State of the state

Sun-Times colum­nist Neil Stein­berg ex­am­ines the past and present of Illi­nois man­u­fac­tur­ing and finds that big in­dus­try is still big busi­ness.

Chicago Sun-Times (Sunday) - - MADE IN ILLINOIS - BY NEIL STEIN­BERG

Lucina Miguel has a job un­like any other per­formed by Illi­nois’ 571,800 other fac­tory work­ers. She glues strips of a map of the Earth onto large plas­tic spheres for Re­plogle Globes, one of 13,000 man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pa­nies in the state.

That task once fell to founder Luther Re­plogle, who started mak­ing and sell­ing hand­crafted spher­i­cal cre­ations out of his Chicago apart­ment in 1930. Suc­cess fol­lowed over the next sev­eral decades and Re­plogle even­tu­ally be­came one of the largest globe man­u­fac­tur­ers in the world.

But times change — strapped school sys­tems just don’t buy globes in bulk like they used to — and the ail­ing com­pany was pur­chased in 2010 by Herff Jones and re­lo­cated to In­di­ana. The In­di­anapo­lis maker of year­books, class rings and diplo­mas didn’t quite know what to do with a retail sup­plier like Re­plogle and was about to shut down the busi­ness be­fore a group of its for­mer ex­ec­u­tives bought it back.

And re­turned it to Illi­nois.

That trans­ac­tion is a sin­gle snap­ping twig in the whirl­wind of ac­qui­si­tions and di­vesti­tures, growth and con­trac­tion, and open­ings and clos­ings that have blown across the Illi­nois man­u­fac­tur­ing land­scape since long be­fore it be­came a state.

In 1702, the state’s first doc­u­mented man­u­fac­turer, a buf­falo skin tan­nery started by French­man Charles Juchereau de St. Denys, opened. The area was hit by an epi­demic al­most im­me­di­ately and the tan­nery was aban­doned the next year.

The for­tunes of big in­dus­try ebbs and flows. That’s true on the eve of Illi­nois’ 200th birth­day — a time

when man­u­fac­tur­ing has seen bet­ter days: “We have seen man­u­fac­tur­ing roar­ing back in the United States,” said Mark Den­zler, vice pres­i­dent and chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer of the Illi­nois Man­u­fac­tur­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion. “Un­for­tu­nately, Illi­nois has lagged a bit.”

But the com­mon im­pres­sion that ev­ery­thing is made in China just isn’t true. De­spite all the blows that our fac­to­ries have re­ceived, nearly one in 10 Illi­nois work­ers are em­ployed in a com­pany re­lated to man­u­fac­tur­ing, a sec­tor of the state econ­omy worth $101 bil­lion.

Still big busi­ness

When Re­plogle came back in 2016, set­ting up op­er­a­tions in an old pa­per plant in Hill­side once again be­came a global leader in globes — just as it is with candy and cars, ce­ment and chem­i­cals, cups and cos­met­ics. And those are just the “Cs.”

The lat­ter, cos­met­ics, is a re­minder that all in­dus­tries grow and shrink, open­ing here, clos­ing there. Last au­tumn, VVF shut down Aurora’s soap fac­tory, which could turn out 600 mil­lion bars a year, while Ger­many’s

Faber-Castell Cos­met­ics an­nounced a new eye­liner pen­cil plant in El­gin.

Some com­pa­nies are head­quar­tered here, but their pro­duc­tion hap­pens else­where. Ra­dio Flyer makes all of its red wag­ons and tri­cy­cles in China. Boe­ing has its dis­tinc­tive clock­tower build­ing down­town, but builds its air­craft in Wash­ing­ton state. A few blocks away is Mor­ton, which mines salt in Ohio, and in 2015 closed its El­ston Av­enue pack­ing fa­cil­ity. Some are home-grown ven­tures, with roots stretch­ing back to the mid-19th cen­tury. Oth­ers are re­cent ac­qui­si­tions of dis­tant con­glom­er­ates.

Com­pa­nies merge to­gether and break apart. Kraft was ab­sorbed by Heinz in 2015, but still makes its Mac­a­roni and Cheese (in­vented in Glen­view in 1937) in Champaign. Vi­enna Beef and Eli’s Cheese­cake are both made in Chicago, the for­mer run­ning a two-day “Hot Dog Univer­sity” to train hot dog cart ven­dors in the art of sell­ing franks, the lat­ter giv­ing tours and run­ning an on-site restau­rant.

