By DAVID MERCER
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) _ The state agency in charge of helping improve Illinois’ economy released a five-year plan on Monday that it hopes will create a good environment for business growth and prosperity.
The plan is required under a state law passed last year, part of an effort to build up a state economy that is the engine for a region but also proving ill-equipped to deal with high unemployment. Illinois has the Midwest’s largest economy and Chicago is a key hub, but Illinois’ 7.5 percent unemployment rate is one of the nation’s highest.
The report from the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, which plans to present the plan to the Legislature on Tuesday, includes some ideas that have been pitched before: a $10 state minimum wage and easier access to state tax breaks for small business. But it also lays out a web of ideas that its authors hope will capitalize on the research of the state’s universities, tailor growth by region and encourage a culture of entrepreneurship.
Many of the details remain to be worked out, and the costs and sources of funding aren’t yet all known. But here is a look at the highlights:
DCEO wants to focus on areas with stubbornly high unemployment rates by doubling the state’s earned-income tax credit for low-income workers from the current 10 percent of the federal credit to 20 percent, and improving broadband Internet access to help existing businesses and encourage start-ups in those regions.
The agency also hopes to make better commercial use of research being done at state universities to create start-up companies. The plan calls for eliminating state corporate taxes for new or expanding businesses based at universities.
DCEO would also like to start a year-round job training program for youth and provide money to support skilled-trade apprenticeships.
The plan also proposes focusing on 10 state regions defined by DCEO to capitalize on what each already does well, such as finance and a growing technology sector in urban Chicago, manufacturing in heavily industrial Rockford and agriculture in rural southern Illinois.
Echoing past efforts by Gov. Pat Quinn, the plan calls for increasing the state’s minimum wage from $8.75 to $10 an hour. The agency also wants to ease access to the state’s primary economic development tool _ tax breaks from the Economic Development for a Growing Economy _ for small businesses, which House Speaker Mike Madigan unsuccessfully pushed this spring. The agency also wants to build the third Chicago-area airport in Peotone south of the city that has long been discussed but has been stalled by questions about money and other factors. DCEO says would it would serve as a cargo hub and job generator for the surrounding area.
DCEO wants to increase the creation of new businesses in each of the 10 regions by 10 percent. Other goals include attracting 75,000 new jobs to the state and seeing 360,000 new businesses launch over the next five years. The targets aren’t set in stone, as the report will be revised annually and the targets could change, too, according to DCEO spokesman David Roeder.
HURDLES AND COSTS
Much of the plan depends on lawmakers and local officials because many proposals require legislative approval, such as hiking the minimum wage, and state money, which is in short supply. Other key pieces require intensive work with economic developers, elected officials and corporate leaders around the state.
The total potential cost isn’t known, and the plan only includes broad ranges for the projects it does provide cost information for.
Some projects, such as increasing access to broadband, doubling the earned-income tax credit and lowering tax costs for companies set up at universities, are only listed only as costing more than $1 million. Many other ideas, such as increasing the minimum wage, don’t include estimated costs.