We devote a lot of our focus to the obstacles facing our state, so much so that we tend to forget all that Illinois has going for it.
That suits some people just fine, of course. Especially those from neighboring states eager to poach Illinois businesses, students and jobs.
Mark S. Peterson is on a mission to remind people that Illinois remains the biggest economy in the Midwest, with so many advantages that other businesses should join us.
I can practically hear some of you scoffing. But Peterson, the president and CEO of a Chicago-based nonprofit called Intersect Illinois, said Illinois’ assets are nothing to chuckle at.
Peterson spoke to a group of local businesspeople Thursday in the Novak Room at Fatty’s in DeKalb as part of a networking event hosted by the DeKalb County Economic Development Corp.
Peterson told the group how his organization is working with government and community partners to tell a better version of Illinois’ story to businesses that would be a good fit here.
“If we let other people tell our story, they’re going to tell it badly, and that’s about to change,” Peterson said.
Illinois has more to offer than the oft-cited advantages such as its superior infrastructure, its central location in North America, ample supplies of water.
For example, Peterson said Illinois produces more food processing patents than any other U.S. state, or any other country, Peterson said.
“Every food production company in the U.S. in the next six months will know,” he said.
Intersect Illinois also is investing in research tools that will provide in-depth data about Illinois, with data on available services, its workforce and other analytics. The data should be online and available to the public at IntersectIllinois.com this spring, Peterson said.
“I need an army of people to tell the good news about Illinois,” Peterson told the crowd. “… We’re going to provide massive amounts of information over the next year.”
One question from the audience was about how great a handicap the lack of “right-to-work” laws was for Illinois. Although some say Illinois is blacklisted because of its labor laws, Peterson said it wasn’t a big problem for employers such as Toyota, which pay above union scale anyway. But carmaker Mazda was spooked by them, he said. And so, a new $1.6 billion joint Toyota/Mazda auto production plant is being built in Huntsville, Alabama.
One big question is whether the Huntsville area will be able to provide the 4,000 workers the automakers need by 2021. Indiana was passed over for the auto plant because its workforce was tapped out. Illinois has no problems providing an available, educated workforce, which is going to draw companies, he said.
“You know what they’re going to need?” Peterson asked. “Smart people. Work ethic. People who are going to show up even when it’s deer season.”
Peterson asked the crowd to stand up for Illinois – to the extent they can – when people run it down. All the focus on the negative makes Illinois seem much worse off than it is.
“Please, defend it,” he said. “We have to change this narrative and this rhetoric that’s out there now.”
No one would dispute that our government could be in a much better position than it is now. But Peterson’s speech about some of the positives we rarely talk about was a good reminder that, yes, there are reasons Illinois is a good place to live, and not just because we have the best pizza and beef sandwiches.
• Eric Olson is general manager of the Daily Chronicle. Reach him at 815-756-4841, ext. 2257, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter @DC_Editor.