By CARL GREEN
Collinsville, IL – There must be no one who has had to sit through more speeches about Illinois’ “bad business climate” than Dale Stewart, executive secretary-treasurer of the Southwestern Illinois Construction and Building Trades Council.
Stewart goes to a lot of meetings where anti-union people – typically Republican politicians or industry representatives – prattle about how the state’s strong union tradition is hurting the economy and chasing employers away. He’s sick and tired of hearing about it.
So Stewart decided to do something that anyone should do before making such pronouncements. He checked the facts, as provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
JUST THE FACTS
What he found is very good news for union supporters in Illinois and anywhere. The fact is that Illinois leads the nation in increasing its number of employers in consecutive quarters – ever since the first quarter of 2003, for 45 straight quarters – and it outshines the so-called economic wonder states committed to fighting unions to the death.
“All they talk about is that nobody wants to do business in Illinois, that they’re all moving out,” Stewart told the Council. “It’s like a big trail. They can’t get out of Illinois fast enough. Every meeting I sit in, that’s all I hear.”
Most recently, it was a meeting of the Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois, attended by about 100 business people, plus Stewart and state Rep. Jay Hoffman (D-Swansea), a union supporter. Those speaking were two veteran Republican legislators, Rep. Dwight Kay of Glen Carbon and Sen. Dave Leuchtefeld of Okawville.
Kay and Leuchtefeld were selling their usual line about Illinois chasing away jobs. “They just went on and on,” Stewart said.
But this time, he had a good question for them. If things are so bad, why has Illinois increased its number of employers in every quarter since 2003, unlike any other state?
They had nothing to say.
Even Stewart was a little surprised at what he’d found. “We’re the only state that has a net increase every quarter? I didn’t make this survey up. These numbers are facts,” he said. “We’ve had a net increase every quarter, not just once in awhile.”
Most states suffered quarterly declines during George W. Bush’s second economic catastrophe, the Great Recession of 2008, but Illinois kept growing right through it. Illinois even outperformed the vaunted sunbelt state of Texas, known for a booming economy. Here are some of the numbers:
- Illinois has had 45 straight quarters of employer growth, ever since the first quarter of 2003 after the first George W. Bush slump. At that point, the total was 322,175. It has grown every quarter since then and was most recently pegged at 428,328 in the second quarter of 2015. That’s an overall growth of 25 percent, hardly the sign of a weak economy.
- Texas, which never met a union it liked, has had four quarters since the first in 2003 in which the number of employers declined. In that time, it has grown from 500,802 to 634,983, an increase of 21 percent – very good, but still lagging Illinois.
- Missouri increased its employers in all but 11 quarters during Illinois’ streak and is up from 166,490 to 191,050 in that time, or a healthy 13 percent.
- Indiana might be a better comparison for Illinois’ purposes, since there is always talk of employers pulling up stakes and crossing the state border for an anti-union environment. But its results during Illinois’ growth streak have been dismal. It lost employers in no fewer than 25 quarters while Illinois has constantly been growing, and Indiana’s overall employer growth in that time has been from 153,494 to 159,694 – a weak 4 percent. Is that the golden goose for Illinois employers?
GOOD WAGES, GOOD BUSINESS
Stewart notes that Illinois is the fifth biggest state in the nation, by population, and has relatively good wages. That means businesses can find paying customers, unlike in some states where people don’t make enough to create a strong economy.
“Even Texas, during the big boom down there, we actually did better than they did,” he said. “So I don’t want to sit and listen to everybody telling us how bad Illinois is and that businesses are moving out. Here are the facts. We are increasing, every quarter.
“Businesses want to make money,” he said. “They come here for one reason – they come here to make money.”