After one year of Donald Trump’s presidency, the business community is largely pleased with the results: reductions in tax rates and a rollback of Obama-era environmental regulations. But there are concerns about the president's positions on immigration, and the general chaos of the White House.
For more on the business perspective of Trump's first year in office, I spoke with with Todd Maisch, president of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce. I began by asking him what, from a business perspective, were the best things to come out of Washington this year.
TODD MAISCH: I think the single biggest thing is the tax reform. I think it's going to be a great boon to businesses both large and small. We fought to get even more benefits for small businesses so it wasn't imbalanced, but overall it's going to net out very, very well.
But very very close on the heels of tax reform is the deregulation regime we see coming out of the Trump administration, and that's going to have a huge effort to help the economy for years to come.
BRIAN MACKEY: Let's take those one at a time in terms of the tax overhaul. There's talk of big businesses that might be storing money offshore because they didn't want to bring it back at the higher tax rate. Does this apply to some of Illinois' bigger companies — Caterpillar, places like that?
MAISCH: Yeah, I don't want to single out certain companies, but we think overall it's huge. I mean they're trillions of dollars overseas. We think a lot of that's going to come back and it's going to be very, very helpful. We do think a lot of it's going to be put into the businesses themselves and their employees, but even if it does go in the form of helping out shareholders, well half of America is invested, and that's going to help them as well — their 401(k)s or just their personal finances.
So that's a hugely positive aspect as well as just the big rate rollback for our largest companies. Again, I keep coing back small business. We would not have been for it if small business was left at the side, and they got some important gains as well.
MACKEY: You also mentioned regulations. Are there specific examples, you can point to of industries that are prevalent in Illinois that might have seen some what you say benefits are in terms of changing regulations?
A lot of the Obama overreach was in the environmental area for certain, so I think that a realistic reappraisal of the Keystone Pipeline was very positive for us as a nation. But there are also a lot of coal-fired power plants that were being over-regulated. Really, just over each beyond the authority of the executive branch and without going to Congress.
So environmental area is definitely there, but financial industry is also an area where they had been over regulation, which would have reduced small business' and all of our individual access to credit. So we think those are two areas in particular that were very very important and that Trump is really making some gains on.
MACKEY: We have seen business push back against the Trump Administration in terms of immigration policy. There are a lot of companies that like the idea of being able to bring in skilled tech workers — and even low-skilled workers. Is that something that the Chamber has weighed in on?
MAISCH: We certainly have. The Illinois Chamber is a co-chair of the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition, which is very much for comprehensive immigration reform that, yes, secures the border — that's the very first thing the Illinois Chamber is for, securing the Border — but from there we've got to have a sane and balanced immigration policy that allows workers that have real skills come in and help grow the American economy.
So immigration is probably one of those areas where there's a grilled gap between where the president is — at least what he's talking about — and where the business community is. I suspect that that'll come together in the end and there will be a deal, but right now we would push the Trump administration to be more flexible for the real needs of American business and the economy.
MACKEY: Is there anything that concerns you out of the Trump administration that you think is potentially something to worry about from the business perspective?
MAISCH: I think it's just the randomness of the Trump administration itself. And yes, it does go back to the president.
So I would say that most of the business community would really like ... If Trump was a corporation, we'd very much like him to spin off the bad assets — meaning the tweets and just the kind of, "What the heck's going on there?" — and keep the really good policy stuff he's doing.
This interview has been edited and condensed.