DIVERSITY OF GEOGRAPHY
From the Illinois Investment Guide 2021
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DIVERSE GEOGRAPHY, DIVERSE STRENGTHS

From urban metropolis to rural farming towns, Illinois offers everything in between.

Diversity of Geography
Chicago skyline
All Photos courtesy of Enjoy Illinois

by SAVANNAH KING

With 10 diverse regions across the state, Illinois offers a unique combination of benefits for businesses. From the hustle and bustle of the Windy City to pastoral farming communities in Southern Illinois, the Land of Lincoln offers a unique combination of assets and attributes to benefit businesses of all sizes and sectors. 

The State’s Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) supports businesses as they consider Illinois for their expansions and relocations, in partnership with Intersect Illinois and regional and local economic development organizations throughout the state.

DCEO’s Office of Regional Economic Development (Team RED) offers free and confidential services, including workforce development efforts, regional site selection services, and networking with key stakeholders, civic, and business partners across the state.

Another robust regional team supporting the businesses in the state is the Illinois Regional Development Authorities (IL-RDA). Each of the 10 RDAs is authorized to issue tax-exempt bonds for eligible projects such as small manufacturing, affordable housing, non-profit entities, educational facilities, local government infrastructure, and environmental projects.
The following pages explore the state’s 10 regions’ unique assets, workforce and educational institutions, and the businesses that call them home.

Central

In the heart of the nation’s Corn Belt, Central Illinois’ abundant natural resources have created a business environment that’s ripe for investment.

In November 2020, ADM and InnovaFeed opened the world’s largest insect protein production site in Decatur. The facility will be owned and operated by InnovaFeed and will co-locate with ADM’s Decatur corn processing complex, with ADM supplying feedstocks, waste heat and more. InnovaFeed already operates two insect production facilities in France. The Decatur facility represents the company’s first international project.

DCEO and the Illinois workNet Center are partnering with InnovaFeed to develop recruiting strategies and on-the-job training programs. The Decatur-Macon County Enterprise Zone will support this large-scale investment as well as customize incentive opportunities from the City of Decatur and Economic Development Corporation of Decatur-Macon County. 

Major Assets: The Midwest Inland Port is a multimodal transportation hub in Decatur offering access to 95 million people within 500 miles for same-day delivery service, including major metro markets of Chicago, Indianapolis, St. Louis and the outskirts of Milwaukee. 

East Central Region

The six-county East Central region of Illinois is quickly becoming a world-class destination for various sectors, including education and research, manufacturing and distribution. Additionally, the area is known to be among the best in the world for agriculture production. Several well-known food producers call the region home, including Kraft Foods Inc., Quaker Oats Co. and Teasdale Foods. 

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is home to several research facilities, including the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, the Institute for Genomic Biology and the Micro Nanotechnology Laboratory. Additionally, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s Carle Illinois College of Medicine is the world’s first engineering-based college of medicine. 

The university has become an anchor for several growing companies, including Watchfire Signs, which opened a software development office at the University of Illinois Research Park in Champaign in 2008. The Research Park is a major asset to high-tech startups and growing businesses in the region, currently home to more than 120 companies. Watchfire Signs, headquartered in Danville, has more than 60,000 LED signs in operation worldwide. One of the most famous is The Fremont Street Experience in Las Vegas, which is home to the largest single video screen in the world with more than 130,000 sq. ft. of digital signage. In 2020, Watchfire was selected from among 15 digital screen manufacturers worldwide to manufacture and completely rebuild the canopy with modern technology. 

 Major Assets: The region boasts a robust apprenticeship program through Parkland College and the Industry Consortium for Advanced Technical Training (ICATT). The three-year apprenticeship program covers students’ tuition as they earn Parkland’s Industrial Technology AAS degree. A win-win for employers and students, the Illinois Apprenticeship Education Expense Tax Credit Program offers a credit of up to $3,500 per apprentice.

Northeast 

The 10-county Northeast region includes the Chicago metro area and is well-known for its easy access to global operations. The region is home to the third-largest intermodal port in the world and a robust passenger air system. Companies in the region have selected it for world-class talent, central location between east and west coasts, and its reputation as a global headquarters hub. 31 Fortune 500 companies call the region home. Additionally, more than two-thirds of the state’s manufacturers operate more than 10,000 facilities in the region.

