LYONS – Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner stopped by Atlas Tool Works in suburban Lyons in late March to visit with the nearly 100-year-old precision metal machining company’s owners and employees.
The first-term governor not only toured Atlas and its expanding facilities, he heard about the challenges the fourth generation company is facing from Zach Mottl, Atlas’ Chief Alignment Officer, the company founder's great grandson.
Mottl told the governor how the company’s sales are growing double digits annually after surviving devastating losses after the Telecom burst in the 90s. He told the governor how his family has invested millions in machines and facility updates over the years.
“Manufacturers like us are the growth engine for the economy,” Mottl said. “We’re not corporate fat cats. Businesses like ours invest any profit back into the company to increase growth and jobs.”
During the same time, Illinois has been a difficult place to do business, he said. Atlas, as well as other Illinois manufacturers, faces an uphill climb competing not only with neighboring states for business, but on a global scale.
“Decades of broken policy in Illinois has put a damper on business,” Mottl said.
He pointed to high workers’ compensation costs, high property taxes and burdensome regulations coming out of Springfield.
“Companies in other states and China do not have to deal with the same kind of burdens,” he said.
Mottl said his Cook County-located company pays $2 per square foot in property taxes annually, creating an approximate $140,000 tax bill each year.
“Lawmakers in Springfield put the cart before the horse. They spend money before they have it,” Mottl said. “They set up well-intentioned programs with no way to pay for them. Instead they look to businesses like ours to shoulder a higher and higher tax burden.”
Governor Rauner answered Mottl’s comments while addressing Atlas employees.
“I love to visit small businesses like this and to visit with people like you,” he said. “I want businesses like Atlas to grow and thrive so they can pay you more, and they can have a great career for you and you can be all you want to be through your career at Atlas and other companies like this one.”
Rauner acknowledged the challenges Mottl mentioned and pointed to areas he was trying to improve.
“We’re working to change the situation by producing a balanced budget, bringing in more jobs, more jobs, bringing down property taxes, properly supporting schools and changing the state’s political system so it works for you,” Rauner said.
Illinois workers’ compensation system is unfair for employers and employees, the governor said.
The current system allows employees to claim injuries not work-related as work-related, causing employers to pay higher fees for something that was not their fault.
The comp system needs to be for work-related injuries, Rauner said.
“We need a fair system that provides good health care for injuries not related to work – they should be taken care of separately,” he told the employees. “Employers should pay only for work-related injuries.”
A few of the employees asked questions of the governor. One said he was bothered by state workers generous pensions and guaranteed benefits – something for which most people working outside government jobs can only wish.
“You’re paying the taxes to pay for these benefits for others you can only dream of,” Rauner said. “We need the system to be fair.”
Rauner asked Atlas employees to contact their Springfield lawmakers and encourage them to work with him on reforming the state’s system.
“We appreciate the governor’s visit, and hope he’s able to work with the legislature to make Illinois a better place to do business,” Mottl told reporters after the visit.
Mottl serves as chairman of Technology & Manufacturing Association’s Government Relations Committee.