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Report: Capitol bickering hurts Lake County
By Mick Zawislak | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 12/5/2007 12:34 AM

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A lack of timely and clear decision making in Springfield is hurting Lake County's attempts to keep and attract businesses, according to a recent status report.

"Unfortunately, the instability in state government is beginning to spook local businesses and also it's emboldening other state economic development departments to begin recruiting in our backyards," according to a report by Lake County Partners, the county's economic development arm.

While there have been some successes in the expansion of manufacturing facilities, the economic landscape here has bogged down.

Part of that is because of a lack of development-ready sites, but the "constant bickering and instability in Springfield," also has become a factor, the report states.

"There's no question this is not helpful to have the political gridlock going," said state Rep. Kathy Ryg of Vernon Hills.

However, Ryg and state Sen. Terry Link of Waukegan noted they and other Lake County legislators have been available to help.

"All the members are saying, 'We're willing to cooperate. We're willing to work,'" Link said. "You have a resource here. Yeah, there's confusion … but there's a lot of positive things that can be done."

The update preceded county board approval of a $1.25 million, three-year agreement with Lake County Partners to continue working to attract and keep businesses. Though the group showed much stronger financial support from the private sector this year, its job has become tougher.

"Wisconsin is in Chicago (and) in Lake County on a regular basis, as is Iowa. Michigan is here, too. Indiana is as well," said Dave Young, president.

Young said he has sent out lots of information but is not seeing the follow-through by companies that might want to locate here. Part of that is because of a perceived lack of stability in state finances, he said.

"That's had more of an impact in terms of companies that have been evaluating Illinois or Lake County as a location," he said. "These guys track states and they know at the beginning of this year, Illinois didn't go into the legislative session with stable financials."

That situation has worsened, according to Young, with vague talk of closing corporate loopholes and no defined replacement for about $400 million that could be diverted from the sales tax on gasoline to mass transit under one scenario.

"People say it's only a matter of time before someone has to pay," Young said.

Companies that may have considered expanding are taking a wait-and-see approach, he added.

There are some bright spots. Lake County Partners reported doing 25 real estate searches in the past three months, resulting in five active projects. It also identified 52 sites with development or redevelopment potential, but none would be easy, it says.

Three industrial revenue bond issues this year have resulted in 45 new jobs for two expansions and the purchase and renovation of an apartment complex.

Next year will present some challenges, according to the group. There is a growing labor shortage in Lake County, and some companies find it difficult to recruit top talent.

Housing prices still outweigh earnings of a large portion of workers, and attainable housing is also a problem for investors, according to the report.