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BusINess

BusINess story of the week


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Check out our new look

BusINess is proud to introduce a redesign of its website. We’ve packed it full of all the great content you’re used to, including event videos, magazine stories, advisory board updates and 24/7 NWI business news.

Please bookmark our new URL here.

With online-exclusive content and access to business and government leadership, BusINess is the go-to site for news about economic development, technology, transportation, communication, health care, retail, corporate, real estate and government. Our BusINess site provides constant updates for businesses, your clients and potential clients with one stop for news, e-edition of the magazine, weekly e-newsletter and coverage of many targeted local events. Check it out, like us on Facebook, subscribe to our e-products and send us your news!

Activist investors to companies: Show us the money

Family Dollar employee Pamela Ramos, left, assists John Conner, right, with a purchase at a store in Waco, Texas. In September 2010, Family Dollar had announced plans to spend $750 million to buy back its stock, which would be partially funded by its cash on hand. Then in October, the retailer said it had repurchased $250 million of its shares as part of its previous announcement. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrezfile)

Family Dollar employee Pamela Ramos, left, assists John Conner, right, with a purchase at a store in Waco, Texas. In September 2010, Family Dollar had announced plans to spend $750 million to buy back its stock, which would be partially funded by its cash on hand. Then in October, the retailer said it had repurchased $250 million of its shares as part of its previous announcement. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrezfile)

NEW YORK (AP) — Companies stopped paying dividends and stockpiled cash during the Great Recession, and shareholders didn’t complain. Now they want a reward for their patience.

American companies are holding $1.9 trillion in cash, a record. The large businesses that make up the Standard & Poor’s 500 index, all of which answer to public shareholders, have $940 billion on hand — $300 billion of it accumulated since late 2008, says Howard Silverblatt, senior index analyst at S&P.

Shareholders want the companies to start putting that cash to use. The most pressure is coming from activist investors, who buy stakes in companies and then try to influence management to make certain changes that they say are in shareholders’ interest.

“We’ve been in bunker mentality for too long,” says Eric Jackson, who runs the hedge fund Ironfire Capital. He predicts that activist shareholders are about to become “a lot noisier.”
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Hammond hopes for $80M deal with world’s largest fertilizer producer

Fertilizer maker PotashCorp is working with Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad on what would be an $80 million project at the Gibson Yard in Hammond, Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. said. PotashCorp Public Affairs Director Bill Johnson confirmed the site, west of Indianapolis Boulevard, is one of several the company has looked at in the Midwest for its new operation. (Photograph by John J. Watkins/The Times)

Fertilizer maker PotashCorp is working with Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad on what would be an $80 million project at the Gibson Yard in Hammond, Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. said. PotashCorp Public Affairs Director Bill Johnson confirmed the site, west of Indianapolis Boulevard, is one of several the company has looked at in the Midwest for its new operation. (Photograph by John J. Watkins/The Times)

The world’s largest fertilizer producer wants to locate a rail transfer center in Hammond at the Gibson Yard, which could kick off more development and job creation there, Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. said.

City officials have talked about a “multimillion dollar investment” north of Summer Street for some time. But McDermott confirmed for the first time this week that PotashCorp, of Saskatoon, Canada, is the interested party.

The fertilizer maker is working with Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad on what would be an $80 million project at the Gibson Yard, the mayor said.

“It is a major, major investment that we are talking about at that location,” McDermott said.

In addition, Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad has told the city two other companies are interested in locating there if the deal is finalized, said Phil Taillon, Hammond director of planning and development. Total investment by companies at the site eventually could reach $200 million.
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Surging land prices have local analysts, farmers worried bubble could burst

Bobby Hayden, left, and Tom Vandercar walk to the grain bins to unload corn into a trailer for market while getting ready for the spring season at the Hayden family farm in Hebron. (Photograph by Gregg Gearhart | The Times)

Bobby Hayden, left, and Tom Vandercar walk to the grain bins to unload corn into a trailer for market while getting ready for the spring season at the Hayden family farm in Hebron. (Photograph by Gregg Gearhart | The Times)

Hoosier homeowners still are feeling the sting of the recession as property values are sticking in the doldrums after hitting peaks in recent years.

But after taking a slight dip during the recession, agricultural land values are continuing to rise and have doubled their average from a decade ago.

Industry observers are carefully analyzing whether a bubble burst is possible with farmland values akin to what brought the real estate market to its knees, triggering the global financial meltdown.

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New neonatal unit’s first patient goes home

Father David Petersen holds a gift basket presented to him and his wife by Jillian Hanger, Neonatal Intensive Care Unit manager, shown standing behind him. Mother Lauren Petersen holds Avery, the unit’s first patient, as Dr. Rashmi Aggarwal, left, and Dr. Sudish Chandra, neonatal medical director, look on.

