John Grueling, president and CEO of the Will County Center for Economic Development (CED), went to Washington D.C. recently to talk to Illinois legislators about the importance of a global supply chain to the state and the national economy. Unfortunately, he came back depressed.
During his May 12 presentation to more than 400 attendees at CED's Poised for Growth event in Romeoville, Illinois, Grueling said, "If you thought Springfield was depressing, you should go to Washington, D.C. It is all about the money."
Grueling was making the case for the importance of integrating business, government, and the transportation industry as a way to capitalize on globalization and increase jobs. "The next five year plan is all about jobs," he said. Then he began to talk about Illinois.
He cited a May 1 survey conducted by Chief Executive Group, LLC, which polled 556 CEOs across the county and rated Texas as the number one state friendly to business. Texas has no income tax and, according to Grueling, is creating more jobs than any other state. Illinois, however, is in 48th place – a drop from the number eight position it held in 2006.
Nevertheless, Will County has seen some good trends in unexpected areas. "A lot of value retail is coming back like a storm," said Grueling. "Any uptick in retail is huge."
Other good news for Will County has to do with the transportation sector of the economy. Will County has two major intermodal sites including the recently completed CenterPoint facility in Joliet, which began doing business in August 2010. Additionally, many businesses have moved some of their operations to Will County. In some cases, they moved their headquarters. Among them are Hollywood Casino, Navistar, G&W Electric, and Goglanian Bakeries.
Although Will County has succeeded in bringing in some new business, Illinois continues to suffer from a bad reputation. Grueling told the story of a discussion he had with an Austrian official who had attended an economic meeting in Europe where they discussed business opportunities in the United States. The official told Grueling that everyone agreed to avoid California and Illinois in their business plans.
Such a reputation may explain why Illinois is only two steps away from last place in the Chief Executive survey. It may also explain why other states are "making eyes" at Illinois businesses trying to convince them to move. According to a May 11 Chicago Tribune article, Indiana is cutting its corporate tax rate by nearly 25 percent as a way to woo businesses out of Illinois. And Caterpillar Chief Executive Doug Oberhelman told the Tribune that he received information packages from more than 20 states trying to persuade the manufacturer to move.
These aggressive tactics by other states may explain why Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is making deals with corporate giants including Motorola Mobility in Libertyville that received a $100 million tax credit over a ten-year period. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Motorola Mobility will also receive Employment Training Investment Program (ETIP) job training money and a Large Business Development Grant.
"The problem we have in the State of Illinois is that the governor seems to think we can ‘buy’ corporate headquarters," said Grueling commenting on the recent deal. Grueling believes Illinois may become a state that has to pay to keep corporations from moving. "Our business climate is such that we have to pay companies to stay here," he said.
Despite the current climate, there is a great deal of potential in Will County. The intermodal facilities, the proposed Illiana Expressway linking Illinois and Indiana, the South Suburban Airport proposal, and access to the largest inland port in North America present many challenges and opportunities. “There is a huge level of confidence in the County’s future,” said Grueling, "also a high level of confidence in CED."
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