From Illinois Investment Guide 2018

The Crossroads of Commerce

Many factors go into Illinois’ position of global leadership.


It's not a stretch to say that the business world intersects in Illinois.

When you have the planet's 17th-largest economy and the nation's fifth-largest GDP, as Illinois does, the rest of the world takes notice. That's why 1,800 foreign-owned companies choose to set up shop in Illinois, and why a majority of the Fortune 500 do business in the state.

Anchored by a civilian labor force of 6.47 million and the best transportation infrastructure found anywhere in the Americas, Illinois competes for jobs and industry on a global scale.

Chicago is the crossroads of the world in terms of rail traffic.”
— Tim Feemster, Managing Principal of Foremost Quality Logistics

"Chicago is the crossroads of the world in terms of rail traffic," says Tim Feemster, managing principal of Dallas-based Foremost Quality Logistics. "All the class one railroads are in Illinois. They extend to Canada and Mexico and both coasts. Both intermodal and manifest rail are there. O'Hare and Midway international airports are huge. And truck transportation is big. Any way you want to transport people and goods, Illinois has it."

The proof of Illinois' interconnectedness with the world lies in the performance:

  • Site Selection magazine ranked Illinois the No. 3 state in the U.S. in overall corporate facility project performance in 2017.
  • Illinois is the largest exporting state in the Midwest and fifth-largest in the U.S.
  • Chicago is the No. 1 metro area for corporate facility investment, according to Site Selection.
  • 36 Fortune 500 companies base their headquarters in Illinois.
  • Illinois is the second-largest producer of computer science graduates, awarding nearly 10 percent of the nation's computer science degrees.
  • The University of Illinois system graduates more engineers than MIT, Cal-Tech and Stanford combined.
  • Illinois boasts the second-largest transportation system in the country and third-largest interstate highway system in the U.S.
  • Illinois ranks first in the nation in number of domestic banks and bank holding companies.
  • Illinois is home to the largest derivatives exchanges worldwide.
  • Illinois is the second-largest food-processing cluster in America.
  • Illinois ranks No. 1 in the nation in food-related patents.
  • Illinois leads the nation in electricity generated from nuclear power.
  • Chicago offers the most non-stop overseas flights in the U.S.
  • Chicago is the third-largest intermodal container/trailer port in the world, trailing only Singapore and Hong Kong.

Illinois also boasts the industrial space to support this level of commerce. "Chicago ranks No. 3 in industrial development in the U.S., behind only Los Angeles and New York-New Jersey," says Feemster. "Its physical location and infrastructure make it a very powerful force. The main intermodal hubs for Union Pacific Railroad and BNSF are in Joliet, Illinois. Plus, the ports on the Mississippi River handle grain and aggregates for export."

Because of this infrastructure, there is no shortage of new industrial space coming online constantly, adds Feemster. "Millions of square feet of new space are coming online every month," he says. "All major markets in and around Chicago have millions of square feet of spec space under construction right now. And when you look at truck traffic, you can see why metro Chicago will be a major economic force for decades to come."

An example is Will County, home to the largest inland port in the U.S. More than 3 million containers flow through the Will County inland port annually, totaling some $622 billion in freight value. "That's 87 percent of gross state product and 3.5 percent of total U.S. GDP," says Feemster. "Interstate 80 is the heaviest truck traffic corridor for freight movement in the whole country, and it goes right through Will County."

Interstates 94, 55 and 70 also bisect Illinois, ensuring that much of the nation's commerce — at some point in its movement — travels through Illinois.

As you can see, they don't call it "Intersect Illinois" for nothing.

Chicago Midway International Airport
Photo courtesy of Midway Airport

Ron Starner
Executive Vice President of Conway, Inc.

Ron Starner

Ron Starner is Executive Vice President of Conway Data, Inc. He has been with Conway Data for 22 years and serves as a writer and editor for both Site Selection and the company's Custom Content publishing division. His Twitter handle is @RonStarner.


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