Pop­u­lar brands are high in the con­sumer mind, par­tic­u­larly food, but are not Illi­nois’ top prod­uct cat­e­gory. That would be chem­i­cals, ac­count­ing for nearly 20 per­cent of all man­u­fac­tur­ing in Illi­nois. What sort of chem­i­cals? All sorts. Dutch firm Lyon­del­lBasell In­dus­tries op­er­ates a 700-acre fa­cil­ity in Mor­ris — one of the largest chem­i­cal pro­cess­ing plants in the Mid­west — em­ploy­ing 400 peo­ple mak­ing eth­yl­ene, es­sen­tial to the pro­duc­tion of plas­tic prod­ucts like wa­ter bot­tles.

It isn’t the sex­i­est branch of cor­po­rate Amer­ica, and usu­ally only makes head­lines when some­thing leaks or catches fire. Stepan Co. has a plant in El­wood pro­duc­ing sur­fac­tants — the stuff that ren­ders soap bub­bly (Illi­nois was once a cen­ter for soap, an af­ter-echo of the stock­yards when soap man­u­fac­tur­ers sprung up to make use of the fat from slaugh­tered an­i­mals.)

Eco­lab’s Nalco Wa­ter, head­quar­tered in Naperville — with 1,100 em­ploy­ees — has plants in Clear­ing and Joliet con­coct­ing so­lu­tions that in­hibit cor­ro­sion or pre­vent the buildup of lime de­posits inside pipes and tanks. Nalco also as­sem­bles com­mer­cial dish­wash­ers in Elk Grove Vil­lage and makes wa­ter treat­ment gen­er­a­tors and equip­ment in Glen­wood. Valspar Corp. in Kanka­kee cre­ates in­dus­trial metal coat­ings for Sher­win-Wil­liams. The 3M Com­pany’s 500 em­ploy­ees in Cor­dova are be­hind a range of chem­i­cal prod­ucts that in­cludes Sap­phire — a fire sup­pres­sant used by mu­se­ums like the Smith­so­nian.

An­other im­por­tant realm of the state’s chem­i­cal in­dus­try that tends to fly un­der the radar: phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals. Ab­bott Lab­o­ra­tory’s 2013 spin-off, Ab­bVie, gen­er­ated $16 bil­lion in 2018 mak­ing a range of drugs. CSL Behring is spend­ing $1 bil­lion to ex­pand its Bradley op­er­a­tion frac­tion­al­iz­ing blood plasma to make med­i­ca­tions for con­di­tions like he­mo­philia and im­mune dis­or­ders.

Rise of the ma­chines

The sec­ond ma­jor man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tor in Illi­nois is ma­chin­ery. Ever since Cyrus McCormick moved his fa­mous reaper works to Chicago in the fall of 1847, Illi­nois has been a cen­ter of farm ma­chine pro­duc­tion. John Deere, a Ver­mont black­smith who moved to Illi­nois in 1838, in­vented a new kind of steel plow and now Deere & Co. is the largest farm equip­ment man­u­fac­turer in the world. Its John Deere Har­vester Works in East Mo­line has been hum­ming since 1912. The mas­sive com­bines can eas­ily cost $500,000 each, and one op­er­a­tion in Min­ne­sota has bought 500 of them.

Cater­pil­lar has 18,000 em­ploy­ees across Illi­nois. East Peoria is home to the com­pany’s famed yel­low bull­doz­ers. They don’t bal­ly­hoo the dis­tinc­tion, but mil­i­tary tanks were in­spired by Illi­nois treaded farm trac­tors. Cat also builds lo­co­mo­tive en­gines in LaGrange and as­sem­bles — though not com­pletely — its enor­mous, aptly named 797F Large Min­ing Truck in De­catur. (There would be no point in com­pletely putting one to­gether since they’re too big to trans­port over the roads. Built in pieces, each truck goes to its buyer in a dozen semi-trail­ers and are as­sem­bled on-site.) The com­pany also has a foundry in Maple­ton mak­ing en­gine blocks, which can weigh 11 tons apiece. They also use 3-D print­ers to cre­ate cus­tom en­gine parts.

