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updated: 12/11/2020 12:52 PM

Daily Herald Business Ledger webinar: Panelists optimistic, but there’s much to do in 2021

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  • Video: Business & Economic Outlook


There's reason for optimism about the Illinois economy in 2021, but there's also a lot of work to do.

That was the consensus of a Daily Herald Business Ledger panel webinar Tuesday. For instance, one thing surviving businesses have learned is resiliency, said Michael O'Rourke, president of Signature Bank.

"We have to continue that resiliency and thrive into 2021," O'Rourke said.

How things go will depend in part on how several issues are resolved in the federal and state governments. A Jan. 5 runoff election in Georgia will determine which party controls the U.S. Senate. Before that could come another federal stimulus package. And president-elect Joe Biden will look to help the economy when he takes office Jan. 20.

"This is a lot of money that's going to be pumped into the economy and I think what's coming with this new administration is they're not afraid to spend money," O'Rourke said, "and that's going to have a positive impact in the economy."

On the state level, efforts to stimulate the economy could depend on whether longtime House Speaker Michael Madigan retains his leadership role. Whether Madigan remains speaker or another House Democrat takes his place could determine whether there is a state income tax hike coming -- and the chances for pension reform in a state trying to work itself out of debt.

But there are other things the state can do to help the business community. For instance, the Recovery Initiative to Support Employment Act would help greatly, said Elliot Richardson, president and co-founder of the Small Business Advocacy Council.

"We're talking about retraining individuals in technology, in light manufacturing, in the medical field," he said. "It will not cure all the woes of Illinois' fiscal condition, but it's a start because we take somebody who doesn't have a job right now because of the pandemic, and perhaps they're receiving unemployment, and you retrain that person. And now they're generating revenue for their families. They're generating revenue for their state. They're generating revenue for their communities. That is a win-win."

There also are bills to consolidate school districts and other governmental agencies that would save money, Richardson said.

With so many people working from home now, the outlook for small office buildings is a concern, the panelists agreed.

"Our biggest concern ... is small real estate," said Steve Goluch, a partner at Weiss and Co. "Many of the service businesses, and ours included, we've adapted and gone to a work-from-home model. And I think as leases have been coming up and as more of them start coming up in the next year, businesses say, 'Why should I renew? You know? Let's wait and see where this goes.'"

"I think work at home is not going away," Richardson added. "I am very concerned for small property owners because I do think that this has opened up a lot of people's eyes about working from home. And a lot of employees do like to work from home."