In 2021, Kimberly-Clark announced its plans to bring its North American Commercial Hub to a recently restored building in Chicago’s Fulton Market District. Expected to open in 2022, the company will create 250 jobs. Citing the state’s distribution logistics, central location, and highly skilled workforce, Kimberly-Clark joins many more Fortune 500 companies in recognizing Illinois as a top choice for growth and investment. 
The city of Aurora and its already strong manufacturing hub is growing by leaps and bounds. In the last year alone, eight new companies committed to locating in the city, including Magick Woods, Amsino, FlexRay, Glanbia, Savoye, Sonova and Factor.

Major Assets: The Northeast region is home to two of the world’s top business schools — the University of Chicago and Northwestern University. Both universities are key to the region’s talent pipeline, which leads the nation in productivity.

With its central location, the Northeast region offers access to global markets. Chicago is ideally positioned at the center of the east-west nexus joining Europe and Asia and the north-south nexus of NAFTA. Chicago’s airport system offers 1,460 daily departures, with non-stop flights to more than 200 destinations around the globe. Additionally, six of the seven Class 1 railroads in the nation and virtually every major data network in the world intersect in Chicago.

North Central 

The 10-county North Central region has attracted major investments from a wide variety of industries and businesses of all sizes. With a population of more than 650,000 and a labor force of more than 300,000, the North Central region boasts a sizable and educated workforce.

Electric vehicle manufacturer Rivian Automotive is growing its footprint in Normal. The California-based company purchased a former Mitsubishi Motor Corp. assembly plant three years ago. The first of its line of electric trucks and SUVs are now rolling off the production line. In 2021, the company unveiled plans to expand the massive plant by an additional 800,000 sq. ft. where the factory employs some 2,200 people, expecting to expand on a 380-acre parcel adjacent to the facility. In February, Rivian rolled out its first fleet of electric delivery vehicles for Amazon to test in Los Angeles.

Ferrero North America, part of the global candy company Ferrero Group, is expanding its Bloomington facility to create a new chocolate manufacturing center and is expected to create approximately 50 jobs. The new manufacturing center will be a 70,000 sq. ft. expansion of Ferrero’s Bloomington facility and will allow the company to produce chocolate for Crunch,100Grand, SnoCaps, Raisinets, Goobers, Ferrero Rocher and other products.

Major Assets: Bloomington-Normal is one of the state’s top locations for education. Illinois State University — Normal enrolls more than 20,000 students annually and is highly ranked among national colleges. College Factual recently ranked the university as the 22nd Best College for the Money out of 1,200 schools across the county. It also made the U.S. News & World Report’s 2021 rankings of America’s Best Public National Universities at No. 105. Additionally, Bradley University offers a wealth of resources to Peoria. The private university enrolls nearly 6,000 students annually in more than 185 Academic Programs.  

Northern Stateline 

The four-county Northern Stateline region has drawn a series of investments in recent years thanks to its ideal location for logistics, highly trained industrial labor force, affordability, and global connections via nearby Chicago — without the traffic of the larger metro area. The region includes the cities of Belvidere, Freeport, Rochelle and Rockford.

A hub of manufacturing, over 20% of the Northern Stateline Region’s workforce is in manufacturing. The region’s manufacturing operations support aerospace, automotive and other manufacturing operations, including Woodward Inc., Ingersol Machine Tools, Stellantis and more. Stellantis employs more than 4,300 in Belvidere, where it assembles the Jeep Compass and Jeep Patriot. 

Collins Aerospace broke ground on a new wind tunnel that will help streamline the testing process for its Ram Air Turbine product line at its Electric Power Systems center of excellence in Rockford. The new wind tunnel will have the ability to test Ram Air Turbines of all sizes for business, regional, single-aisle, widebody and military platforms. Collins is a part of Raytheon Technologies.

Beating out several international companies for the project, Ingersoll Machine Tools in Rockford recently broke ground on a major expansion of its campus to support the construction of the new Giant Magellan Telescope Mount (GMT). This new construction will create 75 new jobs and add 40,000 square feet to the current 500,000-square-foot campus.

