CEO: "I have been called...cornered in meetings and wined and dined. The heat is on."
Hints from Caterpillar’s CEO that he is entertaining offers to move the giant heavy equipment company out of Illinois are sending shock waves through Cat-dependent communities statewide.
In a letter to Gov. Pat Quinn, Caterpillar chief Doug Oberhelman said officials in at least four other states have approached the company about relocating since Illinois raised its income tax in January.
“They are welcoming Caterpillar to their states with open arms,” Oberhelman wrote March 21. “I have been called, cornered in meetings, and wined and dined. The heat is on.”
Caterpillar employs about 23,000 workers statewide, mostly in the Peoria area. But two of its biggest plants are in Joliet and Aurora.
“That would certainly cause us to have to recalibrate and look for new ways to try to keep people here employed,” said Joliet City Manager Tom Thanas, who said a pullout would leave a “major hole” in Joliet’s economy.
Thanas said he and other local leaders have already told the governor about the impact the tax hike has had on Illinois business.
“We’ve told him the tax increase does make it difficult for us to compete with Indiana and other people who are trying to take business.”
Asked if he thinks the sabre-rattling is a bluff on Caterpillar’s part, John Grueling of the Will County Center for Economic Development suggested it would be a mistake to think so.
“I think we have to take it very seriously,” Grueling said. “Maybe not a threat. But I’ve heard people say, a serious wake up call for Illinois. And I think the governor and the leadership in Springfield better pay attention to this.”
For his part, Quinn said he is looking forward to an upcoming April 5 visit to Caterpillar, and a chance to talk with Oberhelman about his concerns.
“Caterpillar’s not leaving Illinois,” the governor said over the weekend. “We work with every business.”
The Cat CEO himself, made a brief statement in Peoria, Monday, attempting to clarify his comments, but not backing away from what he indicated is a serious need to address the concerns of businesses in the state.
“Our goal is just to jump start a dialogue on all state leadership,” Oberhelman said. “We ought to be aggressively wooing others to come here. We ought to be a very attractive place to live and work. And that’s what the letter was all about.”