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Official compares Wisconsin economy to Illinois

By Cole Lauterbach
Illinois News Network

(ILLINOIS NEWS NETWORK) – Wisconsin’s top economist is using Illinois as an example to highlight how well Wisconsin’s economy is doing.

John Koskinen is the chief economist for the Wisconsin Department of Labor. In a speech earlier this month for the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce Policy Day, he use Illinois’ economy in a comparison with Wisconsin’s to show how well they’re doing.

Using federal labor numbers, he said nearly every county in Wisconsin has seen the number of new businesses operating grow by at least two percent over the last three years. Illinois, on the other hand, didn’t fare as well.

“It didn’t have one county with additional businesses three years on,” he said to a crowd audibly reacting to the slide clearly showing the shape of Illinois without its borders lineated.

The three years included in the graph are politically significant. Gov. Bruce Rauner, a pro-business Republican, ran a campaign on making Illinois more conducive to businesses. He vowed to bring companies and people back to Illinois, which had been bleeding both. In his campaign for re-election he’s often blamed House Speaker Michael Madigan for blocking the reforms he’s tried to implement.

Wisconsin did rank low in terms of “firm entry” rate, the metric of start-up companies. But Wisconsin’s rate of “exits,” meaning the business is established, was one of the best in the nation. That means businesses are more likely to survive when they’re started there.

Koskinen said one of the keys to Wisconsin’s stability is its funded pension systems. In contrast, he cited the Federal Reserve of Chicago’s report on how much property taxes would have to increase to pay down Illinois’ pension liabilities, which have been estimated as high as more than $200 billion.

“You would have to add 1.4 percent tax on all property,” he said.

One thing that Illinois has been steadily sending to Wisconsin is residents.

“The biggest destination for people leaving the state of Illinois is Wisconsin,” Koskinen said, using 2016 Census migration data.

Under Republican Gov. Scott Walker, Wisconsin’s tax structure, a major draw for businesses, is lower than it has been in five decades.

Illinois does, however, beat Wisconsin in average wage and education levels of its residents, the latter often seen as a draw for businesses looking to relocate to an area with an educated and skilled workforce.

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