Illinois is growing: It turns out our state is a place to be

It turns out the many stories about an Illinois exodus were all wrong.

In fact, the U.S. Census Bureau said May 19, our state's population was undercounted by about 250,000 people. So rather than shrinking by 18,124, as it had originally reported, we grew by a little more than a quarter million people.

Illinois has more than 13 million residents for the first time. Welcome to all our new neighbors. Can we interest you in a newspaper subscription?

"From boundless economic opportunities, to booming economic development and leading institutions of higher education, Illinois has so much to offer our new residents," Gov. J.B. Pritzker said in part in a statement about the census undercount.

Unfortunately, the recount won't come in time to keep Illinois from losing one House seat and an unknown amount of federal funding. That will hurt.

Intersect Illinois is working to bring companies to our great state, particularly in six diverse areas: manufacturing, electric vehicles, technology, agribusinesses, logistics and life sciences.

As Dan Seals, CEO of Intersect Illinois, pointed out, Illinois has the fifth-largest economy in the country, 18th largest in the world. Thirty-eight Fortune 500 companies already call Illinois home, and 1,900 foreign companies are located here.

We have a lot to brag about, a lot of reasons for people and businesses to move here. Illinoisans should be proud to call our state home.

So why were so many people quick to pile on about a negative story that turned out to be false?

Maybe part of it is the weather. Rumor has it not everyone enjoys Illinois winters. Go figure.

Maybe some people just like to grouse when things don't measure up to their expectations in every way. It always seems like life must be better elsewhere.

Maybe it's all the governors and other politicians who have been prosecuted. Corruption is a serious problem here, but Illinois hardly has a monopoly on it.

Part of it might be taxes. The property tax bill that arrived in the mailbox a couple of weeks ago landed with a thud. Yup, that one hurt.

But it's important to focus on what we're getting for that money. About 75% of our property taxes go to our schools, and those schools are producing our next generation of business owners and executives, scientists, manufacturing employees, etc. It's vital that they be well-educated so they can make Illinois' economy hum for decades to come.

It's vital also that our transportation assets be modernized, for the sake of our people and our businesses. They're a big reason so many businesses are located here. Crumbling infrastructure hinders business.

Illinois' finances have improved the past few years, as a series of bond rating upgrades illustrate. State government has a lot of work to do still to earn more needed upgrades and change the underlying problems that caused all the downgrades of yesteryear. Illinois' finances can't be allowed to regress.

One more thing to watch: With so many other states imposing restrictions on residents and businesses based on social issues - abortion rights, LGBTQ rights, voting rights, education, etc. - will that cause more people and more businesses to consider moving here in the months and years ahead?

For instance, Apple and other companies are offering to pay medical expenses for employees who need to leave home in Texas to seek an abortion, according to The Washington Post. Salesforce offered to relocate workers from Texas because of its restrictive new law on abortion. Disney got in trouble with Florida for its opposition to Florida's new "Don't say gay" law.

Disney World isn't going to move to Arlington Heights, but other companies may be worried about how Florida, Texas and other states want to restrict their freedom to do business.

"The communication with corporate parties has just been nonstop," Jen Stark, senior director at Tara Health Foundation, an investment firm focused on gender and racial equity, told The Washington Post after a U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion on abortion was leaked. "Companies that were gearing up for impact in June are feeling the reality set in now."

Companies will face pressure from shareholders and employees to take a stand. Some might take a look at the changing business environment in those states and look elsewhere. Like Illinois, for instance.

Illinois needs to be ready to make its case. And make room.

Sorry. More room.

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