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City lands $70 mil. grant toward Digital Lab

Mayor Rahm Emanuel spoke about 2014 budget with Sun-Times editorial board Tuesday afternoon. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel spoke about the 2014 budget with the Sun-Times editorial board Tuesday afternoon. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

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Updated: March 24, 2014 6:55AM



WASHINGTON — Chicago will be the home of a new Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute, with President Barack Obama on Tuesday making the official announcement about the center with vast potential for the area.

The first-of-its kind “Digital Lab” will be headquartered on Goose Island on Chicago’s North Side. It will be the hub of a 73-member, multistate public, corporate and university consortium.

The federal government, through the Department of Defense, will send a $70 million grant to the consortium, led by Chicago-based UI Labs, a nonprofit spinoff of the University of Illinois.

The federal money for next-generation digital technology will be leveraged with up to $250 million in cash and in-kind commitments from corporations, the city of Chicago, the state of Illinois and universities in Illinois and other states.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel; Gov. Pat Quinn; Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.; Michael Sacks, vice chairman of World Business Chicago; and University of Illinois Board of Trustees Chairman Chris Kennedy were key in landing the project.

“This will be a game changer for the city of Chicago,” Emanuel said in a Saturday interview, with “endless” potential for jobs.

Obama announced in his 2013 State of the Union address that he wanted to create institutes — drawing from academia, business and local, state and federal agencies — to keep the U.S. high-tech and industrial base competitive. After meeting with a Pentagon official early on, Emanuel said he decided that Chicago was well-positioned to go after the lab.

Durbin, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense — a perch to push for the project — said Saturday the Defense Department wants the project to yield vast savings by finding newer and cheaper ways to make and maintain major defense acquisitions.

The Chicago group competed against consortiums from New England, California and Huntsville, Ala., and had to put more on the table to show that Obama was not unfairly favoring Illinois, Durbin said.

“Being the president’s home state, we had to overperform to justify the selection,” Durbin said.

Quinn said Saturday the impact of the project and potential spinoffs is enormous.

“Advance manufacturing is a great way to grow jobs, to retain jobs and to literally bring back jobs that have gone to foreign shores. If you want made-in-America, this is the heart of that initiative because advanced manufacturing makes it much more feasible to do that manufacturing in your own backyard,” Quinn said.

Sacks said Saturday the institute is designed to solve real problems and “is not a think tank.”

It is “an industry-led institute” that can “develop products cheaper and faster,” Sacks said.

The consortium includes partners from Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Missouri, Nebraska, Texas, Colorado, New York and Oregon.

Manufacturers in the consortium include Boeing, Caterpillar, John Deere, Northrop Grumman, GE, ITW and Lockheed Martin.

Schools include U. of I., Northwestern, Northern Illinois University, Western Illinois University, Purdue University, Notre Dame, University of Michigan, University of Texas, University of Iowa and the University of Chicago.

Emanuel, Quinn, Durbin and Sacks said they will be at the White House on Tuesday for Obama’s announcement.

Obama also will announce the Detroit area as the home for an institute concentrating on lightweight and modern metals manufacturing.

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