On December 3, 2018, Illinois turns 200. It’s a significant milestone and one that generated a short but robust debate within the Council’s Programs team over whether it should be marked with some kind of event. “What’s the global angle?” skeptical colleagues asked. Geographically speaking it’s a fair question. Find the State Capitol building in Springfield on Google Maps then scroll out: you’ll have to spin that little wheel on your mouse one and a half revolutions before you even see another country (Canada, inevitably).
Yet this patch of the Great Plains has had an outsize influence on the world, and on the occasion of the bicentennial it seems worthy of a recap:
Global Leaders. Perhaps Illinois' greatest gift to the world are the locally-raised leaders who have left an indelible mark upon it. Ronald Reagan, Hilary Clinton, Michelle Obama, and the Adlai Stevenson political dynasty are just some of the state's history-making children. And although they were born elsewhere, Illinois shaped the formative years of Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama's lives, so we claim them both too.
Global Feeders. Journey from the swirling confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to the shores of Lake Michigan and you'll pass a lot of corn and beans. Illinois is the third largest exporter of agricultural goods among US states, and number one for processed foods. The state is feeding people and livestock in almost every country, and as the number one producer of ethanol, we’re keeping their cars running too.
Global Innovators. An inordinate number of multinational corporations call the Land of Lincoln home, including Abbott, ADM, Boeing, Caterpillar, Deere, McDonalds, Motorola, United Airlines, and Walgreens. Their products and services have brought people closer together, changed how they work, and boosted their body mass. All said, the Land of Lincoln has really excelled at creating an environment where people want to make stuff: the cast steel plow, barbed wire, the cell phone, Playboy, the Wienermobile, the skyscraper, and the Solo cup are just a small assortment of Illinois' multifarious gifts to the world. And let’s not forget Fermi Lab and Argonne National Laboratory, where they are engineering solutions that just might save us all from climate change, cyber-attack, or assorted other global catastrophes in waiting.
..and Educators. More than 10,000 international students from 110 countries attended the University of Illinois last year. The state’s universities have long been magnets for students from across the world, and these schools have stacked up a mountain of patents and Nobel prizes as they created everything from nuclear fusion and Freakonomics, to Lyrica, and the first consumer web-browser. Today Illinois’ universities have gone truly global. For example the University of Chicago now operates centers in Bangladesh, China, Egypt, France, India, and the United Kingdom.
Home to the world. Illinois has offered a home to people from all over the world. It’s often said that Chicago is home to the largest populations of Assyrians, Czechs, and Poles outside of their homelands, as well as many other nationalities. In a more literal sense Illinois actually contains the world: We have a Peru and a Lebanon, an Ottawa, Paris, and a Vienna. The southernmost portion of the state contains the towns of Cairo, Palestine, and Thebes and is known as “Little Egypt”. There’s even an unincorporated community called Passport in Richland County. Illinois may not have any land borders, but it has its own Passport.
So Happy Birthday Illinois, and thank you for your enduring global contributions. The Council won’t be throwing you a party, but someone on staff might well be getting one of these goodies in the Secret Santa.