Major Assets: One of the region’s best assets is the Chicago Rockford International Airport. Just 58 nautical miles from Chicago O’Hare International Airport, this airport admittedly flies under the radar but offers cargo carriers significant benefits, including lower costs, direct-in approaches and reduced flying time — regularly saving 15-20 minutes per flight. In recent years the airport has invested $100 million to improve its infrastructure.

Northwest Region 

The 10-county Northwest Region is a diverse and growing corner of the state. Located on the border near Iowa and sharing the Mississippi River, the Quad Cities include Rock Island, Moline and East Moline in Illinois and the Iowa cities of Davenport and Bettendorf.
Northwest Illinois is the longtime home to several industry giants, including John Deere, Arconic, 3M, the Rock Island Arsenal, HNI Corporation, Kraft Heinz and XPAC, among many others.

Additionally, the region is home to two top universities and four community colleges. Western Illinois University enrolls some 10,000 students annually and works directly with John Deere through its engineering school. Augustana is a four-year private university that ranks highly among colleges in the sciences based on the number of graduates earning Ph.Ds.

Major Assets: The Rock Island Arsenal is home to over 60 Department of Defense organizations and private companies and is a vital part of the nation’s defense. The campus is also home to The Joint Manufacturing and Technology Center — the Department of Defense’s only vertically integrated manufacturing operation — and U.S. Army Joint Munitions Command, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Rock Island District, United States Army Sustainment Command and also serves as the headquarters for the First United States Army. Rock Island Arsenal supports nearly 54,000 military and civilian employees and has a $1.5 billion impact on the local economy.

Southeast

Progressive and pro-business, Southeast Illinois is an attractive location for companies seeking a highly trained workforce and easy access to North American and global markets.  The 13-county region is home to a strong industry workforce of more than 100,000 employees across multiple sectors. The region is anchored by robust agribusiness and manufacturing sectors. Several automotive suppliers call the area home, including North American Lighting, Toyota Boshoku and Dana Sealing.

The region is home to several colleges and universities, including Eastern Illinois University, Kaskaskia College, Lake Land College, Lakeview College of Nursing and Olney Central College. Lake Land College and North American Lighting partnered to create the NAL Fast-Track Tech Program — an eight-week training course designed to help the company meet its workforce needs. North American Lighting is one of the region’s largest employers, with more than 5,000 people working at three locations in Flora, Salem and Paris, Illinois.  

Premium blanket and promotional product manufacturing company Kanata Blanket recently relocated its U.S. operations to Vandalia at the former home of Purina Mills. The relocation created 20 jobs with the potential to create another 30 as the company grows. Kanata’s move was supported in part with an investment from the Illinois New Markets Development Program and the federal New Markets Tax Credit program, which helps small and developing companies in underserved areas by making capital funds more accessible and the state more attractive to investors.

Major Assets: According to the National Science Foundation, Eastern Illinois University — Charleston boasts the distinction of preparing more undergraduate students who go on to earn doctoral degrees than any other university in the state. The university is also among the top 5% in the country to meet this benchmark. In addition, the university is a powerhouse for clean energy companies with its Renewable Energy Center — one of the largest biomass facilities in the country — and the new Center for Clean Energy Research and Education.

Southern Region

Southern Illinois’ transformative power is evident as it grows from one of the leading coal-producing areas in the country to a strategic location for logistics and automotive suppliers. With a skilled workforce and abundant natural resources, and its highly developed infrastructure, the region has become a hub of activity for various industries. Major companies including Aisin, Continental Tire, Beelman Truck Company, Walgreens Distribution Center and Champion Laboratories are just a few of the region’s largest employers. As a key logistics nexus, the region is well-connected via rail, roads, air and the Mississippi and Ohio riverways. Pike Systems recently expanded to Mt. Vernon, where it opened a new 98,000-sq.-ft. distribution hub. The janitorial supply company invested over $1.5 million in the facility, located in an Enterprise Zone, and created 15 new jobs.

One of the region’s best assets is Southern Illinois University — Carbondale. The university is ranked among the top 5% of all U.S. higher education institutions for research, and its automotive technology program is one of just a few across the nation and the only one in the state.

