Stakeholders of digital lab discuss economic development, job creation

News-DemocratJuly 2, 2014 

— Leaders from local colleges, business and economic development met Wednesday as stakeholders of the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute to discuss economic development in the region.

U.S. Rep. Bill Enyart, D-Ill., hosted the event at MidAmerica Airport in Mascoutah. The summit, which was closed to public, began at 10 a.m. The group met and toured the Boeing manufacturing plant site at the airport. The stakeholders discussed ways to collaborate by tapping technology as a means to develop manufacturing and create jobs across the state.

"These key stakeholders each play a vital role in the success of collaborative advancement of manufacturing in Southern Illinois," Enyart said. "I brought them together because of their expertise and distinctability to work across the southern half of the state in a mutually beneficial fashion."

Chicago-based DMDII is an Illinois consortium led by UI Labs, a nonprofit research and development group led by the University of Illinois. UI Labs was awarded $70 million from the Department of Defense to fund the digital lab.

Institute Director of Membership Engagement and Communications Jacob Goodwin said the institute is intended to help revolutionize American manufacturing and bring U.S. manufacturing back to its peak, during the years following World War II.

"As all of us know too well in this room, manufacturing here at home has slipped in its competitiveness largely through pricing lack of competitiveness," Goodwin said.

"If U.S. manufacturers can get the lead in understanding how to use information to make manufacturing faster, smarter, more efficient, less expensive and thus more competitive, that can be the key to the rebirth of renaissance of manufacturing here at home."

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said this initiative is an attempt to bring back manufacturers with the latest technology in place of those that have closed or left. He said this is a statewide effort to establish a new standard for manufacturing in the 21st century.

"Many of those companies are gone now and the next generation is waiting for a place to locate," Durbin said. "We want them to locate here with good-paying jobs."

Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois Executive Director Ellen Kroehne said the meeting is a good first step toward establishing a strategy to achieve economic expansion.

"We had a really good discussion today about the things that can help Southwestern Illinois grow manufacturing and the things that keep us from growing manufacturing and came up with some good actions to move us forward," Kroehne said.

Southern Illinois University President Randy Dunn said this effort will help grow, nurture and build the state through economic development and job creation.

"As much as anything that means jobs and economic development," Dunn said. "What will come from this work within that arena will be exciting to watch. We're very excited to be part of that."

Contact reporter Will Buss at wbuss@bnd.com or 239-2526.

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