Candidate J.B. Pritzker promised Illinoisans big things. The new governor already has delivered on many of them -- big and small -- in the record 591 bills he has signed into law in his freshman year.
Eight months after he took office, however, a promised plan for getting our shrinking state back on the road to recovery had gone missing. Fortunately, that changed last week when Pritzker and his Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity rolled out a five-year strategic plan for turning Illinois into a job-creating engine.
That road map to economic success will have been worth the wait if its ambitious goals can be accomplished and its key targets can be hit. There is a lot to like in the broad strokes of this document, no matter which corner of Illinois you call home.
That’s because this is not a Chicago-centric plan. Downstate Illinois is heavily represented among Pritzker’s target industries, which were defined as agriculture and agricultural technology, energy, information technology, health care and life sciences, manufacturing; transportation and logistics, and small business.
It also calls for for using “regional economic hubs” to ensure that “regions across Illinois, including state and local governments, industry, unions, universities, and nonprofits are communicating well and working together to accomplish the same economic vision.”
Still, business leaders will no doubt spot some glaring absences in the plan. Among them are that it doesn’t address Illinois' too-high tax burden, and it paints a rosier picture of Illinois outmigration and its root causes than we see when we crunch the same numbers.
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But that shouldn’t have surprised anyone who listened to Pritzker, whose campaign centered from the first on replacing the flat tax with a graduated income tax and a massive capital development plan that would require new state taxes and fees to pay for it.
This report’s rosy outlook also is what Illinoisans should have expected from a glass-half-full leader who promised to be Illinois' best salesman and to restore the Land of Lincoln’s image here and in the nation. We certainly could use the lift, so long as Democratic legislative leaders, who have spent decades saying that everything is fine in Illinois, are not encouraged to inaction once again.
As for the focus on Illinois’ strengths, Pritzker is right about many of them, and this plan plays well to our advantages. It does so by building on Illinois' central location and its existing education, energy, agricultural, technology, health care and manufacturing industry strengths to grow jobs. Though lacking in specifics, it calls for creating a welcome economic development infrastructure to market Illinois to the world, provide top-notch customer service, create new opportunities in employment and workforce development, bring communities together, and use evidence-based programs to grow Illinois.
This region is particularly well-positioned to take advantage of the plan's focus on workforce growth, entrepreneurship and retention of young talent, all of which are foundations of our Q2030 regional economic plan. For that reason, we're pleased to see that this isn't merely a top-down economic development structure, but one that also grows Illinois from the local level.
For example, the report said, “We would work closely with towns and cities throughout downstate Illinois to develop comprehensive plans that could include downtown redevelopment; new housing, parks, or shopping centers; transportation and public transit improvements; new or rehabilitated schools or career and technical education centers; and more.”
Overall, it's an aggressive road map for sparking Illinois' recovery. The focus now must be ensuring that it doesn't become yet another abandoned economic growth plan collecting dust on a government shelf overflowing with them.