Years ago, when I was talking to Craig Coil, who was then head of the Economic Development Corporation of Decatur and Macon County, he told me something that really stuck in my mind. He said that, many times, when he would set up his booth at trade shows and events across the nation, in order to attract interest from businesses to take a closer look at what our area had to offer, he was politely told by company reps that Decatur’s big problem is being located in Illinois. In many cases, there was not anything that he could offer that was attractive enough to compensate for the “anti-business climate” in Illinois. It was also about this same time when a top executive with Caterpillar told us that, if his company wasn’t already in Illinois, it would not locate in our state because of state policies.
Former Decatur City Manager Ryan McCrady now heads the EDC and there’s been a different strategy and approach in attracting and maintaining businesses in our area. I would hate to think what kind of shape our community would be in today, if the EDC and other business-positive organizations, were not working hard to attract development to our area. I was on the EDC board briefly until I left the mayor’s office and I can assure you we had then, and have now, some solid, forward-thinking members who represent and promote our community, and its development in a very positive way.
Needless to point out, I love our community and I am optimistic about our future despite a majority of the legislators in Springfield seemingly doing everything they can to put cities in an almost impossible position when encouraging people and businesses to locate here. Illinois ranks among the most irresponsible states to control its budget and, it was recently found that only New Jersey has higher property taxes than Illinois. Those are not really good “selling points” in encouraging people and businessed to come to Illinois.
THE LANDSCAPE for running a small business in Illinois, which, of course, includes Decatur, has changed a lot over the years — and not for the better. That’s what we face in Decatur and, through technology, we’ve been able to cope and stay in business — like many others. However, most of the small business owners I know, who have spent decades building their businesses, are now wondering out loud if they want to continue in business or retire. They also talk about cutting hours and jobs to cope. They no longer have any hope that state government will be able to right itself financially, which will mean more taxation, higher prices for goods services and much higher wages for employees — even at the entry level. The pleas, and warnings, of Illinois businesses, especially small businesses, seem to fall on deaf ears.
A FEW WEEKS ago, after the rushed passage of the $15 per hour minimum wage, Illinois Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Todd Maisch stated: “This afternoon, despite opposition from employers across the state, the legislature passed the most anti-jobs bill in recent memory, a statewide $15 per hour minimum wage. Illinois appears ready to join a small number of liberal states that have bought into the myth that wages are ‘free money’ from employers that can be created by a simple vote of the legislature and the signature of a pen. “Despite repeated attempts by the Chamber and other business advocates to mitigate the damage of this legislation, the majorities in the legislature passed a bill largely written by their organized labor allies with little concern for small businesses and the Illinois economy.
“The Chamber and others offered several compromises to ease the burden of a statewide $15 minimum wage, including those already adopted by other ‘progressive’ states. All were rebuffed. We can only hope that the economic realities of this legislation will dawn on the legislature as the brute political momentum of the bill subsides.”
AS MUCH as I love Decatur and have demonstrated that love through this newspaper, my business and public service, I can’t ignore how low the State of Illinois is sinking in wanting to legalize illegal activity because it needs more money to spend. Illinois State government continues to move down a road of financial despair. Seemingly, there is no thought about reducing spending and that’s not likely to change which, realistically, will make it more difficult for cities like Decatur to attract needed jobs and workers. I believe in Decatur, and we have a lot to sell. Overcoming what the governor and a majority of legislators in Springfield, have done and will continue to do, makes selling a great community like Decatur, a much more difficult task. However, we can get it done because we have to succeed for survival.
Listen to Paul Osborne on the “City Hall Insider” hour of WSOY’s Byers & Co. on Thursday mornings at 7:00.