One of the major battles being waged in Springfield during the 98th Illinois General Assembly is a Senate Democratic proposal (Senate Bill 2) to restructure the state’s economic development agency, the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.
Officially, DCEO’s mission is to raise Illinois’ profile as a global business destination and nexus of innovation; and to provide a foundation for the economic prosperity of all Illinois residents, through coordination of business recruitment and retention, provision of essential capital to small businesses, investment in infrastructure and job training for a 21st century economy and administration of state and federal grant programs.
With backing from Senate President John Cullerton, Sen. Andy Manar authored a bill — co-sponsored by Republican Sen. Kirk Dillard — that is supported by the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, is opposed by DCEO officials and has left chambers of commerce statewide to wonder whether anyone involved in state government can see the forest through the trees.
Essentially, SB2 will disband DCEO and establish a public-private partnership for economic development — as is often done at municipal and county levels of government — using the Illinois Economic Development Authority and Illinois Business and Economic Development Corp.
Chamber leaders discussed the pros and cons of DCEO’s mission and structure with Manar at the Illinois Chamber’s annual Legislative Summit on Feb. 5 in Springfield. It reported how government regulations and taxation unduly burden business development and expansion, thus hindering economic development and job growth.
Also cited were inadequate employment training and retraining, leaving 350,000 jobs in Illinois unfilled.
With their own now jobs on the line, DCEO officials have mounted a protest campaign over the “privatization” of state economic development agency functions that included testimony by its client businesses at the senate’s State Government and Veterans Affairs Committee hearing hosted by the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce on April 4.
DCEO’s protest warns of the lack of transparency and conflicts of interest with a corporation and corporate board that are not subject to public laws, citing accountability concerns with The Illinois Global Partnership and Illinois World Trade Center Association, as well as fellow Midwest states of Iowa, Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio.
Lost in the forest of all the pro and con rhetoric are the fallen trees of economic development, ranging from Illinois’ 9.5 percent corporate tax rate to costly, causation-less Worker’s Compensation.
Government needs to model one major lesson from business and simply get out of its way.
John Quigley is president and CEO of the Elmhurst Chamber of Commerce