2014
02.25

It’s all about manufacturing. And it’s about time. It’s one of those moments you are actually proud of your city, your politicians, and you hope that the mission they espouse will actually be fulfilled. When the City of Chicago announced it landed the $70 million Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute I couldn’t help but be excited about what the future would finally hold for domestic manufacturers who had been family-owned businesses whose ownership bloodlines have remained unchanged for decades. And it’s these same companies that revealed from 1992-2002 about 90% of America’s most important manufacturing industries lost significant marketshare to goods produced overseas. So talk of an advanced-manufacturing technology lab for Goose Island with the potential to reinvigorate domestic manufacturers by attracting innovation, investment, and even cachet to Chicago, all while cementing the Windy City as a cutting-edge research hub, has been tragically overdue.

It’s not often the federal government doles out big bucks for research so it’s no surprise Mayor Rahm Emanuel is running around telling anyone who will listen that this is a game-changer for Chicago. While President Obama has stated he intends to award other cities with the same research funds to serve as a digital flagship in the coming year, Howard Tullman of 1871 told me the key to competitiveness is sparking innovation through manufacturing, among other things. The Center will be managed by the University of Illinois-affiliated UI Labs. In fact, a second institute is anticipated to be located in Canton, Mich., near Detroit.

Mayor Emanuel is meeting with Obama today and the President expected to officially announce the initiative at the White House. 

With contributions from more than 70 corporate and university partners, the five-year budget is expected to be around $320 million, if not more, as additional partners sign on. More than 40 companies have already signed on such as Boeing Co., General Electric, Caterpillar, John Deere, Honeywell, Procter & Gamble, Dow Chemical Co., Siemens, and Microsoft Corp., just to name a few.

I have to commend the efforts of all the companies and politicians working to together to spark innovation. Back in 2004 I wrote a book entitled Mending Manufacturing, How America Can Manufacture Its Survival. I couldn’t have stressed enough how critical it is to raise awareness to how vital manufacturing is to economic well-being. If and when we all work together, perhaps Chicago can be the model for rebuilding and mending American manufacturing.