Illinois’ taxes, infrastructure turn off foreign investors, survey finds

One country responding to the survey said Illinois’ transportation networks are straining to move commuters and goods:  “There are large (and growing) perceptions that infrastructure improvements are not keeping up.”  Illinois’ largest trading partners worry about taxes, infrastructure, training. thumbs down

Foreign companies considering investment in Illinois are turned off by the state’s high taxes, its aging infrastructure and its lack of vocational training for the next generation of skilled workers, according to a survey of countries released by the state Monday.

The survey focused on 10 natio  May 4, 2015ns that are the state’s largest trading partners and was aimed at getting an independent assessment of the state’s competitiveness, according to Gov. Bruce Rauner’s office, which conducted the survey.

By Kathy Bergen   Chicago Tribune

The results, slated to be formally announced Tuesday, provide a “policy roadmap of strategic recommendations,” according to an internal memo from John DeBlasio, the state’s director for international trade and investment.

A major concern cited in the survey was the state’s level of corporate and property taxes, and the fear that they could rise given the state’s dire fiscal problems.

“There is persistent budget uncertainty for companies in Illinois,” one nation wrote. “Companies want stability in tax and regulatory framework, especially if they are building a manufacturing site and thus committing to the state for a period of time.”

Another country said the transportation networks are straining to move commuters and goods: “There are large (and growing) perceptions that infrastructure improvements are not keeping up.”

And while acknowledging the state’s status as a manufacturing hub, a third nation stated, “The manufacturing workforce is aging and vocational training for the next generation of skilled workers is lacking.”

Rauner’s office declined to release the list of nations surveyed, saying those countries were promised anonymity in return for their appraisals. The governor’s office asked each country’s consul general for a memo on Illinois’ key strengths and weaknesses in terms of foreign companies investing in and locating in Illinois, a spokesman said in an email.

Several consuls general asked the state for more specificity on what the survey sought. In those cases, they were asked for the top three to five costs facing their companies with operations in Illinois, their top regulatory challenges, their experiences with the state’s economic development office and any other barriers to investing in the state.

Illinois failed to attract enough new foreign investment in 2013 to rank among the top 15 North American states or provinces, dropping from a roster where it held a middle position in the previous two years, according to a database by a unit of the Financial Times. The results for 2014 are expected later this year.

The survey also cited several positives about the state’s foreign investment climate. “The plethora of universities, research institutions and accelerators headquartered in the region constitute a significant positive,” one nation said. Other countries praised international air service at O’Hare International Airport and Illinois’ medical facilities.
On the other hand, Chicago’s high crime rates are “hugely amplified internationally,” one country wrote. “Chicago is seen as the crime capital of the USA.”

An overarching problem for the state as it aims to attract investment overseas, according to one nation, continues to be the world’s “deep lack of understanding about the Midwest,” which is seen as “still inhabited by buffaloes and bears.”

“I cannot underestimate how significant this is,” the country’s representative stated. “Companies still look in the first instance at traditional locations around Boston, New York, California … as well as new coastal hotspots, (such as) Georgia and North Carolina, before considering Chicago and Illinois.”

Compounding the problem is a lack of coordination between economic development organizations and an absence of targeted marketing campaigns aimed at pitching specific industries, the survey found.

Some countries also cited the state’s labor regulations, workers’ compensation and unemployment levels as being less attractive than in other states. Those factors particularly hurt downstate Illinois.

Chicago’s trade show industry also was cited as being one of the priciest in the world, which fuels the perception that Illinois is an expensive place to do business, one respondent wrote.

kbergen@tribpub.com    Copyright © 2015, Chicago Tribune

Original Article:  http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/globalcity/ct-nw-foreign-companies–20150505-story.html