Local Editorials

A side to Illinois’ business climate we don’t often see

Complaints about Illinois’ business climate and economic conditions are familiar and common - $200 billion in pension debt, high tax rates, massive out-migration, shaky economy.

The refrains are so common, they’ve virtually defined the way many if not most people view the state’s economic environment.

So, it was encouraging this month to reflect on the assessments of a group painting a very different picture.

Granted, the mission of Intersect Illinois, a public-private partnership formed by Gov. Bruce Rauner in 2016 to lure businesses to the state, is to put Illinois in the best possible light. But, as our Orrin Schwarz reported last week, it’s not as if the agency has nothing to work with.

In fact, Dan Seals, Intersect Illinois CEO, told Schwarz, the state has a positive story to tell - and telling it is working.

“It just surprises me that there is such a wide gap between how we perceive ourselves and what the reality actually is here as far as our business environment is concerned,” Seals said.

To emphasize his point, Intersect Illinois cites a litany of Illinois’ economic positives: We’re the fifth-largest economy in the country, 18th-largest in the world. We’re home to 38 Fortune 500 companies, and 1,900 foreign companies are located here. More than 1,800 companies are active in the burgeoning electric vehicle market, and over the past five years, the state has seen a 200% increase in business startups.

And, additional stats could be added. For instance, in a 2021 report on best states for business, CNBC ranked Illinois 15th, ahead of all its neighboring Midwestern states. And while a similar 2021 U.S. News & World Report study wasn’t nearly so optimistic - putting Illinois at a lackluster 30th rank overall - it still gave the state good marks for education, opportunity and crime and corrections. The state’s well-known out-migration issues notwithstanding, the National Bureau of Labor Statistics for March still shows a 2% increase in the number of Illinoisans employed compared with last October, pushing the unemployment rate downward nearly a full percentage point to 4.7%.

Are numbers like this a sign that criticism of the state’s fiscal management is misguided or that Illinois is a bustling hub of economic vitality? Of course not. Views of statistics are notoriously malleable, so it’s always unwise to view economic numbers in isolation or out of context.

But Intersect Illinois, which has launched a new Be In Illinois initiative to sell businesses on the state, is showing that a positive outlook can be productive. The group says that in its six years of work, it has helped produce nearly 16,000 jobs and create $4.6 billion in investment.

Any analysis of a substantial economy is inherently complex, but prominent reflections on Illinois’ business outlook and economy often seem consistently one-dimensional - and negative. It’s important, and encouraging, to remember that there is another side to the state’s economic story, and we’re lucky to have agencies and people stepping up to tell it.

The Daily Herald