Reality check: Illinois didn't get this big on accident
Editor's note: The Daily Herald asked Dan Seals of Intersect Illinois and Matt Paprocki of Illinois Policy Institute to offer their point of view of recent decisions by Caterpillar, Boeing and Citadel to move their headquarters out of Illinois.
By Dan Seals
A couple years ago, a machine tools manufacturer from Spain chose Illinois to launch its U.S. operations.
It was a successful launch and the company soon developed customers across the country. Business was good, but the company heard it might be better somewhere else.
So when Texas called with incentives to move there, the company relocated just outside of Houston. Sure enough, things were different there. The tax rates were lower, but the labor was less skilled. In fact, the cost of training and retraining the workforce was so high that it was prohibitive. Last November, the company moved back to Illinois.
Surprised? Many people are.
A false narrative suggesting companies are fleeing the state because it is not a great place for business has taken hold in Illinois. It is hard to overstate the impact of this negative and inaccurate self-talk.
Bad news is given extra weight while good news is viewed with skepticism. Over time, too many Illinoisans start to believe in that negative narrative rather than the truth. What's worse, other states use those same points to make their case against us.
So let's set the record straight. First off, there are more people moving to Illinois than leaving the state. The U.S. Census Bureau announced on May 19 that it had undercounted Illinois' population by 1.97 percent, or about 250,000 people, over the last decade. That means our current population of over 13 million is the highest in our history.
Second, Illinois is a great place to do business. It has the fifth-largest economy in the U.S. and the 18th-largest economy in the world. You don't reach those heights by being a bad place to do business.
In fact, 480 businesses moved or expanded here last year, the third-most in the country, according to the industry journal, Site Selection. For example, Kellogg's, Google and Ferrero have all announced major expansion plans in Illinois.
And while Caterpillar is moving 240 jobs in their executive office out, they are keeping 17,000 manufacturing jobs in. What's more, Caterpillar is hiring in Illinois.
Illinois is home to more Fortune 500 companies than all but three states, including companies like ADM, McDonald's, State Farm and Abbott, just to name a few.
And it's not just the big companies that are doing well here. We have also seen a 200 percent increase in startups coming out of our universities and a commensurate increase in venture capital investment. We're also seeing industry disrupters like electric vehicle maker Rivian and the Google-backed agtech company, Farmers Business Network.
Again, this is a great place to do business.
The reason these companies choose Illinois are varied, but two almost always stand out.
The first is our top-notch infrastructure. You can fly from here to any major U.S. destination in under four hours. We're the only state where all seven of the nation's largest railroads meet. Throw in the country's third-largest interstate highway network and the third-largest inland freight hub, and companies in Illinois know that their goods and people can flow seamlessly around the world.
Second, our skilled workforce is a great advantage for companies. The University of Illinois alone graduates more engineers every year than Stanford, MIT, and Caltech combined. And the University of Chicago and Northwestern University are consistently ranked among the best universities in not only the United States, but the world.
One-third of our 6.5 million workers have a bachelor's degree or higher. It all adds up to one of the most diverse and productive workforces in the country.
The correct narrative of our state is we are an attractive place to work, live and play. That doesn't mean we shouldn't be debating how to make it even better. That's what we're supposed to do in a democracy.
But you shouldn't have to tear down the state to make a point. Doing so isn't just factually incorrect, it actually damages the business environment you hope to fix. Our people and our companies deserve better.
• Dan Seals is the CEO of Intersect Illinois, a public-private business recruitment organization dedicated to bringing new jobs, investment and economic prosperity to Illinois.