All About Illinois Exports

Exports are a staple of the economy in Illinois, which is the fifth-largest exporting state in the U.S. and largest in the Midwest. International trade supported more than 1.6 million jobs in Illinois in 2022 as the state exported over $78 billion worth of goods. Jobs supported by trade represent over 20 percent of the total jobs in Illinois. 

Coming off the COVID-19 downturn of 2020, Illinois exports rebounded with an increase of 24 percent to $65.9 billion in 2021. Over $27 billion in exports in 2021 went to two countries, Canada ($18.4 billion) and Mexico ($8.9 billion). Top exports overall by category in 2021 included Chemicals ($14.2 billion), Machinery ($11.2 billion), Computer and Electronic Products ($7.2 billion), and Transportation Equipment ($6.3 billion). 

Growth markets for Illinois exports in 2022 were led by Japan, which saw a 38.8 percent increase. Next were Australia (29.3 percent), Mexico (29.0 percent), and Canada (27.9 percent). Product growth was led by Transportation Equipment, which saw a 31.4 percent increase from 2021. Chemicals were next with a 12.8 percent increase. 

Illinois’ top 10 partner countries for trade are Canada, Mexico, Australia, Germany, China, Brazil, Japan, Netherlands, United Kingdom, and Singapore. Eight of those countries saw at least a 13.7 percent increase since 2020, with six over 29 percent. The exceptions were Brazil (2.6 percent growth) and United Kingdom (23.6 percent reduction). 

Some of the most recent data available shows that in November 2023, Illinois exported $6.59 billion worth of goods. The top exports were: Packaged Medicaments ($328 million), Telephones ($267 million), Vaccines, Blood, and related items ($261 million), Soybeans ($245 million), and Motor Vehicle Parts and Accessories ($218 million). 

The Illinois Department of Commerce’s Office of Trade and Investment (OTI) serves as the conduit between Illinois businesses and global opportunities. With seven regional foreign offices and a network of trade specialists in Chicago, OTI offers export assistance to companies seeking to grow their global footprint. 

OTI’s Trade and Export Promotion program (ISTEP) provides financial and technical assistance to small businesses in Illinois to help them increase their export production. ISTEP’s programs include five options. In addition, International Trade Centers offer assistance with international trade and exports. 

Why are exports important? For starters, over 95 percent of the world’s consumers live outside of the U.S., and 75 percent of the world’s purchasing power is located on foreign soil. Small and medium-sized companies represent 97 percent of U.S. exporters. Other advantages of exports include:
  • Reduction of dependency on domestic markets
  • Offset the effects of downtrends in domestic markets
  • Extends sales potential of existing products
  • Stabilizes effects of seasonal markets and sales fluctuations
  • Diversification of sources of revenue
In terms of foreign direct investment in Illinois, over 2,600 firms employ more than 380,000 people in the state. Chicago is ranked first among all metropolitan areas and Illinois is second in the nation in locations for new and expanded corporate facilities. O’Hare International Airport is the only dual hub airport system in North America and is served by all major international carriers.