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Why Illinoisans Leave For Indiana

From Illinois Policy, by Michael Lucci : One of the great moral failures of public policy in Illinois is how difficult it has become for Illinois workers to find jobs. This has hit lower-income and minority communities especially hard. Illinois is estimated to have the highest black unemployment rate in the country, and policy-makers have done little to address the problem. But Indiana is providing a second chance at work for unemployed Illinoisans losing hope in the Land of Lincoln.

Jesse Huerta moved from Chicago to Northwest Indiana to look for a manufacturing opportunity, and the move changed his life.

I thank God I’m in Indiana. I thank God I’m able to raise my family out here. Every day I see people from Chicago moving out here. It’s because they know there’s work out here. They know that you can still have a future out here.

Huerta’s experience reflects a success story the reforms of former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels catalyzed during his 2005-2013 tenure, and it’s being replicated across the Hoosier State. As described in his book “Keeping the Republic,” Daniels reformed the state from top to bottom, fixing the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, reforming civil service, capping property taxes, lowering income taxes and enacting Right-to-Work. When the Great Recession hit, Hoosier businesses were well-positioned to fight their way out of it and government in Indiana stayed out of their way. Now business leaders in Elkhart, Ind. estimate that the county has as many as20,000 more jobs than workers to fill them. Mark Dobson, president of the Economic Development Corporation of Elkhart County, says that “We are hearing amazing feedback about the workforce in this county,” but adds “we are also hearing concerns that there is not enough inventory (of workers).”

Just across the border in Illinois, the idea of an excess of new jobs and a shortage of workers to fill them seems ludicrous. Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan has claimed to champion the interests of the middle class. But if Madigan really wants to raise the wages and standard of living for the middle class, he should consider the Elkhart example: Implement policies that free businesses to create an abundance of jobs.

Elkhart’s unemployment rate currently stands at 3.7 percent, but it wasn’t always that way. As recently as 2009, Elkhart’s unemployment rate was a shocking 20 percent. Since then, the unemployment rate in Elkhart has dropped precipitously, and unlike in Illinois the drop came because of employment growth, not because of workforce dropout.

When recovery from the Great Recession took hold, communities across Indiana were able to make the most of it. Elkhart County has a total population of only about 200,000 people, with small and medium sized employers spread across a number of manufacturing businesses, with a number of new investments coming in the last few years. But since the recession bottom, Elkhart, building off a strong recovery in local manufacturing and new business investments, has created more manufacturing jobs than the entire state of Illinois.

The example of Elkhart and several other communities just across the border proves that jobs growth can flourish in Illinois if government leaders would allow it. And manufacturers in Illinois have made clear what they need to make the transformation happen in the Land of Lincoln.

In a recent speech to the City Club of Chicago, Illinois Manufacturers’ Association CEO Greg Baise explicitly described that state government has been driving business out of Illinois one day at a time. Baise offered the following changes so Illinois manufacturing workers can go back to work in the Land of Lincoln rather than having to search for work across the border:

  • Spending reform to put Illinois’ fiscal house in order, including state constitutional pension reform
  • Tax reform, including lower property taxes, elimination of the estate tax, and the removal of the harmful pyramiding of the sales tax on business inputs
  • Comprehensive workers’ compensation reform to bring costs in line with those in surrounding states
  • Closing the skills gap with more training programs to create a pipeline of manufacturing talent

Indiana is seeing the results of a Rust Belt manufacturing renaissance, and residents of communities like Elkhart are reaping the benefits of policy reforms. It’s time for Illinois government to get on board with putting manufacturing workers back on the job.