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.
A very odd comment considering the company i work for in Champaign, has well over 100 employees AND has been providing the community pretty convenient transportation for 40 years 😀🛩 https://t.co/sCHOJDmMns— Andrew Keeling (@ackeeling) June 26, 2018
So he doesn’t know about Wolfram, CERL, Kraft, Flex n Gate, Busey or that the MTD carries more people daily than the Indianapolis or Oklahoma City bus systems and almost as many as Kansas City or that 21,343,319 people live within 175 miles…sigh @debfrankfeinen— Adam (@army_arch) June 26, 2018
Really?!? I have worked in the CU/Champaign area since I was 16 at many companies that have more than 6 employees and currently work for a large hospital with just a tad more than 6 employees. @GovRauner has no clue what’s here and needs to educate himself.— Anita Pilarski (@apilarski65) June 25, 2018
The governor of my state is completely ignorant of basic facts regarding my city. A city he has somehow visited without noting the award-winning public transit system? The many large and mid-size businesses? The many different labor pools including students & townies? https://t.co/zopjKPYfHT— Rochelle Smith (@wordsmith85) June 26, 2018
Perhaps he missed a family owned local business of over 70 years with 12 employees Armstrong Lumber in Urbana would welcome a visit and conversation around small businesses taxes and growth— Amy Armstrong (@Momologist) June 26, 2018
Not to mention there’s the equidistance between major cities, an airport, access to three major interstates and a FREAKING MAJOR UNIVERSITY training the employees apparently no one has access to. The guv should pay more attention. But he doesn’t have to.— Eric Loy (@WDANEricLoy) June 26, 2018
C-U is a great place to live and work. We have a diverse population, a dynamic workforce, vital downtowns, and a plethora of things to experience. I join many others when I say I’m proud to call Champaign-Urbana home. https://t.co/n2lcRuHHgN— Matthew Gladney (@MattGladney) June 26, 2018
Champaign-Urbana is one of the only growing cities in Illinois. The tech workforce is one of the primary reasons. #chambana #YoureWelcomeCU https://t.co/6egBFEEXdk— Laura Bleill (@chambanalaura) June 26, 2018
The high tech company I work for, @WolframResearch, has hundreds of local employees and has been here since 1988. We attract local talent, as well as top talent from all over the world.— Arnoud Buzing (@arnoudbuzing) June 25, 2018
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.
I’m not going to stand by as @BruceRauner attacks Champaign-Urbana.
Here are the facts, Governor. Please read them before you speak ill of my home again. https://t.co/rDDsALCX9T— Carol Ammons (@CarolAmmons4IL) June 25, 2018
You say “There’s no convenient transportation.”
1) @FiveThirtyEight ranked @CUMTD as the 7th best public transit system IN THE COUNTRY in ‘14: https://t.co/EikVVrtSvX…
2) @TIME ranked CU as the 12th best city to walk or bike IN THE COUNTRY in ‘15: https://t.co/A1vlvZqLK6— Carol Ammons (@CarolAmmons4IL) June 25, 2018
You say “There’s not much of a workforce.”
You’re wrong – CU is experiencing tremendous population growth.
In fact, Champaign has been the FASTEST GROWING CITY IN IL from 2010 to 2017: https://t.co/cHyqGTFjrI— Carol Ammons (@CarolAmmons4IL) June 25, 2018
You say “It’s very hard to keep a company of more than 6 people there.”
You ignore our 3.6% unemployment rate (lower than 60 other counties in IL), the companies at Research Park, and the extraordinarily high number of entrepreneurs that the @Illinois_Alma produces.— Carol Ammons (@CarolAmmons4IL) June 25, 2018
The Champaign-Urbana community is strong, but we owe nothing to @BruceRauner and his assault on higher education.
We’re strong because of our hard-work. Our diversity. Our transportation system. Our state’s flagship university. Our community college.
Don’t forget that, Bruce.— Carol Ammons (@CarolAmmons4IL) June 25, 2018
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.
I have watched Gov. Rauner’s contempt for Downstate the last 3 yrs as he wears different costumes & his speech changes when he leaves Chicago. But his disdain was in full display on WGN.
Leaders bring people together, they don’t tear others down. https://t.co/qD3W6TkKXj— Michael W. Frerichs (@ILTreasurer) June 26, 2018
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.