The call for a manufacturing revival being shouted throughout Illinois by an industry group leader should resonate with Quad-Citians. We know firsthand the terrible sting of a declining manufacturing base and have struggled with the consequences of losing jobs that pay a national average wage of nearly $26 an hour and boast the highest percentage of eligibility for health benefits.
As Greg Baise, CEO and president of the Illinois Manufacturers Association, reminded our editorial board last week, in the last 16 years, the Q-Cs has lost 20 percent of those jobs. That’s piled atop the 20,000 Q-C manufacturing jobs which disappeared during the 1980s farm crisis.
Statewide since 2000, Mr. Baise said, 304,000 manufacturing jobs have disappeared or left Illinois. To put that in perspective, he said, that’s more than the population of any city in Illinois other than Chicago. Or if you prefer, nearly three times the population of Rock Island County.
Those losses reverberate throughout our community. According to the National Association of Manufacturers, for every $1 spent in manufacturing, another $1.81 is added to the local economy because manufacturing jobs create other jobs. When they’re gone, many other jobs go with them.
It’s true that a significant number of those lost manufacturing jobs have fallen victim to global competition, the recession and technology. But that doesn’t explain why still-vibrant manufacturers leave Illinois or why companies looking to expand are opting not to build here.
So why aren’t they?
Where are those jobs going?
It’s simple, really. As we dither, smart states have been creating and nurturing environments that welcome industry. As a result, while Illinois has created a meager 4,600 jobs in recent years, our neighbors are hitting the jackpot: Michigan has added 171,300 jobs; Indiana, 83,700; Ohio, 75,900; and Wisconsin, 44,100, Mr. Baise said. So a reasonable Illinoisan would expect that the people we send to Springfield would set aside their differences and work together to come up with a plan to bring jobs to the state and grow our tax base.
Instead, they bicker over any idea offered, and even, we’re sad to say, sometimes over the existence or the urgency of the problem. Democrats, led by House Speaker Michael Madigan, wield Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s Turnaround Agenda like a weapon to win the war of Nov. 8. The governor offers to compromise, and even follows through on some points, then spoils it by continuing to needle and bait Democratic leaders. Both sides are dumping dollars into the toxic money pit of campaign advertising into very few competitive races for the Illinois House and Senate. In the eyes of the voters, the election has become a contest between Rauner and Madigan, neither of whom is on the ballot.
The environment is so toxic, the governor and Democrat legislative leaders couldn’t even fulfill their constitutional duty to fund our government, until a statewide push by voters and editorial pages forced them to pass a stopgap spending plan. That expires Jan. 1, 2017, Mr. Baise said, and we’ve seen no sign of what comes next.
Despite all that, there still is hope, however slim, of a “Grand Bargain” after the votes are counted on Nov. 8; maybe as soon as the lame-duck session. That will only happen, however, if the two sides are willing to bury the hatchet somewhere other than in their opponent’s back.
The industry group is trying to kickstart that essential conversation by offering its “Middle Class Manufacturing Agenda,” which seeks to:
-- Get the state’s fiscal house in order.
-- Enact permanent worker compensation reform.
-- Reform Illinois’ tax code.
-- Overhaul property taxes.
-- Strengthen the education and workforce development system.
While some items are on Gov. Rauner’s much-maligned agenda, we believe there ARE points contained here on which both sides can find common ground if leaders set aside politics and their enmity for one another and do their duty. It’s time to get started.
Here in the Quad-Cities, we know the price of doing nothing. Let’s see what can happen for us and for the entire state, when our leaders unite to grow Illinois.
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