Archive for January, 2012

Creating jobs is Job #1 for Illinois’ future

Friday, January 27th, 2012

Courtesy of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce

As the General Assembly returns to Springfield to begin the second year of the 97th session and candidates for legislative office look toward voter approval in the March 20th primary, it is appropriate that we reflect upon the big picture issues that continue to demand the attention of our state’s political leadership.

Last year at this time the Illinois Chamber published “Jobs Agenda: A Blueprint For Growth & Prosperity.” I’m pleased to report some progress was achieved, as the legislature adopted a few measures that emerged from the recommendations. However, the overriding themes have not changed as we preview “Jobs Agenda II.” More must be accomplished if our state is to accelerate economic growth, significantly improve employment opportunity and raise Illinois’ standing in the eyes of the nation relative to other states.

All business owners, managers and chamber members who encounter a candidate for legislative office over the next two months should attempt to keep their incumbent legislator or the would-be legislator focused on the following talking points:

Commit to Making State Fiscal Responsibility a Reality. Governor Quinn and the legislators continue to adopt budgets that fail to meet the Illinois Constitution’s mandate for a balanced budget where expenditures do not exceed revenues. According to research compiled by the Institute for Truth in Accounting, Illinois is in the 48th worst financial position of the 50 states.

The goals should be obvious: meet outstanding bond payments, satisfy the full pension payment obligations due each year, get current on all accounts payable, pay future vendors and tax refunds within 90 days and do not obligate expenditures that exceed available revenue. State budget makers must get on a spending trajectory that will reach these goals.

The remedies are harder:

1. Public employee pension liabilities and health care commitments of more than $100 billion are the single greatest obligation. As has already been done in the private sector, these benefit programs are unsustainable and must be restructured. Current and former public employees must assume more responsibility for their health care costs.

2. The largest budget item is Medicaid benefits. The state has over-promised services it cannot afford and has underpaid health care providers for services delivered. The Medicaid program must be restructured to control costs, reduce the number of eligible recipients and adjust payments to more closely meet cost of care.

3. The high cost of corrections is directly related to the number of incarcerations. To reduce the inmate population the state must revisit sentencing, drug policies, education and employment.

The chief fix to improving the state’s fiscal condition is an expanding economy. The state’s focus must be on public policies that encourage private sector job growth. Illinois needs to pursue an agenda that will help the private sector generate 500,000 more jobs in our state. A half million new jobs would bring the number of people employed in Illinois back to where it was a decade ago. Jobs are a magnet for population growth. Population growth accelerates spending. Spending equals tax generation.

Our elected officials need to understand that they cannot tax our citizens and businesses back to prosperity. The state’s elected leaders need private sector confidence and investment to do that for us.

Attack the high costs of doing business associated with taxation, workers’ compensation, litigation and regulation. Governor Quinn and the legislators should begin by following the lead of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle who is rolling back the excessive county sales tax rate and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel who is rolling back the city’s employee head tax. Or mimic Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, who has successfully imposed a hard cap on real estate taxes and is pursuing a program to step down the corporate income tax rate.

Raising the state’s corporate income tax rate a year ago to impose the fourth highest rate in the country is a poison pill that must be diluted before it does more damage. Our state’s leaders need to start rolling the rate back immediately and make sure to target a new rate that is not just competitive, but attractive.

Legislators must revisit the workers’ compensation statute. There was progress in 2011, but the results are not going to show sufficient savings to move Illinois from the top of the list of most expensive states when workers’ compensation costs are measured. In order to change the state’s standing there must be a clear and dramatic departure from past practice. The private sector employer community must keep legislators focused on the need to change the definition for determining work-related injuries. Legislators should be reminded that since public agencies – including the state – are major employers, reducing workers’ compensation expenses can help them with government budget problems.

Outsiders continue to view Illinois as a “judicial hellhole” that attracts litigation because a lax standard for venue means that companies from all over the world find themselves appearing in Illinois Circuit Court. For example, Madison County has become the venue of choice for asbestos cases and has a docket that exceeds the number of cases filed in any other jurisdiction in the country. Another legal reform that could improve Illinois’ image in the eyes of employers would be to raise the level of responsibility that any business must have in order to be held liable for 100 percent of a damage award. The employers’ exposure to liability in Illinois is clearly an aberration to what is common across the nation.

Keep focused on guaranteeing employers access to a high-quality workforce. Despite unacceptably high unemployment statistics, employers across the state lament the lack of qualified workers to fulfill their job needs. This disconnect is pronounced and must be addressed. If public officials and educators can partner with employers to satisfy this fundamental need, the state will be on the road to prosperity.

Illinois’ standing as a leading industrial state and headquarters for multi-national corporations, and Chicago’s status as a world class metropolitan area, are synonymous with the emergence of a truly global economy. Globalization of the state’s economy has made it obvious that Illinois’ approach to education must change.

