A recent study from the Illinois Manufacturers' Association underscores the importance of the manufacturing industry in the southern part of the state.
Mark Denzler, president and CEO of the association, said the industry is integral from Belleville to Metropolis.
"Forty-one thousand people -- directly or indirectly -- are employed by the manufacturing sector in the nine counties that we highlighted," he said.
Denzler recently traveled the state as part of what the organization has called a Manufacturing Matters Illinois campaign to address the new economic analysis and policy issues of important to manufacturers.
He said that the manufacturing industry contributes the single largest share of the state's gross domestic product.
"It's a critical cog in the Illinois economy," Denzler said.
The trade organization leader said that the industry needs to reach out to young people. He also said that manufacturers face a real challenge when it comes to addressing workforce needs.
"There's clearly a skills gap when I talked about nearly six or seven thousand men and women working on factory floors," he said.
Denzler said about 20,000 workers and up to 5,000 engineers will be needed to offset retirements expected in the next 10 to 15 years.
One concern Denzler said needed attention was the perception that surrounds the manufacturing industry.
"We have to do a better job of telling the story of manufacturing," he said. "As I like to say, there's a perception that manufacturing is dark, dirty and dangerous. It is not."
He said that today's manufacturers are clean, high-tech and automated, and advocated for more career technology classes in schools.