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Texas governor in Illinois trying to lure business

CHICAGO – Texas Gov. Rick Perry arrived in Illinois Monday on a determined mission to lure away the state’s businesses, blast its nagging financial problems and spark a little interstate rivalry with a simple message to Gov. Pat Quinn.

“I hope he enjoys the competition,” Perry told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “I’m certainly going to bring it.”

The former Republican presidential candidate will be in Chicago through Tuesday to meet with business leaders, speak at a bioscience conference and host a reception for any businesses that may be interested in moving to Texas. The visit was preceded by an aggressive broadcast and print ad campaign urging Illinois companies to, “Get out while there’s still time.”

He also defended his state’s record on education, dealing with drought, the workforce and regulations in the aftermath of last week’s explosion at a fertilizer plant that killed 14 people and injured 200.

It’s not the first time Illinois has been a target of such poaching attempts; governors in Indiana, Wisconsin and New Jersey have tried it. And Perry made a similar trip to California earlier this year that Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, dismissed as a publicity stunt.

Still, Perry hit on sore points that haunt Illinois’ business climate – the nation’s worst pension problem, lowered credit ratings and high taxes. His visit coincided with a poll released Monday by Morgan Stanley Wealth Management that found the Chicago area’s wealthiest investors are more nervous about their state’s economy than counterparts elsewhere in the nation, including the Houston area, which is the fourth largest U.S. city behind Chicago.

“This is a good red state, blue state conversation we’re having,” Perry said. “The idea that we shouldn’t be competing against or with each other is really counter to our founding fathers.”

However, Illinois public officials didn’t exactly give Perry a warm welcome.

Quinn, a Democrat who faces re-election next year, has said Illinois doesn’t need advice from Perry, and the state’s top Republicans agreed with him. Illinois GOP Chairman Pat Brady called the trip counterproductive.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel took jabs by bringing up Perry’s best known presidential campaign gaffe where in a debate he forgot one of the three federal agencies he had promised to eliminate. He also pointed out the historic drought in Texas.

“Here in the city of Chicago we don’t have to measure our showers like they do in Texas,” he told reporters.

GOP members in Illinois said Perry’s visit should be another signal that action must be taken the state’s nearly $100 billion pension problem.

For years, Illinois skipped or shorted payments to its five pension systems. Illinois legislators have been focused on the issue over the past year have only recently gotten some traction on the issue, with three separate plans awaiting Senate consideration.

“Though the state has many strong points, it is no secret that Illinois’ financial flaws are a downfall for business owners and residents,” Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford, a Republican mulling a gubernatorial run next year, said in a statement. “Texas Governor Rick Perry’s attempt to get Illinois businesses to move to Texas should sound an alarm to state leaders. “

Illinois lawmakers have gone to great lengths to keep businesses in the state. In 2011, Quinn signed $100 million in tax breaks and incentives for Sears Holding Corp and CME Group Inc., which operates the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and Chicago Board of Trade, after they threatened to leave.

Last week, Quinn was also quick to call Texas “water challenged” and play up water technology companies in Illinois. Quinn’s spokeswoman, Brooke Anderson, said Monday that Quinn didn’t have any further comments and didn’t have plans to counteract Perry’s campaign publicly. Quinn also was scheduled to speak Tuesday at the BIO International Convention.

Perry addressed Texas’ historic drought water concerns by saying the state is working on a 50-year plan. He heartily dismissed other challenges in the state – ranking near the bottom on SAT scores and a large percentage of workers without health insurance, among them – by disagreeing that they would keep companies from coming to Texas and ticking off companies that have recently moved business to Texas. That included Peoria-based heavy equipment maker Caterpillar which opened a new plant in Texas last year. He pointed to Texas’ population boom and diversity.

“Our state is a beacon for those who want to grow and keep more of what they work for,” Perry said.

Perry and Quinn have met previously. They were roommates during a governors’ tour of Iraq and Afghanistan in 2009. Quinn has called him a “big talker.”

Perry said he enjoyed the Illinois governor’s company on the trip. He said, “He is a most interesting fella.”

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