Commentary: Chris Miller: Illinois can no longer afford to ignore trade warnings

In 2011, Doug Oberhelman, then the CEO of Caterpillar, wrote a letter to the then-governor. Pat Quinn warning that trade policies in Illinois would eventually force companies like hers to leave Illinois.

“In short, when Caterpillar and most other companies are looking to locate a new factory in the United States, Illinois is not in the running for these types of projects. It doesn’t have to be like this… I want to stay here. But as the leader of this business, I have to do what is right for Caterpillar when making decisions about where to invest,” Oberhelman wrote.

Of course, we know the rest of the story. Those warnings were ignored and just this year, Caterpillar announced the company is moving to Texas. Other companies such as Tyson, Citadel, Boeing, FTX and Highland Ventures have announced that they will also leave Illinois.

It is simple. Bad policies lead to bad results. For example, our governor locked down the economy during the pandemic. We lost countless small businesses due to his actions. It will take a long time for him to recover from his poor decision to close small businesses, as approximately 14% of the jobs lost due to shutdowns have yet to return.

Our state continues to lose population. We lead the nation in emigration in 2021 and have lost population for the last eight years in a row. Based on census data, Illinois lost 113,776 people from July 1, 2020, to July 1, 2021. For perspective, that’s the equivalent of losing the entire population of the city of Springfield in the span of one year.

Consider also that no other Midwestern state lost more than 17,000 people in the same time period.

We have a problem. We are losing business. We are losing people, and what are our leaders doing about it?

The answer is not a thing. They won’t even consider the question.

Democrats and various members of the media love to brand me and my colleagues downstate some kind of “extremist,” but the truth is that we ran for office because the current leadership in our state couldn’t running a lemonade stand let alone a state. illinois size. We pay some of the highest taxes in the nation and all we have to show for it are bad roads, bad schools, dilapidated state parks and incompetently run state agencies.

Oh, and don’t forget all the Democratic state senators and representatives who are being accused of bribery, yes, bribery, the kind we learned about in grade school.

Our taxes are too high. Our state’s energy policies are making utility bills too high. We have too many business regulations and we have some of the highest workers’ compensation costs in the nation. We will continue to be unable to compete with neighboring states as long as we continue to ignore the concerns of the business community.

We can fix this. We just need the political will to do it.

Illinois is located in the center of the country. There is no reason for Illinois to lose business. Bad leadership has created a hostile business environment, an environment the business community has warned us about for years.

If we want to become a destination for jobs and opportunity, we must heed the warnings of job creators and enact better policies. Doing the same thing we’ve always done will only produce the same failed results and generate more headlines about the departure of more companies.

It’s time for Democrats and Republicans to work together to bring jobs and opportunity back to Illinois, and it can’t happen fast enough.

State Representative Chris Miller is chair of the Illinois Freedom Caucus.

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