Despite published reports Thursday that immigration reform is dead, Motorola Solutions Chairman and CEO Greg Brown rallied business leaders to keep it alive because of its impact on their competitiveness, innovation and the economy.
Brown said he was disturbed that Congress has given up on immigration reform at a time when the economic recovery is "fragile" and businesses will lose their competitive edge without it.
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"Why is the timing not right for this? I find that unacceptable," Brown said.
Brown urged business leaders to get involved in the fight to pass immigration reform during his keynote speech at the Illinois Chamber of Commerce's annual meeting in downtown Chicago. The Washington Post and other media outlets said Thursday that immigration reform is dead until President Obama leaves office. Brown serves on the president's immigration reform committee and sounded the alarm on what could happen without it.
Brown said American businesses are at a crisis point because they cannot find workers with the skills needed to produce innovative products and to compete worldwide.
Even companies such as Schaumburg-based Motorola Solutions and others depend on talent from around the world, including from such competitive markets as India and China. However, many of those young immigrants get their educations in the United States, but then return to their native lands because they cannot stay here, he said.
He said reform could be tackled again next year, because it spans all political parties and small and big businesses. Such reform will make companies better, produce more for the local economy and, ultimately, create more jobs, he said.
"Immigration reform is not about taking jobs from U.S. workers," Brown said. In fact, he said it could lead to hiring more U.S. workers as businesses grow.
"Immigrant workers are job generators themselves. They have a job multiplier effect," he said. "So if our goal is to grow a dynamic environment for businesses to be created, grow and thrive, we ought to care about this as a state."
Besides passing immigration reform to help in the short term, Brown believes strengthening ties with local colleges and universities can help cultivate future engineers and other skilled labor.
For example, Motorola Solutions has had a 25-year partnership with Harper College in Palatine, and the company also partners with After School Matters, the Chicago Public Library Foundation, the Museum of Science and Industry, local school districts and other groups. He encouraged others to do the same to prepare future generations for the workforce.
"It's about preparing the workforce for the jobs that will keep America competitive and enable kids to succeed in the 21st century," Brown said. "But, unfortunately, it takes 18 years to make an engineer, and the crisis for talent is now."
Besides tackling such issues, the chamber said a fond farewell Thursday to longtime President and CEO Doug Whitley, a Batavia resident.
Several dignitaries and business leaders, including Brown, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and others, congratulated Whitley on his retirement and praised his unrelenting efforts to fight for issues to help businesses.
Whitley continued to lead the charge, telling colleagues not to give up on immigration reform and other major issues and thanking everyone for their support.
Whitley will be replaced by Todd Maisch, who had been the chamber's executive vice president.
In other news, the chamber presented its 6th annual Edie Awards to businesses for their economic development impact on Illinois. Winners included CVS Caremark Customer Center in Mount Prospect, Peacock Engineering in Romeoville, Universal Technical Institute in Lisle as well as Midwest Inland Port in Decatur and CSL Behring in Kankakee.