A Publication of WTVP

It can be hard to accurately gauge how well or how poorly Illinois is doing economically when compared to other states, because much information used by elected officials, civic leaders and others is typically anecdotal or lacking in statistical depth.

This year, the Illinois Chamber Foundation took a step to change this by creating an Illinois Economic Competitiveness Scorecard to provide accurate and timely information on how Illinois is doing compared to other states in far-reaching categories. This study was conducted with the expectation that it will be used by the private sector and public officials addressing long-term issues critical to improving the state’s competitive edge.

We had no preconceived notions when we retained GrowthEconomics—a firm specializing in the growth dynamics of states and regions—to accomplish this task. We asked them to compare and contrast Illinois’ economy against the other 49 states to get a better sense of what can improve Illinois’ competitiveness. When we saw the results, we felt like parents seeing their child’s report card.

Overall, Illinois is above average in many categories, but we’re slipping in some key economic measures. Illinois has slipped from 6th to 16th in per-capita disposable income, and from 10th to 13th in per-capita state Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Illinois ranks 49th out of 50 in its regulatory environment. Having witnessed our state government and heard Chamber members’ experiences, we knew we were in a troubled business environment in the state. But 49th out of 50 is startling.

The report’s findings were not all bad. Illinois is well-endowed with solid building blocks that could sustain a more dynamic business environment in tomorrow’s high-flex economy. Our energy costs are at an average level and Illinois has strong service-sector productivity and economic diversity.

Illinois ranks and scores well on K-12 and post-secondary education and has a strong graduate school reputation, as well as good workforce preparedness. The state continues to be a magnet for out-of-state talent, but its attraction to well-educated foreign workers has slipped.

The purpose of the Chamber’s study was not to lay blame, but to establish solid benchmarks to learn from and continue to measure for progress. The report provides a path to pursue in order to improve our state’s competitiveness.

Education & Workforce
We should build a stronger compact between employers and educators so we’re preparing our children for the jobs of today and tomorrow—whether those jobs demand college education, graduate degrees, skills training in community or technical colleges, high school diplomas or union apprenticeships.

Thousands of jobs are unfilled for lack of a skilled workforce. There is demand for high-tech workers and skilled craftsmen. There is demand in the industrial sector for a new generation of workers to replace the baby-boom retirement bubble. We cannot have uneducated, unskilled, untrained and non-productive citizens and expect job growth and prosperity.

We need an environment where people who do R&D decide to create companies and jobs here instead of heading for the coasts. Commercializing inventiveness may be easier said than done, but nurturing creativity, innovation and helping small businesses succeed and grow here is worth undertaking.

International Trade
Whether linking Illinois companies to global business or bringing international companies here, we must expand our potential in the global economy. A third of Illinois’ GDP is already attributable to international trade. There is no doubt that boosting global markets for Illinois-based goods and services is a key to our future.

Play To Our Strengths
Illinois is blessed with a diverse economy. We should enhance fundamental strengths while promoting elements with the most potential for future investments and job growth. Agriculture, transportation, energy production, healthcare, financial markets, hospitality, professional services and manufacturing are fundamental to our economic well-being. Education, research, electronics, technology, international trade, healthcare and alternative energy sources are the keys to tomorrow’s jobs.

Government’s Attitude
Last, but not least, we need to change the conversation in Springfield.Many elected officials seem to have taken their eyes off the prize when it comes to economic policy. They send the wrong signals to employers in our state and those who consider expanding into our state. Prevailing attitudes that frustrate employers and investors are obvious when proposed business expansions experience delays and roadblocks instead of helping hands to resolve issues and expedite investments.

We can’t tax our way to prosperity. Illinois’ political leadership needs to realize that if the state’s economy was hitting on all cylinders and growing jobs at a pace matching the national average, tax revenue shortfalls might not exist.

Working together, we can turn economic trends around. It is not acceptable to settle for good, but slipping. We must boost our economic competitiveness. This requires a long-term commitment to policies that enhance and promote job growth. Now is not the time to accept mediocrity or complacency. It is time we concentrate on bringing Illinois back to a place of prominence and growth. The Illinois Chamber Foundation’s Economic Scorecard provides direction. The scorecard, executive summary and full report are available at iBi