Father David Petersen holds a gift basket presented to him and his wife by Jillian Hanger, Neonatal Intensive Care Unit manager, shown standing behind him. Mother Lauren Petersen holds Avery, the unit’s first patient, as Dr. Rashmi Aggarwal, left, and Dr. Sudish Chandra, neonatal medical director, look on.

The first patient treated in Franciscan St. Anthony Health-Crown Point’s new Neonatal Intensive Care Unit has gone home with a basketful of gifts and well wishes.

Avery Petersen, daughter of Lauren and David Petersen, of Valparaiso, was born at Franciscan St. Anthony on March 6 and was brought to the neonatal unit on March 7, its first day of operation. She was born at 34 weeks, six days; was 18 inches in length and weighed five pounds, 11 ounces, according to her mother. Avery has a brother, Elliott, aged 3 ½.
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Tourism chiefs face post-recession challenges

Fairfield Inn and Suites General Manager Jeff Lawn does a room inspection Thursday at the hotel in Hammond. Lake County hotel bookings and revenue are down. (Photograph by Jonathan Miano/The Times)

Fairfield Inn and Suites General Manager Jeff Lawn does a room inspection Thursday at the hotel in Hammond. Lake County hotel bookings and revenue are down. (Photograph by Jonathan Miano/The Times)

Tourism chiefs across the region are touting initiatives to rebuild after the recession devastated overall hotel revenues and lowered occupancy rates, with some recovery seen last year.

Some are building on existing programs to lure visitors, one is lucky enough to have an expanded convention center, while one is calling for a “game-changer” for the region.

“We need a demand generator,” said Speros Batistatos, CEO of the South Shore Convention & Visitors Authority, based in Lake County. “We need something that will bring people here and move occupancy up.”

That something is a 75,000- to 100,000-square-foot multi-use facility capable of hosting conventions, trade shows and sporting events, Batistatos said. A local sales tax on food and beverages at restaurants and bars is his favored means of paying for it.

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Who’ll pay bigger fees for your debit card use?

Jason Kratovil, lobbyist for the Independent Community Bankers of America, sits at his office in Washington. Bankers and merchants, pillars of the business world and frequent allies, are embroiled in a bitter lobbying war over something Americans do 38 billion times a year, swipe their debit cards. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Jason Kratovil, lobbyist for the Independent Community Bankers of America, sits at his office in Washington. Bankers and merchants, pillars of the business world and frequent allies, are embroiled in a bitter lobbying war over something Americans do 38 billion times a year, swipe their debit cards. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Bankers and merchants, pillars of the business world and frequent allies, are embroiled in a bitter lobbying battle over something Americans do 38 billion times a year — swipe their debit cards. Both sides vigorously claim to speak for consumers.

At stake is $16 billion annually that the Federal Reserve says stores pay to banks and credit card companies when customers use the cards — fees the Fed has proposed cutting.

Cut the fees, banks say, and they’ll have to abandon free checking and boost other charges to consumers to recover lost revenue. Merchants say lower fees would help them drop their prices and expand their businesses.

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Fixing an ailing business culture has helped Youngstown

Various awards for Turning Technologies sit on display at its downtown office in Youngstown, Ohio. Turning Technologies produces software and hand-held devices used in school classrooms and business boardrooms in testing or audience engagement. Many business leaders mention the company among the city's gems. (Photograph by Tim Hunt/The Times)

Various awards for Turning Technologies sit on display at its downtown office in Youngstown, Ohio. Turning Technologies produces software and hand-held devices used in school classrooms and business boardrooms in testing or audience engagement. Many business leaders mention the company among the city's gems. (Photograph by Tim Hunt/The Times)

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio | Convincing people this city is open for business has been a battle during the last several decades.

The economic effect of the decline in manufacturing jobs since the 1970s has rolled through the area, accelerating a decline in industry-dependent businesses and those relying on workers’ incomes.

Investing in declining urban areas can be a tough sell, despite a glut of available real estate and a labor pool clamoring for opportunities.

But in the last few years, the city and region have been able to secure major job commitments from a steel company, a call center operator, a software developer and other employers.
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Unions working to capture attention, support of working families

Gary city worker Antoine Brown, 38, Brown poses for a portrait on his recycling route. The Teamsters Local 142 member says he and other union members are fighting for survival. Attempts to weaken labor unions have roiled Democrats in Indianapolis and Madison, Wis., leading them to flee to Illinois rather than vote on the measures. (Photograph by Jonathan Miano/The Times)

Gary city worker Antoine Brown, 38, Brown poses for a portrait on his recycling route. The Teamsters Local 142 member says he and other union members are fighting for survival. Attempts to weaken labor unions have roiled Democrats in Indianapolis and Madison, Wis., leading them to flee to Illinois rather than vote on the measures. (Photograph by Jonathan Miano/The Times)

City of Gary employee Antoine Brown worries about the American Dream becoming unattainable for many families.

