It comes down to infrastructure for Democratic gubernatorial candidate JB Pritzker.
That's the centerpiece of his jobs plan for the Land of Lincoln, released Wednesday at the start of a six-day bus tour of the state, including a stop in Peoria. It also includes proposals for small business and manufacturing growth and improvements targeted at the agriculture industry.
"Quality infrastructure attracts new businesses to our state, keeps existing businesses here, and allows all of our businesses — from family farmers to manufacturers — to thrive," Pritzker says in the plan.
The businessman and philanthropist offered up additional details about it during a stop Wednesday evening to open a campaign office — Pritzker's third stop in the Peoria area since Saturday.
He promises a "21st Century Capital Bill" intended to leverage the maximum possible amount of federal money for road, rail, waterway, rural broadband and other infrastructure improvements. Pritzker says doing so is critical to farmers and manufacturers as far as getting their product to market, and faults Gov. Bruce Rauner's administration during a two-year budget impasse that "has forced maintenance to pile up."
Nearly half of all rural roads "are rated in poor, mediocre or fair condition," Pritzker's plan says, also citing the need for upgrades to locks and dams using federal dollars.
"We have challenges in the state, there's no doubt about it," he said during an interview after speaking to volunteers at the office in Midtown Plaza. "But we have to think about the long-term plan. If you're going to create jobs, infrastructure is hugely important to the state. You can't have your roads and bridges falling apart in the state, you can't neglect your universities — new buildings you need for schools or for higher education."
Even getting to the point of being able to implement such a building plan first requires improving the state's credit rating and setting a balanced budget, Pritzker acknowledged. The proposal doesn't set a dollar amount for the plan; that's likely to be determined in the legislative negotiation process.
In other elements of the plan he pledges statewide access to high-speed broadband — a change from today when, his campaign says, 40 percent of rural households lack high-speed internet. Doing so, he says, can also help expand advanced manufacturing work into rural areas.
Part of his broader goal is to make Illinois more attractive to businesses to either start or relocate here, bringing new tax revenue with them.
"There are three components to a balanced budget in the state," Pritzker said. "The first is expenses, then revenue — and we've got to make those meet. But you know what maybe the most important thing we can do is? Grow."
On the small-business front, Pritzker would seek to emulate the success of regional business incubators like the Southern Illinois University Small Business Incubator and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Research Park.
To do so, he'd add back state funding to small business development centers "to help small businesses navigate regulatory requirements and connect with lenders" as well as to get mentorship, training and other support. Pritzker says that in the past two and a half years, one-quarter of the state-aided facilities have closed because of lack of funding.
He'd also expand state-backed micro-loans from banks for startup businesses and tie taxpayer funds to benchmarks "in order to ensure effectiveness."
Pritzker also proposes reinstating matching funds and seed grants to help university-based startups to leverage federal funds, as well as trying to promote private capital investment in such startups.
"University incubators and the startups they create are a critical resource for economic growth and deserve support from the state," the plan says.
He'd also seek to invest in renewable energy cooperatives to promote "the widespread development of wind and solar power" and push university research efforts along the lines of SIU-Carbondale's Advanced Coal and Energy Research Center.
The proposal also calls for funding agricultural education programs, slamming Rauner for proposals to cut state cash to such efforts.
Rauner's campaign office did not respond to a request for comment.
Pritzker is seeking the Democratic nomination in the March 20, 2018, primary to take on Rauner next November in a field of nine declared candidates.
Chris Kaergard covers politics and government. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 686-3255. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisKaergard.