New manufacturing center has UI Labs' big shoulders
By Pat Quinn
What will the Midwest economy look like in a few years and what will Illinois' place in it be?
Will the region, ridiculed decades ago as the Rust Belt, continue its renaissance as a center for innovation and risk-taking, leading the nation into a new age of American manufacturing in the 21stcentury? Or will others claim that mantle?
Illinois sets the course for the Midwest, with an economy nearly the size of three of our neighbors' — Indiana, Iowa and Wisconsin — combined. Success in Illinois is a prerequisite for prosperity across the country's heartland.
That's why President Barack Obama is endorsing and putting $70 million in federal money behind a Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute on the northern tip of Goose Island in Chicago. By announcing this support, the president is also putting these resources behind a vision: that technological innovation and highly skilled labor is a winning value proposition, and that investment in these areas is the key to making manufacturing an engine for growth.
I share the president's vision and have taken several actions to make possible this infusion of federal support. At my direction, the state of Illinois embraced DMDI from the start, working closely with UI Labs, the city of Chicago and many others in the design of the initiative, providing seed money and working with our partners to bring together the many higher education participants and corporate funders committed to seeing this work.
The DMDI is not some elaborate think tank or an ivory tower center devoted to studying business problems in the abstract. It will be a resource for all manufacturers, inventing, analyzing and testing new processes and techniques that will make production more adaptable and efficient. It will help large manufacturers transform their supply chains. It will be an incubator for makers, the people whose invention and toil are the core of our economy.
It takes many interests pulling together to get this even to the launch phase. UI Labs — a nonprofit spinoff of the University of Illinois — lead the way. Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Sen. Dick Durbin and Sen. Mark Kirk were deeply involved from the beginning. It would not have happened without the money and time committed by major companies that know they must be on the cusp of change. They include Caterpillar, John Deere, Lockheed Martin, Boeing and many more.
And, importantly, none of this would have happened without an unprecedented push from my administration. The state's $16 million pledged to the DMDI is just the start.
The first ingredients included the Illinois Manufacturing Lab, which I launched together with UI Labs in December as a down payment on the DMDI vision. The lab, supported by $5 million in funding from the state, will serve as the DMDI's outreach to small- and medium-sized business and has already put University of Illinois experts together with 10 companies in the state to solve their toughest manufacturing challenges.
I also invested $60 million from the state in the UI's Blue Waters Supercomputer — a truly unique asset that sets our application apart from so many others. Blue Waters is core to the DMDI, the key engine to generate new design, simulation and testing innovations. This is about putting technology in the service of Illinoisans who want to work.
The same principles applied in our $6.3 million in backing that enabled the launch of 1871 as a hub for digital startups and the more recent BioHub incubator known as Matter. Technology and innovation will be our state's calling cards for tomorrow.
This concentration of expertise and investment will work wonders here, perhaps redefining our state's economy in the ways the stockyards, Cyrus McCormick's reaper, our skyscrapers, railroads, financial markets, coal mines and pastures of plenty have done in the past.
As the world needs to work smarter, global demand will grow for Illinois' gifts of location, skilled labor and creativity.
Pat Quinn is the governor of Illinois.