The foundation is obviously making sure there are better educational outcomes for the state’s public schools. To successfully compete on a global scale and gain distinction for quality outcomes, it is apparent Illinois must commit to a longer school day and school year, embrace early childhood education, and impose higher learning standards.

Educators and employers must simultaneously assault and reverse the trend in high school dropout rates and put more emphasis on career academies and technical training opportunities. The key to a prosperous economy is having every able-bodied citizen adequately prepared and gainfully employed. Employers cannot afford to be complacent or disengaged from the state’s education community. Instead, employers must work with educators to implement programs that align employer needs for workplace skills with the K-12 curriculum, as well as institutions for higher education.

A state that values human capital and promotes educational systems that yield quality outcomes for a higher percentage of youth not only stimulates private sector growth and prosperity for its citizens, but also puts less pressure on major state budget expenses like health care, unemployment, and law enforcement.

Recognize that economic development and job growth does not occur without favorable public policies. Every public official must commit to making private sector job growth the No. 1 priority for our state. Most often the attention on government’s role in helping the private sector has to do with taking steps to eliminate barriers and regulations imposed by governments, promoting greater efficiency and responsiveness in agencies, and trying to modernize systems. It is necessary to continue giving attention to government operations and interface with employers.

However, there are also government expenditures that are advantageous to stimulating job growth. Continued investment in transportation and infrastructure is a fundamental public sector obligation that is critical to the state’s economy. The state and local economies also benefit from expenditures for convention and tourism promotion.

It is encouraging that Governor Quinn has recognized the importance of international trade to Illinois’ economy and has recently announced plans for trade missions. International trade is already a major contributor to the state gross product and is fertile ground for opportunity and future job growth. Our public officials need to embrace international trade opportunities by putting more emphasis on trade missions and interaction with foreign consulates, increasing the state’s presence at trade fairs – including those held on other continents – and by putting an increased focus on business matchmaking and partnerships with multi-national corporations that are investing or seeking business in Illinois.

The time for attention and action is now. Business and civic leaders across the state must appreciate that the political discourse of 2012 is an important moment for setting our state on a new path toward a more prosperous future. Between now and the November election there is time to help nurture the thoughts and actions of the candidates for public office toward embracing the elements of a proactive jobs agenda for their success and for a better Illinois.

Moody’s Analytics Projects Construction Industry Growth in 2012

Friday, January 20th, 2012

After losing 2.2 million jobs in the economic downturn, the construction industry is projected to add 113,000 this year, more than doubling last year’s pace and placing it among the fastest-growing sectors, according to a 2012 job market forecast by Moody’s Analytics. Even a moderate rejuvenation of the troubled sector — thanks largely to a multifamily building boom — helps the economy because of its ripple effects across industries such as furniture, steel and concrete.

Three Reasons to Be Involved In Your Chamber

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

Whether a new Member or a business that has belonged for thirty years, there are several ways for you to make the most of you membership and increase the dollars coming in your doors. Chamber membership means you have a dedicated team looking out for your interests and sending business your way. Here’s three ways to make membership really work.
• Cost-effective marketing opportunities. Mailing lists, sponsorships, E-blasts, and website advertising puts your business in front of decision makers. However, take advantage of the many complimentary benefits such as Hot Deals, Member-to-Member Discounts, as well as including a brief description, website and email link on your business listing on AuroraChamber.com.
• Legislative advocacy. Last year, the Chamber actively worked to pass the Free Trade Agreement, STEM Academy legislation, Education Reform, and Workers Compensation Reform to benefit your business. The Chamber also fought and defeated the proposed Minimum Wage increase legislation presented in Springfield. Got a burning issue? Talk to us!
• Resources to build your business. Your Chamber membership includes membership in the U.S. Chamber and the Illinois Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber is also an active partner with the City of Aurora, Aurora Economic Development Commission, and SCORE Fox Valley. We’re here to help!
The Chamber recognizes that businesspeople are the busiest people, but we hope you can take a few minutes to build your involvement so we can build your business!

Unclogging the Jobs Agenda

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012

Shared via FriendsoftheUSChamber.com

As we begin 2012, the American economy is stalled in too many ways. Unemployment remains high, economic growth is sluggish and the big hand of federal government looms large.

Washington continues to stand in the way of job creation, economic growth and prosperity.

For their part, the U.S. House of Representatives has worked to provide relief from this stifling environment. The House has passed 24 different pieces of legislation that seek to expand free trade, aid in capitalizing business ventures, expand energy production and development, reduce the regulatory and tax burdens on business, and reign in out-of-control government agencies like the National Labor Relations Board and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Only two of these — repeal of the 1099 reporting mandate included in Obamacare and repeal of the 3% withholding tax mandate — have become law.

