Greg Baise is the president of the Illinois Manfacturers' Association.
I was traveling last week around the Illinois.
What I saw was sad. Very sad.
My observations have been cemented in my mind while witnessing one gubernatorial hopeful resigning his candidacy and others continue to maneuver aggressively. To those who still aspire to serve in the governor’s mansion, I have some pointed questions that voters need answered. I will get to those in a moment.
My trip began in my hometown, Jacksonville, for a memorial service for a mentor of mine which may have set the mood, but as I left town with fond memories of what used to be in a thriving community, I was struck with how things had changed. Oh, Jacksonville still has its good points. While some manufacturers are still there, driving out of town it’s hard to miss the empty skeleton of the old Anderson Clayton factory. It began manufacturing food products just after World War II but closed a few years ago. Several other facilities are closed and the manufacturing base has shrunk dramatically.
The town reflects a tired image of an era gone by.
Later in the week I drove to Peoria. I traveled via Illinois Route 29, which enters the city from the north. Passing the small towns that dot the road along the Illinois River, you see empty buildings that once housed family-owned manufacturing facilities and were the center of economic activity in the town. They are now gone, as are the cafes, gas stations and small retail establishments that thrived when they were in business.
More towns that reflect a tired image of an era gone by.
When I arrived on the outskirts of Peoria, I passed the full parking lot of the Mossville Caterpillar facility. Finally an image of the way it used to be.
But empty manufacturing and retail facilities on the north side of town quickly snapped my attention back to the New Reality. The housing stock is mostly run down or empty. One has to wonder, where did those families go to find their American dreams?
Arriving downtown, the energy level shot through the roof. A new CAT visitor’s center was teeming with guests. CAT’s headquarters dominated the skyline, a CAT tech center was close by and the looming East Peoria manufacturing hub was just a couple of miles away.
But could all of this go away, too?
I know for a fact that CAT executives get so many overtures from other states’ governors and economic development departments that they now have a form letter they send in response thanking them for the interest but declining.
Will that always be the answer? Many scoff at the notion, but don’t be so sure. I am only observing and have no knowledge or insight, but when you look at the disappearing manufacturing landscape of Illinois, one cannot know the answer to that question with certainly. Thank goodness CAT wants to stay here in a state that has helped drive others away. And I’m sure the 4,000 Illinois companies who are vendors to CAT thank their lucky stars as well. But how long can good people tolerate bad treatment?
Earlier that day, the news of 400 jobs associated with one of our members, a lighting company in Gurnee announced they were leaving for Kenosha, Wisconsin. Their employees won’t even have to move. Another blow to our state’s manufacturing base.
One does not have to travel any distance to see a recent example of Illinois’ loss of jobs and the havoc it is bringing to our economy and citizens.
Our unemployment rate continues to lead the Midwest and be second worst in the nation. The violence and murder rate in neighborhoods that once housed manufacturing facilities in Chicago are national news. Our pension debt is worst in the nation. Our state continues to spend more than it brings in each year. Illinois is the poster child of ruinous economic policies of high taxes, excessive workers compensation cost and regulatory policies that drive employers to look elsewhere.
Politically, we need solutions, not slogans. We cannot afford to wait. We desperately need leadership.
So I ask our candidates for governor on both sides of the aisle this:
“WHAT ARE YOUR SPECIFIC ANSWERS TO THESE QUESTIONS?
No slogans. No quibbling. No spin.
1. How would you solve the pension debt problem? (No, not anyone else’s plan, your plan)
2. Do you support the extension of the temporary state income tax? If not, how do you plan to replace that revenue?
3. How do you plan to improve our state’s education program to produce a skilled work force for the future?
4. What is your plan to bring down worker compensation costs and reform our state’s burdensome regulatory climate?
5. How do you plan stop Illinois from closing one day at a time?
Until we hear some specific answers to those and several other important issues, Illinois will reflect a tired image of era gone by.
Greg Baise serves as the president of the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association.