By Jonathan Sanders
From the March/April 2016 Issue
(The online version of this article has been updated since the print version was published.)
Gov. Bruce Rauner recently announced that leaders at the Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity and business stakeholders will collaborate in organizing a newly formed private, non-profit organization focusing exclusively on increasing Illinois’ competitiveness for job creation and investment. The creation of a private economic development organization was a key recommendation of the Governor’s bipartisan transition committee last year.
“Illinois is at a critical crossroad,” said Jim Schultz, CEO of the Illinois Business and Economic Development Corporation (ILBEDC) and former Illinois Department of Commerce Director. “We have among the best assets in the world, including unparalleled access to global markets with our five international airports, seven Class I railroads, the third largest interstate highway system in the country, the third largest intermodal port in the world, and more. We have over 200 higher education institutions around the state, a growing innovation ecosystem, a diverse and dynamic workforce, along with an abundance of natural resources.”
Schultz continued, “There is no reason Illinois should not have a thriving economy. Yet we continue to lag behind other states and national averages, and we are losing a steady stream of businesses, jobs and residents to other states. Last year, Illinois lost an average 250 jobs a month and ended 2015 with 3,000 fewer jobs, in stark contrast with overall national growth. Middle class families are hurting as traditional footholds like manufacturing are decimated, losing 14,000 jobs in 2015 alone. The result is families fleeing the state in droves; in 2015 more than 100,000 residents left Illinois.
“We must take decisive, focused action if we are going to reverse our state’s economic decline and put Illinois back on the path to growth and prosperity. The rigid structure and suffocating bureaucracy of the Department of Commerce hinder our ability to attract businesses to Illinois and to drive economic development. A mere 14 percent of Department of Commerce staff is dedicated to economic development activities, limiting the resources to attract and to retain business, which is a disservice to Illinois businesses and taxpayers.”
Meanwhile, neighboring states have benefited from flexible, focused private economic development organizations, easily overtaking Illinois in business attraction and job creation.
“We must take a new approach to growth in Illinois; the status quo is no longer acceptable,” Schultz said.
The ILBEDC, modeled from best practices of other successful state and local economic development organizations, will focus on sales, marketing and exceptional customer service. It will work at the speed of business and maintain lean, efficient operations. The corporation will be governed by a diverse board of experienced economic development and business leaders dedicated to returning Illinois to prosperity. Final composition of the board is still under development.
The corporation will maintain strict standards of transparency and accountability, based on industry best practices, including a robust conflict of interest policy, public disclosure of donors, and application of other transparency laws. The ILBEDC will not replace the Illinois Department of Commerce, which will maintain key functions, including federal program administration and final authority and oversight of all state grants and incentives negotiated by the ILBEDC.
The ILBEDC is a private organization seeking 501(c)(3) status. The Governor has signed an Executive Order to formally establish its relationship with the Illinois Department of Commerce. The formation of the ILBEDC and its operations at least through FY16 will be funded entirely with private donations. The Department of Commerce will maintain all its existing duties, including working with companies on expansion and relocation efforts, until the ILBEDC is operational.
For additional information on the ILBEDC, please visit www.ilbedc.org.
PIZZA MAKER PLANS WHEELING PLANT
A Massachusetts food processor is opening a factory in northwest suburban Wheeling, bringing more than 125 new jobs to the state, according to a report in Crain’s Chicago Business.
Braintree, MA-based Richelieu Foods, which makes frozen pizzas and salad dressing and currently employs more than 800 people, will occupy the former Hot Mama’s pepper plant at 120 W. Palatine Road. The company will begin hiring for processing and manufacturing positions within the next 90 days and plans to open the 115,000-square-foot facility in the second half of 2016.
“This is a great win for the village of Wheeling,” said John Melaniphy, director of economic development in Wheeling. “This facility over time could employ up to 500 employees, so we certainly would like to assist Richelieu with getting the production facility up and operating and then help them expand over time.”
The Wheeling plant will be Richelieu’s fifth. It has four others: in Elk Grove Village; Washington Court House, Ohio; Beaver Dam, Wis., and Grundy Center, Iowa. Though the company is based in Massachusetts, it manufactures in the Midwest because the area provides better access to ingredients, said CEO Tim O’Connor.
“Within the pizza business, we want to be close to the cheese and crust manufactures, and quite frankly, there’s also a very good workforce,” O’Connor said.
Richelieu has already started renovating the building, installing machinery and restructuring parts of the building’s layout. O’Connor said the company plans to complete renovations by the end of May.
According to Melaniphy, Wheeling representatives worked with Gov. Bruce Rauner, U.S. Rep. Bob Dold, R-Kenilworth, and Phaedra Leslie, director of business relations and economic development at the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership to recruit Richelieu to the state.
The property Richelieu will be occupying received a Cook County Class 6B tax exemption in 2012, an incentive that factored into Richelieu’s decision to choose Wheeling, Melaniphy told Crain’s.
IL FILM INDUSTRY IS SURGING
The Illinois FILM Office has announced that Illinois’ film industry generated $330 million in Illinois spending in 2015, an 18 percent increase over the previous year; the industry employs thousands of Illinois residents. In 2015, the FILM Office worked with 291 television, commercial and film projects, representing the state’s multidimensional film infrastructure. Due to sustained growth and strong local support for the film industry, Chicago, Illinois was once again named one of the top 10 best places to live and work as a filmmaker by MovieMaker Magazine.
“The film industry is an important economic driver for Illinois, creating jobs and revenue for local economies throughout the state,” Illinois FILM Office Director Christine Dudley said. “Illinois remains popular among filmmakers because they recognize the incredible value our state offers, with a renowned creative community, growing studios, world-class infrastructure and a competitive tax incentive program.”
A strong talent pool of cast and crew members, diverse shooting locations and a competitive incentive program attracted a wide variety of projects to film in Illinois in 2015. Primetime hits Empire (FOX), Chicago Fire and Chicago PD (NBC) returned for their latest seasons, adding Chicago Med to the lineup. Plainfield native Melissa McCarthy returned to Illinois in 2015 to film Universal Studio’s The Boss, which will be released this spring. In addition, Bob Teitel’s indie movie Southside with You was selected for Sundance’s 2016 competition.
Television production in Illinois continues to grow, with the recent announcement that a possible fourth addition to NBC’s Chicago trilogy is in development, under the working title “Chicago Law.”
Growing production and distribution platforms, such as Netflix, established a presence in Illinois last year, with Chicago natives Andy and Lana Wachowski filming their groundbreaking series “Sense8.” Netflix has since renewed the series for a second season.
Illinois maintains a robust commercial advertising community, comprised largely of small- to medium-size businesses, with nearly 200 commercial projects filmed around the state. These projects fuel spending on goods and services, provide good paying jobs and contribute to local economies and the overall economic growth of the state. Illinois remains among the top three states for commercial advertising production in the nation.
The Illinois FILM Office promotes Illinois as a location for film, television and advertising productions, providing assistance with everything from location scouting, hiring cast and crew to working with local unions and guilds. The Office also administers the state’s film tax credit, which has been integral in growing a competitive film industry in Illinois. The 30 percent tax credit is awarded to filmmakers for money spent on Illinois goods and services, including wages paid to Illinois residents. The goal of the Tax Credit Act is to grow, sustain and provide economic and job opportunities for local vendors, crew and filmmakers.
Illinois is the only state in the country to require all film credit applicants to submit a diversity plan, in order to create opportunities for underrepresented groups including women and minority crew members, and promote an inclusive film industry that represents the diversity of Illinois.