Slow, steady growth forecast at Chamber forum
BY DAN MORAN firstname.lastname@example.org February 19, 2013 6:50PM
Vernon Hills Tuesday 02.19.13. U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider (right) talks with Prue Beidler (left) during the 6th Annual Forecast Lake County Luncheon at the Cuneo Mansion and Gardens on Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013, in Vernon Hills. | Buzz Orr~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 21, 2013 6:34AM
VERNON HILLS — Highlighting a few of the grim numbers weighing down the state’s economic picture, Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka told U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider and other elected officials gathered at Wednesday’s 6th annual Forecast Lake County Luncheon that they will have to do some heavy lifting when it comes to issues like deficit reduction and pension reform.
“As the comptroller of a bankrupt state, for all intents and purposes, it’s kind of a suicidal death wish to hold this office,” Topinka said, looking out at a Lake County Chamber of Commerce crowd that included state Sen. Melinda Bush, D-Grayslake. “All of you have tough jobs ahead of you. You’re going to have some awful votes you’ve got to take that are really going to test your backbone. So best of luck to you, and I’m so glad I’m not in the Legislature now.”
Later, when Topinka advised chamber members to “start hounding your representatives” about changing the financial culture in government, Topinka joked that “we just lost Brad — he just fell into his soup. That’s OK, come on up. It’ll be delightful. You’ll wonder why you ever did it.”
When it was his turn to take the microphone, Schneider, the Deerfield Democrat who was sworn in last month to represent the 10th Congressional District, quipped that he told chamber officials “I wasn’t willing to speak after Judy Baar Topinka” when agreeing to appear. But he agreed that legislative gridlock threatens to be a drag on the economy.
“I, too, am worried about the brinksmanship in government,” Schneider said. “My brief outlook is that we have outstanding long-term potential — that if we can get consistency and direction in Washington, the economy and the country are poised to do great things.
“I’m committed to finding a way forward (and) creating opportunities to work with both colleagues and adversaries,” added Schenider, “with politicians in Washington and Springfield, and also leaders here at home, people like those of you in this room. ... If I didn’t think I could make a difference, a real difference in Washington to help spur growth, then I would probably be on the other side of this podium. I have no doubt that we can make a positive difference.”
Among the steps that Schneider said could be taken “right now to help strengthen business in our community” were rebuilding transportation infrastructure, investing in technology and innovation, and reforming the tax code to foster growth. He also touted his co-sponsorship of the America Works Act, a bipartisan bill sponsored by Pennsylvania Republican Lou Barletta that Schneider said would strengthen the manufacturing sector by creating national standards for vocational training to replace an aging workforce.
“I’ve only been in office a little over six weeks, (but) one of the first things I did after taking the oath on Jan. 3 was travel around the district and meet with businesses,” Schneider said. “Everywhere I visited, I heard a consistent message — businesses are struggling to find people with the skills they need to do the work to help them grow and prosper. ... This skills gap was critical. The 10th District has a long tradition of manufacturing excellence (that is) at risk.”
The luncheon’s keynote speaker, senior economist William Strauss from the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, told chamber members that his 2013 forecast for not just manufacturing growth, but the economy in general is similar to what he told them last year — slow but steady.
“It appears, when you look around the world, that the U.S. has the strongest economy in the world. I’ll give you the bad news: The U.S. economy appears to be the strongest economy in the world,” said Strauss, adding that while sectors like manufacturing, auto sales and housing have all been trending upward, “we’re not getting that more superior growth that we would normally be getting” following a steep economic downturn.
According to Strauss, the consensus from one group of 50 forecasters of economic indicators is that “all and all, growth that is nothing to write home about. It will feel a bit better, but it’s not anything spectacular.” He also noted that there is “a tad more optimism” for 2014 and 2015, though he personally expressed concern about the level of U.S. debt, which he said amounts to $53,000 per capita.
Topinka had her own tales of debt, noting that her office currently has more than 167,000 unpaid bills, amounting to $6.5 billion of the state’s $9 billion in red ink.
“There is no question that this is a terribly tough time to run a business in the state of Illinois,” Topinka said. “But you’ve held it together, you’ve fueled the region’s economy, you’re doing well (and) our economy is moving forward — it’s slow, but it is moving forward.
“We need to get government off the backs of our businesses so that they can grow and get our economy moving again,” she added. “This is not the time to make it tough for businesses in the state of Illinois. Whatever we can do to encourage you, to help you do whatever you can, we will be there.”