Many types of man­u­fac­tur­ers are adopt­ing 3-D print­ing. PBC Lin­ear was founded in Rock­ford in 1983 as the Pa­cific Bear­ing Com­pany — “Pa­cific” in­tended to give a lit­tle Cal­i­for­nia cool to a Mid­west man­u­fac­turer dur­ing the Rea­gan era. At first, it only made “sim­plic­ity bear­ings” — self-lu­bri­cat­ing Te­flon-lined bear­ings used for de­vices that slide back and forth, like key-mak­ing ma­chines or fit­ness equip­ment or the guts of copy­ing ma­chines. This led PBC to start sell­ing en­tire me­chan­i­cal sub­sys­tems con­tain­ing th­ese bear­ings to save cus­tomers the time of de­sign­ing and man­u­fac­tur­ing the com­po­nents them­selves.

For the most suc­cess­ful man­u­fac­tur­ers, pro­duc­tion follows the needs of cus­tomers. Sa­muel Maze ran a lum­ber yard in Peru — and gave away zinc nails to pro­mote the use of his cedar shin­gles — the nails caught on, and now Maze Nails is the largest man­u­fac­turer of spe­cialty nails in the United States, fo­cus­ing on hot­dipped gal­va­nized roof­ing nails.

Chicago Mail­ing Tube, be­gun in 1902, holds a horse de­liv­ery li­cense, and made car­tridges for ma­chine gun ammo dur­ing World War II. Now the fac­tory pro­duces, along with a dizzy­ing va­ri­ety of mail­ing tubes, Parme­san cheese con­tain­ers and tiny tubes to fun­nel elec­tronic wiring through au­to­mo­biles.

Many man­u­fac­tur­ers defy easy cat­e­go­riza­tion. ITW, for­merly Illi­nois Tool Works, is a $14 bil­lion be­he­moth with 40 divisions that make al­most ev­ery­thing ex­cept

tools: plas­tic bag zip­pers in Ot­tawa, six-pack ringlets in Itasca, lab equip­ment in Lake Bluff and plas­tic clips in Frank­fort.

Nu-Way In­dus­tries in Des Plaines makes the elec­tronic bus shel­ters for JCDe­caux, turbo toast­ers for Sub­way restau­rants, and out­door or­der­ing kiosks for ma­jor fast-food chains (and in­creas­ingly in­door or­der­ing kiosks). Ev­ery in­dus­try has other in­dus­tries ser­vic­ing it. E.H. Wachs, in Lin­colnshire, doesn’t re­fine oil but makes heavy ma­chin­ery to main­tain oil fields, such as saws for large oil pipes.

Its de­vices might re­quire a four-foot gear, and that gear is cus­tom cut at Omni Gear, in Joliet, which makes pre­ci­sion gears that range in di­am­e­ter from 1/2 inch to 8 feet, used not only in oil pro­duc­tion equip­ment, but in ro­bots, print­ing and the man­u­fac­ture of cor­ru­gated card­board. Omni is one of a dozen Illi­nois gear man­u­fac­tur­ers, most clus­tered in and around Chicago. One of them, For­est City Gear, in Roscoe, made 70 gears on the me­chan­i­cal arm of NASA’s Mars Cu­rios­ity Rover.

Trac­tors might seem sim­i­lar to cars, but au­to­mo­biles are in a dif­fer­ent cat­e­gory al­to­gether. The Ford Mo­tor

Co. has been mak­ing cars on Tor­rence Av­enue since 1924 and its as­sem­bly plant is a high-tech won­der, with Kawasaki ro­bots dart­ing to weld car com­po­nents like me­chan­i­cal di­nosaurs. Once auto fac­to­ries had to spend weeks or months re­tool­ing to shift from one model of car to an­other. To­day, Ford can as­sem­ble dif­fer­ent mod­els on the same as­sem­bly line si­mul­ta­ne­ously, its sup­ply chain so finely tooled that parts that ar­rive in the morn­ing are bolted into place that same af­ter­noon.

Fiat Chrysler’s enor­mous FCA Belvidere As­sem­bly

Plant is the largest em­ployer in the Rock­ford area, with 5,430 peo­ple work­ing at a 5-mil­lion-square-foot plant (not to men­tion 15 busi­nesses within 25 miles of the plant that sup­ply parts for the Jeep Chero­kee, which the web­site named the most “Amer­i­can” car, since 72 per­cent of its parts are made in the United States). The plant churns out 1,200 ve­hi­cles a day.

