and that they know where to find and how to read the MSDS information on all those substances.
OSHA’s focus on worker injury avoidance concentrates strongly on fall protection – particularly applicable to construction industry employers – and the agency is in the midst of its Amputation National Emphasis Program respecting machine guarding, lockout and tag out regulations.

OSHA’s final fall initiative is expected to look at grain elevator inspections now that the harvest season sees increased bin entering, preventive maintenance, and rail car and ship grain loading activities.