In the struggle to attract tomorrow’s businesses, states across the country are using creative ways to stand out from the crowd. As we continue to build the best economic conditions our state has had in generations, it’s no wonder others rank Illinois among their toughest competition.
While it’s true that the business community once turned its back on our state, the reality is that Illinois’ economic ecosystem today is barely recognizable from years past. It’s time to re-introduce Illinois and set the record straight on why businesses want to be here.
First, Illinois is at the heart of it all. We are the only state where all Class I railroads converge at two locations. O’Hare Airport is one of the most globally connected airports in the world. We have the third largest interstate highway system in the United States and inland waterways that connect to the Great Lakes, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Gulf of Mexico. Whether a business is shipping products via rail, roads, rivers or runways, there is a huge advantage to being in Illinois. How many advantages? PWC estimates that for many companies, logistics accounts for about 10% of revenue. You won’t often make headlines with factors like these, but they are things businesses care about.
Businesses also understand the value that you get what you pay for. Illinois offers a large, skilled workforce of more than six million people, half of whom have a bachelor’s degree or higher. Illinois’ astounding 244 institutions of higher education are among the best in the world. The University of Illinois alone graduates more engineers each year than MIT, Stanford, and Caltech combined. In addition, our community college system is the third largest in the nation. This means that Illinois provides individualized tutoring to students of all ages to ensure they acquire the skills that are most in demand right now. Put it all together and you have an extremely strong pipeline of talent ready to support the growth of the business.
To fully understand why, on average, a new job will relocate or expand to Illinois every day in 2023, we must also acknowledge the power of our state’s leadership. Businesses want to know that because we’re in Illinois, states are making the most deliberate, coordinated and strategic efforts to continually improve their business environment.
It hasn’t always been this way, but Governor JB Pritzker is on the phone with CEOs every day to discuss our state and ask how we can better support their businesses. This active role may seem difficult to appreciate, but the results speak for themselves. For example, when Stellantis opened its Belvidere facility in the summer of 2022, the governor made it a priority to do whatever needed to be done to get them reopened and bring with it $4 billion in investment.
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For all these reasons and more, some states have attempted to discredit Illinois as a great place to do business. Take, for example, the Wyoming state poll’s claims about that state against ours. Wyoming may have the lowest tax rate in the US, but it also has the smallest economy, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It’s not a place where businesses can grow or access a skilled workforce or offer the kinds of infrastructure that many industries rely on to thrive. In fact, Wyoming can’t even claim a single Fortune 1000 company calling it home.
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On the other hand, Illinois is home to nearly 60 Fortune 1000 companies such as ADM, State Farm, John Deere, Walgreens, Motorola Solutions and United Airlines. Small businesses are thriving here, too, with a recent JPMorgan Chase survey showing that our state’s small and medium-sized business owners are more optimistic about business in the region than the national average. It also has the fifth highest GDP in the United States and is ranked second in the nation by Site Selection Magazine for new and expanding companies.
It’s a great time to do business in Illinois and keep the facts on our side.
John Atkinson is chairman of Intersect Illinois, the state’s business advocacy organization.