In Business as usual” (Nov. 9, 2017) I looked at, por rather down on, the new economic development initiative known as the Sangamon County Project. There is more to be said.
The focus of the effort, as ever, is on attracting makers of goods, not sellers or movers. The obsession with manufacturing as the centerpiece of economic development has warped state policy and it infects local efforts as well. This is curious. Manufacturing employment as a share of population has been dropping in every rich country, and while jobs in that sector pay well enough they pay nowhere near as good as they used to be, relatively. Also, if a job in a plant is so desirable, why don’t more Illinoisans want them? Younger people refuse to train themselves for factory jobs or even craft careers apparently, as national labor shortages in both sectors make clear.
Nor is work in manufacturing especially stable. I described Rochelle, Illinois, in that column as a rare success story. One reasons was the opening in 2012 of the new U.S. headquarters and the $35 million passenger rail car facility of Nippon Sharyo. The plan was built with more than $10 million in state and local investment and incentives, including tax credits and infrastructure improvements. Since my column came out, Nippon Sharyo lost the fat contract from the California Department of Transportation to build high-speed Amtrak passenger trains because of quality complaints.
If economic development advocates are worried about jobs for workers abandoned by changes in the local economy—and aldermen certainly are—they would do better to quit chasing factories and figure out what to do for the thousands of people who will be left idle over the next ten to twenty years as bricks-and-mortar retailing becomes obsolete.
Like I said—why the obsession with manufacturing?