The Chicago Tribune ran another scathing editorial denouncing the policies of the state of Illinois. Their claim? Indiana is sucking up businesses fleeing the Land of Lincoln.
Alas, it’s no longer surprising when an Illinois company leaves for Indiana. HMD is building a $6 million headquarters and depot in Gary, with plans to create 500 jobs by 2021. Alliance Steel of Bedford Park wants to build a $35 million plant in Gary. Hoist Liftruck and T&B Tube have jumped the state line. More will follow, taking jobs and investment with them. Why? Because Indiana is one of the best states in the nation for doing business, and Illinois is one of the worst.
To be sure, Illinois is a basket case in many ways. And the civic leaders of the state and even the city have been in denial for years about the problems.
But this sort of screed isn’t like to be effective. For several reasons.
First, if Illinois is so horrible and Indiana is so great, why are so many of Indiana’s college grads now living in Chicago? Large numbers of educated young people have rolled into Chicago from the rest of the Midwest. This would seem to belie things being as awful as advertised.
Secondly, while plenty of places in Illinois are like Indiana, most readers of the Chicago Tribune don’t live in them. Those readers are well aware of what Indiana is like, and don’t find it particularly appealing. If it were, they would already live there. Telling people in Chicago that Indiana is a lot better is an uphill sale to say the least.
Third, if Illinois is so awful, it makes you wonder why the folks at the Tribune are still there themselves.
Lastly, these kinds of critiques generally have to come from a place of at least some affection in order to be processed. I have noticed the same effect in other places. Some local entity or columnist is so unrelentingly hostile to the city or state in question that he gets tuned out. I already notice that the Tribune has gotten a reputation for writing these sorts of things. People just say, “There they go again.”
The realities of both Illinois and Indiana are more complex than simple stories about business climate. While Downstate is very comparable to Indiana, the bulk of the residents are in Chicagoland, which is very different from the Hoosier State.
The root of the Tribune’s frustration is that Illinois and Chicago’s civic perceptions are almost entirely driven by the Loop. As long as downtown Chicago is thriving, they are unlikely to be convinced there are fundamental problems. Conversely, if there were problems in the Loop, you can be assured they’d take action.
Right now the Loop is booming, with jobs at an all time record high and corporations streaming in from the suburbs and out of town. There’s also a residential building boom, restaurants are flourishing, etc. So long as that’s true, the underwhelming aggregate stats on the city, region, and state don’t register.
If downtown Chicago started losing HQs instead of attracting them, things would change real quick. It’s sort of like how nothing was ever done about union work rules at McCormick Place until the city actually started losing major conventions. As soon as that actually happened, McCormick Place got reformed almost instantly.
You do hear rumblings about recruitment problems and overseas business perceptions. But right now it’s under the radar and clearly isn’t affecting the overall Loop performance. Until some headline problems hit there, I’d expect the Tribune folks to remain very frustrated.
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