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Colorado-based developer announces plans to open 4 new businesses in Cairo

CAIRO — A Colorado-based developer said Monday that he plans to open four new businesses inside the building that formerly housed Subway in Cairo.

Rondell Swope, of Aurora, Colorado, said he will open a Mexican restaurant, coffee shop, laundry mat with dry cleaning services, and a children’s indoor play center. Swope is chief executive officer of Horizon Developer Group, a fledgling company that Swope said he formed two years ago with a goal of meeting some of Cairo’s business needs, inspired by meetings with the mayor.

Swope said he hopes to have the laundromat open by early next year, and the other businesses by late summer. 

Swope is leasing the building, which Subway moved out of nearly three years ago, from the Southernmost Illinois Delta Empowerment Zone, a nonprofit that manages federal community development grant funds.

Additionally, Swope said he has formed a new nonprofit, the Family First Resources Center, to provide a variety of community services inside Cairo’s former Bennett Elementary School. The school district gifted his nonprofit the building, along with what’s known as the Garrison building, Swope said. At one time, the Garrison building housed the school’s administrative offices. The school board voted to close Bennett Elementary in 2010 due to declining school enrollment and financial challenges.

Swope said he plans to apply for various state and federal grants in order to provide meal services, a computer lab, and a business startup center in the former elementary school. In future years, Swope said he would like to transition the second floor into a clinic for recovering opioid abusers.

Swope said his team includes a grant writer, though no grants have been submitted to date. Swope said he met Cairo Mayor Tyrone Coleman more than two years ago after he visited the town because a friend suggested he consider a real estate venture here.

Born and raised in Gary, Indiana, Swope said Cairo reminded him of his childhood home.

“I see how Gary is and I saw the plight of Gary,” he said. “When I came into this town, it reminded me of Gary. Nobody spent money in Gary. They would go to neighboring towns and spend their money. I see that happening here and we have to be able to change that direction.”

Swope said he became familiar with Southern Illinois in recent years through a business associate who asked him to partner in opening a staffing agency in Mount Vernon. That company recently sold, and Swope said that he was eager to do something else, which brought him to Cairo. 

In Colorado, Swope said he’s a part owner of three group homes that collectively house 15 foster children. His plan for the school district’s former administrative building is to open a 25-bed group home for high-needs foster children.

He would also like to build single-family homes in Cairo and offer them to people who formerly lived in Elmwood and McBride, public housing complexes that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has closed. Swope said his goal is to build 15 homes by the end of 2019, using capital from his other businesses to finance the construction. While he does not have any rental housing development or management experience, Swope said his team includes an individual who has worked as a senior manager with a housing authority.

“We hopefully will get our first home up here this spring,” he said. Swope said he’s also bought a home in Cairo where he will live part time and share with others working on these projects. 

Richard Sitler, The Southern 

Mayor Tyrone Coleman, shown Friday, Aug. 4, 2017, in his office in the James B. Walder Muncipal Building on Washington Street in Cairo was elected in 2011.

Coleman said Swope’s commitment to the town shows what is possible for Cairo. “I’m just overjoyed,” he said. Though other recent business plans have fallen through, like a St. Louis developer’s promise to build a grocery store, Coleman said he is confident that Swope will see this through. State Sen. Dale Fowler, R-Harrisburg, said the announcement is a positive step for the city alongside the state allocating grant funds toward the development of a river port terminal.

“I’m optimistic that we are beginning to see significant progress toward reinvigorating the region,” Fowler said in a statement.

GM to lay off up to 14K workers, close as many as 5 plants

DETROIT — General Motors will cut up to 14,000 workers in North America and put five plants up for possible closure as it abandons many of its car models and restructures to focus more on autonomous and electric vehicles, the automaker announced Monday.

The reductions could amount to as much as 8 percent of GM's global workforce of 180,000 employees.

The restructuring reflects changing North American auto markets as manufacturers continue to shift away from cars toward SUVs and trucks. In October, almost 65 percent of new vehicles sold in the U.S. were trucks or SUVs. That figure was about 50 percent cars just five years ago.

GM is shedding cars largely because it doesn't make money on them, Citi analyst Itay Michaeli wrote in a note to investors.

"We estimate sedans operate at a significant loss, hence the need for classic restructuring," he wrote.

Hours after the announcement, President Donald Trump said his administration and lawmakers were exerting "a lot of pressure" on GM. He said he told the company that the U.S. has done a lot for GM and that if its cars aren't selling, the company needs to produce ones that will.

