POINT: Is Illinois a good place to do business?
Yes. Data belies the concerns that companies can’t succeed in the state
By MARK PETERSON
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.
Why are companies choosing Illinois? There are countless factors that contribute to these decisions and each situation is unique. A company looking for a manufacturing facility on a massive amount of land has very different needs than 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 we 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.
As the state’s privately-funded, non-profit economic development office, Intersect Illinois collaborates closely with companies, universities, not-for-profits, other economic development organizations and government entities throughout the state to showcase Illinois’ assets. And, we’ve got a great story to tell. While each company is unique in attributes they look for in a relocation or expansion site, Illinois’ diverse economy, workforce, 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.
Our position at the crossroads of the U.S. economy is another key reason companies thrive here. Illinois’ triple-hub airport system puts the state within a four-hour flight to all major North American destinations, and our 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.
Illinois is also diverse, not only in its economy, but in its culture. We have the fifth largest GDP in the nation, and no one industry dominates here. 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 foreign direct investment (FDI) network. Foreign-owned companies are vital to the Illinois’ economy: Illinois is home to more than 1,800 foreign companies that contribute $100 billion to the state’s GDP. Intersect Illinois continuously builds on this with a comprehensive FDI strategy focused on key industries. FDI plays an essential role in ensuring economic growth and prosperity, creating highly-compensated jobs, spurring innovation and driving exports.
Companies that choose an Illinois location are also choosing to join the ranks of our world class clean energy economy, ranked highly in electricity from nuclear power, LEED-certified projects per capita, solar energy, advance technology R&D, wind capacity, and more. They also join a technology and innovation center where makers thrive. 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.
Workforce, infrastructure, and a robust and diverse economy 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 the state, many with public transportation available. There is somewhere for everyone in Illinois.
We are in a good place. Intersect Illinois’ project pipeline has nearly quadrupled over the past year; we are currently working on nearly 100 business attraction projects, more than 50 percent of which are FDI projects. We expect that number to grow and opportunities to expand as we continue to market the state’s rich assets around the globe.
Companies should and do continue to ask the tough questions they need answered to alleviate risk. But, we can easily answer those questions with data and help them 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. In Illinois, businesses meet their greatest opportunity for success. Visit www.intersectillinois.org for more data and information.
Mark Peterson is the president and 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. He wrote this column for the Illinois Business Journal.