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Originally published here in the Chicago Tribune

Growing tired of the same old doom and gloom from those who make their living disparaging Illinois? So am I. Let’s look at what’s really happening here in our great state.

For the 11th year in a row, Site Selection Magazine ranked Chicago-Naperville-Elgin as the No. 1 metro area for new and expanding businesses and in 2023 placed Illinois as the No. 2 state in the nation for corporate expansions and relocations. We also ranked No. 1 in the Midwest for new business creation for 2022, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Why is that? Momentum is on our side. In CNBC’s Best States for Business rankings, Illinois moved from No. 3 to No. 2 for infrastructure; from No. 6 to No. 2 for education; from No. 8 to No. 6 in access to capital; and from No. 20 to No. 9 in the nation for cost of living. Plus, we have created smart and competitive incentives for emerging industries looking to build their business and the jobs that come with it here in Illinois. These are the factors driving more and more companies to make pro-Illinois decisions, evidenced by the fact that, on average, a new business relocated to or expanded in Illinois every day in 2023.

Growth of this speed and scale requires continued investments in equity-centered education and training to ensure our workforce is prepared to step into valuable job opportunities. Many across the state are hard at work building up the workforce of tomorrow, including at our 25 early career technical centers and our nearly 50 community colleges. Illinois boasts the third largest community college system in the country, and within that system, there are countless innovative programs designed to meet the moment. Just look at Heartland Community College and the school’s first-of-its-kind electric vehicle manufacturing training program or Southwestern Illinois College’s advanced manufacturing center, homegrown programs that are training our graduates for the jobs of the future.

Illinois has the talent that companies need right now, and through our early career and higher education system, we’re building that talent for generations to come. Don’t believe me? Just look at the facts. Illinois is ranked first in the Midwest for workforce development, according to Site Selection in 2023. Additionally, with  more than 200 higher education institutions and a labor force of 6 million people, Illinois is defying national trends in higher education, with enrollment in our public universities rising for the third consecutive year. Chicago’s sixth-place ranking in Axios’ list of most desirable metro areas for college graduates further illustrates our position as a magnet for top-tier talent. Through building and fortifying an inclusive workforce, we are ensuring Illinois remains top of mind for businesses of all sizes and sectors.

With manufactured crisis after crisis under prior administrations, the business community rightly turned its nose up at Illinois for years. In 2019, Illinois had $17 billion in unpaid bills and went years without a budget, let alone a balanced one. Our credit ratings were a single notch above junk status. On nearly every fiscal metric a business might consider before choosing to put down roots in a state, Illinois was nothing short of abysmal.

No more. Today, our bill backlog and all short-term debts are eliminated, Illinois has received nine credit rating upgrades in a row and the state is operating under its fifth balanced budget with consistent surpluses.

With Illinois now on strong financial footing, we are able to prioritize an economic development strategy in a way we never could before. Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration has built an economic development juggernaut working in lockstep with local economic development agencies across the state to aggressively pursue new business. The results speak for themselves: Illinois has a $1 trillion gross domestic product, record job growth and historic business creation. We have the fifth-highest GDP in the nation and are the 18th largest economy in the world.

Illinois’ economic journey is one of resilience, innovation and ongoing transformation. With our state’s leadership working every day to maintain fiscal discipline and stay committed to economic growth, we can ensure that Illinois continues to be a place where individuals and businesses alike can thrive.

As the governor noted in his State of the State address: “Do not let the doom grifters steal your optimism about what’s ahead for Illinois. Our future is bright, and opportunity lies ahead.”

John Atkinson is chairman of Intersect Illinois, a statewide economic development organization.