Major Assets: Southern Illinois offers visitors one of the state’s most beautiful sites. Shawnee National Forest and its spectacular rock formations are unlike anything else in the Midwest. Home to the Garden of the Gods and Rim Rock Recreational Area, hikers and nature lovers flock to see the region’s sights. In 2020, the Garden of the Gods recorded more than 800,000 visits.

Southwest 

Strategically located within 500 miles of one-third of the nation’s population, the Southwest Region offers businesses a unique combination of workforce, logistics and industry. Located near St. Louis, the nine-county region is home to several large manufacturing and logistics operations, including Amazon, Prairie Farms, P&G, Hershey, Walgreens, World Wide Technology, Boeing, ADM, Fed Ex and Phillips 66. The region’s manufacturing sector is predominantly centered around primary metal manufacturing and fabricated metal products. United States Steel Corporation has operated its Granite City Works facility in the region for many years, where it makes products for construction, container, piping and tubing and automotive industries.

In 2021, PCs for People was awarded a $1.45 million grant from the Illinois COVID-19 Response Fund to launch a digital inclusion, workforce development and community equity initiative in the Greater East St. Louis and Metro East area of Southern Illinois. The company is focused on getting low-cost computers and affordable broadband into low-income households and works with a variety of partners. The Illinois Office of Broadband has committed to facilitate the donation of 10,000 computers to the organization.

The Historic Broadview Hotel Project in downtown East St. Louis was recently awarded a $1.5 million Rebuild Illinois Shovel Ready Site grant. The former hotel will revitalize the area with mixed-use residential, retail and community commercial services. Approximately 297 jobs will result from the construction project, with wages reaching $12 million. 

Southwestern Illinois offers an abundance of higher education resources with access to more than 42 universities and community colleges, including Greenville College, Kaskaskia College, Lewis and Clark Community College, McKendree University and Southwestern College. The National Corn-to-Ethanol Research Center is housed on campus at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and allows private and university scientists to conduct research that helps reduce the cost of corn-based fuels. The center has partnered with notable companies including DuPont, Conoco-Philips, Abengoa and Center Ethanol.

Major Assets: Located in Belleville, Scott Airforce Base is the region’s largest employer with more than 15,000 personnel, including active duty, civilians, contractors and Air National Guard and Reserves. The base provides command and control for all of the military’s logistics.

MidAmerica St. Louis Airport — one of the region’s most important assets — recently expanded its terminal thanks to a $9.7 million federal grant. The project is expected to wrap up a year early, by December 2022 instead of 2023. When completed, the terminal will be more than 98,000 sq. ft. and will accommodate the growing number of passengers to fly into and out of the airport.

West Central

Well-connected and ideally located in the country’s center, West Central Illinois offers a wide range of benefits to companies. Not only does it offer a highly trained workforce and first-class educational institutions, but the region is also home to some of the best farmland in the country, making it a perfect location for the many agribusinesses and food production companies that call it home.

Several corporate headquarters are located in the region, including DOT Foods, Niemann Food and Titan International. It also boasts several large employers, including Archer Daniels Midland, LLC and Maschhoffs, Smithfield Foods Inc., Western Illinois University and BNSF Railway. The Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad in Galesburg is one of the largest classification yards in BNSF’s system and supports more than 800 employees.

South Dakota-based Innovative Production USA recently announced plans to open a new production facility in Galesburg. The company works to convert sustainably grown agricultural inputs into plant-based food ingredients. The new site will employ 45 people as it ramps up its operations.

Major Assets: West Central Illinois is home to a robust network of higher educational institutions. Three community college systems, including Carl Sandburg, John Wood and Spoon River, keep the workforce pipeline flowing for local industries. Additionally, four-year institutions in the region include Western Illinois University, Knox College, Monmouth College and Quincy University. These institutions employ more than 9,000 people and enroll more than 23,000 students each year — ensuring a steady stream of talent for a diverse base of industries. 

Savannah King
Managing Editor of Custom Content

Savannah King

Savannah King is managing editor of custom content for Conway Inc. She is an award-winning journalist and previously wrote for The Times in Gainesville, Ga. She graduated from the University of West Florida with a degree in Broadcast Journalism and lives near Atlanta.

 



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