Building Strength Through Action

By taking a more holistic approach to economic development, we are building a stronger Illinois.

by Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, 92nd District, Illinois House of Representatives
Representative Jehan Gordon-Booth

Since the voters of Peoria entrusted me to serve them as their state representative, I’ve focused on building a stronger Illinois by creating a growing economy with high-wage jobs. For too long, economic development meant simply throwing tax incentives at businesses—with little to no oversight and without a connection to meaningful investments in infrastructure and jobs. I’ve worked to take a more holistic approach to economic development that focuses on putting more people into the workforce and creating a broad-based skillset among workers to ensure Illinois has the best possible workforce—and one that’s attractive to industry.

Criminal Justice Reform
This has led me to join with partners across the state and the nation to ensure our criminal justice laws are fair, just and modern. Too many people in our community were being held back by mistakes made in the past that they have long since paid for, yet draconian laws prevented them from working. By reforming our state’s expungement laws and holding regular expungement sessions where people can learn how to seal old records, more people can access jobs and work opportunities that will help them support themselves and their families. 

We simply cannot expect that a modern economy will serve our community with equity and fairness if we do not allow people the opportunity to have a second chance. Creating more and better workforce opportunities for people who made mistakes in their past not only creates stronger families—it creates stronger communities. 

Workforce Equity Initiative
A second critical aspect of our work is the creation of the Workforce Equity Initiative (WEI), a multimillion-dollar workforce grant to help provide job training and workforce skills in historically underrepresented communities, with emphasis on African American and downstate communities. By partnering with Illinois Central College to lead this statewide initiative, centering the training within community colleges and collaborating directly with employers, we are meeting regional skills gaps and putting hard-working Illinoisans in head-of-household jobs. 

WEI follows a nationally renowned “earn and learn” concept. The ability to pay an apprenticeship wage allows low-income workers to spend more time focusing on studies and hopefully work one less job—so they can get through the program more quickly and with more success. Community colleges across the state can work directly with their regional employers to build skills in high-demand occupations, including computer network administrators, emergency medical technicians, machinists, nurses and welders—or whatever may be in high demand in that region. Employers then receive a tax credit for hiring a successfully credentialed program participant, incentivizing their participation in an additional way. By working directly with employers, Illinois is more closely aligning job training and skill building opportunities with what employers need and what the modern economy demands.

Intersecting Issues
Employment is not just about having a job. It is about having a career that provides a living wage, the opportunity for a middle-class life and dignity for one’s labor. By tying the issues of criminal justice reform and economic development through workforce skill building together, we have been able to channel the needs of our community into action in Springfield. This not only makes the community stronger, it makes our state stronger as well. 

To build a stronger middle class, we simply cannot view issues in isolation any longer. We must look at how these issues intersect in order to most effectively build a stronger Illinois with a growing economy and high-wage jobs. PM

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