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updated: 5/22/2013 9:44 AM

Editorial: Wanted: Creative tools to stimulate job growth

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

The list of critical issues facing Illinois is complex and daunting.

You can start with pension reform and the mounting state deficit and work your way through medical marijuana, concealed carry, gambling and any number of other important topics. In such a climate, it can happen than even subjects as telling and as vital as the state's 9.3 percent unemployment rate -- one of the highest in the nation -- and the weakened business climate can get lost in the shuffle.

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As our economy continues to sputter, it shouldn't be a surprise that Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Texas Gov. Rick Perry recently reached out to try to lure Illinois businesses to their states. What can be done to fight off the poachers? Tax breaks are a traditional incentive, but the state also needs to put some creative new tools in its toolbox.

A bill in the General Assembly fits that description, creating a job-training program that would be tested at four community colleges, including College of Lake County. The community colleges would custom design workforce training programs to benefit new or expanding companies. In exchange, those companies would have to create new jobs.

CLC and the three downstate schools would be able to borrow to create new job-training programs and recoup those costs through fees, including charges to the company that would benefit from the worker training.

Eligible businesses would include manufacturing, processing and product assembly, among others. They'd have to create new jobs, not positions for replacement workers or at companies that close in one area of the state and open elsewhere.

It's a concept that looks beyond tax breaks to provide incentives that address real needs and issues facing a business. The bottom line could be a tangible and valuable benefit to businesses, communities and prospective employees.

The program mimics similar initiatives in Iowa, Missouri and Kansas. Proponents point to successes at Eastern Iowa Community College, which has funded 294 projects creating nearly 21,000 new jobs since 1983.

The proposal, which has been passed by the Illinois Senate and awaits discussion in the House, has some critics. For one, Republican state Sen. Dan Duffy of Lake Barrington, is concerned the schools would have unfettered ability to increase debt, then pass on the expenses to taxpayers.

CLC officials say tax-cap legislation would limit how much they can borrow without a referendum, although that isn't the case for the three downstate schools.

Duffy's debt concern is valid, but appropriate limits and safeguards surely can be written into the bill to protect taxpayers.

The goal should be to find ways to nurture creative concepts that stimulate business and job growth.

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