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Report: Manufacturing Plays Outsized Role In Downstate Economy

Worker welding
Jeff Smudde
A worker at Brandt Industries, which recently opened a manufacturing site in McLean County.

A new report makes the case that manufacturing is still a vital cog in Illinois’ economic engine—especially downstate.

The new analysis shows Illinois manufacturers employ 592,000 people, each earning around $88,691 in average income. Companies like Caterpillar are household names, but there is a lot that people don’t know about manufacturing, said Mark Denzler, president and CEO of the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association, which commissioned the research from the Center for Manufacturing Research in Partnership with Inforum at the University of Maryland.

All of The Salvation Army’s red kettles, for example, are made in Illinois, Denzler said. Around 85% of the aluminum lids used in food products like yogurt are made in Pekin, he added. In fact, food products ($59.2 billion in annual output) is the leading area within manufacturing in Illinois, Denzler said.

“Manufacturing is diverse. It’s cool. It’s no longer dark, dirty, and dangerous,” he said. “I don’t think that most people realize the scope and magnitude of manufacturing in Illinois.”

Manufacturing makes up around 12% of the state’s GDP (gross domestic/state product). But that jumps to 40% in Macon County, 30.9% in Tazewell County, and 22.7% in Peoria County, the report found.

“Many of these downstate economies are even more reliant on manufacturing than some of these suburban communities,” Denzler said.

The opposite is true in McLean County, where just 1.9% of the GDP comes from manufacturing, according to the report. There are around 3,384 manufacturing jobs in McLean County, though Denzler said that will be increasing as companies like Rivian and Brandt staff up.

“Hopefully both of those will continue to grow,” said Denzler, who attended Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington. “(Economic) diversity is important and that’s a good thing.”

Listen to GLT’s full interview with Denzler below:

GLT's full interview with Mark Denzler.

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Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.