Trump, who has made bringing back auto jobs a big part of his appeal to Ohio and other Great Lakes states that are crucial to his re-election, also said he was being tough on General Motors CEO Mary Barra.

At a rally near GM's Lordstown, Ohio, plant last summer, Trump told people not to sell their homes because the jobs are "all coming back."

The layoffs come amid the backdrop of a trade war between the U.S., China and Europe that likely will lead to higher prices for imported vehicles and those exported from the U.S. Barra said the company faces challenges from tariffs but she did not directly link the layoffs to them.

The reduction includes about 8,000 white-collar employees, or 15 percent of GM's North American white-collar workforce. Some will take buyouts while others will be laid off.

At the factories, around 3,300 blue-collar workers could lose jobs in the U.S. and another 2,600 in Canada, but some U.S. workers could transfer to truck or SUV factories that are increasing production. The cuts mark GM's first major downsizing since shedding thousands of jobs in the Great Recession.

The company also said it will stop operating two additional factories outside North America by the end of next year, in addition to a previously announced plant closure in Gunsan, South Korea.

General Motors Co.'s pre-emptive strike to get leaner before the next downturn likely will be followed by Ford Motor Co., which has said it is restructuring and will lay off an unspecified number of white-collar workers. Toyota Motor Corp. also discussed cutting costs, even though it's building a new assembly plant in Alabama.

GM isn't the first to abandon much of the car market. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles got out of small and midsize cars two years ago, while Ford announced plans to shed all cars but the Mustang sports car in the U.S. in the coming years.

GM doesn't foresee an economic downturn and is making the cuts "to get in front of it while the company is strong and while the economy is strong," Barra told reporters.

Factories that could be closed include assembly plants in Detroit and Oshawa, Ontario, and Lordstown, Ohio, as well as transmission plants in Warren, Michigan, and near Baltimore.

The announcement worried GM workers who could lose their jobs.

"I don't know how I'm going to feed my family," Matt Smith, a worker at the Ontario factory, said Monday outside the plant's south gate, where workers blocked trucks from entering or leaving. "It's hard. It's horrible." Smith's wife also works at the plant. The couple has an 11-month-old at home.

Workers at the Ontario plant walked off the job Monday but were expected to return today.

After the morning announcement, Barra headed to Washington to speak with White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow in what was described as a previously scheduled meeting, according to a White House official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Most of the factories to be affected by GM's restructuring build cars that will not be sold in the U.S. after next year. They could close or they could get different vehicles to build. Their futures will be part of contract talks with the United Auto Workers union next year.

The Detroit-based union condemned GM's actions and threatened to fight them "through every legal, contractual and collective bargaining avenue open to our membership."

Bobbi Marsh, who has worked assembling the Chevrolet Cruze compact car at the Ohio plant since 2008, said she can't understand why the factory might close given the strong economy.

"I can't believe our president would allow this to happen," she said Monday.

Many of those who will lose jobs are now working on conventional cars with internal combustion engines. Barra said the industry is changing rapidly and moving toward electric propulsion, autonomous vehicles and ride-sharing, and GM must adjust.

She said GM is still hiring people with expertise in software and electric and autonomous vehicles.

The automaker said it was ending Chevrolet Volt production because the vehicle was meant to be a bridge to fully electric cars when it was introduced about a decade ago. The Volt has a small battery that can take it about 50 miles, then it switches to a small gasoline engine.

The Southern File Photo 

The overpass on the way into Cairo as seen Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015.

Giving Tuesday
Southern Illinois charities ask for support on #GivingTuesday (that's today)

Hospice of Southern Illinois needs funds to provide hygiene and personal care products to its patients, and St. Francis CARE Animal Shelter needs 50-gallon trash bags to clean up after the pets waiting to be adopted.

Each of these charities and many more throughout the region are hoping for major support on Giving Tuesday — today, Nov. 27 — to help them meet their needs.

Entering its seventh year, Giving Tuesday is a social media holiday that asks Americans to focus on charitable giving in the aftermath of the consumer holidays Black Friday and Cyber Monday, while encouraging them to make their gifts before Jan. 1, so that they can be used as deductions on 2018 tax returns.

Last year, more than $300 million was donated to over 50,000 participating organizations, nationwide.

Locally, #GivingTuesday has been a beneficial fundraising event, but Southern Illinois charities hope they can elevate it to a major source of support.

