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Food Production & Distribution

2016 sector employment levels

Chicago has a storied economic reputation for manufacturing, transportation, and distribution, but did you know that the Chicago Region is also a leader in the food and beverage industry?

The most current employment estimates released by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that the Chicago Region ranks first in food and beverage manufacturing in terms of employment in 2016 (Fig 1). A historical analysis of employment levels shows that the region has been in the top position along with the Los Angeles Region for the last ten years. With 1,379 business establishments, the industry currently employs over 56,000 people, making it the second largest manufacturing sector in terms of employment (after fabricated metal manufacturing). If these trends continue, this sector will likely become the largest manufacturing sector in the Chicago Region.


Besides its large employment figures, food and beverage manufacturing jobs are highly concentrated in the Chicago Region. None of the other MSAs examined appear to be specialized in this industry group (by location quotient measure). It is notable that the Chicago MSA consistently has the largest LQ among the regions analyzed (Fig 2). In other words, establishments in this sector enjoy external economies of scale. These effects are pronounced in creating a specialized labor pool, specialized services and infrastructure, and knowledge and innovation.

Chicago’s competitive advantage in the food and beverage industry​ can be explained by it’s proximity to large expanses of farming land​, efficient transportation and distribution network​, presence of older, established companies​, and the large wholesale markets with proximity to multi-modal transit​. All of these factors serve as extant resources that are readily available in order to further enhance the food and beverage production in the region.​ By investing in the social infrastructure that has allowed the food and beverage sector to become a leader in the country, the Chicago region can maintain and improve its strong position in this sector!

Expanding Food Production Opportunities in Chicago

These widgets help explain which skills are needed for jobs in food production and distribution.