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2019 R&D Index

Illinois’ R&D Landscape & Path Forward

Why R&D Matters

Research and development (R&D) is the lifeblood of innovation. Universities, businesses, and government all use R&D to create new technologies and services that create jobs and drive economic growth.

University research has been a core mission of Illinois’ leading universities since their founding. Research at universities in the state has led to the creation of technologies such as the LED, graphical web browser, MRI, modern nuclear energy, cloud computing, countless modern medicines and cancer treatments, and many, many more. The past decade has seen Illinois’ universities place an increased emphasis on commercializing discoveries made through university research. This emphasis has led Illinois’ universities to become hubs of economic development through the creation and commercialization of new technologies.

For businesses, R&D is vital to competitiveness as companies look to grow their share of increasingly globalized markets. R&D fuels companies to improve existing products; discover and develop new products; or create more efficient processes. Business R&D growth is integral to Illinois’ economy, allowing companies in the state to remain ahead of the technology curve and create strong jobs.

Lastly, research conducted at federally financed R&D centers (FFRDCs) keeps the country on the leading edge of discovery and innovation. Illinois’ two national labs, Argonne and Fermi, have a long history of discovery in key areas like advanced materials, defense, energy, supercomputing, and many more. Illinois’ federal labs are also working to make their facilities and technologies accessible to businesses through user facilities, technology transfer, and incubator programs—driving economic impact. Together, R&D activity at universities, businesses, and federal labs propel Illinois’ innovation ecosystem and economy forward.

Key Findings

    • Illinois’ total R&D activity reached $17.5 billion in 2016, an increase of nearly $1 billion over 2015. From 2015 to 2016, Illinois’ growth in total R&D activity exceeded the national average, growing by 6 percent, compared with 4.1 percent nationally.
    • The uptick in Illinois’ total R&D activity can largely be attributed to the growth of business R&D in both the food and IT industries, which collectively grew by more than $700 million from 2015 to 2016.
    • Following a period of relative stagnation, business R&D jumped by more than $1 billion in 2016, reaching $13.7 billion. Illinois’ single-year business R&D growth outpaced the national average from 2015 to 2016, growing by 8 percent, compared with 5.3 percent nationally.
    • Illinois’ business R&D landscape is heavily concentrated in pharmaceuticals and machinery. More than half of all business R&D activity in the state is conducted in these two fields, compared with just over 20 percent nationally.
    • Anchored by established Fortune 500 companies and growing newcomers, Illinois is also a national business R&D leader in both food and finance & insurance. The state ranks 2nd in food R&D, and 3rd in finance & insurance R&D, respectively.
    • Compared with the national average, business R&D in Illinois is more concentrated in large companies (more than 10,000 employees). Businesses with fewer than 1,000 employees make up a smaller share of business R&D, compared with the national average.
    • Illinois’ top patent producing companies are Caterpillar, IBM, Motorola Mobility, and State Farm. Other notable Illinois-headquartered companies among the top patent producers include Allstate, Cleversafe (IBM), AbbVie, Boeing, Molex, John Deere, and Illinois Tool Works (ITW).
    • Illinois’ two federally funded R&D centers (FFRDCs), Argonne and Fermilab, conduct more than $1 billion in R&D activity annually. Thanks to its robust user facilities, Argonne receives more R&D funding from businesses than any other federal lab in the country.
    • To promote the growth of R&D and innovation in Illinois, the state should look to grow university-industry R&D collaborations. Currently, the state ranks 8th for both university R&D funded by businesses, and patents co-assigned to both a university and company. Illinois also ranks 13th in publications co-authored by at least one university and industry researcher.
    • R&D activity at Illinois’ universities reached $2.5 billion in 2017, up from around $2.4 billion in 2016. This level of university R&D activity eclipses the state’s previous high-water mark, set in 2013.
    • Both federal and state funding for university research in Illinois has fallen over the past five years. To compensate for this decrease in funding, universities in the state have grown the share of funding received from non-traditional sources. These sources include institutional funds, funding from businesses, and other sources.
    • Compared with the national average, Illinois’ university R&D is more concentrated in medical and computer fields. Together, these disciplines make up nearly 60 percent of university R&D in the state.
    • In 2017, Illinois universities produced 13,817 academic articles in science and engineering fields—6th most among states nationally. Universities in Illinois were also issued 394 patents in 2018, 8th most among states nationally.


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