Caterpillar CEO: No Plans To Leave Illinois

CEO said a letter he wrote complaining about the state's business climate was never intended as a threat to move the manufacturer's headquarters out of Illinois.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) -- The CEO of Peoria-based Caterpillar Inc. said Wednesday a letter he wrote to Gov. Pat Quinn complaining about the state's business climate was never intended as a threat to move the Fortune 500 manufacturer's headquarters out of Illinois.

In the letter, Lee Enterprises' Springfield bureau reported, Caterpillar CEO Doug Oberhelman told Quinn: "I want to stay here. But as the leader of this business, I have to do what's right for Caterpillar when making decisions about where to invest."

In his speech Wednesday in Washington to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Oberhelman said news reports sensationalized his statements about the state's business climate.

"The headlines were sensational -- they said things like, "'Cat leaving Illinois,' which isn't what the letter said," according to a copy of the speech. "I actually said I'm looking forward to finding ways to invest more in Illinois."

A spokeswoman for Quinn said the governor took Oberhelman's letter as an offer to work with the state.

"We always understood the content and intent of Caterpillar's letter, and appreciate the importance of Mr. Oberhelman reaching out to us," Brie Callahan said. "We've said since Friday that the Governor welcomes frank and open discussions with the business community."

Quinn and Oberhelman plan to meet April 5 at a conference in Peoria to discuss Oberhelman's concerns.

Peoria-based Caterpillar has more than 23,000 employees around the state.

In his March 21 letter to Quinn, Oberhleman complained that at least four states have tried to lure Caterpillar out of Illinois since the state raised its income tax in January.

"I have been called, 'cornered' in meetings and 'wined and dined' -- the heat is on," Oberhelman wrote. "Before, I never really considered living anywhere else and certainly never considered the possibility of Caterpillar relocating. But I have to admit, the policymakers in Springfield seem to make it harder by the day."

The CEO went on to say, as he repeated Wednesday, that he hopes to work with the governor to make state policies more business friendly.

Nebraska, South Dakota and Texas are among the states that have courted Caterpillar.

Since raising the income tax as a potential means to ease the state government's budget deficit, Quinn has been criticized by governors in states such as Wisconsin and New jersey, who've openly wooed Illinois businesses.

Deanna Bellandi of The Associated Press contributed to this report from Chicago.
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