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Editorial: Boosting foreign trade crucial for future of Illinois

Jacksonville Journal-Courier

Tuesday, September 12, 2017  |  Editorial  |  

Business (10) , Economy (34) , Governor (44)

One of the most significant hopes for Illinois’s economy lies 6,325 miles away.

That’s not to dismiss the importance of its home-grown industries, from tourism to acre after acre of cornfields.

But it’s within the confines of the sovereign island nation of Japan that the crucial balance of imports and exports means billions of dollars to the Land of Lincoln.

Illinois exports totaled more than $63 billion in 2015. While most of those went to Canada ($17.5 billion) and Mexico ($9.1 billion), Japan is a growing market. In 2015, Illinois exports to Japan were worth more than $2 billion — more than all but three other U.S. states. Exports to Japan are growing, too, increasing almost 15 percent in six years.

Everything from machinery to chemicals and electronics move from Illinois to other nations each year. For Japan, the biggest imports are computers and electronics products, chemicals and machinery.

It is essential Illinois maintains and expands this relationship, which is one reason why Gov. Bruce Rauner’s trip to Tokyo is well-timed. Rauner arrived there Saturday with a delegation of business leaders who will spend the week visiting government, industry and education leaders in Japan and China.

It is the governor’s first international trade mission. As a businessman himself, Rauner is acutely attuned to how face-to-face meetings can have a value significantly beyond the cold feeling of a video or phone conference.

Beyond the deals that can be made to send more Illinois goods overseas, there also are opportunities to bring foreign businesses into the state. Illinois already hosts more than 317,000 employees across 1,800 foreign companies that have offices or factories here. Japan accounts for 348 of those businesses and employees 49,306 people in the state.

“Foreign direct investment and growing exports in Illinois are vital to the prosperity of our businesses, citizens and overall health of our economy,” Rauner said. “There is considerable competition among U.S. states to attract foreign investment and trade and Illinois must aggressively market itself.”

Growing relationships across thousands of miles is not easy, even though the Digital Age has helped bridge the divide. Illinois has built its relationship with Japan since the 1960s and opened its first foreign trade office in Japan about 32 years ago.

It takes years of discussions, planning and ups and downs to find that “sweet spot” — and even then, the work is far from finished.

It’s encouraging the Rauner administration recognizes the need never to slow down the efforts to help its global connections flourish, for both its own future and the benefit of its overseas partners.