Chesney Guest Column: Ag and Makers Drive Illinois’ Economy

Illinois has the fifth highest Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the country and ranks fifth nationally for both exports and imports. GDP measures the value of final goods and services produced in the United States and is an indicator of the nation’s overall economic health. It’s clear that the economic well-being of Illinois plays heavily into the economic condition of the country.

Among the industries driving Illinois’ economy are agriculture and manufacturing, both prevalent in our district and vital to the nation.

Illinois boasts a rich history of industrial excellence that has evolved into an advanced manufacturing sector. It represents 14 percent of Illinois’ overall economic productivity yielding more than $100 billion, making us one of the top states in the country for manufacturing.

Illinois manufacturers have historically benefited from low energy rates and deregulation as well as a low-cost, high-quality water supply. However, recent policies put forward in Springfield have caused energy rates to skyrocket, and water rates are drastically increasing as well.  

Our central location and world-class air, passenger, and freight transportation networks contribute to our advantage. It is important that we not only protect those benefits and harness our advantages, but also develop a workforce that will be capable of keeping Illinois at the cutting edge of innovation. That means finding ways to close the current skills gap that is causing employers to scramble and compete for highly skilled and trained workers.

Agriculture is another hero of our economic story.

Illinois is a leading producer of soybeans, corn, and swine. What’s more, the state’s climate and varied soil types enable farmers to grow and raise many other agricultural commodities, including cattle, wheat, oats, sorghum, hay, sheep, poultry, fruits, and vegetables.

According to the Illinois Department of Agriculture, the state’s agricultural commodities generate more than $19 billion annually. Corn accounts for 54 percent of that total, soybeans contribute 27 percent, and combined, livestock, dairy, and poultry generates 13 percent. The balance comes from sales of wheat and other crops, including fruits and vegetables.

Billions more dollars flow into the state’s economy from ag-related industries, such as farm machinery manufacturing, agricultural real estate, and the production and sale of value-added food products. Rural Illinois benefits principally from agricultural production, while agricultural processing and manufacturing strengthen urban economies.

With 2,640 food-manufacturing companies, Illinois is well equipped to turn the state’s crops and livestock into food and industrial products. In fact, the state ranks first in the nation with $180 billion in processed food sales. Most of these companies are located in the Chicago metropolitan area, which contains one of the largest concentrations of food-related businesses in the world.  In 2019 the food product industry employed 93,000 people and produced $59.2 billion worth of goods in Illinois.

Producing food and biomass will be a key future economic driver for Illinois. Coupled with our manufacturing prowess, food production capability, and abundant fresh water, we are uniquely positioned to lead the way in providing food for the world and economic prosperity for Illinois. Yet it won’t happen if the state continues its current toxic policies of higher taxes, shutting down affordable and reliable energy sources and increasing regulations on job creators.