CEO: Caterpillar 'here to stay' in Illinois

April 5, 2011 3:15:06 PM PDT
The head of caterpillar says the company will stay in Illinois. The company's CEO met with Governor Pat Quinn in East Peoria where they talked about improving the state's unfavorable business climate. There were no threats, no deals, but an hour's worth of discussion that both the governor and the CEO of Caterpillar called "excellent."

Caterpillar is not leaving, but its corporate voice is most certainly being heard. On Tuesday, the CEO praised the governor.

"He has brought a degree of honesty and integrity back to our state that has been lacking for a long time," said Caterpillar CEO Doug Oberhelman.

And the Governor praised the CEO.

"We want to teach all our business to do it the Caterpillar way: Do business with the whole world," said Quinn.

Oberhelman and Quinn know each other and like each other. Tuesday morning, the Caterpillar boss presented the governor with an award from business, an event scheduled before Oberhelman wrote his widely-reported letter to Quinn warning that the state's business climate was less than friendly.

Despite suggestions and headlines that Caterpillar might leave the state, Oberhelman has said that was not the intent of his letter, nor is it the intent of his company.

"I think Caterpillar is here to stay," said Oberhelman. "We have 23,000 employees, we're the largest manufacturer in Illinois, but we want a climate here -- that the governor shares -- that is very business friendly. Who doesn't want more jobs in Illinois?"

Caterpillar is not happy with the size of the state's income tax hike. The chairman reminded, and the governor reassured , that the tax increase is supposed to be temporary, gone in four years.

Perhaps the signature issue in Tuesday's meeting is a plan to tighten the state's workers' comp rules, long seen as costly to business.

"A lot of businesses in Illinois pay a lot more money in workman's comp insurance than they pay in taxes, so that's why we got to get control of that this year," Quinn said.

Oberhelman, in his March 21 letter to Quinn, made clear he wanted to start a dialogue, and he definitely got that going.

"I think the business community universally said thanks for speaking up, thanks for giving the governor the message he needed to hear," said Doug Whitley, president of the Illinois State Chamber of Commerce.

Reform in workman's comp rules is the issue on the front burner now.

The governor is behind a proposal that he says will reduce business costs but be fair to workers. "Nobody's gonna get scalped," he says, "but some people will have to have a haircut."