USA - Government reform, private capital key to prosperity in Rockford and Illinois, state commerce chief says

Lesedauer: min

Jim Schultz aims to help Gov. Bruce Rauner transform the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

Forty jobs could come to Rockford if an Italian die-casting company can work collaboratively with local governments and state and regional economic development agencies to make the move.

But the state budget stalemate all but handcuffs Illinois from sowing prosperity. The alliance of public and private investors in the region needs money to do its job, and so does its Illinois counterpart.

The prospect of 40 jobs coming to Rockford was a ray of sun in a partly cloudy forecast that Jim Schultz delivered last week at the Rockford Area Economic Development Council annual dinner at Giovanni's.

RAEDC is a collaboration of public and private interests that aims to sell employers around the globe on the merits of setting up shop in the Rockford area. Schultz leads its state counterpart, the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, a solely public institution that Gov. Bruce Rauner wants to infuse with private capital.

Rauner, however, is at odds with the General Assembly, which is controlled by Democrats who oppose the governor's agenda for worker's compensation reform and other structural changes to the way Illinois does business. Illinois' fiscal year began July 1, and political leaders are still sparring over Rauner's reform agenda.

“We need to get some structural reforms,” Schultz said. “I was in New York three months ago talking to companies, talking to some business owners and the comment I heard was 'I don't even think about Illinois. The problems you have, you're not even on the radar.' Well, give us some time to get some of those things fixed. Let's start talking to companies about coming to Illinois again.

“We do need workman's comp reform. If we're going to make the state great, we need to change the way we do business.”

Rauner's idea is to transform the state commerce agency into a public-private entity so it can tap private capital to advance its mission. The idea has gained no traction in Springfield. Yet Schultz hopes that if he leaves any kind of legacy, “it will be creating that economic development corporation. That is something that, hopefully, we will be working on in the future.”

Private investment is critical to the success of Rockford's economic development agency, too, RAEDC Director Mike Nicholas said. With its five-year capital campaign — Rockforward 20/20 — the agency expects to create and retain 10,500 jobs by the close of 2020 and attract $925 million worth of capital investment to the region, resulting in 38 million square feet of new or renovated space for business.

To do all of that, RAEDC expects to raise an additional $600,000 a year — on top of its annual campaign of $1.4 million. Marketing has been RAEDC's central mission since its inception. The extra revenue would pay for additional external marketing work and two more pillars of its renewed strategy: workforce development and a qualified-sites program to meet the needs of relocating and expanding businesses.