The Chicago Manufacturing Renaissance Council (CMRC) is preparing to launch a new manufacturing initiative called the Austin Manufacturing Innovation Park, which officials say will lead “a reemergence of manufacturing” citywide.

The initiative—anchored in the sophisticated education and training programs for Austin youth and residents – will put Chicago back on the map as one of the city leaders in manufacturing, says Executive Director Dan Swinney.

“We abide by four principals that allow for progress in manufacturing,” Swinney tells Steven Engelhardt of Industry Today. “First, we are centered on the fact that manufacturing is the essential means to a modern, sustainable society. Secondly, we believe in our bipartisan, strategic partnership of labor, manufacturers, government, community, and educators giving us a competitive advantage in the global economy.”

Continuing, he says, “Third, is the belief that there needs to be major reform in the education process in ensuring that individuals are given the opportunity to enter the workforce with applicable and practical mechanical skills. Finally, we are always seeking means to develop strong communities and build a broad based middle class by dramatically reducing poverty.”

The CMRC, officials say, was formed back in 2005 via a joint collaborative effort between the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association, the Chicago Federation of Labor, Manufacturing Renaissance, the Mayor’s Office, and a network of other organizations

The Austin Manufacturing Innovation Park is focused on attracting manufacturing companies, domestically and internationally, to develop production sites in the greater Austin community located on Chicago’s West side.

“It has plenty of land for industrial use, an excellent transportation infrastructure, and a developing secondary and postsecondary education system geared to the needs of advanced manufacturing,” Swinney explains.

Several companies have “already signed memorandums of understanding (MOUs) expressing their desire to locate” into the Innovation Park, says vice president Kevin Jones. He adds these firms come from a variety of manufacturing sectors.

“We are also considering companies using geothermal energy, companies in plastics, as well as companies that produce solar energy products. Solar panel production for use in the city will have a meaningful impact in meeting business, social, and environmental objectives.” Jones says.

The idea for the innovation park was inspired by what Swinney learned in his visits to Dortmund, Germany.

Once a focal point within the country for steel, mining, and brewing, all three industries went under rather quickly and left members of the city wondering where the future of manufacturing was for them.

In response, the Technologiepark Dortmund was set up in 2000, complete with educational institutions to train local individuals. Through this, they were able to identify new markets to go after such as that of micro and nanotechnologies, and in doing so attracted a slew of foreign and domestic companies to invest and set up businesses.

Within ten years, the Dortmund project created 280 businesses and more than 8,500 jobs.

The upcoming Chicago initiative mirrors the one that succeeded in Dortmund, tweaking it to suit North American needs. In doing so, it has created a system that will likely be used and replicated in a variety of cities throughout the U.S.

A Manufacturing Renaissance Council now exists in the San Francisco Bay Area and there are organizing efforts in Detroit and New York City, Swinney says.

Swinney pointed to the financial crisis of 2008 as one of the main catalysts for the idea.

“Since the 1960s, the image of manufacturing has been negative. But in the financial crisis in 2008, thinking people from all sectors began to recognize that you can’t have an advanced economy as the United States’ based on short term speculation,” he says. “Leaders from all sectors began to look anew at manufacturing and the need to re-build our productive capacity. They were open to a manufacturing renaissance.”

He adds, “The Austin Manufacturing Innovation Park, and the vision at the heart of it, serves as a response to this with a plan that should handle both short and long term demands from the manufacturing sector.”

The Innovation Park will be focusing on advancing the competitiveness of local companies in Chicago.

Much of this work will be done by local Chicago students educated and trained at the Austin Polytechnical Academy, a new city high school that was recognized in 2008 by then U.S Presidential candidate Barack Obama as a possible national model for education. Work will also be done at local community colleges such as Daley College and Wright College that have advanced manufacturing programs.

Swinney adds that through his innovation park, Chicago “can become a leading hub of manufacturing” and contribute to rebuilding the Austin community that now faces deep poverty due to deindustrialization in the 1980s and 1990s.

“With local kids receiving the proper education through an effective public educational infrastructure, they graduate with skills that can let them hit the ground running,” he says. “In doing so, they are qualified to be employed and will help us form a workforce that will reestablish the manufacturing scene in Chicago.”

While the Austin Manufacturing Innovation Park gives off many positive aspects for both local and national manufacturing businesses, it was not easy getting to where they are today.

Swinney attributes the hard work done as a result of the close collaboration between top leadership of the CMRC, CEO’s of major manufacturing companies, the Tri State Alliance for Regional Development, World Business Chicago—the business organization of the Mayor of Chicago, as well as crucial additional funding and leadership supplied by JP Morgan Chase.

“What we’re seeing here is a bipartisan team effort,” he adds. “Through this, the power of a public and private partnership in transforming our economy and society can be realized. This is what can be achieved when we work together.”

About the Chicago Manufacturing Renaissance Council
The Chicago Manufacturing Renaissance Council is a coalition of business, labor, government, and community leaders working to make Chicago the global leader in advanced manufacturing. We believe advanced manufacturing can build a society that is socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable and restorative.


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