Rauner disses C-U: “not much of a workforce”

Local News

ILLINOIS (WCIA) — During a radio interview Friday in Chicago, Governor Bruce Rauner appeared to blame the people of Champaign-Urbana for big technology companies leaving the state and the University of Illinois for greener pastures.

“The tragedy for us in Illinois is, the University of Illinois is here,” Rauner told WGN Radio. “It’s one of the greatest research universities in the world. And their students have started many of the greatest companies in the world: Oracle, PayPal, YouTube, Tesla Motors, iTunes. It’s stunning. None of them are in Illinois.”

Each of the companies Rauner listed are based in or near California’s Silicon Valley and have been for years. According to Rauner’s analysis, that’s Champaign-Urbana’s fault. 

There are several reasons, but part of the reason is Champaign-Urbana is wonderful. But it’s very hard to keep a company of more than six people there. There’s no convenient transportation, not much of a workforce, and it’s very hard.”

The mind-boggling statement drew swift condemnation from the community, including many who pointed out that Rauner has personally visited their place of business or employment where far more than “six people” are on the job. 

The Twitter account run by the local Mass Transit District was quick to respond, changing their bio to correct the Governor.

The local online reaction to Rauner’s comments ranged from bewilderment to scorn. 

Champaign is actually the fastest growing city in the state and is outperforming neighboring cities in employment and wage growth, according to data compiled by the state of Illinois. 

The governor’s ham-handed remarks struck a nerve with the Champaign-Urbana community. His dismissal of the area’s potential for job growth seem to contradict his own re-election motto that “home is worth fighting for.” Instead, he advised using taxpayer resources at the University of Illinois to prioritize job growth in other parts of the state he apparently sees as having more potential. 

Rauner: “We can start some companies there. But what we need to do is we can help the University of Illinois expand in Chicago, expand into Rockford and Peoria – that have large economic systems and great companies already…”

Radio host: “Airports and rail and all that…”

Rauner: “Exactly, and a diverse, large workforce. And then use their innovation and technology ability, get their students integrated in the local economy, and we can boom.”

Rauner’s remarks earned him a mild rebuke from Republican Attorney General candidate Erika Harold. 

“As someone who was born and raised in Champaign-Urbana and is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I could not be prouder of our educational institutions, workforce and vibrantly diverse community,” she said. “We should be doing more to invest in infrastructure and economic opportunities for all Illinoisans, and that is why I am running for Attorney General – to ensure all of our communities are well represented.” 

The governor’s comments did not sit well with State Representative Carol Ammons, a Democrat from Urbana who fired back in defense of the community’s reputation. 

State Treasurer Michael Frerichs, also from Champaign, knocked the governor for changing his message to appeal to whichever audience he’s addressing at the moment. 

In a response that did not include an apology, Rauner campaign spokesman Will Allison said, “The University of Illinois is a world class institution and Champaign is a wonderful place with great people. As we work to bring more companies to Illinois, we need to be making investments so businesses have the resources they need to succeed.” 

*This article has been updated to include a response from Erika Harold. 

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