Acknowledging Illinois' high jobless rate, Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., led an economic development forum Friday that highlighted the importance of enhancing area workforces, building infrastructure and improving access to capital.
The two-hour forum at Augustana College in Rock Island brought together economic development, government and education professionals and wrapped up a series of regional meetings the freshman lawmaker convened over the past several weeks.
"We can compete with anybody if we tap into the resources that we have," Bustos said while kicking off the discussions.
Bustos said the three metro regions of the 17th Congressional District have varying economic development practices and the meetings will help to improve coordination and spread best practices.
Among the ideas discussed Friday is a program in Rockford that helps to provide a workforce pipeline for the area's aerospace industry.
The program connects interested high school students with area companies, allowing them to gain training and internships. In addition to paying the interns, the companies also help provide funding for the program, helping to sustain it.
Quad-Cities Chamber of Commerce CEO Tara Barney said such ideas are worth looking at here. She said developing and sustaining the area's workforce is more important than even access to capital.
Much of the morning was spent reinforcing the notion that the public and private sectors need to collaborate in order to meet the ongoing workforce needs. But officials also said the state, plagued by significant budget and pension problem, also needs to battle the idea it has a hostile business environment.
A CNBC survey earlier this year put Illinois 37th.
"We want to put facts against narrative," said Adam Pollet, director of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Development.
Pollet, however, said the state ranked fifth in corporate expansion and relocations last year. Also, the state is creating jobs, he said, even though jobless figures released Friday put Illinois at 8.9 percent last month, one of the highest rates in the country.
Earlier this fall, Bustos office convened separate forums in Rockford, the Quad-Cities and Peoria. The events were presented in conjunction with the University of Illinois.