By Mark Peterson, President & CEO of Intersect Illinois
With the world’s 17th largest economy, Illinois is the undisputed economic leader of the Midwest. In 2017, new and expanding companies invested $5.3 billion in the state of Illinois, creating more than 26,000 new jobs, including 551 new projects in 128 different cities.
There are countless factors that contribute to these companies continuing to choose an Illinois location. A company looking for a manufacturing facility on a massive amount of land has very different needs then a technology or financial services company looking to be in the heart of an urban center. But the answer always comes down to data, and Illinois can almost always provide the best location for businesses based on that data.
For example, the data would explain that the University of Illinois produces more engineers than Caltech, Stanford and MIT combined and all within a certain radius from where a company is interested in setting up operations. Or, it would illustrate the ease of which a German company can get back and forth between Illinois and Germany, a critical decision-making factor for international companies making location decisions. Illinois’ workforce, diverse economy, infrastructure, and culture make it a premier location for companies to grow and thrive.
Illinois’ talent pool is unparalleled. The state’s workforce has more than 6.6 million people, and more than 39 percent of adults over the age of 25 hold an associate’s degree or higher. Additionally, there are more than 200 higher education institutions statewide.
The state’s GDP is the fifth-largest in the nation, and no one industry dominates, in fact many do. For example, manufacturing is Illinois’ largest industry. The state employs more than 579,000 people in manufacturing, making it the fourth-largest manufacturing state in the nation. The manufacturing industry exceeds $160B, with everything from top employers such as Caterpillar, John Deere, and ITW, to small businesses throughout the State.
Illinois is also a leader in agribusiness and food processing, with the second- largest food processing cluster in the U.S. There are more than 2,600 food manufacturing companies, and more than 160,000 people are employed in the food industry, with companies including ADM, Mondelez, Treehouse Foods and Conagra based in the State.
Business and professional services (including financial services, IT, software, blockchain, and bitcoin) also have a strong presence in the State. Illinois is first in the nation in terms of the number of domestic banks and bank holding companies and was recently highly ranked for its access to capital, and The Chicago metro area ranks third for insurance employment. Some of the top employers in business/professional services include Allstate, State Farm, Arthur J. Gallagher and Northern Trust.
As leader in life sciences, Illinois’ biopharma cluster out-scales California and the East Coast, employing more than 590,000 people. The State is home to more than 100 bioscience firms and ranks eighth for research expenditures in science and engineering. Home to more than 960 life science companies, the state’s top employers in the industry include Abbott, Baxter, Abbvie and Medline.
The State also leads as home for innovation and technology. More than 54,000 people in Illinois work for digital companies, and Chicago ranks third for the fastest tech growth. Tech companies that have announced recent growth include Facebook, which leased 263,000 square feet for its expansion; Google, which has grown to more than 1,000 employees in Chicago; Salesforce, which recently announced plans to add 1,000 employees at its new “Salesforce Tower Chicago”; and HERE Technologies, which recently designated Chicago its headquarters for the Americas, employing 1,200 people. Illinois is the second-largest producer of computer science graduates in the country, and Chicago alone accounted for $1.7 billion in startup funding in 2017.
Illinois is diverse not only in its economy, but in its culture. The state has more than 40 distinct ethnic communities with populations of more than 35,000 and more than 80 consulate offices.
Because of its robust international business resources, Illinois has an expansive FDI network. Foreign-owned companies are vital to Illinois’ economy and is home to more than 1,900 foreign companies that contribute $100 billion to the GDP. FDI plays an essential role in ensuring economic growth and prosperity, creating highly-compensated jobs, spurring innovation and driving exports.
Recently, two German companies chose to expand and locate in Illinois. Faber-Castell Cosmetics announced the company’s first North American manufacturing facility in Elgin. The company leased a state-of-the-art plant that will be dedicated to producing cosmetic pencils for the North American market. The $9 million project will create 50 full-time jobs. Shortly after that, HARTING announced a $6 million facility expansion of its North American Headquarters in Elgin. The new investment is slated to create at least 50 new jobs.
Companies that choose an Illinois location are also choosing to join a world-class clean energy economy with highly-ranked electricity from nuclear power, LEED-certified projects per capita, solar energy, advance technology R&D, wind capacity and more.
Illinois’ position at the crossroads of the U.S. economy is another key reason its companies thrive. Illinois’ triple-hub airport system puts the state within a four-hour flight to all major North American destinations, and its airports see the most nonstop overseas flights in the country. The state’s highway system puts 75 percent of the U.S. population within two-day ground delivery, and it is the only state with all seven Class 1 freight railroads. This is all in addition to the state’s two inland and 14 waterway ports. The area is also a global data network hub, with virtually every major data network in the world intersecting in Chicago.
Workforce, a robust and diverse economy, and infrastructure would be inconsequential were it not for the quality of life that Illinois offers, at a fraction of the cost of other locations. The State boasts a wide range of places to live, from Chicago’s unique neighborhoods, to the multitude of cities, counties, suburbs, towns and villages throughout, many with public transportation available. There is somewhere for everyone in Illinois.
The data helps companies making location and expansion decisions understand the unique opportunities Illinois presents with its unmatched labor force, access to the world, business- friendly environment, infrastructure, and strong public support and partnerships. From Northeast Illinois on the shores of Lake Michigan, to downstate, flanked by the great Mississippi River, each of Illinois’ regions offer a unique advantage for companies looking to relocate or expand in the Midwest United States. Visit www.intersectillinois.org for more data and information.
About the Author: Mark Peterson is the President & CEO of Intersect Illinois, the state’s privately-funded not-for-profit economic development office dedicated to bringing new jobs, investment and economic prosperity to the State.