Foxconn, the Taiwanese electronics giant, is giving a $100 million matching gift to the University of Not Illinois. Sorry, we meant the University of Wisconsin.
The company is making a shrewd investment: That money will fund an engineering building and research center because Foxconn needs a pipeline of tech talent for the $10 billion flat-panel plant it will open in southeast Wisconsin. That’s 13,000 jobs to be located in Wisconsin, not Illinois.
Chicago has a shot at winning Amazon’s second headquarters, which will come with as many as 50,000 jobs. Why? Great central location, two major airports, excellent universities, educated workforce, growing tech sector and more. These are reasons Foxconn also looked at Illinois and located nearby. But a serious Illinois weakness compelled Foxconn to locate north of the state line, and it could scare off Amazon. The problem is Springfield, where the Democratic-controlled General Assembly doesn’t value employers, except as cash machines for government spending.
Amazon and other employers want a stable, business-friendly environment. Illinois has the opposite: high taxes, lots of regulatory red tape and an uncertain outlook because of unbalanced budgets and a $130 billion unfunded state government pension obligation. Who knows how high taxes might need to go in the future? A CNBC assessment of Amazon candidates gave Dallas and Austin grades of A-minus and put Chicago far down the list with a B-minus because of a failing grade for business friendliness.
Springfield could be helping Illinois’ prospects for landing big employers — that is, for landing many more jobs — by spending taxpayer money more responsibly and addressing the gaping abyss known as the pension crisis. Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner offered up reforms, but House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton, both Democrats, froze him out and show little interest in putting out the welcome mat to businesses looking to locate or expand in Illinois. All three are up for re-election in November, with Rauner facing a challenge from Democrat J.B. Pritzker.
The race to land Amazon should be a major campaign issue this fall because it’s a proxy for the future of Illinois: Which candidates for governor and legislative offices have the best ideas for fiscally responsible governance? Who wants to make Illinois a more attractive place for business and investment? Whose political leadership will attract big employers? So far, we’re not hearing those questions asked enough. Nor are we hearing compelling answers from candidates.
Job growth pays the bills and underpins prosperity. Illinois is losing population because people are going elsewhere to work. If nothing changes here, where will big employers locate? Not Illinois.