DURING a whirlwind first week in office, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed an executive order that represents a hopeful sign for the business sector.
On Wednesday, Pritzker directed the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to review the state's emerging industries and consider whether state funds for workforce training can be used in a better fashion. DCEO has been given 90 days to do its review and envision better ways to help Illinois employers get the trained workers they need.
"It is critical that state resources are being used to meet the demands of the 21st Century," Pritzker said.
A glance at Pritzker's biography is instructive. Many people know his parents, who died when he was young, owned Hyatt Hotels. What has gotten less attention is Pritzker's status as managing partner of the Pritzker Group, an entrepreneurial venture in Chicago that invests in startup companies.
Having grown up in Silicon Valley, Pritzker knows something about the tech sector and has worked in Chicago to create the business incubator named 1871. The name comes from Chicago's phenomenal rebound and modernization as the city rebuilt after the great Chicago Fire of 1871. "We have things entrepreneurs need to get a start," Pritzker said.
The focus is on providing capital, technical assistance and mentorship for the new businesses. Pritzker said the nonprofit has created about 7,000 jobs since it was launched in 2012. There are more than 400 digital startups now occupying nearly 4 acres in Chicago's Merchandise Mart.
Pritzker said two out of every three new jobs are being created by small businesses, and he wants to know whether Illinois can do a better job of helping startups.
Compare that to the rhetoric of Rod Blagojevich, whose time as governor was ending a decade ago. Blagojevich often bashed business owners as tax deadbeats as he sought unsuccessfully to institute a $6 billion gross receipts tax or needed to paint opponents of his actions as villains.
Over time, Illinois has been seen as a state that is not friendly to business. Members of the Pritzker administration say the governor wants to find ways to change that.
"Governor Pritzker's executive order will help the new administration revitalize economic growth and create economic opportunity in every part of the state, especially in cities like Quincy. It will ensure our workforce is trained for jobs in growing industries while prioritizing communities that have been left behind for far too long," Pritzker spokesman Jason Rubin told The Herald-Whig.
It will be a few months before the review is completed. And creating a business-friendly environment will require much more work.
Pritzker has just begun his term in office. His impact on the state will be written over months and years to come.
It is encouraging to see that a pro-business effort is among his top priorities.
We'll be watching, hoping for more evidence that Illinois is entering a new era as a place that welcomes employers and prepares new generations of workers.