Illinois, nearly 400 miles in length, covers a vast and varied expanse of land and people. Chicago, its largest city (with a metropolitan area population of just under ten million), is the third largest metro-area in the United States. This city, lying on the shores of Lake Michigan, is within what is known as America's old industrial belt. The city has the third largest gross metropolitan product in the nation, and has also been rated as having the most balanced economy in the United States, due to its high level of diversification. It was named the fourth most important business center in the world in the MasterCard Worldwide Centers of Commerce Index. Attracting tens of millions of tourists each year, Chicago makes a great contribution not only economically, but also in the areas of culture, science and education (the Chicago area has the largest concentration of seminaries and theological schools outside Vatican City).
Occupying a central position in the center of the U.S., Illinois is important to the nation's economic life. Its highways and waterways are crucial to the movement of commerce through the country. Chicago is a national railroad hub, while its O'Hare International Airport is among the world's busiest.
While the northeastern section of the state is highly urbanized, the remainder of the state is largely rural. Its central and southern areas are part of the agricultural center of the nation. Illinois' mixture of factory and farm, urban and rural, makes it a microcosm of the United States. An Associated Press analysis of 21 demographic factors determined Illinois was the "most average state." The state's great length allows it to exhibit qualities of both southern and northern character. Socially, it is a somewhat conservative state, while politically it tends to be a swing state, depending upon current social and economic situations.
Were it not for the city of Chicago, the great rolling farmlands of the state might cause Illinois to be considered a sleepy state. However, one cannot view the wonders of this great city without noting the contributions made to it by the entire state. The character of the state's people is known as "Midwestern friendliness," even in the larger urbanized areas, and must be recognized as a key to its growth and success.