Brown said he and other workers struggle to avoid thinking about not receiving a pay raise in five years and how budget cuts could further reduce salaries and personnel.

But Brown is one of the lucky ones. He’s still employed.

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Rail tsunami could swamp NWI in coming decades

Developments in far off lands could have a big impact on everyone’s drive to work in Northwest Indiana, with the number of freight trains lumbering through the region expected to double by 2035.

That is because a historic shift in shipping patterns has the potential to hit the East Coast with an “Asian tsunami” of seaborne freight over the next two decades, according to freight experts. Much of that freight will make its way to Chicago and the Midwest via a 15-mile-wide rail corridor in Northwest Indiana.
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Why arts and culture are always worthy of your support

With state funding for the arts down by 35% from this time two years ago, the support of the arts on the local level by individuals and businesses is more essential than ever before.

South Shore Arts and the Northwest Indiana Symphony Orchestra are the region’s two oldest arts organizations. South Shore Arts began in 1936 when a dedicated group of local artists organized the first annual art exhibition of the Hammond District Art Association in the millinery (that’s lady’s hats) department of the Edward C. Minas Department Store in downtown Hammond.

The Gary Civic Symphony Orchestra, now known as the Northwest Indiana Symphony, performed its first concert five years later on December 7, 1941, with 86 volunteer musicians performing under the direction of a cello teacher from Chicago, who had relocated to Gary. They opened the concert that evening with a thundering performance of “The Star Spangled Banner.”

I think we all know that you don’t get to be in your seventies without a lot of support. Both South Shore Arts and the Symphony have rich traditions, and, thanks to decades of support from loyal donors and audiences, have flourished, growing into regional entities with annual budgets exceeding a million dollars.
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Human resources professional brings insight to gaming industry

Mona Vaccarella brings more than a quarter century of experience in executive human resources management to her role as vice president of human resources at Majestic Star Casinos & Hotel in Gary.

As a new member of the BusINess advisory board, Vaccarella says she sees an opportunity to “communicate on very important topics and lend solutions.” The recession has challenged both businesses and individuals, and how they have dealt with a bad economy can provide lessons for the future, she says.

“Management needs to be ahead of the curve, to be proactive. I see my role as helping to promote suggestions about how corporations can be ahead of the curve as we emerge from this recession,” Vaccarella says.

That’s a role that she believes human resources should always play in the corporate culture. “We (human relations professionals) achieve results by being a strategic partner at the table,” she says.
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LaHood: Rail means jobs

Ray LaHood, U.S. Secretary of Transportation, listens to U.S. Rep., Pete Visclosky, D-Ind., talk to media Thursday after the Rail Delivers Jobs summit at Sand Creek Country Club in Chesterton. (Photograph by Jon L. Hendricks/The Times.)

Ray LaHood, U.S. Secretary of Transportation, listens to U.S. Rep., Pete Visclosky, D-Ind., talk to media Thursday after the Rail Delivers Jobs summit at Sand Creek Country Club in Chesterton. (Photograph by Jon L. Hendricks/The Times.)

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood made an impassioned pitch Thursday to 300 Northwest Indiana business leaders to become partners with the Obama administration when it comes to high-speed rail.

“If Indiana gets its act together, you could be a dominant player in this plan in this region of the country,” LaHood told them at a Rail Delivers Jobs summit in Chesterton.

Getting the five-year reauthorization of the federal transportation bill passed by Congress, with the Obama administration’s $53 billion request for high-speed rail intact, will be key to getting the job done, LaHood said.
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Lee offers optimistic outlook

Rapidly increasing digital growth is a key component in the optimistic outlook for Lee Enterprises, offered Wednesday by the Davenport-based company’s CEO.

Mary Junck, Lee’s chairman and chief executive officer, told stockholders and employees attending the company’s annual meeting the optimism is based on factors such as huge audiences for its products, strong digital growth and local news content, and an aggressive sales culture.

But Junck reminded shareholders the print newspaper product remains the main staple in the equation.
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NWI home sales get hot in winter’s depth

A Realtor shows a couple the kitchen of a Valparaiso home. Home sales increased 32.3 percent in January from January 2010 in Northwest Indiana. (Photograph by Kyle Telechan, file | The Times.)

A Realtor shows a couple the kitchen of a Valparaiso home. Home sales increased 32.3 percent in January from January 2010 in Northwest Indiana.
(Photograph by Kyle Telechan, file | The Times.)

For the first time in seven months in Northwest Indiana, existing single-family home sales increased compared to one year ago, giving Realtors hope a housing market turnaround is starting.

Home sales increased 32.3 percent in January from January 2010, with the median selling price holding stable at $115,000 in the five-county area, according to the Greater Northwest Indiana Association of Realtors.
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