State of Illinois is closing ... one day at a time
By Greg Baise
I was traveling recently around Illinois.
What I saw was sad. Very sad.
My trip began in my hometown, Jacksonville, for a memorial service for a mentor of mine which may have set the mood, but as I left town with fond memories of what used to be a thriving community, I was struck with how things had changed. Oh, Jacksonville still has its good points. While some manufacturers are still there, driving out of town it's hard to miss the empty skeleton of the old Anderson Clayton factory.
The town reflects a tired image of an era gone by.
Later in the week I drove to Peoria. I traveled via Route 29, passing the small towns that dot the Illinois River, seeing empty manufacturing facilities, cafes, gas stations and small retail establishments that once thrived.
More towns that reflect a tired image of an era gone by.
When I arrived on the outskirts of Peoria, I passed the full parking lot of the Mossville Caterpillar facility. Finally an image of the way it used to be.
But empty manufacturing and retail facilities on the north side of town quickly snapped my attention back to the new reality. The housing stock is mostly run down or empty. Where did those families go to find their American Dreams?
Arriving downtown, the energy level shot through the roof. A new CAT visitor's center was teeming with guests. CAT's headquarters dominated the skyline and the East Peoria manufacturing hub was just a couple of miles away.
But could all this go away, too?
I know for a fact that CAT executives get so many overtures from other states' governors and economic development departments that they now have a form letter they send in response thanking them for the interest but declining.
Will that always be the answer? Many scoff at the notion, but don't be so sure. I am only observing and have no knowledge or insight, but when you look at the disappearing manufacturing landscape of Illinois, one cannot know the answer to that question with certainty. Thank goodness CAT wants to stay here in a state that has helped drive others away. And I'm sure the 4,000 Illinois companies who are vendors to CAT thank their lucky stars as well. But how long can good people tolerate bad treatment?
Illinois' unemployment rate is second worst in the nation. The violence and murder rate in neighborhoods that once housed manufacturing facilities in Chicago are national news. Our pension debt is worst in the nation. Our state continues to spend more than it brings in each year. Illinois is the poster child of ruinous economic policies of high taxes, excessive workers compensation costs and regulatory policies that drive employers to look elsewhere.
Politically, we need solutions, not slogans. We cannot afford to wait. We desperately need leadership.
So I ask our candidates for governor on both sides of the aisle:
1. What is your plan to solve the pension debt?
2. Do you support the extension of the temporary state income tax? If not, how do you plan to replace that revenue?
3. How do you plan to improve our state's education program to produce a skilled workforce?
4. What is your plan to bring down worker compensation costs and reform our state's burdensome regulatory climate?
5. How do you plan to stop Illinois from closing one day at a time?
Until we hear specific answers to those issues, Illinois will reflect a tired image of era gone by.
Greg Baise serves as president/CEO of the Illinois Manufacturers' Association.