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Supporting the Freight-Manufacturing Nexus in the O’Hare Subregion

The Chicago region is home to a diverse economy that produced $571 billion in goods and services in 2012.  The region's freight and manufacturing clusters are core components of that metropolitan economy, which is the third largest in the U.S.  Previous CMAP reports have examined the region's freight and manufacturing clusters. Most recently, the freight-manufacturing nexus report studied the synergistic relationship between these clusters and how they provide the region with a competitive advantage.  The nexus report also found that communities near O'Hare and Midway International Airports have the region's strongest concentrations of combined freight-manufacturing activity, and it recommended subregional analyses of these areas. CMAP's new O'Hare Subregional Freight-Manufacturing Drill-Down Report assesses how local conditions support the competitiveness of the subregion's freight and manufacturing cluster and describes opportunities to ensure its continued success.

The O'Hare subregion is a critical node for freight and manufacturing activity in the CMAP region.  The area is home to 20 percent of the region's freight and manufacturing cluster employment, and one in four jobs within the subregion are part of the cluster.  This concentration of freight and manufacturing activity is capitalizing on the subregion's assets, which include unique proximity to rail, truck, and air transportation networks, as well as access to a highly trained workforce.  While manufacturing has matched national trends and declined in the subregion over the last decade, freight employment has substantially increased. But the subregion has seen continued employment growth in both freight and manufacturing since 2010. Sustained growth in the O'Hare freight and manufacturing cluster will depend on continued cultivation of the subregion's transportation, workforce, and development advantages. 

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Moving freight and manufacturing in the subregion forward

Addressing infrastructure, congestion, and multijurisdictional planning issues in the subregion will be key to ensuring the O'Hare cluster's future competitiveness.  Many opportunities exist to move the study area's industries forward.  Steps like the expansion of the Advanced Manufacturing Training at Harper College are already being taken to support continued workforce development in the O'Hare area.  These efforts should be scaled up to ensure that the subregion's workforce is adequately trained to handle the demands of modern freight and manufacturing occupations. Furthermore, the subregion has major projects underway, including the GO TO 2040-recommended Elgin O'Hare Western Access, to reverse the deterioration of infrastructure and address congestion issues.

Additional opportunities exist to support the cluster in this changing environment. In particular, planning for stormwater management across jurisdictions is critical for areas near O'Hare airport that experience chronic flooding issues. In addition, development of the Elgin-O'Hare and Western Access brings great potential for land use change, and coordinated, cooperate redevelopment planning for the subregion's industrial areas will be critical to improve and preserve the industrial base over the long term. Finally, planning for truck freight routing and related infrastructure improvements across jurisdictions can facilitate the movement of goods within the subregion and reduce the negative impacts of more dispersed freight traffic.  Together, these undertakings will foster greater competitiveness and ensure that the study area continues to be an asset to the region's economy.