Chamber boss asks legislators to step up

Staff Writer
Woodford Times
Illinois Chamber of Commerce President Doug Whitley speaks about improving the business climate in Illinois on the factory floor of Philippi-Hagenbuch, the Peoria-based manufacturer of heavy-duty equipment for mining. "Job creation needs to be the number one task," Whitley said.

If Illinois is to prosper again, it has to grapple with the lackluster business climate - with the state's leaders abandoning half-measures.

"They only engage in incremental changes. They need to engage in bold changes," Illinois Chamber of Commerce President Doug Whitley said at Philippi-Hagenbuch, the Peoria-based manufacturer of heavy-duty equipment for mining.

He detailed a decline in Illinois finances and business climate that was at first quiet and then precipitous.

"Community, civic, political and elected leadership in Illinois have allowed our national standing to deteriorate with little regard for what has occurred," Whitley said. "If we genuinely wish to encourage job growth and promote prosperity in Illinois, we must pursue a public policy agenda that will address these trends and return our state to its proper status as an unquestionable economic powerhouse and employment magnet."

To that end, Whitley said that ahead of Gov. Pat Quinn's budget address Wednesday, the Chamber of Commerce is highlighting five areas where the state needs to focus on making serious improvements. They include restoring fiscal integrity, reducing the cost of doing business, improving education and work force skills, investing in infrastructure and improving confidence in the state's judiciary.

Thus far on making the necessary improvements, the Chamber's leader gave Quinn a grade of 'C,' mainly because he said the jury is still out on the changes the governor has implemented. Yet he acknowledged Quinn has improved our situation in the last three years.

Whitley took a favorable view of reports that Quinn plans to call for a 9 percent cut in state spending over the coming year.

"I would think that would be significant," he said. "If that's what comes through, that would set the right tone."

And setting a good tone is important, because one of the first steps Illinois can take is to improve its image and reputation, Whitley said. "The employers have to become ambassadors, and at the moment they're embarrassed" to talk up the benefits of the state.

Improving the jobs picture is vital because "governments benefit when the economy is robust," he said. That's because a higher employment rate broadens the tax base the state is pulling from. If the state's unemployment rate were only half of the 9.8 percent it stood at when the year began, "some of our state's fiscal problems would begin to take care of themselves."

On some of the other proposals, Whitley later decried the fact that many employers, particularly in the manufacturing sector, seem to think the employee pool they must hire from consists of people who need more training.

"I just don't think there's enough dialogue between the education community and the employment community," he said.

And while he said that taking another look at workers' compensation reforms is critical to businesses of all sizes, "I don't have any expectation the General Assembly will pick up with workers' compensation this year" after passing a reform package last year. Whitley suggested that matter would probably require another year before being seriously addressed again.