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Chicago: Economy


Major Industries and Commercial Activity

Chicago's diversified economy is based on manufacturing, printing and publishing, finance and insurance, and food processing (the city is still considered the nation's "candy capital") as primary sectors. A substantial industrial base and a major inland port contribute to the city's position as a national transportation and distribution center. The source of nationally distributed magazines, catalogs, educational materials, encyclopedias, and specialized publications, Chicago ranks second only to New York in the publishing industry. The city is home to the Federal Reserve Bank, the Chicago Board of Trade, and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.

Items and goods produced: telephone equipment, musical instruments, surgical appliances, machinery, earthmoving and agricultural equipment, steel, metal products, diesel engines, printing presses, office machines, radios and television sets, auto accessories, chemicals, soap, paint, food products and confections

Incentive Programs—New and Existing Companies

Local programs

The City of Chicago Department of Planning and Development (DPD) actively promotes growth and development in Chicago's diverse neighborhoods with a focus on the continued economic development of the city. The department works with the existing business community and also works to attract new business to Chicago. All of this is done in the context of holistic, community-based planning, closely coordinating activities with residents and community organizations. The department's Technology Development Division works with the Chicago Partnership for Economic Development to strengthen the city's information technology sector.

DPD promotes effective neighborhood planning by coordinating the strategic allocation of public funds to maximize private investment—and the attraction of new companies—by providing a menu of financial resources, neighborhood improvements, site location assistance, and the expediting of permits and licenses. DPD also has the primary responsibility for preserving city landmarks and protecting the Chicago River and the Lake Michigan shoreline.

State programs

In 1977 the Illinois legislature adopted the Tax Increment Allocation Redevelopment Act to provide municipalities with a unique tool to finance and stimulate urban redevelopment. Through the use of Tax Increment Financing (TIF), cities can stimulate private investment by offering incentives to attract and retain businesses, improve their community areas, and maintain a well-educated and highly trained labor force. TIF is by far the most popular incentive program in Chicago; by the end of 2003, Chicago had invested $870 million in TIF funds and benefitted from $5.4 billion in private investment

Job training programs

The Mayor's Office of Workforce Development (MOWD) assists job seekers—including those who have been laid off—in finding and keeping jobs. The five Chicago Workforce Centers located throughout the city, as well as 30 community-based affiliate organizations, offer services such as basic job skills courses, access to job listings, seminars in resume writing and interviewing, and veterans services. Mayor Daley's WorkNet Chicago assists ex-offenders in reentering the workforce.

Development Projects

In the summer of 2004, the long-anticipated Millennium Park opened. Conceived in the late 1990s with the goal of creating more usable space in Grant Park, the $475 million park is a state-of-the-art example of modern city green space. The Jay Pritzker Pavilion, designed by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry, is an outdoor concert venue that seats 4,000 people. The Cloud Gate, sculpted by Anish Kapoor, is a 110-ton elliptical sculpture made of stainless steel. Visitors can walk under and around the sculpture, which resembles a giant bean and reflects Chicago's skyline. Another popular attraction is the Jarume Plensa-designed Crown Fountain, two 50-foot high towers made of glass blocks and situated in a reflecting pool. The towers feature changing video images of the faces of Chicagoans, from which jets of water appear to descend.

In 2001 The Art Institute of Chicago unveiled plans to construct a new museum wing on the museum's northeast corner. Expected to be completed in 2007, the new wing, designed by architect Renzo Piano, will add approximately 220,000 square feet of space to the museum. The $198 million addition will add a contemporary appeal to the museum's 19th century building.

The O'Hare Modernization Program is Chicago's O'Hare International Airport's plan to add a new western terminal facility and reconfigure existing runways. The $6.6 billion project, to be funded through passenger facility charges, general airport revenue bonds, and federal Airport Improvement Program funds, will require a total of 433 acres in Chicago and surrounding suburbs. Plans for the proposed improvements were submitted to the Federal Aviation Administration for review in October of 2003.

McCormick Place, North America's largest exhibition hall, broke ground in 2004 for McCormick Place West. The $850 million expansion will add approximately 470,000 square feet of exhibition space and 250,000 square feet of meeting space, which will include more than 60 meeting rooms and a 100,000 square foot ballroom. The five-story facility will connect to the existing McCormick Place campus. McCormick Place West is expected to open in 2008.

Economic Development Information: Chicago Department of Planning and Development, 121 N. LaSalle Street, #1003, Chicago, IL 60602; telephone (312)744-4190

Commercial Shipping

Since its founding, Chicago has been an important transportation and distribution point; at one time it was a crucial link between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River waterways and today the city ranks among the world's busiest shipping hubs. The city became a world port in 1959 with the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway, which provides a direct link from the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean. The Port of Chicago handles marine, rail, and overland freight. The state of Illinois maintains the third-highest combined mileage of railroads and paved highways in the country. Approximately 750 motor freight carriers serve the metropolitan area, and trucking companies ship more than 50 million tons of freight each year; railroads average more than 40 million tons. Chicago's airports handle more than one million metric tons of cargo annually.

Labor Force and Employment Outlook

Chicago's unemployment rate exceeds the national average. The loss of jobs for both unskilled and college-educated workers can be attributed to the Internet bust, an ailing economy, plant closings, and the relocation of companies once headquartered in Chicago. However, the unemployment rate seems to be on a decline; March of 2005 showed the largest gains in employment since 2000. Like many large cities, Chicago has a large immigrant population. The immigrants come from all over the world, including Poland, Mexico, India, the former Soviet Union, the Philippines, and China. Despite fears that low-skilled immigrants would not be assimilated into an increasingly high-tech economy, local analysts say the newcomers are following the success track of earlier groups, working their way into the middle class after performing service and laboring jobs.

The following is a summary of data regarding the Chicago metropolitan area civilian labor force, 2004 annual average:

Size of civilian labor force: 4,231,500

Number of workers employed in . . .

construction and mining: 175,300

manufacturing: 402,300

trade, transportation and utilities: 763,400

information: 87,000

financial activities: 292,400

professional and business services: 601,100

educational and health services: 466,600

leisure and hospitality: 319,600

other services: 171,200

government: 469,600

Average hourly earnings of production workers employed in manufacturing: $15.44 (Chicago-Naperville-Joliet metropolitan area, 2004 average)

Unemployment rate: 6.4% (February 2005)

Chicago: Economy

Largest employers Number of employees
U.S. Government 88,000
Chicago Public Schools 39,402
Jewel-Osco 36,749
City of Chicago 35,978
Cook County 26,505

Cost of Living

The cost of living in Chicago is higher than the national average. The following is a summary of data regarding several key cost of living factors in the Chicago area.

2004 (3rd Quarter) ACCRA Average House Price: $427,451

2004 (3rd Quarter) ACCRA Cost of Living Index: 130.4 (U.S. average = 100.0)

State income tax rate: 3.0%

State sales tax rate: 6.25% (1% on food and drugs) (2005)

Local income tax rate: None

Local sales tax rate: 9%

Property tax rate: 7.247 mills (2002)


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