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Illinois uses Madison Avenue flair to lure new businesses

These are days when state governments know they can no longer afford to sit back and wait for outsiders to discover their charms.

The recession is prompting many of them to devote an increasing share of their limited tax dollars to the job of recruiting new businesses from outside the state - and trying to keep those now inside from leaving.

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Many, like Illinois, opt for a streamlined, highly professional Madison Avenue approach to economic development in hopes of significantly bolstering their tax base.

Peter B. Fox and his colleagues in the Illinois Department of Commerce and Community Affairs (DCCA), for instance, are currently on the move by plane, car, and phone in a pull-out-all-the-stops recruiting effort. They are going at the task as if the state's economic recovery depended solely on their success.

''As the economy has gotten worse, you find you have to be more aggressive,'' says DCCA director Fox in explaining the state's shift to a higher profile and better funded fight.

''There are so many others in this business - cities and counties and other states - that it comes down to, 'Why should anyone buy from Equitable as opposed to Prudential?' '' he says. ''We're all essentially selling the same thing.''

Tax incentives, for instance, are now so common that they rarely act as a lure, according to Fox. In his view, such factors as central location, cultural assets, bond ratings, and job-training funds often make the crucial difference in a company's decision to locate in one state vs. another.

Since most of the jobs at stake come from businesses already in the state and thinking of expanding, most DCCA recruiting time and effort are focused within Illinois. But to be sure that any outsiders who might consider moving here have the fullest opportunity to think about it, department workers over the last few years have made a blitz of more than 3,000 ''cold calls'' to top executives of firms in such specifically targeted growth areas as plastics, chemicals, and electronics.

Occasionally a newspaper story serves as the prod. Fox remembers picking up the phone last fall, for instance, after reading that General Electric planned to close its light fixture plant near Orlando, Fla., and expand the company's work in microelectronics by $2 billion over the next five years. Since GE already had 10,000 employees and a similar light fixture plant in Mattoon, Ill., Fox saw there was good reason why his state should be considered in the changes ahead. After several appointments with DCCA personnel, on-the-scene visits, tough negotiations, and a firm offer from Illinois Gov. Jim Thompson to subsidize the move of equipment and the start-up of job-training by $277,000, GE agreed to move in with 200 new jobs.

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One of Illinois' unique recruiting assets is a computerized inventory of 3, 000 buildings and sites available to any business. When Thomas Clark, manager of the department's commercial and industrial development division, had a call one recent Friday from an Iowa metal manufacturer looking for a site south of Chicago with four to six truck docks and room for 150 employees, Mr. Clark was able to produce a roster of six sites within 42 seconds.

''A few years ago we would have to spend 10 to 15 man hours going through the file drawers,'' says Mr. Clark.

DCCA has also enlisted the help of business and governmental units around the state in a new team promotional effort known as Illinois Inc. It will run

.5 million worth of pro-Illinois ads over the next year, stressing the merits of the state's transportation network under the logo ''Discover the Magnificant Miles of Illinois.''

Illinois development officials appear bent on diversifying industry in the state as much as possible. They are not deterred by the fact that almost every state is courting high technology industry with fresh fervor. Pointing to the many software firms already here and the high number of electrical engineering graduates who annually leave the state to find jobs, Fox insists there is no reason why Illinois should take a back seat in the race.

Overall, the state reports a gain of 35 new plant locations and 12 expansions producing more than 4,000 new jobs for Illinois during 1981. If no further gains are made in 1982, it clearly won't be for lack of trying.

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