I was at an out-of-town function recently, and upon hearing I was from Peoria, another attendee asked me how the city had fared since Caterpillar left. This gave me a chance to combat his notion that Caterpillar was completely gone from Peoria and actually share with him how important they still are to our community. I actually hear this same sentiment from time to time, and not exclusively from external parties. Sometimes, Peorians can be their own worst enemy in wanting to think the worst. But the truth is that Caterpillar continues to be a foundational element in our regional economy and should be celebrated. A recent report of the Illinois Manufacturers Association found that the manufacturing industry generates a total of $17.5 billion in annual economic output in Peoria and Tazewell counties alone, representing nearly 23% and 31%, respectively, of those counties’ Gross Domestic Product. Can you guess the major component in those numbers? Caterpillar.
Though a global company with well over 100,000 employees, Caterpillar continues to choose Greater Peoria as the largest center of its employees. On any given day, over 12,000 locals report to a Caterpillar post. You can see Caterpillar’s footprint across the region in what I sometimes refer to as the Three Ms: Mossville (research and development), Mapleton (foundry), and Morton (logistics). Add in East Peoria (production) and various Peoria facilities (administration, etc.), and you will not find a company with a wider geographic reach than Caterpillar. There is zero evidence that that will change anytime soon as they continue to hire locally and have made multi-million dollar renovations over the past few years to their administration building in downtown Peoria and their logistics center in Morton.
That employee count alone would be enough to make other communities envious of Greater Peoria. But the impact is much wider. Think of all the additional companies that rely on Caterpillar’s business to one extent or another. Some are locally based service providers like PHD Services and Federal Companies. Other national firms like Deloitte do so much business with Caterpillar that they have their own offices here. And, of course, an entire supply chain of parts and other services extends the impact even further. This includes homegrown companies like Morton Industries, SMF and Peoria Production Solutions, as well as foreign companies like Yinlun that move here to be closer to a major customer. These companies combined likely employ over 10,000 more employees – all connected in some way to Caterpillar. And do not underestimate the economic value of the Caterpillar Visitors Center, which brings in thousands of customers and other partners each year, all of whom are spending money locally at hotels, restaurants, and retail outlets.
Finally, and not to be undervalued, Caterpillar continues to be a cornerstone in our philanthropic community. I would be hard-pressed to think of a fundraising gala that didn’t display a Caterpillar logo in its sponsorship booklet. It is widely known that the Heart of Illinois United Way is one of the best-supported charities in the US on a per capita basis. That is undoubtedly due in no small measure to both Caterpillar’s corporate support and individual employee contributions. Caterpillar employees are deeply committed to our community and serve on countless boards of directors, volunteer in our organizations, are members of our churches, temples, and synagogues, and are involved in our schools.
Regardless of what you might hear, Caterpillar is still an enormous part of Greater Peoria. Our challenge – as community leaders, business leaders, and individuals – should be to find more ways of celebrating that fact and ensuring that their impact continues to be felt for generations to come.