The remaining 22 bills have two things in common: Each of these measures would go a long way to getting the American economy growing again. And, all of them have stalled in the United States Senate.

You can go here to view our full chart highlighting these bills that have passed the House only to remain untouched by the Senate.

Promoting Healthier Workers and Businesses in Illinois

Friday, January 6th, 2012

A share from the Illinois Chamber of Commerce

With health benefit costs projected to surpass an average of $10,000 per employee next year, it’s more important than ever for Illinois employers to address the health of their workforce.

Obese workers alone cost U.S. companies billions of dollars each year – a number that’s sure to continue trending upward unless employers begin to hold themselves and their employees accountable to wellness goals.

It’s hard to remain competitive when your employees miss more days of work, and require more expensive prescriptions and medical procedures, than organizations with healthy workers.

Poor health affects productivity in a myriad of other ways. An employee who is experiencing chronic disease or other ongoing medical problems, for instance, can understandably become distracted and disengaged at work as a result.

To combat this downward spiral, employers need to better utilize one of the best tools they have at their disposal – employee wellness.

Programs like Live Healthy Illinois, the Illinois Chamber-led workplace wellness initiative, are effective because they encourage employees to take ownership of their health.

Wellness programs – which can incorporate everything from lunchtime walking programs to free health screenings and fitness coaching – help to cut health care costs, as well as boost productivity, morale and company loyalty.

In fact, studies show that every dollar spent on workplace wellness generates a return on investment of up to $3.


An Efficient Solution for Employers

For companies looking to make their first foray into workplace wellness, or supplement an existing effort, Live Healthy Illinois offers an easy and affordable way to promote healthy habits among employees.

The program is built around a 100-day exercise and weight loss challenge that uses competition between teams to promote physical activity and improved dietary habits.

Once a company registers its employees, Live Healthy Illinois virtually runs itself. Each week, participants log their weight or the number of minutes they have exercised on www.livehealthyillinois.org. The website takes care of the rest, tracking their progress and offering motivational messages, healthy recipes and more.

A company can have a single team of 2-10 participants, or multiple teams, for the cost of only $20 per participant. Those teams then compete with others from across the state by comparing their progress on the Live Healthy site.

Delivering Real Results

Live Healthy Illinois has proven very effective in helping employers promote wellness in the workplace. At Memorial Health System in Springfield, 758 employees exercised for more than 14,000 hours and lost nearly 3,000 pounds during the 2011 Live Healthy Illinois Challenge.

In McLean County, 185 teams of employees exercises for nearly 50,000 hours and lost more than 4,000 pounds – two tons – overall.

In the last two years, Live Healthy Illinois has helped thousands employees across the state find the motivation to exercise, choose healthy foods and make real, sustainable changes to their lifestyles and company cultures.

The upcoming Live Healthy Illinois 100-day Challenge kicks off one month from today on January 23, 2012 and I encourage all our state’s employers to participate and make a down payment toward the future health of their workers and their businesses.

Don’t forget to register for a free informational webinar hosted by Live Healthy Illinois this Friday, January 6 at 10 am. To register for the webinar, please click HERE. If your company, local chamber or organization is interested in learning more about Live Healthy Illinois and accessing any of our Live Healthy Illinois toolkits, please contact Laura Minzer at lminzer@ilchamber.org or (217) 522-5512, ext. 240.

For more information on Live Healthy Illinois, you can also visit www.livehealthyillinois.org.

Chamber Economic Report Highlighted

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

Surprise! 2011 Ended With Unexpected Economic Bang
LiveScience
David Mielach, BusinessNewsDaily Staff Writer

While Americans were getting ready for the holiday season, the United States Chamber of Commerce delivered what might have been the most coveted gift of all: a report that claims that 2011 was ending on an economic high note. In fact, many analysts say the economy may have grown by as much as 3 percent from October to December, which the chamber said would represent the largest growth since spring of 2010.

Part of this sudden economic boom came from record holiday sales. According to a recent survey by digital tracker comScore, online sales hit $36.3 billion during the first 56 days of November and December, a 15 percent increase from the same period a year earlier. And just 10 days before Christmas, the National Retail Federation revised its projection of holiday sales to $469.1 billion, up from its own October estimates of $465.6 billion.

Strong holiday sales were not the only factor, however, in 2011′s strong finish. While holiday shopping reached an all-time high in 2011, the Chamber of Commerce says many other economic indicators ended the year unexpectedly healthy.

For the full article, visit the US Chamber here.

Employment Law Posters Available: Deadline for posting January 31

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

The National Labor Relations Board has postponed the implementation date for its new notice-posting rule in order to allow for enhanced education and outreach to employers, particularly those who operate small and medium sized businesses. The new effective date is January 31, 2012. Do you have yours? If not, the Aurora Chamber can help. Contact Jeanine at (630) 256-3180 for details, pricing and more.