CHICAGO – On the heels of his trip to Japan, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has again taken credit for a reported boost in the state’s job numbers: Roughly 80,000 more through foreign firms since the Chicago Democrat took office in 2009.
But economists and business leaders say it’s not all Quinn’s doing.
Quinn – who returns Tuesday from a conference with other Midwest governors and Japanese executives – has touted his travel as a way to boost Illinois’ business climate. Last month he credited his yearly Christmas trip to visit wounded soldiers in Germany as the reason that Germany-based Rittal Corp. will move its U.S. headquarters from Ohio to Illinois.
While his efforts get a nod from experts, they say there are a number of other reasons Illinois is seeing the increase. For one, Illinois is already an attractive international business hub. Nearly 20 percent of the state gross product is international trade, according to the Illinois Chamber of Commerce.
Add to that its central location, bustling O’Hare International Airport and Chicago’s heavy concentration of foreign national consulates.
“The international economy is a very important part of the Illinois economy. It’s not surprising that there would be a lot of jobs created,” said University of Illinois economist Fred Giertz. “These things happen automatically, it doesn’t take a governor or a mayor to make it happen.”
The new figures, released Sunday, come from a report through the credit report service for businesses, Dun & Bradstreet, according to the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. The figures cover 2009’s end to earlier this year. Quinn took office in January 2009.
“Our efforts to increase foreign direct investment in Illinois are paying solid dividends,” Quinn said in a statement. “These jobs have played a major role in fueling Illinois’ economic recovery in recent years, and we must continue to build on these efforts in order to create jobs and compete in the global economy.”
His office said that the number of people employed by foreign firms in Illinois has increased every year since 2009, going from 280,419 to 359,775 in July this year. More than 450 foreign companies have located to Illinois in the same time.
Still, Illinois has high unemployment. The state’s rate in July was 9.2 percent, the second highest in the nation. Illinois – which has the nation’s worst-funded pension system and billions in unpaid bills – has also faced criticism for not doing enough to promote business.
Quinn has focused on Illinois’ high export numbers, something that every state in the country has also increased. He’s led three major trade missions in his tenure: China in 2011 and Brazil and Canada the following year.
Chamber of Commerce President Doug Whitley said the travel does help in other ways.
“When Quinn makes an international trip, that’s a way of beginning to show that he’s change the tone, trying to change the image,” he said. “He’s trying, and rightly so, to send a different message about who we are and what we’re about.”
He said when one company establishes itself in Illinois, others follow. He pointed to the heavy presence of international companies in Elgin and Rockford.
Job creation is bound to be a popular topic as Quinn seeks re-election next year. He’s billed himself as the “jobs governor” and his Democratic opponent Bill Daley is a former U.S. commerce secretary.
Daley said Monday that Quinn’s trips haven’t gone far enough.
“I have led trade missions with business leaders that have brought billions of dollars and thousands of jobs back to America and that would be a big priority of mine as governor,” he said in a statement.