CARBONDALE — Gov. Bruce Rauner made Southern Illinois his first stop after Wednesday’s State of the State address, making a campaign-style appearance at Com-Pac in Carbondale.
He was joined by Republican state Sens. Dale Fowler of Harrisburg and Paul Schimpf of Waterloo and state Reps. Terri Bryant of Murphysboro and Dave Severin of Marion.
During a news conference after touring the facility, Bryant and Rauner announced that the shuttered Murphysboro Illinois Youth Center would be open again in just a matter of months.
Bryant said the facility is training staff and will eventually open as a transitional facility for minimum security inmates to train for jobs in the outside world.
Rauner, alongside Fowler, addressed the possibility of a port coming to Cairo. The Rauner Family Foundation recently donated $100,000 to help jump-start the port project in the languishing city between the rivers.
“I care very deeply about what’s going on in Cairo,” Rauner said. He said a tax base needs to be there in order for the city to begin to grow and recover from years of economic hardship, and the port was a great way to build that.
Fowler said the Rauner donation went to marketing materials to advertise the proposed port to potential corporate partners. Fowler said it’s starting to work, and that calls of interest have already been received.
During the tour of the Com-Pac facility, Greg Sprehe, co-owner of the plastic and zipper manufacturing company on Carbondale’s northern end, said he was excited to host the governor, adding that Rauner was sympathetic to his needs as a business owner.
“He has been the only one that has proposed streamlining work rules in Southern Illinois,” Sprehe said. He said the governor’s concern about business income tax rates and worker's compensation costs also earned him his support.
Rauner was given a guided tour of the manufacturing facility that Sprehe said employs a team of more than 200 people. He saw plastic bag production as well as zipper manufacturing. Sprehe mentioned that while it may not be the most exciting topic, it should be a point of pride for people in Southern Illinois that national companies come to them for products — even NASA has used them.
During his remarks after the tour, Rauner reiterated themes from his address Wednesday — break up the “Madigan machine,” lower income taxes and balance the state budget.
Rauner praised the work being done by Sprehe and his team, as well as Southern Illinois workers.
“You guys are the best workforce in the United States,” Rauner said to the gaggle of reporters and factory workers.
He said removing bureaucratic red tape would make it possible to bolster the state’s economy and help foster job growth, especially in places like the state’s rural southern half.
“That’s what America is about — taking a risk and starting a business,” he said.
Rauner also pivoted to the upcoming election — he said people need to ask questions of anyone wanting their vote.
“This election isn’t about Democrats versus Republicans — it’s about changing the system,” Rauner said, adding that every candidate should be asked how they plan to do that. Chief among those concerns was whether someone hoping to work in the legislature would vote against Michael Madigan as speaker of the house.
Rauner also touched on criminal justice reform in his remarks to the media. He praised efforts in the Illinois Department of Corrections to train inmates in skills, even offering certificates in trades for inmates to use after they are released.
As for ways to prevent incarceration in the first place, Rauner pointed to building the economy.
“The No. 1 crime prevention plan is a job,” Rauner said.