The purpose of the Community Development and Policy Studies’ Industrial Cities Project is to develop comprehensive community profiles of cities throughout the Federal Reserve’s 7th District that had populations of at least 50,000 and had 25% or more of their employment in manufacturing in 1960. The ten cities that will be profiled for this project were taken from a larger list of 54 and were selected based on a series of regression analyses to control for the effect of manufacturing decline on community well-being. Research includes in-depth qualitative information, combined with the best available quantitative analyses of the trends and issues impacting these communities to identify policies and programs that promote (or inhibit) economic growth and vitality in industrial cities.
This is the second in a series of blogs presenting initial findings and themes from the Industrial Cities Project and profiles Joliet, Illinois. Watch for the next installment in this series which will feature Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Why was Joliet chosen for the ICI study?
In 1960, more than a third of Joliet’s population was employed in the manufacturing sector, with companies like U.S. Steel, Texaco and Caterpillar creating numerous jobs. Beginning in the late 1970s, Joliet began to see a decline in its manufacturing base and by 1983 had the dubious distinction of having the highest unemployment in the nation.
Since the recession in the 1980s, Joliet has worked hard to diversify its employment base. Today, 70% of jobs are spread across seven industries, with two – Healthcare and Social Assistance and Retail Trade – comprising more than 35% of all jobs. Joliet’s largest employers include hospitals and casinos, as well as heavy machinery manufacturer, Caterpillar.
Job growth through 2021 is projected to follow demographic patterns of growth and aging. Occupation data shows that jobs in the health care sector are projected to grow by more than 15%. Jobs for teachers and other education-related professions are on a similar trajectory. Material moving occupations also show strong growth projections, as do jobs in the retail and entertainment sectors.
Joliet, Illinois is located approximately 40 miles southwest of the City of Chicago, framed by the I-335 expressway to the east, I-55 expressway to the west, and I-80 expressway to the south. It is part of the Chicago-Joliet-Naperville Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). The Des Plaines River runs through Joliet, as do several commuter and freight rail lines. 
Joliet is the county seat of Will County, Illinois and remains an industrial city with 15% of its employment focused in either the creation or movement of goods. It hosts two casinos, a Frontier League baseball team, the Route 66 Raceway (now the Chicagoland Speedway) and the historic Rialto Square Theatre. For decades it was known for the Joliet Correctional Center featured in movies and songs and now closed, since 2002.
Joliet is also home to the Joliet Centerpoint Intermodal Center, covering 3,600 acres with almost 20 million square feet of industrial facilities, as well as container/equipment management yards. A ‘sister’ intermodal is located in Elwood, Illinois, two miles to the south. Together, these two centers create one of the largest inland ports in the nation.
Joliet’s population is 147,433, an increase of 39% since 2000, making it the fourth largest city in Illinois. Over the past decade the city has become poorer, with poverty levels increasing from 10.8% to 16.1% and more diverse with a 10% increase in the Hispanic population, which now comprises more than 25% of the total population.
Looking to the Future: Assets and Challenges
While local leaders speak with pride of Joliet as the source of limestone for the Chicago WaterTower built in 1869, the reach of the city now extends far beyond the metropolitan region. Because of its sustainable assets – the rail lines, the expressways, and waterways, as well as proximity to two international airports – Joliet has a firm foothold in the global supply chain as a leading inland port.
However, challenges remain. Joliet has struggled to balance its municipal budget. With casino and other revenue on the decline, the city faced a $27 million deficit going into 2012 budget sessions. Various proposed budgets have privatized crossing guards, eliminated mosquito spraying and threatened to cut subsidies to area cultural institutions. Because Joliet is a heavily unionized city, municipal leaders must resolve the dilemma of managing the costs of pensions coveted by many constituents. As a result, while Joliet’s future is firmly linked to the global economy, legacy issues close to home still influence politics and priorities.