Despite perceived negativity, the suburbs and Illinois have a strong foundation for business and leaders need to band together to spread that message to attract new business to the area.
That was the consensus of a panel of experts speaking at the Small Business Economic Forum Thursday, hosted by the Daily Herald Business Ledger and its sponsoring partners. About 80 suburban business leaders and entrepreneurs attended the event at Harper College in Palatine to hear an update and discuss key issues affecting suburban small business.
Mark Peterson, president and CEO of public/private economic development partnership Intersect Illinois, told the audience while issues like taxes and pensions have created a negative cloud around doing business in Illinois, the state is a regional and national leader in a number of key areas. He noted the state has the fifth largest gross domestic product in the U.S., and compared globally would have the 17th largest economy in the world. It is nome to 38 Fortune 500 companies and more than 1,900 foreign companies, and is first in the Midwest in foreign investments. In addition, the state has a highly educated workforce and a good infrastructure system.
"We can make it and we can move it," he said.
However, competition among neighboring states -- as well as across local and county lines -- for each other's business has hampered the ability to attract new businesses to the state. Peterson and the other panel members stressed the need to work cooperatively to bring in new business and grow existing ones, as individual communities will benefit overall no matter where the business is located.
"If we work together, we're stronger," said Michael O'Rourke, president and CEO of Signature Bank in Schaumburg. "We should be competing against China or India, but we're competing against ourselves and we're really just trading pennies."
On a local level, Schaumburg Director of Economic Development Matt Frank said towns will compete among each other for new businesses but recognize the strength of working regionally, which is why communities develop partnerships -- such as the Next Level business incubator or the manufacturing skills training programs at Harper -- to strengthen a business' ability to develop and grow.
"We want to grow the region," Frank said. "It's a clear thing that our communities can work together and attract new business and help our existing businesses grow." Mark Koplin, Hoffman Estates director of development services, agreed, adding partnerships also help improve the community's quality of life, which is a key factor in attracting business.
"The Northwest suburbs are doing well, and we think that's good for everybody," Koplin said.
All the panelists were optimistic with the recent changes in leadership in both the state government and the city of Chicago. While expressing caution that it is still early, they all noted a swing toward more collaboration from the administrations of Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Chicago Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot.
"I think there's a reasonable understanding that the business community is important and having dialogue with those communities is important," Koplan said. "One of the things I'm most encouraged by is there's a positive dialogue both in the city and the state level that is coming out about growing the economy, growing Illinois and being positive about the marketing message, which wasn't always the case."
Sponsoring and marketing partners of the forum are Small Business Advocacy Council, Intersect Illinois, Signature Bank, Village of Hoffman Estates, Village of Schaumburg, HR Source, Harper College, Hoffman Estates Chamber of Commerce & Industry, and the Schaumburg Business Association.