CHAMPAIGN – For folks who live in central Illinois, a weeklong "agricultural experience" in the Prairie State may not have quite the allure of leisurely days on tropical beaches or the quiet beauty of the mountains.
But it apparently does to some Europeans and South Americans who have streamed to Illinois to enjoy cornfields, casinos and river cruises.
Known as the Quincy Jones of Cuba, Juan de Marcos Gonzalez – who founded the Buena Vista Social Club with American guitarist Ry Cooder – hopes Americans will be able to legally travel to his homeland someday to check out its vibrant music scene.
He admits he's chauvinistic in claiming that it's the best and most important one in the tropics, or Caribbean.
"There's a new wave of writers mixed with poets, street rappers and jazz players," he said, "and they make a kind of combination of everything based on Cuban music.
"And it sounds very good."
Gonzalez will bring his own Grammy-nominated and Grammy-winning Cuban music to the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts on Wednesday evening with his latest incarnation of the Afro-Cuban All Stars.
Steve Smith always figured the retail spaces on Champaign's North Prospect Avenue were just too pricey for his family-owned store.
But the recession had a silver lining in it for him: A vacant space became available at an affordable leasing rate – and right between two big chain retailers, Lowes and Target.
CHAMPAIGN – Area business people who have seen cutbacks in consumer spending are wondering how much of that is based in fear.
"A lot are afraid of the future," said Mahomet IGA owner Brooks Marsh. "They have money to spend, but they don't have the confidence to do it."
On Friday, the Champaign County Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with other area business groups, launched a "Save Jobs. Shop Local. Spend Now" campaign to encourage responsible spending.
CHAMPAIGN – Unemployment rates for three area counties topped 10 percent in January, the Illinois Department of Employment Security reported.
Vermilion, Edgar and Iroquois counties – all of which are along the Indiana border – crossed into double-digit territory following the holiday shopping season.
RIDGE FARM - About 160 employees of the Vermilion Grove coal mine near Ridge Farm are being offered the opportunity to transfer to other mines throughout the Midwest after the company told workers Thursday that the mine is closed.
The Vermilion Grove mine has reached the end of its mineral reserves, said Beth Sutton, spokeswoman for Peabody Energy, which owns the mine. The mine was closed Thursday, she said, and employees were told Thursday night.
Tori Ellis loves most everything about her job as an in-home day care provider and preschool teacher – the kids, teaching, being her own boss and working from her Westville home.
URBANA – Urbana officials hope to have a little breathing time to catch a wave of recovery in the future.
Urbana Comptroller Ron Eldridge said city general fund revenue is projected at $1 million over expenses for the fiscal year that ends June 30. By a year from then, the surplus is expected to shrink to $500,000 and the year after that "basically break even."
CHAMPAIGN – The Champaign County Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with other area business groups, has launched a campaign to promote local shopping and spending.
HOOPESTON – Wendy Bell, Illinois Main Street program coordinator, will visit Hoopeston on Monday to help write a vision statement for the Hoopeston Main Street program.
The program's board of directors invites people from all sectors of the community to help decide how to revitalize the downtown district over the next five years.