Illi­nois not only makes au­to­mo­biles, but it also makes the gaso­line that goes into them. More peo­ple know where the Dakota Ac­cess Pipe­line be­gins, up in north­west North Dakota, than re­al­ize where it ends: 1,172 miles away, in south­ern Illi­nois. The re­gion is a hub of oil stor­age and petro­chem­i­cal pro­duc­tion. There are four petroleum re­finer­ies in the state — Marathon, Exxon/Mo­bil, Citgo and Phillips 66 — ca­pa­ble of pro­duc­ing al­most a mil­lion bar­rels a day, more than a third of that at Phillips’ Wood River Re­fin­ery in Rox­ana, about 15 miles north of St. Louis, thanks to a $2 bil­lion ex­pan­sion to the cen­tury-old fa­cil­ity, com­pleted in 2010.

A cor­nu­copia of food and drink

Mars has a plant in Robin­son, while Fer­rara Candy pumps out Le­mon­heads and Atomic Fire­balls in For­est Park — where jelly beans slowly tum­ble in ce­ment-mixer-like drums, growing like pearls as finer grades of sugar are added.

A lot of candy pro­duc­tion is un­der the pub­lic’s radar:

World’s Finest Choco­lates pro­duces bars for school sales at its 11-acre Chicago head­quar­ters and plant, and Blom­mer Choco­late makes whole­sale choco­late coat­ings and bulk co­coa prod­ucts in River West while an­nounc­ing its pres­ence by cast­ing a de­lec­ta­ble co­coa aroma across down­town Chicago when the wind is right. One of the old­est Illi­nois food com­pa­nies is Plochman’s Mus­tard, founded in 1852 as Pre­mium Mus­tard Mills. Its Man­teno fac­tory uses three types of mus­tard seeds: yel­low, brown and a smaller amount of Asian mus­tard seeds which come from — where else? — Canada. The in­ter­est­ing thing about mus­tard is that it isn’t cooked, it’s mixed. The seeds are ground up, then wa­ter, vine­gar and spices are added, and the re­sult bot­tled with­out ei­ther heat or re­frig­er­a­tion en­ter­ing the process (well, the seals on the bot­tle are heated, but that’s it.)

A num­ber of Illi­nois man­u­fac­tur­ers are parts of in­ter­na­tional con­glom­er­ates. Plochman’s was bought by Swiss food man­u­fac­turer Haco in 2010, and Both Nes­tle and Fer­rara are divisions of Ital­ian candy gi­ant Fer­rero. Sunstar, a Swiss-based global oral health care cor­po­ra­tion, has 400 peo­ple in Schaumburg pro­duc­ing den­tal prod­ucts rang­ing from tooth­brushes to ad­vanced bone graft­ing sys­tems.

The times are a-changin’

Some­times old and cut­ting edge are com­bined in the same plant. Glen-Gery Brick in Mar­seilles makes a prod­uct whose man­u­fac­ture is out­lined in the Bi­ble. Here the process is en­tirely au­to­mated, from the mo­ment when dirt is scooped from the ground to the time that the fin­ished baked bricks are stacked on pal­lets. The first hu­man hands to touch a brick be­long to the stone ma­son lay­ing them, and they’re work­ing on au­tomat­ing that too.

Au­to­ma­tion is an im­por­tant rea­son why man­u­fac­tur­ing, which took a big hit in Illi­nois as well as the rest of the coun­try in the 1980s and 1990s, is mak­ing a come­back. “Smartest thing I ever bought,” Brent Wortell, owner of Tri­ton In­dus­tries, a Chicago metal fab­ri­ca­tion shop, said of his 6,000-watt in­dus­trial CO2 laser, not­ing that his cuts metal “just as fast as ones in China do.”

The down­side? Even though man­u­fac­tur­ing is com­ing back, au­to­ma­tion means jobs aren’t nec­es­sar­ily keep­ing pace. Twenty years ago, Glen-Gery Brick em­ployed 240 work­ers; now it em­ploys 24. Cer­tain

man­u­fac­tur­ers ex­pand their work­force — as ev­i­denced by Pres­i­dent Trump’s July visit to US Steel’s sole Illi­nois out­post, its Gran­ite City Works, to cel­e­brate the re-open­ing of two moth­balled fur­naces and the ac­ti­va­tion of 300 laid-off work­ers — but over­all man­u­fac­tur­ing em­ploy­ment does not surge along with pro­duc­tiv­ity.

