Attracting jobs takes more than big words

South Bend Tribune

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner didn’t mince words when he told the Editorial Board of the Chicago Tribune recently of his plans to bolster the economy of his home state, even if it means sucking the economic life out of one of his neighbors.

“Believe me, I am going to rip — try to rip the economic guts out of Indiana,” Rauner said. “I am one of the baddest, you know, enemies anybody can have. And when I set a goal, we do it. I don’t care what the headline is. I want the results. And we’re coming after Indiana big time. But you know what, we’re going to do it on our terms, the right way.”

If the right way is making reckless predictions to do anything it takes to turn Illinois’ stumbling economy around, then Rauner is on the right track. But making predictions and actually accomplishing the goal are two different things.

It’s easy to dismiss Rauner’s comments as so much political bluster. Rauner and the Illinois Legislature are trying to craft a new budget by the time lawmakers adjourn at the end of May. Right now, state leaders are staring a projected $6 billion budget deficit in the face with the potential of significant cuts if progress is not made.

Clearly Rauner is using the controversy concerning Indiana’s passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to try to lure Hoosier businesses to Illinois. It was exactly that kind of backlash that opponents of RFRA claimed they were worried about.

In an April 5 column published in the South Bend Tribune, Ball State economist Michael Hicks explained that the actual relocation of businesses from one state to another is overhyped and amounts to only a small percentage of new jobs any state can attract.

Hyperbole such as Rauner’s is evidence of the length some states will go to in the fight to boost their own economies.

On the contrary, one of the most effective ways to boost a state’s image in the fight for jobs lies in trust, Hicks wrote. “Without trust, contracts are meaningless scraps of paper and trade comes to a grinding halt.”

We’re not sure what effects Indiana’s RFRA will have on the state’s economy and the ability to attract and keep jobs in Indiana. It likely will take months or years before that’s determined. But as Indiana tries to grow its economy, it must do so with the openness and trust Hicks describes.

If Rauner thinks his impetuous, political bluster will entice businesses to choose Illinois over Indiana, he needs to rethink his strategy. It won’t work.

In the meantime, Hoosiers would do well to stay the course recommended by so many — including Hicks — and that is to maintain an open and honest atmosphere that is welcoming to all businesses. Those are the traits that will grow Indiana’s economy.

This was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association. Send comments to awoods@tribtown.com.