Making the Case for Illinois

Why Choose Greater Peoria? Because it’s an incredible place to live — with a robust job market, exceptional quality of life and so many things to do. But what about the state of Illinois as a whole?

Too often people hear only about “doom and gloom”: high taxes, rising crime, political corruption, the pension crisis… even the weather has been cited against the Land of Lincoln. And yes, there’s some truth to these concerns. But the focus on what could be better has overshadowed the many things that are going well — and given traction to beliefs that are simply not true.

Well, we’re here to clear up some misconceptions and provide better context to those concerns! Let’s start with one of the big ones…

The Population Misconception

We often hear that Illinois’ population is shrinking dramatically as residents flee the state in droves. While it’s true the initial results of the 2020 U.S. Census showed a population loss, this was a modest loss of about 18,000 residents. But in May 2022, the Census Bureau reported that Illinois’ population had been undercounted by nearly two percent. Rather than losing population, Illinois may have gained as many as 250,000 residents between 2010 and 2020. That’s quite a shift from the prevailing narrative!

Despite uncertainty over the exact figure, it’s clear that Illinois’ population — somewhere in the ballpark of 13 million — is larger than previously believed. The state may not be growing significantly, but it is more than holding its own. The widespread claim that residents are fleeing Illinois is simply not supported by the facts. So, if the tale of Illinois’ population decline is a myth, what other misconceptions are out there?

The Economic Case for Illinois

Intersect Illinois is a public-private partnership formed in 2016 to serve as a resource for companies doing business in Illinois. According to CEO Dan Seals, there is a wide gap between how Illinoisans perceive the state and the actual reality of the business environment.

“I meet a lot of people who are doing well but think they’re the only ones who are doing well,” Seals told the Daily Herald newspaper, which covers the Chicago suburbs. “You don’t get an economy this big, you don’t get one this diverse, and you don’t get companies that large all here by having a bad business environment. That’s illogical.”

To support this argument, Seals’ organization has compiled a slew of statistics making the business case for Illinois:

  • 5th largest GDP in the United States
  • 18th largest economy in the world
  • 1,900 major corporate headquarters
  • 33 Fortune 500 companies, #4 in the nation
  • 1.2 million small businesses, also #4 in the nation
  • #2 in the nation for business expansions and relocations in 2022 and 2023
  • Highly skilled workforce of 6.4 million people, 35% with a bachelor’s degree or higher

And the list goes on. From electric vehicles to data centers to advanced manufacturing and more, Illinois’ business community is thriving across a wide range of industries. That means a variety of job opportunities with higher-than-average salaries (including right here in Greater Peoria).

Quality of Life

Of course, the attractiveness of any state or region is about more than the economy alone. Many other factors — including affordability, health care access, education options, cultural assets and natural resources, to name a few — are key considerations when choosing where to live. So where does Illinois stand? Not too shabby, as you can see:

  • Cost of living: A CNBC report ranked Illinois #9 in the nation for cost of living in 2023, driven by low housing costs and affordable energy rates — including the lowest average electricity bills in the Midwest.
  • Location & connectivity: Illinois’ central location places it within a day’s drive of nearly half the United States. And with the world’s most connected airport in Chicago O’Hare, we’re a bustling hub for international and domestic travel.
  • Natural resources: From the wooded bluffs of Shawnee National Forest to the waterfalls and canyons at Starved Rock, Illinois is teeming with natural diversity. Water is abundant, and our many outdoor attractions offer a host of recreational opportunities.
  • Cultural assets: Professional sports. Award-winning restaurants. World-renowned museums. And so much more. Illinois is home to hundreds of historic and culturally significant sites, plus a longstanding legacy as a hub for arts and entertainment.
  • Health care: A 2022 MoneyGeek report ranked Illinois #11 in the nation for health care, analyzing a host of health-related statistics from patient outcomes to access and affordability.
  • Education options: With nearly 250 colleges and universities, Illinois ranked 2nd in the nation for education in 2023. The CNBC study evaluated multiple measures of K-12 and higher education, career/technical training, and long-term trends in state support.