John Pfeifer, the development specialist at The Women’s Center in Carbondale, is especially ambitious. Pfeifer hopes to raise $300,000 on Tuesday to renovate the facility, which serves survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault in Franklin, Gallatin, Jackson, Johnson, Perry, Saline, Union and Williamson counties.

The shelter and transitional housing and counseling center needs a new roof and gutters, new heating and air-conditioning units, and a new security system. Pfeifer and his team also hope to renovate a 1,600-square-foot space for male domestic-violence victims at the Center.

“We want to make sure what we have available for survivors is adequate, equal, but somewhat separated,” Pfeifer said, so every visitor feels comfortable as they recover.

“We haven’t put very much of an effort into Giving Tuesday since it’s been in existence,” Pfeifer said. But this year he’s ratcheting up the center’s social media activity, to draw in more donors beyond Carbondale and Jackson County.

Just as important as donating Tuesday, is sharing the Women's Center’s Facebook posts featuring a donate button, he said.

“Giving to causes that are local and serve people in Southern Illinois is important,” Pfeifer said. “And people will see the value of that gift. They may not know when they see it, because we don’t always know what our neighbors are going through, but they can sleep a little easier knowing the person they’re helping might be right next door.”

In Marion, Hospice of Southern Illinois also rolled out a social media campaign asking for #GivingTuesday support, with a $1,000 goal.

Contributions help the organization ease the financial burden on families, as they care for their loved ones at the end of their lives.

“When we walk in the door, our goal is that a patient not have to buy any of the things they need that typically aren’t covered under Medicare benefits,” said Deborah Reynolds Hogg, Hospice’s community education manager.

That includes items like adult diapers, waterproof bed pads, dry shampoo, lotion and other personal care items that help families better care for their patients at home, Reynolds Hogg said. “There’s a long list of things we take in that they don’t have to be concerned about shopping for.”

In past years, Giving Tuesday has always been a good day for donations, though it hasn’t been “way above” the norm, Reynolds Hogg said.

“Social media has been an asset,” she said. “There are so many people that are connected, and it allows you to share the stories of people who have experienced our program.”

“When you know that the money you give stays in your community and you’re helping your friends, neighbors and family, for most of us that’s very important,” Reynolds Hogg added.

Donors looking to make a broad impact across the region may also consider the Southern Illinois Community Foundation.

Created in 2000, the Foundation provides funding and financial guidance to nonprofits in Illinois’ southernmost 17 counties.

It invests and manages funds for charities like the Boys and Girls Club of Carbondale, helping them grow their money and create long-term impact.

“We can take all those $50 donations, combine them, and grow them 7 to 10 percent, year over year,” said Byram Fager, the foundation’s CEO. The foundation also helps nonprofits handle assets, like stocks, bonds or CDs, that they might receive as part of an estate bequest.

A separate pool of foundation funds is disbursed in grants to schools, charity organizations, and even local governments who need a little extra funding for a special project, an unforeseen expense, or a natural disaster.

“This year we bought three sandbagging machines for the counties and levee districts along the Mississippi to use next time they deal with flooding, and helped the Shawnee Preparedness and Response Coalition distribute grant money to buy life-saving Narcan for police departments,” Fager said.

And, the foundation awards tens of thousands of dollars to college-bound students each year, via scholarships spread throughout area high schools.

An interested donor may choose to support any of these initiatives, Fager explained.

They can make an open-ended gift, designate their money to an endowment or scholarship fund, or choose an area of focus, like combating hunger or caring for the elderly. From there, the foundation uses its connections to local charities to find the best uses for the funds.

“Our local nonprofits are very efficient at keeping their overheads low and their paid staff to a minimum, so that their money goes to help people directly,” Fager said. “Most are run by volunteer boards and mostly volunteer staff.”

With many of the poorest counties in the state located in Southern Illinois, there’s no shortage of need, nonprofit leaders agreed.

No matter where you give, just give,” Fager said, “whether it’s time or money. And give local.”

Donors can double-check a charity’s finances and policies through GuideStar nonprofit reports, and the Better Business Bureau’s Charity Reviews, which cover more than 1,000 local charities in eastern and southwest Missouri and Southern Illinois.

A ‘clickable’ BBB Accredited Charity seal on a charity’s website means it complies with the BBB’s 20 Standards of Charity Accountability, including financial responsibility, transparency and effectiveness, according to Michelle L. Corey, the BBB’s St. Louis president and CEO.