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Illinois city embodies divide among rich, poor states

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[April 23, 2014]  By Benjamin Yount

BLOOMINGTON  Bloomington is a fine community, halfway between Chicago and St. Louis, home to nearly 120,000 people and the embodiment of the latest "Rich States, Poor States" report.

THAT'S WHERE THE JOBS ARE: Bloomington is losing jobs to Georgia.

Bloomington has State Farm Insurance, the largest employer in the area. But as Illinois languishes, is State Farm looking for better, richer neighbors?

State Farm spokeswoman Missy Dundov insists State Farm is not abandoning Bloomington.

"Our Corporate Headquarters and large employee presence will remain in Bloomington. We have and will continue to fluctuate around 15,000 employees locally," Dundov said in an email to Illinois Watchdog.

State Farm is quickly growing in Texas, Georgia and Arizona.

"State Farm will use multifunctional hubs in Dallas, Atlanta and Phoenix," Dundov said.

State Farm has added 4,600 jobs at hubs in Richardson, Texas, and Dunwoody, Ga. It has about 2,800 workers at the hub in Arizona.


In all, the monolithic insurer has added 12,000 jobs outside Illinois.

There's little wonder why.

Texas, Georgia, and Arizona are all top 10 performers in either economic performance or economic outlook, according to the "Rich States, Poor States" report from the American Legislative Exchange Council. Illinois is almost last.

NOT SURPRISING: The "Rich State, Poor State" map holds few surprises

The report scores states on policies that encourage or discourage economic growth, factoring in taxes, debt, the minimum wage and business- climate costs.

The low cost of hiring people is the biggest reason Georgia ranks ninth in economic outlook, said state Rep. Tom Taylor. It's why Dunwoody has landed so many State Farm jobs.

"We're a right-to-work state," said Taylor, a Republican. "That is huge."

Dunwoody is aggressive in attracting new business.

"When companies come in, they've got a lot of things to do with infrastructure," according to Taylor, saying Georgia's Quick Start job-training program helps State Farm and others businesses get a running start.

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"Quick Start recruits, identifies and screens folks that are going to be working at these places. Basically (Quick Start) does the initial HR work for these companies, then does the task-specific training for these folks to go to work."

The report ranks Georgia 27th in economic performance but ninth in economic outlook.

Illinois ranks 46th and 48th, respectively.

Illinois is known for being unfriendly to business, said Bloomington state Rep. Dan Brady, a Republican.

"It's been over some 14 years of getting into this mess for a variety of reasons," Brady said. "And businesses that look to expand, locate or even stay in Illinois look at that track record."

It is not just Illinois' tax rates, or even that Democrats who run Illinois government are all but promising to raise taxes.

The ALEC report gives Illinois terrible marks for almost $100 billion in pension debt and a $6 billion backlog of bills.

"The debt load is the 800-pound gorilla," Brady said. "Even if you figure out some of the business climate problems, it's going to take a long, long time to straighten out the debt."

Brady said businesses and other states don't "see" Illinois doing that any time soon, which leaves Bloomington waiting.


Will State Farm leave the city? The company says no. But will State Farm ever add jobs? The evidence points to no, as well.

[This article courtesy of Illinois Watchdog.]

Contact Benjamin Yount at Ben@IllinoisWatchdog.org and find him on Twitter: @BenYount.

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