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Decatur Job Troubles Spur Business Law

Brian Mackey/NPR Illinois

Thursday's unemployment numbers show Decatur is once again lagging the rest of Illinois. That long-term trend is partly responsible for a new law aimed at changing the way Illinois handles economic development.

In Decatur, 13.2 percent of job-seekers can't find work. State Sen. Andy Manar — a Democrat whose district includes Decatur — says that's part of the reason he thought it was time to blow up the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and start over.

"It's pretty clear that we've had unemployment in parts of this state that [has] been higher than the state average for a generation," he says.

Ultimately, Manar agreed to scale back his plans. A new council drawn from across the economy — including representatives from coal, laobr, small business and areas with high unemployment — will help decide how Illinois markets itself to businesses. And companies that get state tax incentives will have to give quarterly reports on how many jobs they've created.

DCEO director Adam Pollet says his agency supports the compromise.

"You really need to have public accountability when you're managing and being a good steward of taxpayer dollars," Pollet says.

Pollet says that kind of accountability can help Illinois avoid the economic development scandals that have happened in neighboring states.

Brian Mackey formerly reported on state government and politics for NPR Illinois and a dozen other public radio stations across the state. Before that, he was A&E editor at The State Journal-Register and Statehouse bureau chief for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.
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