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Caterpillar CEO criticizes Illinois’ workers’ comp, pensions

Caterpillar CEO Doug Oberhelman

Caterpillar CEO Doug Oberhelman

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Updated: November 20, 2012 11:21AM

The head of Illinois’ largest manufacturer, Caterpillar Chairman and CEO Douglas Oberhelman, criticized Illinois’ business climate Thursday night, while at the same time saying the company isn’t going to leave.

“I worry about Illinois because every state around us is much more competitive now than we are,” said Oberhelman while addressing the Economic Club of Chicago at the Hyatt Regency Chicago.

“A lot of the states, I go there and they tell me, ‘Doug, why are you in Illinois?’ ”

Oberhelman quashed any idea he would move the company’s headquarters, though they are outdated, adding the world’s largest maker of earth-moving equipment has “deep roots” in Peoria. But he said the company is considering building a new facility.

The company employs about 23,000 people in Illinois, and Oberhelman has frequently criticized the state’s business climate.

He compared two similar plants that build heavy construction equipment — one in Illinois and the other in Indiana. One big difference: “The Indiana plant’s workmen’s comp is five times cheaper than the same one in Illinois, for the same injuries.”

Oberhelman credited Gov. Pat Quinn for trying to sort out the mess but said that ultimately, “the status quo gets better and better and better for [politicians] every year.”

He also called for more action resolving government spending and public pensions.

“It’s very hard for political leadership to go to their employees and retirees and say, ‘We are cutting your benefits by a dollar. . . It’s easier for a CEO to get that done. I paid the price . . . and we’re stronger for it . . . but that’s very hard for political leadership.”

Oberhelman railed against government overspending, overborrowing and lowering interest rates.

“It will take some pretty tough leadership and some pretty tough sacrifices . . . And I think were all repulsed by the political debate we’re having that’s so dishonest for the most part.”

Oberhelman praised free but fair trade with other countries, stressing that the vast majority of Caterpillar’s business is overseas, with a large market in China.

“What if we didn’t have China to sell to? I’d be walking around the factory down there dismissing workers,” he said. “. . . Asia saved us in ’08, ’09 and ’10.”

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