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Chamber @Work

Thursday, April 27, 2017

From the President’s Desk: Protect the Workforce Pipeline

The pen may still be mightier than the sword. But pages upon pages, and hours upon hours, of reporting in powerful media outlets such as Chamber members Chicago Tribune, Crain’s Chicago Business, CBS Radio, WGN Radio, ABC7 and NBC5 highlighting the harm of Illinois’ two-years-and-counting budget impasse are yet to inspire state policymakers to compromise and make a deal. Still, these outlets and others keep telling truth to power, and one specific piece by the Crain’s Editorial Board caught my eye.

The piece was published last Friday and is titled “Don’t underestimate the damage done to U of I in budget war.” It sheds light on a situation that is concerning to Chicago area employers, and should absolutely alarm all policymakers, whose duty at the absolute minimum is to avoid further hamstringing our region’s and state’s business climate.

Ask the leaders of any employer based in the Chicago area why they are based here, and very quickly, you’ll hear this word: Talent. Chicago has a large, educated and talented workforce.

A main driver of that much-coveted workforce is the University of Illinois system.

Two pieces are required to create a job. You need an employer. And you need an employee. By definition, one cannot exist without the other. Research shows nearly 177,000 jobs in Illinois would not exist without the talent that the University of Illinois supplies on the employee side of that equation. The talents that U of I students develop through their education, which translate into higher career earnings and increased productivity for Illinois businesses, contributes $9.5 billion annually to the state’s economy. U of I’s overall contribution to Illinois, through spending by its universities, employees and students, and the increased earning power of its graduates is $13.9 billion per year. This represents an ROI of $4.60 for every taxpayer dollar invested – a 19.3% annual return rate.

Given this data, cutting state funding for the University from $600 million per year to $200 million per year is beyond counter-productive. Faculty members see what’s happening and, already, are leaving. Top tier students are sure to follow. They’ll end up filling jobs at the end of workforce pipelines in other states.

The threat of a brain drain is already showing in employer-side data. The middle market is an unsung workhorse of the state economy. It comprises just 1.1% of all Illinois companies, yet employs a whopping 31% of the Illinois workforce. Hindering workforce development hinders business growth, and even our ability to retain businesses. Amidst the political uncertainty, data released this week by the National Center for the Middle Market shows Illinois businesses have considerable less confidence in our state’s economy than businesses in the other 49 states, on average, have in their own state economies. Additional data in the report shows that a jarring manifestation of this is headed our way next: Illinois employment growth over the next 12 months is forecast at less than half (2.8%) of the national average (6.0%).

Illinois politicians need to compromise and pass a budget. And while they work on the deal, they must avoid draining our workforce talent pool dry.


Theresa E. Mintle
President & CEO
Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce

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Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce
The Wrigley Building, 410 North Michigan Ave, Suite 900, Chicago, IL 60611
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