Re-starting the engine

The Madison County Record Nov. 27, 2005, 2:38am

If you care about the future of our Metro-East communities and tend to worry about the local job market, you’ll have the chance next year. Statewide elections loom and the “local economy” issue is set to take center stage.

The question: why is Illinois’ lagging the rest of our nation, and who or what is responsible?

Around here, we believe the answer lies with our concentration of business-hunting plaintiff’s lawyers, who are plainly scaring away outside investment and jobs from not just the Metro East region but, with their growing shadow, the entire state.

No doubt those lawyers will counter with the contrary; that they in fact protect local workers and consumers from being exploited by insidious free market actors. But one cannot argue the numbers or even the anecdotes.

The trade today is in ideas and high-skill services. That’s where the jobs are and, more importantly, where they’ll be a decade from now. But our local economy is frozen in time, metaphorically manufacturing typewriters while similar, suburban/exurban markets across the country devour the Information Age.

More lawyers aren’t the ticket, as some of our state’s elected leaders have incredibly sunken to suggest. Litigation doesn’t make for healthy economic development. There is no economic “tourism” benefit to Illinois being a lawsuit magnet.

“Judicial Hellhole” is all hurt, no help. We cannot rationalize our way out of this one.

That’s because growing companies in competitive markets—the ones for which we want to work—don’t have time or patience for needless litigation. So they don’t hire folks in places known for ambitious anti-business lawyers with really long lassos and determined marketing budgets.

That this region—- and our state more generally-- has become a perennial economic laggard is a shame. It’s been resting on laurels earned a century ago, when the Industrial Age emerged and ours was the most entrepreneurial place in the land.

The future isn’t coming here. And before we know it, the past won’t have anything left to give. What happens next is West Virginia, where government is the largest employer and CEOs won’t cross the border with a ten-foot pole.

So take of Illinois’ jobs debate over the next twelve months—- of what is today and what might be. Business always has places to go. It might be time that we stop pressing our luck.

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