October is one of my favorite months. The mild weather transitions us from summer to winter. The turning of the trees into an incredible Crayola box of colors. The World Series. Football. And, when you live and work in a place like Greater Peoria, the celebration of October as Manufacturing Month takes on a whole new meaning because manufacturing is at the very core of our community. We should be proud of the diversification of our regional economy over the past few decades, but the truth is that one out of every ten people here are employed in manufacturing. A 2022 economic report produced by the Illinois Manufacturers Association showed that 31% of the Gross Domestic Product in Peoria County came from manufacturing activities, good enough for 7th place in Illinois. The number? A staggering $4.1 billion (that’s billion with a B).
This is not surprising to anyone reading this article. As the hometown of Caterpillar, the Peoria area has long been synonymous with the designing and building of really big machines. Komatsu, Case New Holland, Precision Planting, Kress, Liberty Steel, and Philippi-Hagenbuch join Big Yellow in making heavy things out of metal. Many more local companies make the smaller parts that go into those machines.
But because of the dominance of these industries and their importance to our community, we start to think that manufacturing is just about earth-moving equipment or agricultural machinery. The truth is we make a lot of things in our region that will never see the inside of a mine or among the rows of corn. But they might find their way into your home, onto your body, or even onto your fork. How many people are surprised when you tell them Maui Jim sunglasses come from Peoria and not, well, Maui? Or that more than 80% of the world’s pumpkin is processed and canned in Morton. Those are some of the obvious, non-heavy metal items that call Greater Peoria home. But just think about how your day could be impacted by our local manufacturers:
You could wake up in a house completely manufactured in Goodfield. We are approaching the holiday season, so maybe you’ve adorned that house with some festive lights made in Peoria. The fabric softener in your laundry uses ingredients made in Mapleton. Before heading to work, you get the wrinkles out of your clothes on a custom ironing board made in Morton. Your breakfast sausage might have gotten its start in Peoria and be seasoned because of Pekin. That foil lid on your yogurt was probably made in Pekin. The car that gets you to work might be fueled in part by ethanol produced in Peoria or Pekin. And at the end of a busy day, you throw a frozen pizza from Morton in the oven for dinner and sit around your fire pit made in Easton.
The best part is that it isn’t just the citizens of Greater Peoria that get to enjoy these products. These products are shipped across the nation and sometimes across the world. That is why manufacturing is such an important foundation to our economy. Every time a massive tractor is shipped from East Peoria or a gigantic mining truck from Peoria, or even a tiny clog-fighting tool from Chillicothe, money is flowing into our community. That means jobs and investment which in turn fuels the other parts of our economy. We should all be proud and supportive of our makers. Happy Manufacturing Month!