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Manufacturing Chicago’s economic future

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel arrives for an event manufacturing February 25 2014 East Room White House Washington.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel arrives for an event on manufacturing on February 25, 2014 in the East Room of the White House in Washington. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGANMANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

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Updated: March 27, 2014 6:33AM



Tuesday’s announcement that a new, state-of-the-art, advanced manufacturing facility will receive $320 million in federal and private funding to build a Digital Manufacturing Design Lab in Chicago makes two things abundantly clear.

First, Chicago is about to become the epicenter of a digital manufacturing revolution that will power our city’s economy for decades.

Second, we are seeing great dividends from our coordinated strategy to systematically pursue the innovation centers that will define America’s future. This investment is the latest in a three-year effort that has landed five world-class research centers in the city, and makes Chicago the place where great 21st century innovations are born.

Cities have been poised to lead this revolution for a long time. Bruce Katz, Director of the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution and author of “The Metropolitan Revolution,” has talked about a “critical mass” that is about to be reached to make cities with leading research centers much more competitive. He recently said, “placing research strategically in cities and metropolitan areas could potentially leverage up productive growth because of the concentration of firms, entrepreneurs and infrastructure that would interact with and commercialize it.”

In Chicago, we’re leading and defining this trend. The comprehensive Plan for Economic Growth and Jobs that I ordered upon taking office made these research institutions a priority, and we’re now seeing the fruits of that three-year strategy. We’re putting our brains and our brawn toward owning the future of innovation in America in fields that hold the greatest promise: digital manufacturing, batteries that will power the next generation of smart phones and cars, water as it becomes a more scarce resource, and urban design.

The latest investment is a $70 million grant from the Department of Defense for the Digital Lab and an additional $250 million in government, university and private sector matching funds, bringing the total investment to $320 million. It has the potential to generate $35 billion in savings for the DOD, produce $100 billion in value for the industry partners, create thousands of jobs, and produce manufacturing breakthroughs throughout the supply chain.

We won this competitive process because we dedicated a year to bringing together our leading research institutions, business leaders and government partners to show why Chicago is the only place in America where such collaboration and innovation is possible.

Last year we also took a major step to make Chicago the next generation battery and energy storage technologies capital of the nation. As a result of our intensive push, a multi-partner team, led by Argonne National Laboratory, was selected by the U.S. Department of Energy to receive up to $120 million over five years to establish new Batteries and Energy Storage Hub. It will produce not just breakthroughs but high-paying jobs building the batteries of tomorrow.

Last January, we announced an investment of more than $1 billion to create a leading biomedical research facility for Northwestern University in downtown Chicago. The research facility was the culmination of many years of strategic planning. It will help to make Chicago a global leader in cutting-edge medical research and innovation and is part of our city’s plan for economic development.

In a few weeks, we will be breaking ground on a major new Innovation Center at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) at the university’s South Side campus. The 100,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility that was announced last year is a major investment in both the education being provided by IIT and in the future of Chicago. It will unlock the potential of thousands of students, while providing Chicago’s businesses with a pipeline of new products and highly skilled workers to build them.

Finally, we forged a landmark agreement between the University of Chicago and Ben-Gurion University in Israel to use the latest discoveries in nanotechnology to confront the world’s freshwater challenges. The effort will develop new water production and purification technologies that can be deployed in areas of the world where access to freshwater is scarce. It will also make Chicago a leader in this important research.

I believe the single greatest driver of economic growth in the years ahead are our universities for the talent they produce, the research that goes on there, and the capacity for us as a city to retain the greatest companies here in Chicago. Just as the atom was first split on Chicago’s South Side and continues to lead to groundbreaking discoveries, the next generation of innovation should also be born in our city’s limits. It is my intention, not just to win that race for Chicago, but to ensure that the City of Big Shoulders remains the City of Big Discoveries far into the future.



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