Art Van Furniture comes to Chicago: A lesson in policy

It’s not often you get to say that the government-federal, state or local-did something smart. Now that I think about it, I don’t remember EVER saying that, at least not with a straight face. The recent announcement that Warren, MI-based furniture retailer Art Van will be opening in Chicago flips on a light, albeit a dim one at the end of the tunnel.

Back in September of 2012 Crain’s Chicago ran a story about the resurgence of the retail furniture business, which had lost about 450 such outlets in the previous 10 years. Waukesha, WI-based Steinhafel’s had already opened their first Chicago-area store and Art Van had hired a broker to search out 60,000 square foot locations for its debut into the Chicago market.

In February of this year Crain’s Detroit ran a follow-up piece saying that Van had purchased one location and leased out five more, planning to open six stores in the Chicago area beginning in July. They’re also working on a 180,000 square foot warehouse in Bolingbrook, to act as a local satellite of its one million square foot warehouse in Warren.

I find all this encouraging on two levels. As most of you did, I spent a couple years wringing my hands as the economies of the world seemed to be cratering before our eyes. Signs that things are getting better, albeit slowly have been reassuring. A significant uptick in furniture sales is one more positive indicator.

The other cool thing about the Art Van move to Illinois is that the state didn’t give away the store to get them here. There’s some tax-based incentives, but there on an as-needed basis. If Art Van’s business doesn’t take off the way they expect it to, there’s a pre-approved tax credit available to them. That makes sense. They’re investing in and bringing jobs to Illinois. It’s only natural to offer them a fallback.

It’s not natural, though to offer tax breaks enabling corporations to reap $50 Billion profits instead of $30 Billion profits. I could see offering Exxon Mobil some tax relief if they were struggling to make payroll. It doesn’t make sense-at least not for anyone other than Exxon Mobil- to empty the public coffers so that they can enjoy unprecedented windfalls of cash. Who do you think pays for that?

Illinois came up with a common sense solution for tax break incentives. It may be scary to think that our state can offer up fiscal advice, but a little common sense may go a long way to bringing sanity to our tax code. Maybe a little common sense applied to our foreign policy will keep us out of Syria.

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