Many plants in Illi­nois don’t make metal but trans­form it — such as Penn Alu­minum in Mur­phys­boro cre­at­ing the drawn alu­minum tubes used in re­frig­er­a­tion sys­tems, or Crown Bev­er­age Pack­ing, turn­ing out 5 mil­lion alu­minum soft drink cans a day. ABC Coat­ing in Man­teno makes the re­bar used in con­crete con­struc­tion.

Re­plogle is, in essence, a printer com­bined with a con­tainer man­u­fac­turer — a globe is a map glued on a card­board or plas­tic sphere, and both print­ing and con­tain­ers are well-rep­re­sented in Illi­nois with R.R. Don­nel­ley and

Pack­ag­ing Cor­po­ra­tion of Amer­ica. The lat­ter, now PCA, has a plant down in Tren­ton mak­ing its Hex­a­comb brand of hon­ey­combed pack­ing ma­te­rial. R.R. Don­nel­ley started out print­ing books and cat­a­logs — the Yel­low Pages, the Sears cat­a­log — and shifted into busi­ness so­lu­tions, the kind of trans­for­ma­tion es­sen­tial in al­most any in­dus­try to keep afloat over the long haul.

As im­por­tant as man­u­fac­tur­ing is to the eco­nomic health of Illi­nois, as the state ob­serves its 200th birth­day, we have to rec­og­nize that think­ing of man­u­fac­tur­ing as the only way to cre­ate some­thing of value can be lim­it­ing. Some com­pa­nies that used to pro­duce tan­gi­ble goods have shifted to vir­tual prod­ucts. R.R. Don­nel­ley was a ma­jor printer for a cen­tury. Now, as RRD, though it does have a cus­tom print­ing fa­cil­ity in St. Charles and oth­ers across the coun­try, its print­ing work is vastly re­duced and it makes both phys­i­cal and in­tan­gi­ble things.

“We’re re­ally a $7 bil­lion mar­ket­ing and busi­ness com­mu­ni­ca­tions com­pany,” said Dan Knotts, pres­i­dent and CEO of RRD. “For me, man­u­fac­tur­ing is a syn­onym with pro­duc­ing. In the case of dig­i­tal, you’re mak­ing some­thing, and in that sense, you are man­u­fac­tur­ing. As a com­pany, we’re ex­tremely proud of our man­u­fac­tur­ing her­itage. It’s the core of what we do. But we’ve ex­panded and evolved be­yond that into the dig­i­tal world.”

Dig­i­tal and vir­tual prod­ucts are quickly be­com­ing a big­ger piece of Illi­nois’ eco­nomic pie, but Re­plogle’s re­turn proves there’s still room for man­u­fac­tur­ing phys­i­cal goods the old-fash­ioned way.

On the fac­tory floor, Lucina Miguel, who has worked at the globe-maker for nearly 40 years, trims con­vex strips of 100 per­cent cot­ton pa­per and glues them onto the globes. There are just 12 strips each, but past­ing them down can take an en­tire week, be­gin­ning with the strip con­tain­ing the east­ern coast of Ice­land.

When she’s fin­ished as­sem­bling a top-of-the-line floor-stand­ing globe, it will retail for $14,000 — the prici­est of the 250 mod­els Re­plogle makes and sells.

But else­where, the plant is more high-tech. Cheaper globes are vacu-formed, and a laser-guided fork­lift al­lows the com­pany extra nar­row ware­house aisles, cut­ting their costs.

“I saw it, and said, ‘This will save us quite a bit,’ ” said Joe Wright, Re­plogle’s CEO.

Like it or not, the world keeps turn­ing for Illi­nois’ man­u­fac­tur­ers, and Re­plogle has the globes to prove it.


One of the world’s largest man­u­fac­tur­ers of globes, Re­plogle Globes, came back to Illi­nois in 2016.


Deere & Co., which pro­duces ma­chin­ery un­der the John Deere brand, is the largest farm equip­ment man­u­fac­turer in the world. Its East Mo­line fa­cil­ity has been hum­ming since 1912.


The East Peoria man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­ity of Cater­pil­lar Inc.’s D10, a trend­set­ting track-type dozer.

US Steel’s sole Illi­nois out­post is the Gran­ite City Works.


Plochman’s fa­mous bar­rel-shaped mus­tard con­tain­ers.

A Ford Mo­tor Co. em­ployee works on an en­gine as­sem­bly at the Chicago plant.


Re­plogle em­ploy­ees as­sem­ble globes in the com­pany’s Hill­side fac­tory.

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