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Late payments, unskilled workers, high taxes

Lingering post-election issues will keep companies away from Illinois, speakers say

DIXON – Illinois businesses are facing some major problems, and one is job readiness, the president of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce told a group of business leaders Wednesday.

Doug Whitley, who heads the statewide organization, was one of four people who spoke at Timber Creek Golf and Banquet about the recent election's possible effects on businesses. The Rock Falls, Dixon Area and Sauk Valley Area chambers of commerce hosted the event.

"We have to do something about the jobs gap," Whitley said.

The economy has come back, but that's not reflected yet, he said, partly because a workforce skill gap is preventing jobs from being filled.

Employers are "asking for help and saying they have jobs that are going begging," he said. "This is emerging as something in Illinois we're focusing on."

Illinois businesses must think bigger about marketing, he said. The recent recession made some companies realize the importance of marketing across the globe, but more need to do so, he said.

The state's budgetary problems are another problem affecting businesses, Whitley said. The state's inability to pay bills on time, and taxes on businesses, are deterring businesses from locating or staying in the state, he said.

The Legislature can't "keep kicking the can down the road," he said. "Our bond rating is going to go down. There are people making conscious decisions to not do business in Illinois or move to non-income tax states."

The state's high income tax on businesses and "regulatory challenges" are "not a good thing," Whitley said, expressing doubt that the tax hikes enacted last year, said to be temporary, will in fact be so.

Rob Karr, executive vice president of Illinois Retail Merchants Association, also said the state's late payments are a problem for businesses. He noted the state is late in Medicaid payments to Walgreens pharmacies.

"I don't care if you're Walgreens or a mom-and-pop pharmacy, it shows up on a balance sheet," Karr said.

Some liberal groups, such as, feel emboldened by the election, and are starting to suggest that spending cuts don't have to be so severe, he said. His group is "trying to educate" new legislators about issues that affect businesses, he said.

"We're holding as many Republicans as we can and picking up as many Democrats as we can," Karr said. "We're going to have to make a lot of new friends in a hurry."

Mark Denzler, vice president and chief executive Illinois Manufacturer's Association, also said he expects the 2011 state tax hikes to remain in place, and said the state's debt and broken pension system are drains on the state economy.

The state is "taking every dollar of revenue to pay for pensions that are coming up short," he said.

Denzler said he expects the general assembly to vote after Jan. 1 on a less expensive pension system.

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