Lawmakers: Manufacturing partnership will bring jobs to Illinois

February 23, 2014 

— A new federal grant may bring jobs to the metro-east, according to legislators.

Illinois and Michigan leaders announced Sunday that a $70 million grant and $250 million of private investment will create a digital manufacturing and design innovation institute that will be organized by the U.S. Department of Defense.

While the institute known as Digital Lab will be based in Chicago, U.S. Rep. Bill Enyart said regional partners will include Southern Illinois University, Boeing, Southwestern Illinois College and General Dynamics. A second institute will be based in Canton, Mich. near Detroit.

President Obama announced creation of Digital Lab in his State of the Union address last month, but the selection of Chicago came about through a bipartisan effort by Illinois legislators, they said: Enyart and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin joined U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Illinois) and the entire Illinois delegation to lobby Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel for the program.

Durbin said that Digital Lab had the potential to revolutionize the way the United States approaches manufacturing, partnering private labs with universities for "innovative, industry-driven research that will make America more competitive on the global stage" and create thousands of jobs.

Enyart said the consortium of education, research and industry would ensure that Illinois is on the cutting edge of manufacturing.

"From the research that will be conducted at the SIU system to the collaboration with local manufacturers like General Dynamics and Boeing, every part of our state will benefit," Enyart said. "Most importantly, the Digital Lab will create more opportunities for high-skill jobs for our nation and our region for generations to come."

The private investment from industry is about $250 million, triple the Pentagon contribution of $70 million, legislators said. It was not immediately clear Sunday how many jobs are expected to be created by the initiative or when the regional hubs would begin work.

Illinois officials insisted that the Chicago lab, led by nonprofit UI Labs, will be the nation's flagship research institute in digital manufacturing, ostensibly bolstering the Defense Department's efficiences along the way. The Michigan institute will focus on lightweight and modern metals, pairing the world's leading producers of aluminum, titanium and high-strength steel with universities and researchers.

Bidding competition overseen by the Defense Department drew proposals from across the country. Another institute, led by the U.S. Department of Energy, will be based in Raleigh, N.C. focusing on next-generation power electronics.

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