Entrepreneur paints sad Illinois picture


BLOOMINGTON – Colby Geiser started a business from scratch in 2003. He now has 85 employees and more than $6 million in annual sales.

Many would say he’s living the American Dream.

But Geiser says he’s experiencing the Illinois nightmare.

The entrepreneur operates World Painting Co., which paints homes and businesses in Bloomington, Peoria, Springfield and Decatur.

And just this past year, it expanded its operations into Florida.

Geiser said he plans to expand his firm in the Sunshine State while contracting it here in the Land of Lincoln.

And the reason he cites is Illinois’ tax and regulatory environment.

“Right now, I have $6 million in sales. I’d like to stay at that level but shift more of my business to Florida,” he said.

“I wanted to get into a state that is welcoming to entrepreneurs,” he said. “So I looked at Texas and Florida. I also want to be in a state where other businesses are doing well and new companies are moving in.”

He said Illinois’ slow economic growth has made it more difficult to find clients in need of his services.

But he added he is frustrated with what he perceives as the state’s hostile attitude toward business.

“I went through a (Illinois Department of Employment Security) audit. It took up a month of my business manager’s time and I had to pay my CPA $12,000,” he said.

And ultimately, when the audit of his unemployment insurance payments was completed only a minor error was detected.

No one knows how many Illinois business owners have moved or are considering moving of state said Kim Clarke Maisch, president of the Illinois chapter of the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

“Most of the evidence out there is anecdotal,” she said. “But we get calls all of the time from business people considering leaving the state. Small businesses don’t make headlines when they move. But we get phone calls all of the time from business owners considering moving. They will say things like, ‘I have two mortgages on my house just to keep my business going and I’m not making money – I’m moving to a state where I can.’”

This is hardly surprising said Scott Moody, president of State Budget Solutions and a national expert on taxpayer migration.

He said two of the major reasons small businesses move are income taxes and estate taxes.

“If you are entrepreneur and you have invested decades of your life into starting and growing a business would you choose to move to another state to ensure that your children get more and the state gets less when you die?” Moody said.

Florida has neither an income tax nor an estate tax.

Illinois has a 5 percent personal income tax and taxes estates valued more than $4 million at a rate of 16 percent.

Moody said business migration is not always obvious.

Businesses can choose to grow in one state and not in another, he said.

And Geiser is planning just that.

He’ll be reducing his Illinois workforce and expanding his Florida one. He will live in Florida the majority of the year.

“I’m looking to shrink my revenue here and grow it down there,” he said. “I’m looking at keeping my best clients and best people, getting rid of the rest and focusing my attention elsewhere.”