Manufacturing a middle class in Illinois once again

Illinois manufacturers are ­leaders in technology and innovation with nearly 20,000 companies and facilities that call this state home. Industry-leading advancements from farm machinery to fighter plane ­controls have resulted in an industry of ­forward-thinking ­companies that contribute the single largest share – 12.4 percent – of the Gross State Product and employ approximately 565,000 workers in good, high-paying jobs. From an economic impact, every dollar spent in manufacturing returns $1.40 in additional economic value which is the highest multiplier of any sector.

Yet, times are tough in our industry. Illinois job reports show that 9,800 manufacturing jobs disappeared in 2016 alone. Add that to the 304,000 jobs our industry has lost since 2000 and you can start to visualize the impact the manufacturing exodus has on our state, our revenues and more importantly, Illinois middle class families. These aren’t faceless statistics. Each of these lost jobs has a name, family, hopes and dreams.

There’s an urgent need in this state to create jobs – and I’m not talking about minimum wage service sector positions that currently lead our job creation and employment reports. I’m talking about highly skilled, manufacturing positions that in Illinois bring in an average compensation package of $75,000, including benefits. It’s no secret that manufacturing creates wealth in this country – the type of wealth that offers a chance for middle class job security. I remember the days where we had that type of industry in Illinois, and we can have it again.

Some might tell you that the ­manufacturing industry is on a downward slide and that statement couldn’t be further from the truth. Nationally, our industry is alive and well. Our neighbors have created real ­manufacturing jobs: Michigan’s 171,300, Indiana’s 83,700, Wisconsin’s 44,000, and Kentucky’s 35,000. American manufacturing is ­thriving, but yet in Illinois, the struggles ­continue. It has nothing to do with the quality of our workforce or the economic advantages of our state, but everything to do with Illinois’ poor policy decisions and ­compounding rules and regulations that make ­running a business in our state almost impossible.

Since 2000, Illinois politicians have added 4,709 pages of laws and thousands of additional pages in rules and regulations. We’ve let our ­politics become the expert in running a ­business and the result has been ­businesses feeling unwelcome and moving operations to other states.

This past fall I’ve been traveling the state talking about the issues facing our industry and raising the alarm that something must be done to return manufacturing prosperity to Illinois. The IMA has proposed the “Middle Class Manufacturing Agenda” that focuses on five key reforms:

• Get the state’s fiscal house in order. We need to restrain ­spending, balance the budget and adopt pension reform.

• Enact meaningful workers’ ­compensation reform. Illinois can reduce costs on employers while still ensuring that injured ­workers receive quality health care by ­pushing back on union leaders, trial attorneys and special interests who are feeding off this system.

• Reform the state’s tax code. The best tax systems are broad based with low rates. Illinois needs tax reform that includes permanent extensions of critical tax incentives including the Research & Development tax credit and Manufacturers Purchase Credit.

• Overhaul property taxes. Stop shifting the tax burden onto ­commercial and industrial taxpayers.

Greg Baise is the President and CEO of the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association, a statewide advocacy ­organization representing more than 4,000 member manufacturing companies and supportive industries.

• Strengthen the education and workforce development ­system. Illinois needs to ensure a pipeline of qualified workers for our global economy. As the baby boom ­generation retires, 30,000 ­manufacturing engineers and production technicians in Illinois will leave the workforce every year between now and 2028. Finding skilled workers and ­funding ­educational programs that do so need to be a top priority of policymakers.

Illinois can do this – it won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. Manufacturing is an industry worth fighting for and I hope to one day see a revitalized middle class again and a state that takes advantage of the many benefits we have that makes us one of the most well positioned states in the country.