“When it comes to health care, education and innovation, the Greater Peoria area has much to offer and so many opportunities for entrepreneurs and individuals looking to land in a place that supports their spirit,” said Bob Sehring, CEO, OSF HealthCare, the area’s largest employer. “The Jump Simulation and Education Center is recognized as a world-class facility. Couple that with Peoria NEXT, Distillery Labs, the OSF Cancer Institute and the research being done through the University of Illinois College of Medicine Peoria and elsewhere, and this region more than holds its own as a medical and innovation destination center.”

The Chicago Factor

Chicago is a dynamic, world-class city on par with New York, Los Angeles and other counterparts around the world. From business to the arts, proximity to the Windy City is a huge benefit to living in Greater Peoria. There’s no doubt that Chicago is a critical contributor to Illinois’ top national rankings.

Yet in some areas, Chicago is actually an albatross, suffering many of the same problems as other large metro areas. High cost of living. Lengthy commutes. Insufficient housing. In Greater Peoria, you can avoid these issues while knowing the many unique assets of Chicago are just a short drive away. (That’s called having your cake and eating it, too!)

Let’s Talk About Taxes

A high tax burden is one of the biggest longtime complaints about Illinois. It’s true that Illinois has some of the steepest property and sales tax rates in the country, which pay for everything from parks to schools to pensions. It’s also true that Illinois’ gasoline tax is the nation’s highest. None of this is attractive to potential residents, but it doesn’t tell the whole story either.

Take the individual income tax, for example. At a flat 4.95% across the board, it’s highly competitive with other states. Illinois also does not tax personal property, such as boats, cars and RVs — nor does it tax Social Security or retirement income, making Illinois an ideal location for retirees. When it’s all said and done, the downsides of Illinois taxes are more than offset by the many benefits of living here.

Perceptions of Crime & Safety

With varying methodologies and reporting rates, it’s notoriously difficult to create a like comparison of crime and public safety across the 50 states. But most data analyses agree that Illinois’ violent crime rate is slightly above the national average, while its property crime rate is significantly lower.

Overall, Illinois is in the middle of the pack of states when it comes to crime. Yet the 2023 “State of Safety” report from Safewise declares that Illinois residents are among the most worried in the nation when it comes to their daily safety. Once again — like the false narrative of Illinois’ population decline — there’s a mismatch between perception and reality. Add it to the list!

Something About the Weather

Here’s one we have no control over! We all know that Illinois winters tend to be cold and snowy, while its summers are hot and humid. But unlike, say, Florida, Illinois residents don’t have to worry about hurricanes or coastal flooding (or an exodus of insurance companies leaving the state). We don’t worry about a shortage of water like they do in Arizona. And while wildfires and earthquakes certainly can happen here, they are far less prevalent than in California.

Sure, Illinois does see the occasional tornado and plenty of thunderstorms, but the overall likelihood of natural disasters is much lower here. And with the potential impact of climate change, this feature will become far more significant in the years ahead.

Correcting the Record

No place is perfect. Every state, region and city is flawed in its own way. Yet it’s clear how a chorus of reasonable concerns can snowball into a false narrative of excessive negativity. In Illinois, we see this scenario play out regularly in the commentary on taxes, population loss and the business climate. And that has real-world implications for all of us who are working hard to make our great state even greater.

We must be vigilant about correcting our shortcomings, but it’s equally important to stick to the facts. And the true story of our state is nothing like the refrain that’s become engrained with too many Illinois residents.

Finally, no… we did not address the state pension crisis, which we admit is a serious matter. In our defense, we would note that the Illinois legislature has been warning of pension insolvency since at least 1917. Meanwhile, three top financial watchdogs — Moody’s, Standard & Poor’s and Fitch — have upgraded Illinois’ credit rating since 2022, citing continued financial improvements. For most residents (and prospective residents), pensions are a non-issue.

We Choose Illinois

Here in Greater Peoria, we’re proud to be from the Land of Lincoln. If you’re an Illinois resident, we encourage you to join us in sharing the real story about our great state. And if not, what are you waiting for? Connect with us and explore opportunities to live, work and play in Greater Peoria! We welcome you with open arms.