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Committee looks at privatizing state's economic development department

(MCT) DECATUR — A reorganization or possible privatization of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Development is being considered to improve the state’s business climate.

State Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, led a subcommittee hearing Monday at Richland Community College asking representatives of various economic development organizations and businesses about ways the department could change to attract and retain more jobs in the state. State Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, who is not a member of the subcommittee, joined Manar at the hearing.

The meeting was the first of four scheduled around the state to gather input on Manar’s proposal.

“We have to create an environment where businesses want to be in Illinois,” said Craig Coil, Economic Development Corporation of Decatur and Macon County president. “We need it to get back to its core mission to assist employers in creating and retaining jobs.”

Archer Daniels Midland Co. has worked with the state Commerce department on several projects, including the creation of a new train yard in Decatur, a biorefinery in Decatur scheduled to open later this year and an animal feed plant in Effingham, said Greg Webb, the company’s vice president of state government relations.

“These projects create jobs right here in Illinois,” Webb said. “We see an agency that is there when we need them.”

The department is encouraging businesses to stay at a time when many are considering options to leave the state, Webb said.

“Illinois has provided useful programs that we have been able to take advantage,” Webb said. “Businesses don’t need a guarantee, but they need some level of certainty and predictability.”

Adam Pollet, state Commerce acting director, said that since he has been on the job, several improvements and priorities have been identified to make the department more effective. The privatization of its functions isn’t needed as a long-term economic development strategy is being considered, Pollet said.

The department’s priorities include attracting and retaining business, increasing access to capital for small- and medium-sized businesses, investing in key physical infrastructure, driving innovation in work force training and providing targeted technical assistance to small and medium-sized businesses, Pollet said.

Changes are needed to prevent the department from becoming burdened with issues and projects that the legislature doesn’t want other agencies to deal with, Coil said. The state should be performing better than it is in terms of its employment statistics, said Todd Maisch with the Illinois Chamber of Commerce.

The legislation is Senate Bill 2.


©2013 the Herald & Review (Decatur, Ill.)

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