As a long-time resident of Peoria, a member of the General Assembly, and someone who has worked with unions and manufacturers for much of my life, I know how important manufacturing is to Illinois. In fact, I am a member of the Illinois Legislative Manufacturing Caucus—a group of legislators especially dedicated to addressing manufacturing issues.

Manufacturing plants helped make Illinois the economic powerhouse it is today—by some estimates, Illinois’ economy is as large as the economy of the entire nation of Mexico. Manufacturing jobs also helped establish the middle class, and they still provide the wages and benefits that many associate with social mobility. As a legislator, I believe it is my duty to support the manufacturing sector in Illinois, maintaining existing businesses and helping support the establishment of new manufacturing facilities. I believe it is also the role of state government to encourage investment in innovation like green technology that will provide well-paying jobs for years to come.

Although Illinois has a very diverse economy, manufacturing remains the single largest contributing sector, contributing about 13 percent of the state’s gross domestic product. The manufacturing sector is also a significant employer, providing more than 600,000 jobs. These manufacturing jobs usually pay more than comparable jobs in the service sector, allowing employees to spend more. A higher employment rate and more spending boosts consumer confidence and strengthens the economy, a point that only reiterates the importance of manufacturing.

As a state senator, I believe the General Assembly has a role to play in supporting the manufacturing sector. During hard economic times, the state can help support ailing businesses with tax breaks and workforce training. The state can also provide financial incentives to help businesses invest in new technologies, research and techniques they need to stay ahead and continue to provide valuable services.

For example, earlier this year I passed legislation that helped Keystone Steel and Wire keep its facility in the Peoria area open. Because of the recession, Keystone was forced to reduce its number of full-time workers, rendering it ineligible for a tax exemption it has long enjoyed. This loss cost the company $140,000 per month. Because Keystone had worked so hard to avoid layoffs and to continue providing healthcare to its employees, I was happy to sponsor legislation allowing the company to continue to receive the exemption until it can restore more of its workers to full-time status. We need to support good corporate citizens.

I will continue to support initiatives that help Illinois keep manufacturing jobs and remain on the cutting edge of industry. I recently co-sponsored legislation that gave certain manufacturers an exemption on their gas and electricity bills (House Bill 4599). I am also currently sponsoring legislation that will give the Illinois Manufacturing Extension Center (IMEC) a grant to expand its operations. IMEC plays an important role in worker training and helps businesses improve productivity. I look forward to working with my colleagues on this and other issues in the upcoming legislative session. iBi