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Originally published in the News-Gazette.

When agtech startup Boston Bioprocess began its HQ relocation search, founder Ted Netland thought they would stay in Massachusetts or move to neighboring New York. Instead, Boston Bioprocess chose to be in Central Illinois. Why? Access to talent and resources. Anchored by the University of Illinois, Netland said the region’s vibrant biotech community “punches above its weight.”

Central Illinois beat Boston and New York? Yes. Boston Bioprocess’ story isn’t an anomaly.  Companies like Boston Bioprocess are taking advantage of the opportunities that come with investing in the region. In fact, in 2023 company relocations and expansions in Central Illinois totaled $1.1B in investment and created hundreds of new jobs, according to Intersect Illinois data.

This year looks even better. Rivian just announced 550 new jobs in Normal.  Primient, a leader in sustainable food and industrial ingredient production, announced its commitment to invest more than $400 million at its Decatur facility. Innovafeed, a French agtech company, opened its first North American pilot plant in Decatur, as well. And the Illinois Fermentation and Agriculture Biomanufacturing Hub (iFAB) located in Urbana-Champaign recently secured $680 million in funding commitments – key investments that can help Illinois capture the global lead in biomanufacturing.

The fact is, Central Illinois is a great place to do business. Need more proof? Look at the workforce. The University of Illinois churns out some of the best talent in the country, graduating more engineers each year than MIT, Stanford and Caltech – combined. It is a renewable resource of hard-to-find talent.  And it’s not just the universities. Local community colleges like Richland and Heartland are excellent at training students in the skills that are in demand now, making them a great partner for local employers.

It’s more than just the workforce. Illinois has a strategic location at the center of the nation’s infrastructure. It is the only state where all the major rail lines intersect. It has the third-largest highway system in the country. In fact, CNBC ranks the state’s infrastructure as the second-best in the nation. Central Illinois is at the center of it all. It is a cost-effective place to bring supplies in and ship products out — a great advantage for manufacturers.

The unique combination of talent and location keeps Central Illinois at the forefront of innovation in well-established industries like transportation and manufacturing to emerging industries like robotics and biofermentation. From legacy companies like ADM and Caterpillar employing thousands in the region, to industry disruptors like Natural Fiber Welding and AutonomouStuff.

And, on top of all that, it is a great place to live. Central Illinois offers a great quality of life at a reasonable price. Something that is getting harder and harder to come by these days.

If this story is new to you, you’re not alone. We have spent so much time focusing on what is wrong that we have lost sight of what is right about Illinois — and Central Illinois. That has made it easier for others to try to define us. We need to take our story back. No region or state is perfect, but we have the people, the resources, and the infrastructure for success and are seeing key industries thrive. All the proof you need is surrounding you in Central Illinois. Let’s start telling the story.

Dan Seals is the CEO of Intersect Illinois, the statewide economic development organization focused on bringing new jobs and investment to the state.

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