BALTIMORE - Discount stores are drawing customers away from other shopping venues, according to consumer research firm TC Advertising's Consumer Focus 2000 report.

The report indicates that the number of consumers who buy food items at discount stores has increased 7% in the past two years, while the number of loyal grocery store shoppers has dropped 8%.

Drug stores are another victim to discounters. Of the survey's respondents, 42% say they shop for health and beauty products at discount stores, while 20% still shop at the drug store.

CHICAGO - High school students are being encouraged to pursue jobs in retail thanks to a 3-year-old program called READY (Retail and Education Alliance for Development of Youth). Sponsored in part by the Illinois Retail Merchants Association and the Chicago Public Schools, READY is a 2-year program offered through 29 schools that combines classroom and web-based instruction with paid work experience.

The goal is to prepare students for retail operations and management careers while meeting the industry's need for a skilled work force.

This year, 800 high school students interviewed for summer jobs with 23 area retailers, including The Gap, Crate & Barrel, Blockbuster Video, Marshall Field's, Office Depot, Target and Kmart.

The much anticipated new federal regulations for wetland permitting, Nationwide Permit 39, was recently released by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). Developers will want to take a look at this new permit, which will replace Nationwide Permit 26 - one of the most frequently used permits in shopping center construction.

According to John Studt, chief of the Corps' regulatory branch, "The changes will benefit the nation's aquatic environment while continuing to authorize projects with minimal adverse effects." But William Hoffman, manager of environmental issues for the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC), disagrees. He says conservative impact estimates include:

* a $300 million cost increase to parties using the permits;

* possibly a 30% increase in Corps bureaucracy; and

* a longer waiting period for permit approvals due to the rise in the number of permit applications.

Nationwide Permit 39, which goes into effect June 5, covers residential, commercial and institutional real estate development. Among the eligibility requirements:

* projects cannot result in the fill of more than one-half acre of wetlands, reduced from three acres;

* pre-construction notification must be filed with the Corps if the project will result in the fill of more than 0.1 acres of wetlands;

* the new permit cannot be used in natural resource water designated areas; and

* with few exceptions, the permit cannot be used in a 100-year floodplain.

Jim Jacoby, Chairman, CEO and founder of Atlanta-based Jacoby Development Inc. (JDI), who is involved in many environmental projects, does not foresee any problems with the new regulation. "We have Hilburn Hillestad, our senior vice president of environmental science onboard here, so we already have the expert to evaluate," he says. "So from our perspective, it is business as usual."

For additional information regarding permit changes, check the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers' website at www.usace.army.mil/inet/functions/cw/.