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Chamber breakfast focuses on future of economy

WEST CHICAGO – Local business owners Thursday learned about key upcoming legislative issues from a U.S. Chamber of Commerce official.

Immigration reform and trade deals will be important to the economy’s future, said Ben Taylor, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce’s Great Lakes Regional Office. Taylor spoke to about 30 business owners and local chamber members at the Prairie Landing Golf Club in West Chicago.

Taylor said trade is vital for the U.S. on a global stage because it has only 5 percent of the world’s 6.5 billion population. He also spoke about the 20-year anniversary of the North American Free Trade Agreement and the competitions businesses face from China.

The U.S. continues to be hurt by a skilled worker shortage and a lack of immigration reform, he said. Critics have long called immigration a broken system, with ongoing issues at U.S. borders, residency verification and earned legal status. There is no formal program for lesser-skilled immigrants to come to the U.S. legally, Taylor said.

Taylor said there are 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., and some of them keep finding jobs here because some citizens don’t want to work in open fields and other environments.

“These are not easy, glamorous jobs … they are well-paying, but it’s not jobs Americans want to do,” Taylor said.

The reluctance of citizens to take low-skill jobs is something that concerns Judy DeVoe, president of Spare Wheels Transportation in West Chicago. DeVoe also is worried about the climate for local businesses when there are many large companies in the area that can provide services at a lower cost.

“It really hurts small businesses trying to compete,” DeVoe said. “The quality doesn’t seem to matter anymore.”

Taylor urged business owners to be vocal and tell their elected officials what changes are needed for the economy.

“You need to be gathering the stories from [chamber] membership,” Taylor said. “The next step is tackling legislation.”

The right educational opportunities will help boost the number of skilled workers and the local economy, said Rob Ferrigan, senior vice president of Old Second Bank in St. Charles.

Ferrigan said the foundation and training for manufacturing jobs should begin at the middle school level. Then students could continue to develop trade skills through specialized high school and community college courses.

“They don’t understand that working at a CNC machine they could make $70,000 to 80,000 a year,” Ferrigan said.

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