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Illinois: A Global Magnet For Business

Learn how location, talent and other assets are driving global businesses to Illinois – and how the state is modernizing its infrastructure for the future.

By Emily McMackin on July 11, 2016

Illinois Business
Illinois / Michael D. Tedesco

With a nearly $561.1 billion economy – fifth largest in the U.S. – and a workforce of more than 6.6 million, Illinois is a global powerhouse for business.

With 34 Fortune 500 companies and 241 corporate headquarters with annual revenues over $2 million, the state is home base for brands known around the world, including Boeing, Caterpillar, John Deere, ADM, Allstate and McDonald’s.

Its network of interstates, Class I rail providers, ports and airports make Illinois a key transportation and logistics center for companies with national and international operations. Its research capabilities are vast, with more than 200 higher education institutions across the state, including three of the nation’s top universities – the University of Chicago, Northwestern and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Operating in Illinois also gives companies access to an ecosystem of innovators that includes leading science and engineering labs such as Argonne National Laboratory and Fermi National Laboratory, as well as incubators for entrepreneurs developing next-generation technologies.

The convergence of talent – a labor force of 6.6 million and nearly 32 percent of adults age 25 and over possessing a bachelor’s degree or higher – location and infrastructure recently brought a new headquarters to the state. In 2016, GE Healthcare announced plans to relocate its base from the United Kingdom to the Chicago area, where its life sciences and information technology businesses already have a presence. Company officials cited Chicago’s proximity to top customer markets, hub for travel, strong health-care sector and numerous knowledge institutions as key reasons for the move.

Based on benchmarking with 28 peer utilities, ComEd ranks among the top 10 percent of utilities nationally for providing electric reliability to commercial and industrial customers. The utility also works closely with state and regional leaders throughout northern Illinois to bring business to the state. Along with assisting leaders with business retention visits, ComEd provides expedited cost and engineering information to prospects considering a move or expansion in Illinois. It also partners with World Business Chicago to accelerate the entry of data centers in the Chicago area. Its efforts have helped attract more than $3 billion in capital investment to the state and create 22,000 new jobs across northern Illinois.

Innovation Leader

Illinois enjoys a rich legacy of innovation that has produced inventions such as the cell phone, the ultrasound, LED technology and the first web browser. It continues to build on that tradition, forging a dynamic, diverse economy with growing segments in life sciences and biotechnology, advanced manufacturing, transportation, distribution and logistics, agribusiness and food processing, energy, and business and professional services. The state ranks among the top in the nation for attracting business investment. Leadership’s dedication to promoting a pro-jobs economic climate, bringing structural reform to reduce the cost of doing business and ensuring world-class schools and education options will make Illinois even more competitive in the years to come.

“One of the factors driving development here is the competitive energy market,” says Ed Sitar, manager of economic and business development for ComEd, an Exelon subsidiary that serves 3.8 million customers in northern Illinois – 70 percent of the state’s population.

Since the state deregulated electricity in 1999, customers across Illinois have been able to save $41 billion in energy costs thanks to the option to choose from and negotiate with more than 50 certified suppliers. This has allowed the state to keep electricity rate increases among the lowest in the country, especially compared to its Midwest neighbors.

Not only is energy affordable in Illinois, its performance is known for reliability. Illinois ranks second among states for grid modernization, according to a 2016 study by GridWise Alliance in collaboration with Clean Edge Inc.

Smart and Sustainable

ComEd has set records for its reliable electric service over the past few years, due in part to its speedy implementation of the Energy Infrastructure Modernization Act passed by the Illinois General Assembly in 2011. The utility is already ahead of schedule on a $2.6 billion, 10-year project intended to modernize its power grid, create jobs and build smart infrastructure for the future.

“We have put a significant amount of investment into the system,” Sitar says.

For technology-driven industries, especially the growing cluster of data centers in Illinois, access to reliable electricity with a digitized smart grid is a major asset. With its large renewable energy base and supply of nuclear energy, Illinois also provides a higher capacity of carbon-free power than many states – an asset for firms that run around-the-clock operations or have sustainability benchmarks. As grid upgrades continue over the next few years, ComEd expects to be able to provide businesses with more real-time information than ever to help them manage energy use.

“The future brings a lot of unknown possibilities, and the smart grid is a foundation for innovation and growth in Illinois,” Sitar says.

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