Locating Chicago Manufacturing: The Geography of Production in Metropolitan Chicago

Editor’s Note: Howard Wial examines Chicago’s manufacturing economy, specifically its strengths, weaknesses, and distribution. Wial also discusses Chicago’s past and current manufacturing strategies, which lead the nation. This


was originally published on February 25, 2013 for the Center of Urban Economic Development, University of Illinois at Chicago.

Recent small gains in manufacturing employment nationwide have led to a resurgence of interest in public policies to strengthen America’s manufacturing base. In his 2013 State of The Union Address, for example, President Obama pledged to create three new Manufacturing Innovation Institutes to complement the one that currently exists in Youngstown, Ohio, and urged Congress to fund a network of 15 such institutes. At the metropolitan level, Chicago is a leader in developing creative manufacturing policies and policy proposals. The city’s Austin Polytechnical Academy, founded in 2007 by the Chicago Manufacturing Renaissance Council, is among the nation’s leading public high schools focused on manufacturing and engineering.

The Chicago Manufacturing Renaissance Council itself is a unique public-private partnership that has had considerable influence in shaping city policy on manufacturing and in initiating key reforms in secondary and post secondary education for manufacturing. Making Chicago a leading hub of advanced manufacturing is the first of 10 strategies included in the Plan for Economic Growth and Jobs released last year by World Business Chicago, the city’s nonprofit economic development organization. This year the University of Illinois announced plans for a privately funded manufacturing-oriented R&D center to be located in Chicago. The university’s proposed Illinois Manufacturing Lab would give local manufacturers access to computer simulation, workforce training, and faculty resources to help them become more innovative and competitive.

The paper’s findings include:

  •  The Chicago metropolitan area is one of the nation’s major manufacturing centers, and manufacturing has become a more important specialization of the area over the last decade despite large manufacturing job losses.
  • The Chicago metropolitan area specialized strongly in 11 manufacturing industries, with moderately high technology industries more important in the region than very high technology industries.
  • Almost half of all manufacturing jobs in the Chicago metropolitan area are in Cook County.
  • In metropolitan Chicago, manufacturing offers higher wages than other industries.
  • During the last two years, metropolitan Chicago gained manufacturing jobs more rapidly than the nation as a whole.

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