A Publication of WTVP

Jobs. The overriding issue is jobs.

Illinois must start 2010 by embracing a “jobs agenda.”

The health or demise of the Illinois economy rests upon lawmakers and employers working together to pursue pro-growth policies to restore jobs. If there is to be a renaissance in investment and job growth for our state, employers—the true job creators—deserve more attention and respect from lawmakers. And, employers must step up more often and work harder to engage elected officials in constructive and instructive dialogue about the many challenges of running a successful business in Illinois.

Employers need confidence that their business can grow and prosper in Illinois. The anti-business rhetoric from politicians must end and a new era of business friendliness must begin. Job creation and population growth are economic catalysts.

How bad is job loss in Illinois ?

October statistics revealed that more than half of Illinois’ 102 counties, including the most populous ones, reported unemployment in excess of 10 percent. Winnebago County (Rockford) reported the highest rate at nearly 16 percent. Nearly 700,000 people were unemployed that month. True unemployment is undoubtedly worse, because those statistics do not reflect people who are not collecting government benefits, have exhausted government benefits, have given up the job search or have left the state.

The state has lost 302,100 manufacturing jobs this decade. The departure of those manufacturing jobs no doubt contributed to our status as having the third-worst record for job creation in the nation. Illinois has experienced the outward migration of 750,000 people—third-highest behind only California and New York. The population trend suggests our state is likely to lose another seat in Congress after the next census.

Illinois remains the fifth-largest industrial state and home to numerous dynamic, successful businesses and institutions contributing to a diverse economy that others envy. Unfortunately, the trajectory of many comparative business climate measures has been downhill for years. For example, Illinois once had the sixth-highest per capita income in the country. The 2005 analysis showed Illinois ranked 14th in per capita income. It is time for a conscious and concerted effort to reverse the slide by focusing on job growth.

What is making the problem worse?

Elected officials and candidates for public office fail to understand that the best economic safety net is not growing costly government programs. It is jobs. One of the greatest ironies of that misguided thinking is that without robust private sector employment growth, there are fewer and fewer taxpayers providing the money for government to spend.

While the recession has been blamed much of the current fiscal crisis in state and local government can be directly attributed to the steady erosion of private sector employment over the last decade.

Government inattentiveness to employers and failure to acknowledge the economic consequences of adverse political decisions have contributed to disinvestment in our communities. Some employers have packed up and moved to more hospitable locales. Others have chosen to make new investments in other states.

Do elected officials understand they must support private sector job growth?

President Obama recently acknowledged that the solution for economic recovery and job growth remains with the private sector. He said, “But, I want to be clear—while I believe that government has a critical role in creating the conditions for economic growth, ultimately true economic recovery is only going to come from the private sector…It is only when the private sector starts to reinvest again, only when our businesses start hiring again and people start spending again and families start seeing improvement in their own lives again that we’re going to have the kind of economy that we want.That’s the measure of a real economic recovery.”

Governor Quinn has also been saying and doing the right things. He has acknowledged our unemployment numbers are unacceptably high and he repeatedly says how important it is for every able-bodied person in Illinois to be working. In support of a range of job-creating initiatives, the Governor has attended: the Farm Progress Show in Decatur, the Chicago Ford Taurus production line kick-off rally, and the ribbon-cutting for the 300-person Siemens wind turbine manufacturing facility in Elgin. The Governor has appointed an Economic Recovery Commission and meets with business people who have interests, needs and visions for economic projects in our state.

What should the role of government be in job creation?

Simply put, Illinois government officials should embrace change, adapt to challenges of global competiveness, promote technological advances and reduce barriers so free enterprise can succeed. Government can create conditions for economic growth by:

What is the call to action for the business community?

We desperately need engaged private sector leaders and an electorate that is prepared to demand greater expectations for economic opportunity for their futures in Illinois. Business and community leaders must champion initiatives that put people to work while putting candidates for public office on notice that their attention needs to be on growing jobs, not driving them away.

It is time to embrace a new jobs agenda that sets economic growth as Illinois’ top priority. The Illinois Chamber is compiling a Jobs Agenda for 2010. I invite and highly encourage all members of the Illinois Chamber to send me ideas for what job growth initiatives we ought to be promoting in the coming year.

We cannot say it often enough: Jobs. The overriding issue is helping the private sector prosper and grow jobs in Illinois. iBi