Manufacturing in Lake County is evolving with technology and precision supporting about
Manufacturing blossomed in Waukegan and Lake County more than a century ago when raw materials arrived by boat at the harbor, were made in the smokestack factories and were shipped out by rail with much of it at the city’s lakefront.
For a while, industrialization dulled but now it has a new face with technology and precision in Waukegan, North Chicago and throughout Lake County where medical supplies and medicine are created.
“I have seen factories in Lake County where you could eat off the floor,” Kevin Considine, the president and CEO of Lake County Partners, said. “You can’t imagine it. You have to see it.”
A recently completed economic impact study of manufacturing’s benefits was discussed by Considine, Illinois Manufacturers’ Association President and CEO Mark Denzler and others Thursday at the College of Lake County’s Advanced Technology Center in Gurnee.
Denzler said manufacturing supports directly or indirectly nearly 100,000 jobs in Lake County and an average salary of more than $160,000 a year. Gone are the days a high school diploma led to a factory job for 40 years.
“The manufacturing sector continues to evolve in the face of rapid technological development with a shift toward a more highly-skilled, experienced workforce,” Denzler said. “In demand occupations likely need a post secondary credential or some college.”
Motivating more people to seek manufacturing work will require some education of the population. Denzler said the perception of industry needs to change so people realize they can participate in the manufacture of life saving medicine and supplies.
“We have to do a better job of educating people about what manufacturing looks like,” Denzler said. “We have to change the perception. It’s clean and automated. We have to educate parents that these are good opportunities for their children.”
State Sen. Adriane Johnson, D-Buffalo Grove, said manufacturing growth in Lake County has been a major benefit to working families. It helps improve their lifestyle for both parents and children.
“These are great high paying jobs for working families,” Johnson said. “It helps them provide for education for their kids.”
Locally some of the training and certification for manufacturing will be done at CLC’s new technology center which will open this fall. Ali O’Brien, the college’s vice president of community and workforce partnerships, said it will meet many employment needs in the region.
O’Brien said the 142,000 square foot facility was once a big box store. Initially it will teach welding and fabrication skills as well as how to maintain the production machines.
State Sen. Craig Wilcox, R-McHenry, said when manufacturing is both local and national there is a multiplier effect in places like Lake County where the products are made. While his focus in Springfield is growing business in the state, he said the advantage grows when a company is global.
“It is a great benefit when the (products) are shipped all over,” Wilcox said.
Companies like Abbot, AbbVie, Baxter, Horizon Pharma and Medline have manufacturing facilities in multiple locations in Lake County with a worldwide clientele.
“Manufacturing remains the greatest driver of economic progress, innovation and wealth in this nation,” Denzler said. “Direct manufacturing jobs support an additional 1.77 million jobs in Illinois or nearly 30% of all jobs in the state.”
Along with offering well-paying jobs, manufacturing generates $48.4 billion in total annual output in Lake County along with $12.2 billion in salaries and benefits, according to the study. The top three areas of production are pharmaceutical preparation, plastics and surgical and medical items.