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Digital manufacturing lab planned for former Republic Windows plant

The former Republic Windows   Doors plant 1333 N. Hickory Ave. is site proposed digital manufacturing lab thinched closer

The former Republic Windows & Doors plant, 1333 N. Hickory Ave., is the site of a proposed digital manufacturing lab that inched closer to reality on Tuesday when UI Labs was picked as developer of the facility. | Sun-Times File Photo

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Updated: June 10, 2014 10:42PM

An innovative plan to turn a former window-manufacturing plant on Goose Island into a national laboratory dedicated to the burgeoning field of digital manufacturing inched closer to reality Tuesday.

The Community Development Commission agreed to designate UI Labs as developer of the project at 1333 N. Hickory Ave. and authorized the Department of Planning and Development to negotiate a redevelopment agreement with UI Labs that includes a $10 million subsidy from the surrounding tax-increment-financing district.

The city’s $10 million contribution represents 60.6 percent of the total project cost estimated at $16.5 million. The state of Illinois has agreed to contribute $6.5 million in grant funding.

“What this is gonna do for the Goose Island area is gonna be tremendous…This is gonna be the new Silicone Valley,” gushed local Ald. Walter Burnett (27th).

“It’s gonna bring a lot of excitement to the city of Chicago, a lot of excitement to that community and it’s gonna help to stabilize what’s going on in that area.”

Burnett is dealing with an embarrassment of riches. His ward was recently chosen for a new, $60 million selective-enrollment high school named after President Barack Obama. The alderman said he’s “very excited” about the digital manufacturing lab to be built in a plant once owned by Republic Windows and Doors because of its ability to “sustain and enhance” property values.

“I like the idea that it’s right outside the Cabrini Green area. I’m actually trying to encourage folks who may move into this facility to maybe give them some incentives to buy property in the redevelopment of Cabrini Green — some of the market-rate housing that’s gonna go in over there to help subsidize that development,” Burnett said.

“Also, I’ve been speaking to them just recently about doing some things with the schools over in this community, in particular some of the CHA children, to make sure they get connected to this technology, learn some coding, get some mentorships going.”

Caralynn Nowinski, chief operating officer and executive director of UI labs, described the new lab as a “destination for talent and technology” that will make Chicago a “hub for transforming manufacturing.”

Construction is expected to begin in October and be completed by the end of January.

“The fact that we get to do that in Chicago gives us an incredible home-court advantage,” she said.

The lab will offer a state-of-the-art research and development facility to companies large and small, as they seek to harness the potential of big data and supercomputing to solve centuries-old manufacturing dilemmas.

“At its simplicity, it is using data to make better decisions for manufacturing and improve productivity. Manufacturing the way we know it today is not going to be the same five, ten years from now. And we’re gonna be at the forefront of it,” Nowinski told CDC members when pressed to explain the project.

“You know how data is transformed in music and health care and the way that consume TV and movies. Manufacturing is really the next step. What we want to do is help manufacturers learn how to use that data, turn it into information that allows them to make better decisions. That better decision-making leads to reduced time to make a product, to increased revenues and increased quality of products as well.”

The lab will be built with a $70 million grant from the Department of Defense and $250 million in public and private-sector funding. The facility also will have individual test laboratories, where manufacturers can come to test out their ideas before they start to build a product.

Many heavy-hitters in the industry — including Boeing, General Electric, Caterpillar and Northrop Grumman — have put money into the Chicago venture, beating out other groups from New England, California and Huntsville, Ala.

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