This editorial appeared in the Oct. 14, 2019, edition of The (Champaign) News-Gazette:
Gov. J.B. Pritzker wants to further strengthen already strong areas of the state's economy.
The Pritzker administration last week released the details of its five-year economic plan aimed at improving the jobs climate and increasing wages.
It contains the usual boilerplate and braggadocio, but also outlines its plans to focus on key industries and make them even stronger forces in the Illinois economy.
They are agribusiness and agriculture technology, energy, information technology and health care, manufacturing and transportation and logistics.
Even though Illinois finances remain in a disastrous state, the state economy, carried along by a strong national economy, is doing relatively well.
Pritzker noted that the state has enjoyed "simultaneous job growth in every region." He wants to build on that by "laying the foundation for long-term growth" that will "attract more workers and businesses."
Illinois has a strong foundation that it can strengthen further with the proper policies. It's centrally located and has an educated workforce, an impressive transportation network, abundant natural resources and a solid K-12 and higher education system.
At the same time, Illinois trails its neighboring states in terms of economic growth, suffers from a reputation of being hostile to job creators and has more people moving out than moving in.
Meanwhile, Chicago is booming economically, even though that great city also is confronting severe fiscal problems, and downstate communities lag behind.
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Pritzker and his economic advisers clearly will have their hands full reversing those negative trends.
Of the seven areas Pritzker targeted, five — agribusiness, information technology, life sciences, health care and transportation and logistics — are growing. They reported increases in employment ranging from 8 percent (health care) to 39.5 percent (information technology) from 2009-2018.
Only two — energy (-3 percent) and manufacturing (-2.2 percent) — sustained declining employment.
The Pritzker administration envisions adopting a variety of plans and programs — grants, training, expanded broadband, infrastructure improvements, tax credits — that will meet the particular needs of the industries in question.
That sort of thinking is not new. In fact, it's part and parcel of what state and local governments across the country do to enhance their economies.
"In this economic development plan, we identify a set of concentrated industry clusters in which the state has a large employment base and is positioned to compete globally for talent and investment," the report states. "The performance of these industries in particular will have a large impact on the state economy, and that impact will be felt across the regions of the state."
Pritzker bills his five-year plan as a means of revitalizing the economy and building "the workforce of the future."
It pre-supposes creating an economic atmosphere that catches up and passes our neighbors, like Indiana, Michigan, Missouri and Wisconsin, by reversing negative trends, including out-migration.
These ideas are good as far as they go. But there is more to righting the ship that is Illinois than incentives, technology and job training. The state's most fundamental problems remain its sorry finances and policies that drive up employer costs, a combination that creates the kind of instability job creators avoid.