Reporter’s Notebook: Downtown Decatur Development

In my recent Road Trip story about Decatur, I spent some time in the city’s downtown area. Odd fact: the city has two Main Streets, although no one could tell me why. It is also the site of Abraham Lincoln’s first “official” political speeches. The news everyone’s excited about in downtown Decatur, though, is ADM’s consolidation of some of its operations from around the city into one office building downtown:

Rodney Powell, owner of Robbie's Grill (Niala Boodhoo)

It’s one of the hottest days of the year in Decatur. So the lRobbie’s Grill on Merchant Street in downtown Decatur isn’t as packed as it usually is at lunchtime, owner Rodney Powell says, even though nearly every table is full.

Powell was “born, raised and baptized” in Decatur, he says. He’s also earned the unofficial title “The Mayor of Merchant Street” for his efforts to bring more people downtown.

That’s why Powell is thrilled that Archer Daniels Midland Co. is bringing 300 to 400 more workers downtown soon as it consolidates its IT, audit and accounting personnel into the Reynolds Building downtown.

“I am a fan of anybody moving anybody into downtown,” he said.  “It’s definitely better for restaurant owners like myself – the more the merrier.”

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Road Trip: Decatur, The Heart of Illinois Agribusiness

Our Changing Gears road trip continues. Yesterday, I was in Kohler, Wisconsin. Today, I went down state in Illinois to Decatur.

Corn being grown across the street from Archer Daniels Midland Co. headquarters in Decatur (Niala Boodhoo)




DECATUR – Driving south from Chicago, it only takes about 25 miles to hit the corn fields. For the next 150 miles to Decatur, it’s a sea of yellow corn tassels, a head tall.

At night, the central Illinois darkness is broken only by the lights of the corn and soy processing facilities at Archer Daniels Midland Company.

At dawn, the truck and rail traffic starts rolling into the yards of ADM, one of the largest food processing companies in the world.

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How many lack Web access on Chicago’s South Side?

Students in the Everyday Digital Literacy class, at the Greater Auburn Gresham Community Development Corp.'s Family Net Center (Niala Boodhoo)

The most recent study of local Internet use in Chicago found that more than a quarter of people in Chicago didn’t use the Internet. Another 15 percent had limited access, according to the 2008 study. Now, the University of Illinois at Chicago is working with Rutgers University to see how especially Chicago’s South side is faring.

I reported on the digital divide and how it relates to job hunting last January. The story focused on the Smart Communities initiative, a federally funded program in Chicago’s South side neighborhood of Auburn-Gresham which has digital literacy classes.

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Niala’s Notebook: What’s different about this wave of Latino immigrants?

A new experiment I’m trying here – sharing online some interesting background or side stories that I find in the course of reporting a bigger story, like the one I just did about Latinos across the Midwest. One of my biggest frustrations as a public radio reporter is how much research we do that doesn’t end up on air. Here, in a new section I’m calling Niala’s Notebook, I’ll highlight some interesting smaller stories (or as we say in the biz, angles) that don’t end up in larger stories.

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Podcast: Oprah’s Impact and Food Trucks

Welcome to our podcast that recaps our Changing Gears coverage from the past few days.

This was Oprah Winfrey’s last week hosting her top-rated television show following a 25-year run. Her “Favorite Things” list catapulted small businesses throughout the Midwest into the spotlight – for better or worse. Changing Gears reporter Niala Boodhoo joined us in the studio to discuss that impact and share what comes next for “Favorite Things.”

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Middle East business reporters visit Changing Gears

A delegation of business reporters from the Middle East came by WBEZ today to hear more about Changing Gears. Over coffee and crumb cake, we chatted about Changing Gears, business journalism and international reporting. We also spent some time talking about the Recession and its causes – and the role of the media in all of that. They also asked a great question none of us knew the answer to: what does the BEZ in WBEZ stand for? I’m still trying to find the answer to that one.

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Changing Gears, As Heard On NPR

Did you hear about Changing Gears on NPR’s Talk of the Nation? If so, you’ve come to the right place. Welcome!
Talk of the Nation host Neil Conan at WCPN

We went on the air in September, and our mission is to report on the reinvention of the industrial Midwest.

Take a listen to our stories on manufacturing, like Niala Boodhoo’s recent report on brownfield sites in Chicago; retraining, like Kate Davidson’s story on former auto worker Joseph Arducan’s efforts to find a new career, and jobs, including the dilemma faced by high school students in Sandusky, Ohio, which was explored by our Cleveland Reporter, Dan Bobkoff.

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