Manufacturing group CEO: State has become its worst enemy
Illinois needs to get its fiscal house in order, undergo regulatory reform, overhaul its tax code and retool its education system to save the middle class, Illinois Manufacturers' Association President and CEO Greg Baise said during a recent news conference at the state Capitol in Springfield.
"We've met the enemy, and the enemy is us," Baise told reporters in Springfield. "Our citizenry has allowed for a government to exist here in Springfield to not solve problems, so it's not lost on us that we're talking about this during the campaign season as members of the General Assembly are knocking on doors and asking for the vote."
Baise made his remarks with Mark Denzler Presser, the association's vice president, chief operating officer and chief lobbyist in Springfield, during the news conference. Baise and Presser spoke as part of an open discussion of the association's "Middle Class Manufacturing Agenda."
"I gave a speech in Chicago about a month ago highlighting the urgent need for change in Springfield and, really, a call to arms about the loss of manufacturing jobs in this state," Baise said. "We've lost over 300,000 jobs since the turn of the century. We have lost jobs in all parts of the state. Forty percent of the manufacturing jobs in the Chicagoland region have just disappeared. We have seen job losses of 25 to 30 percent in all of the major urban areas throughout the state, and yet no one seems to be alarmed at the fact that the loss of these jobs really means a disappearing middle class in this state."
Each of those hundreds of thousands not working in manufacturing in Illinois represents more than just one person.
"Those 300,000 people who are no longer working in manufacturing in this state represent families -- families who were providing good middle-class jobs for their communities and an opportunity to cause growth in those communities, the opportunity to provide education opportunities for their children," Baise said. "And yet there seems not to be an urgent need here in Springfield to address this particular problem."
Since 2000, Illinois' manufacturing sector has failed to thrive while other Midwestern states have added tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs, Baise and Presser said. Citing examples, the two said Michigan has had a net increase of 171,000 manufacturing jobs, Indiana 83,000 and Ohio 79,000 during the same period. Illinois, by contrast, has had a net increase of 4,600 jobs, but has lost 4,400 manufacturing jobs as of this past August.
"So essentially, since 2000, we have just maintained the number of jobs, had no growth whatsoever as our surrounding states have done," Baise said. "And you ask yourself, ‘Why is that occurring? What's really different in Illinois vs. Ohio or Indiana or Michigan or Iowa or Kentucky?’ Well the answer is, I believe, a job-growth climate that is not really there in this state, as it is in other states throughout the Midwest."
It is time for a middle-class manufacturing agenda, and certain steps are required to make a success of that agenda, Baise said.
"The first thing to do is get the state’s fiscal house in order," Baise said. "Business people look at the way the state is being operated, and they just can't believe that we have $10 billion in backlogged bills, a pension system that is a $100 billion obligation. And they ask themselves, 'What is going to be the day and when is that day coming when we are going to be asked to pay for those particular problems?'"
Regulatory reform also is necessary, with workers' compensation at the top of that list, Baise said. "You have seen Mark and I in this building for the last several years talk about the need for workers' comp changes," Baise said. "And why is that? Well, that is the most often-cited reason for businesses in the manufacturing arena for not wanting to expand or grow jobs in this state. And when Illinois competes for new construction, new jobs to be brought to this state, the workers' compensation system is first cited as a reason why Illinois often loses out."
Baise also called for the state's tax-code needs to be overhauled, but to bear in mind that Illinois' high property taxes also scare off investment in the state.
"If we are going to raise taxes, let's do it in a smart way," Baise said.
Illinois also needs to find replacements for the estimated 35,000 production workers and 5,000 engineers in the state who retire each year, Baise said.
"We have to retool our education system at the community college and high school level to be able to help train the workers who are needed for the manufacturing work space of tomorrow," Baise said. "Illinois can compete for new manufacturing jobs, for advance manufacturing, for the kind of jobs that are necessary in this state because of our location and because of the different sectors that are here. We can compete for those jobs if we get those kind of items in order."
Initially reported by the Sangamon Sun.