Businessman and philanthropist JB Pritzker is one of nine declared Democratic candidates for Illinois governor. During a recent visit to the Peoria area, he sat down with Journal Star political reporter Chris Kaergard to answer questions about some of his campaign proposals.

Here's an edited transcript:

Q: Your economic plan includes an element on small business start-up loans. That has the potential, particularly downstate, to really kick-start a lot of places. How do you get people in a statewide program like that? How do you evaluate which applicants qualify, so it's not just throwing money at people?

A: Agreed. You've got to make sure. Remember, I've been doing this much of my life. We've got to have a group of people who are experienced at starting businesses and growing businesses who are helping at the state level to determine the kinds of businesses in areas that are really needed. You don't want to have 17 dry cleaners in the same little community. So it's going to take a group of expert people who are experienced not only in that geography, but also in those types of businesses who will be evaluating those opportunities. But frankly there are so many places with so few local businesses that have been started by people because access to capital has just been —

Q: Decimated since 2008, especially.

A: Exactly. As you know, for reasons at the time made sense, when we had a banking system at that was failing, there was a real effort with TARP and other things, to deal with the bad loans and so on, the banking system just shut down for small business people. You've probably heard that over and over again. I certainly have. So state government needs to step up and be on the side of entrepreneurs, people who want to start businesses — also people who already have them.

Q: You said (the state Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity) has a program that is underused for that. How do you bolster that?

A: First of all, stop decimating it, which is what Bruce Rauner has been doing. There's a small business program where we've got small business development officers across the state. He's gotten rid of most of those. This is a man who said he wanted to create jobs, but is now not creating jobs and he's getting rid of the infrastructure that the state has to help people create jobs. We've got to reverse that. The state's got to stand on the side of small business people.

Local governments and county governments generally speaking have not been great partners for small business people and people who want to start businesses. I think the state can do that, and given my history as an entrepreneur and somebody who's helped entrepreneurs build businesses, I think I'd be very good at that.

Q: Downstate we've had a particular problem keeping some of those businesses. You talk about wanting to be a chief marketing officer for the state rather than running down the state. Illinois has some undeniable problems, whether it's businesses concerned about a qualified work force, whether it's high tax rates, whether it's concerns about worker's comp rates, or a high regulatory environment. How do you address those concerns when you're going out and selling staying in Illinois for a start-up or coming to Illinois for a bigger company?

A: Look, every state has challenges. But you don't have a governor who runs around and badmouths the state. We do. 

I ran what's called Chicago Next, which is the city of Chicago's technology and entrepreneurship council. We started tackling the challenges. 'Why wouldn't you stay?' we asked. What are the things that are affecting you? And the things that were affecting them were more issues about capital for growth. That was the No. 1 issue. Second was talent, where are we going to get talent? If you move to San Francisco, just to give an example, there's lot of talent. We have a lot of talent here in Illinois, but people aren't recognizing that, and we aren't drawing that into Chicago instead of sending it out. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign produces more engineers every single year than the other four of the top five schools combined, and yet many of those kids get recruited to get up and leave the state. We don't even have to stop the outflow, but if we can even reverse the flow a little bit we can draw a lot of talent and keep it in the state. 

Q: In terms of attracting business, how would you attack, either legislatively or in rhetoric, some of those other concerns — the qualification of the workforce, the worker's comp, the higher regulation?

A: There's no doubt we've got to address the workman's comp issue. The problem is that Republicans have a vastly different view of what it means to address the problem. It's a problem, everybody on both sides recognizes that it's an issue. The problem is that what the Republicans really want to do is lower costs. That's their only answer. They don't really think about workplace safety when they think about how do we reform the system. But you've got to balance these things and lower costs at the same time. And, by the way, the governor just vetoed a worker's comp bill, so apparently he's not willing to accept a compromise.

We don't have the highest taxes in the Midwest, just to be clear. And if we convert our flat tax system into a progressive tax system, it is a more friendly state for everybody to live in. There's a concurrent issue that goes with this, which is, businesses don't want to move into a state where the education system isn't being funded. When you look forward in your business and you think about 'Who am I going to hire five years from now in my business?' you look around and see what are the institutions of higher learning or vocational institutions that are available that will meet my needs, and if you see, well, the state's not helping and in fact holding it back, you would say maybe I don't want to move into that state. Those are things that I think Bruce Rauner doesn't think about. He only looks at the income statement and the balance sheet of the state today and he doesn't take into account that if we grow while we're solving the problems of the state — which we can do if he would stop badmouthing the state and if he would be reasonable and compromise. I don't like the compromises, often, but when you've got a Republican governor and a Democratic legislature, that's often the best you can do is a compromise.

Q: You're going to face those same issues even if you're a Democratic governor and you have a Democratic Legislature. You're going to have a Legislature and perhaps legislative leaders like Mike Madigan that might view things differently. How do you work with someone like that productively?

A: First of all, you've got to run with an agenda and a plan. You've seen in education I've come up with a plan, in early childhood education, you've heard what I want to do with vocational training. In healthcare, Illinois Cares is a program I've proposed — a public option where people can lower their healthcare costs or people can buy in at a lower cost. And then jobs, I came up with a small business plan for growing jobs. Whoever the speaker is, I'm a person who stands on my own record as an independent leader. When I show up with the agenda that I will have won on because the voters will have elected me, I believe that is a mandate. We will work hard for that agenda.

Look, will I agree with the president of the Senate on everything? No. Will I agree with the speaker of the House on everything? No. Will I agree with every Democrat on everything? No. But we're a heck of a lot more likely to get something done with a real plan and with somebody who's gotten elected on that real plan than if somebody simply gets elected, as Bruce Rauner did, prevaricating about who he really is — putting on a Timex watch and the LL Bean plaid shirt, dropping his G's, putting on a Carhartt jacket, getting on a Harley-Davidson and trying to convince people that you're not really from Winnetka.

Q: You know the campaign commercials are coming out: You're very well-to-do, you're a business owner, a billionaire. To a downstate family making $50,000 a year, how do you overcome the relatability questions there?

A: This race isn't about money, it's about values. It is about what you stand for. I've been knocking on doors, advocating for progressive Democratic candidates my whole life. My mother was a social-economic justice advocate, as was my dad. They both passed away when they were young, when I was young. But the values they taught my brother, my sister and I — the value of standing up for working families — are things that I carry with me every day. I've gotten real things done, I've fought for Democratic values. Getting 230,000 kids school breakfast every day is not an easy thing to do, but it's an important one. Creating thousands of jobs in a non-profit, small-business incubator is not an easy thing to do, but it's an important one. I ran the Illinois State Human Rights Commission — the civil rights court of the state — and I turned it around. I led the building of the Illinois Holocaust Museum, which teaches more than 50,000 kids every single year in this state to fight bigotry and hatred and intolerance.

It's easy to talk. Action is hard, it takes time. Building that museum took nine years. Building 1871, the small business incubator, took a year. Getting those kids those school breakfasts takes real effort. And what does it take? You've got to get community leaders and non-profit leaders and elected leaders all in a room together — and, by the way, everyday Illinoisans who care about these issues — and have them help design the plan. You set the agenda of what's the goal we're trying to reach and then you get the right people in the room and you work with them until everybody's on board pulling on the oar together.

Q: Downstate's going to raise this issue over and over: Are you going to live in the governor's mansion?

A: I am.