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July 12, 2012

Freight Drill-Down Analyzes Regional Infrastructure, Innovation, and Workforce

GO TO 2040 calls for strategically organizing the region around its existing and emerging clusters of specialization to better compete in the national and international marketplace. The plan directs CMAP, with the support of its partners, to perform "drill-down" analyses into specific industry clusters, including freight, advanced manufacturing, and biotech/biomed. CMAP has completed its first report in the cluster series, a freight drill-down analysis.

Freight is one of the Chicago region's strongest specializations. Between one quarter and one third of all U.S. freight originates, terminates or passes through the Chicago region. Moreover, demand for freight is projected to double in the next 20 years. The drill-down report explores connections between the freight cluster and the regional economy, examines how national and international developments are affecting freight in the region, identifies key infrastructure, workforce and innovation challenges and opportunities influencing future cluster growth, and concludes with a set of regional strategies to better align resources and investments with the needs of the freight cluster.

CMAP's drill-down report shows how freight is a cornerstone of the regional economy. The cluster comprises 4 percent of the region's private sector employment, generating $13 billion in personal income each year for residents of northeastern Illinois. But freight's economic impact is not limited to just core transportation industries: Over a quarter of all the region's jobs are in industries directly tied to freight, and expansions or contractions in freight industries can substantially impact areas such as manufacturing, wholesale trade, and retail trade.

The cluster is not only integral to the metropolitan economy, it is also growing. Over the past decade, employment in the Chicago region's freight cluster has grown more (7 percent) than the overall regional economy (less than 1 percent). This growth has outpaced New York and Los Angeles, the two other largest freight clusters in the nation.

Despite freight's centrality to our regional economy, the future success of the industry cluster is not ensured. Three distinct areas – infrastructure, innovation, and workforce – have considerable potential to influence the future growth trajectory of the regional cluster. Stay tuned for an upcoming policy update series that will explore regional challenges and opportunities in these three key areas, while offering priority action areas for coordinated action.

Both the freight drill-down report and a companion technical report are now available at