Metropolitan Chicago’s Manufacturing Cluster

Metropolitan Chicago’s Manufacturing Cluster

Manufacturing has long been a historic strength of metropolitan Chicago’s economy, helping the region become a national and international center for commerce. In an era of global trade, manufacturing remains a vital element of the region's economic health and competitiveness. ON TO 2050 and its predecessor GO TO 2040 underscore the importance of these economic strengths and recommend strategically organizing the region around its existing industry clusters -- including those in advanced manufacturing -- to better compete in evolving markets. The region can continue to excel by meeting industries’ growing demand for technical innovations, skilled workers, and infrastructure.

This 2013 drill-down report (PDF) explores how manufacturing in metropolitan Chicago has transformed in response to a globalized economy. The report identifies challenges and opportunities in the cluster’s infrastructure, workforce, and innovation. These assets are central to future cluster growth, and the report concludes with clear steps the region can take to support manufacturing. As a part of its research, CMAP developed several tools to illustrate the changing needs of the cluster, including the Advanced Manufacturing Scorecard below. A companion technical document (PDF) provides in-depth analysis as well as corresponding citations to support the conclusions of the summary report. Read more in the press release.

Advanced Manufacturing Scorecard

Metropolitan Chicago can best compete in the 21st Century economy through manufacturing that capitalizes on regional strengths. Below, CMAP's Advanced Manufacturing Scorecard -- developed for the 2013 report -- ranks the cluster's nine core manufacturing industries across product, process, and people metrics to show which industries best reflect advanced manufacturing characteristics.

Below each industry's scorecard, a second graphic provides a closer look at the occupations within that industry. Building off the people indicator, this graphic illustrates the skills and training levels required for the industry's top 20 occupations. In the left-hand column are data on the size of the workforce and median salaries for the top five occupations in that industry.

Pharma/Medical Supply

These health sciences manufacturing industries draw on the region's strength in biotech/biomed. Metropolitan Chicago specializes in pharmaceuticals manufacturing and is growing in medical equipment manufacturing.


This industry grouping includes not only computers but also other electronics devices such as cell phones, audio and visual equipment, and navigational instruments. One of the region's key electronics specializations is in communication equipment.


Machinery is the largest component of the region's manufacturing core. While the cluster produces less in aerospace and automotive machinery, it maintains one of the nation's leading concentrations in electrical, commercial, and industrial equipment.

Chemicals, Plastics, Rubber

This industry grouping includes two major categories: firms producing chemicals such as paints, pesticides, and petrochemicals, and those manufacturing plastic and rubber products. The region specializes in chemicals and especially plastics, while rubber is a much smaller concentration.

Fabricated Metal

Fabricated metal output includes a wide variety of products ranging from hardware to structural and architectural metals. Fabricated metal goods also often serve as intermediate parts for machinery industries. Metropolitan Chicago is the nation's second largest fabricated metals center.

Paper, Printing

Historically the Chicago region has been one of the nation's centers of paper and printing manufacturing. Though the industry has faced employment decline, the region employed over 40,000 paper and printing workers in 2012.

Primary (Metal, Nonmetal, Petro/Coal)

Primary manufacturing industries transform raw materials such as stone, coal, or crude petroleum into refined goods. While these industries are less specialized in northeastern Illinois, the greater tri-state metropolitan area has a large primary metals and petroleum concentration just across the border in northwest Indiana.

Furniture, Apparel, Other

Compared to other manufacturing regions, metropolitan Chicago is less specialized in apparel, textile, woodworking, and furniture manufacturing. Regional job loss in these industries has been particularly severe over the past two decades.

Food, Beverage

Food and beverage industries transform livestock, agriculture, and other raw materials into new products. At the heart of the Midwest's prominent agricultural sector, the Chicago region has long played an important role in food and beverage manufacturing.

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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Manufacturing Cluster Drill-Down Summary Report

TECHNICAL REPORT: Manufacturing Drill-Down Report