CHAMPAIGN — Jimmy John Liautaud, founder and CEO of the Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwiches LLC, said he someday wants to return his home and his business to Illinois. But for now he's headed to Florida.
"I'm physically moving to Florida, right now as we speak. So yeah, I'm going to leave," Liauataud said Wednesday following a panel discussion on land conservation at the University of Illinois College of Law. "The (corporate) office right now is going to stay on Fox Drive (in Champaign), but I'll take my licensing company down to Florida."
He's already said he is leaving the state because of the 67 percent income tax increase approved by the Legislature in January 2011, and because of what he has characterized as reckless spending.
"The company is moving, the people will stay. We're a licensing and franchise company. We do training and operations here, but the income from 43 states around the country, instead of being brought to Illinois is going to be brought to Florida because we're in the licensing business. Why should we wire it to Illinois when we can wire it to Florida?" he said.
The financial loss to Illinois? "It's giant," he said, well into the millions of dollars a year.
Liautaud, who grew up in the Chicago area, opened his first sandwich shop in Charleston and had lived in Champaign until recently, said he still hopeful for Illinois' future.
"I'm an eternal optimist and I believe that most people want to do a good job, all they need to know is why and I think that once the people who are making financial decisions for the state understand the ramifications of what they're doing, then they'll figure out how to change," he said. "You only change when you feel pain. You know when you get older and your heart hurts you go on a diet, right? I believe that.
"I believe that they are wonderful people who haven't felt the pain. Once they feel the pain they're going to have to make a change because none of this (state spending) is sustainable. That's why I'm leaving."
Liautaud has "total hope of coming back," he said. "This is my home. I'm farming here. I'm going to buy 10,000 acres here. I want to live and farm my own farms when I'm done with Jimmy Johns. I love it here. But water flows where it flows easiest."
He said he was disappointed with Tuesday's election results — he and his wife gave at least $5,000 to Mitt Romney's campaign fund this election cycle — but has faith in President Obama.
"Would I have preferred that Mitt Romney get elected? Absolutely. But at the same time I also think that Barack Obama is a very bright guy and he's no longer worried about being re-elected and I think he'll now do what's best for America, because he's got a legacy he's got to worry about.
"I believe that he will do that because he's a good guy. He's a good guy, yeah. I'm a good friend of (former Obama chief of staff and now Chicago Mayor) Rahm Emanuel's. I like Rahm a lot. And I've got to see Rahm before I leave. He said, 'Jimmy, I want to meet with you one more time.' Rahm's done more for me than Gov. (Pat) Quinn. He's never even called me."
Liautaud believes the nation's politics eventually will shift.
"I know that things swing left and they swing right and that's the reality of it and the beauty of it is that nothing can go extreme. You know what? It's called yin and yang and that the reality of it all. It is what it is."