Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner said Tuesday he is "on a mission to listen and learn" from foreign business investors in order to attract them to Illinois.
The governor, speaking to about 1,000 suburban business leaders at the annual DuPage County Regional Business Outlook breakfast in Oakbrook Terrace, outlined the results of a recent survey conducted by the state's Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity on how other countries perceive Illinois as a place to invest in business.
DuPage County and the Chicago metropolitan area fared well in the survey, Rauner said, but some businesses noted concerns that make them wary of coming to the state.
The top issues cited were Illinois' property and corporate tax rates, Rauner said, as well as the financial difficulties facing Illinois and Chicago.
"If they want to invest billions into the city and in the state, they have to have confidence in our future, and they don't," the governor said.
The survey mirrored many points Rauner is pushing in his "turnaround agenda." He said the survey showed respondents expressed concern over costs linked to unions, considered other states more favorable to business because of right-to-work laws and noted the need for better infrastructure and skilled vocational training.
Rauner said he would use the survey results to focus the state's efforts on attracting large foreign-based businesses with strategies that include changing tax and business policies and personally speaking to potential businesses to extol the merits of Illinois.
"We're going to focus like a laser on that," he said. "We're got to deal with this now in order to long-term balance our budget."
While the governor did not specify which countries were represented, he later told reporters the respondents from the 10 countries surveyed included ambassadors, consuls general, business owners that have an investment in the state and relocation firms.
Some positives for the region, Rauner said, were its abundance of educational and research institutions and business incubators. Chicago is seen as attractive to college students, providing a quality workforce pool.
But while the city and region has been successful in landing offices for foreign-based business, Rauner said the state needs to change the negative perceptions to attract the "mega" investments of large manufacturing facilities that would bring revenues and jobs to the state.
"We're not getting the billion-dollar manufacturing plants that are going to Texas and Tennessee and other places, and we need to be able to compete on that level," Rauner said.
"We have got to restore fiscal responsibility and discipline. If we don't, we're not going to get the big investment dollars, and we're not getting it today," he added.
While the Chicago region fared well in the survey, the survey was not as positive about the rest of the state. Rauner noted the uncertainty in taxes and government plays a greater role in the negative view of downstate.
The governor lauded DuPage County for its approach in privatizing economic development efforts, something he said needs to be adopted at the state level. Earlier during the event, DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin highlighted SKF Group opening an $18.6 million research and development facility in Naperville. The Sweden-based company chose the county for its North American facility primarily because of the region's educated workforce, Cronin said.
Outside the event, about 60 people associated with the DuPage County Building Trades Council gathered with signs saying "Save the Middle Class." A spokesman for the group said they were there not to specifically target the governor's proposals that would affect unions, but to raise awareness of the issues that are affecting the middle class.