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Ill. politicians tout manufacturing labs

Bustos says good-paying jobs on the way

Published: Monday, Feb. 24, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT

ST. LOUIS (AP) – Top politicians in Illinois joined local leaders in Michigan in trumpeting as a coup news that their states have landed a part in what they consider a revolutionary effort to boost manufacturing innovation, seeded by $140 million from federal taxpayers.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel over the weekend announced Chicago’s selection as eventual home to the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute touted last month in President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address. A second institute will be located in Canton, Mich., near Detroit.

Obama, a Chicagoan, is expected to officially announce the $320 million initiative Tuesday at the White House. The Pentagon is contributing $70 million to each of the Illinois and Michigan sites, with the remainder being contributed by states, including $16 million from Illinois, and outside interests that include corporations and universities.

It was not immediately clear Sunday how many jobs may be created by the initiatives or when those regional hubs could begin work.

U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-East Moline, said in a news release Sunday that she was pleased by the development.

“Our state’s workforce is the best in the world and with today’s announcement will now be well positioned to be home to even more of the good-paying manufacturing and research jobs of the future,” Bustos said.

She represents the 17th congressional district, which includes Whiteside and Carroll counties.

The initiative’s Chicago prong bound for the city’s Goose Island will push high-tech digital manufacturing and design under the premise that virtual environments may supplant drafting tables as keys to innovation. Illinois officials insisted that lab, led by nonprofit UI Labs, will be the nation’s flagship research institute in digital manufacturing, ostensibly bolstering the Defense Department’s efficiencies along the way.

“This solidifies Chicago’s place as the epicenter of the digital manufacturing revolution that will create thousands of jobs here and make our city the place where the greatest 21st-century innovations are born,” Emanuel said. “This cutting-edge digital lab will ensure that the City of Big Shoulders remains the City of Big Discoveries for years to come.”

Durbin, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, added that the initiative “has the potential to revolutionize the way the United States approaches manufacturing.”

The Michigan institute will focus on lightweight and modern metals. The White House said that effort includes a 60-member consortium, pairing the world’s leading producers of aluminum, titanium and high-strength steel with universities and researchers.

Michigan’s long standing as a bastion of car-making may have helped that state grab one of the institutes. Automakers, seeking better fuel efficiency in their vehicles, increasingly have turned to lighter body components that burn up less gasoline.

The White House said pushing more research into lightweight metals through the planned institute also “will strengthen our defense capabilities, like enabling the creation of armored vehicles strong enough to withstand a roadside bomb but light enough for helicopter-transport.”

John Anthony, a Canton trustee, told the Detroit Free Press he looked forward to hearing more details, calling that project potentially a revenue generator and “a tremendous opportunity.”

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said he would work with the consortium to “maximize the job opportunities available to Detroiters.”

The bidding competition overseen by the Defense Department drew proposals from across the country.

The two institutes — along with last month’s announcement that Raleigh, N.C., soon will be home to an Energy Department-led institute focusing on next-generation power electronics — follow through on Obama’s 2013 State of the Union pledge to push innovation through such regional hubs using existing resources. The Obama administration launched the bidding competition last May.

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