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Local

Manufacturing leader: Job losses are destroying Illinois' middle class

STERLING – Greg Baise has led the Illinois Manufacturers Association since 1991, and he says the state of the sector hasn't changed much for more than a decade in the Land of Lincoln.

What the IMA's president and CEO finds baffling is why Springfield hasn't treated the continued job losses in a sector that has been the foundation of the middle class as a crisis.

"If you remember nothing else today, remember the numbers," Baise said. "Since the recession, jobs haven't come back in Illinois, and you have to look at lawmakers and wonder, where's the outrage?"

Baise was in town Tuesday as part of a statewide tour to get the word out and drum up support for what the IMA calls its middle-class manufacturing agenda. Baise spoke to a small group of business leaders at the Whiteside Area Career Center, took a tour of the center, then spoke to a group at Rotary.

The numbers Baise fixated on show that while its neighboring states have brought back manufacturing jobs since June 2009, Illinois has lost an estimated 1,600 jobs. Michigan has created 163,700 jobs in the sector, while Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin have gained 90,800, 76,700, and 41,300 jobs, respectively.

"There's not an appreciation of the damage that is being done in Springfield," Baise said. "Companies look at the state's bond ratings and say, 'Why take a chance on going to Illinois?'"

What state government should do, if it can't fix the problem, is stop putting up roadblocks, he said.

"This applies to local government as well – they continue to come up with more rules and regulations that make it difficult for manufacturing to compete on a global scale."

Illinois ranks eighth on the dubious list of having the highest costs for manufacturers to do business, he said, adding that the decline of manufacturing is directly linked with the state's vanishing middle class.

"Manufacturing has done more than any government program to help people live the American dream," Baise said. "First and foremost, there has to be recognition that this is a problem."

Manufacturing jobs have been replaced by low-paying jobs in the service sector. While a $15 hourly wage translates to $31,000 a year, the average annual pay for a manufacturing job in Illinois is $75,000.

The IMA's agenda has five major components: Get the state's fiscal house in order, workers' compensation reform, sales tax reform, property tax reform, and increased support for education and workforce development.

The conversation quickly shifted to education, which has been prioritized locally through renewed partnerships between business and educators.

"Our neighboring states are engaged with the workforce development process, such as youth apprenticeship programs, and Illinois is not," said Jerry Binder, assistant director at Whiteside Area Career Center.

Several business leaders said the state's dysfunction has put the onus of manufacturing growth on local communities.

"I think you should put education and workforce development at number 1 instead of number 5," said John Gvozdjak, president and COO of Frantz Manufacturing Co. "With the gridlock in Illinois, the others on the agenda are not likely to happen soon."

Some see the take-charge attitudes and quest for innovation at the local level as a silver lining to the state's failures.

"The good news here is that we now know that we can no longer wait on people outside of here to take care of our problems," Sterling Mayor Skip Lee said.

The IMA advocates for more than 4,000 member manufacturing companies and supportive industries.

BOUNCING BACK FROM THE RECESSION

Unlike its Midwest neighbors, Illinois continues to lose manufacturing jobs since the recession. Here are the number of jobs created in the sector by each state since June 2009:

• Michigan +163,700

• Indiana +90,800

• Ohio +76,700

• Wisconsin +41,300

• Illinois -1,600

Source: Illinois Manufacturing Association

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