Illinois Manufacturing Lab to benefit UI, Chicago

By Johnathan Hettinger

The new Illinois Manufacturing Lab will benefit the University of Illinois, the state of Illinois and the city of Chicago, top University officials told the Board of Trustees at its special meeting Friday.

The lab, which was announced by Gov. Pat Quinn on Friday, is meant to help small- and medium-sized manufacturers in the state become more competitive on a regional, national and global level. The lab will help manufacturers implement new technology to become more streamlined and more profitable. The IML will start with a pilot program at 10 Illinois manufacturers.

Caralynn Nowinski, associate vice president for Innovation & Economic Development of the Office of the Vice President for Research, said the lab, which is the first in the UI LABS partnership, is “just the start.”

Nowinski said UI LABS is an “innovation-based plan for economic development” that would help improve the University, the state and Chicago.

University

The special Board of Trustees meeting was held to discuss the University’s role in the economic development of the state, which legislators made a mission of the University in 2000. Since the implementation of the mission, the University has seen a number of new developments that have helped bring in external research dollars that benefit the state economy, said Lawrence Schook, vice president for research.

These projects include the establishment of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications and the Institute for Genomic Biology, which has brought in $1.5 million in projects so far and is continuing to attract a large amount of federal research dollars. One of the projects, Research Park, offers internships to University students in addition to $175 million in annual economic impact to the state and almost $15 million in annual taxes.

Chancellor Phyllis Wise said these projects represent a large portion of the University’s external research funding, which totals $800 million and has a $5.6 billion annual budget that generates in excess of $10 billion for the state’s economy.

Schook and Wise said they see potential growth in public-private partnerships like the IML, and Jon Pyatt, UI director of federal relations, said these partnerships have grown during President Barack Obama’s administration. He expects these partnerships to see more growth in the future.

“Public-private partnerships like the IML are the key to progress and economic growth, forging collaboration that harnesses the University’s research power to help solve real-world challenges,” University President Robert Easter said in a news release. “I’m grateful to Governor Quinn for launching this initiative, and the University of Illinois is proud to be a partner.”

Wise said she expects the lab and other future projects to help make the University a world leader at a critical time.

“We are truly standing at the cusp of the industrial revolution of this century,” Wise said.

State of Illinois

Quinn originally announced the lab during his state of the state speech in February as a way to help reestablish the economy in Illinois, which has the fourth-highest unemployment rate in the nation at 8.9 percent.

“The Illinois Manufacturing Lab is going to help our state remain a national leader in making quality products and creating good jobs,” Quinn said in a news release Friday. “The IML will be a marquee attraction for companies around the globe to come to Illinois so they can work with cutting-edge techniques and technologies to drive our economy forward.”

The state has consistently lagged behind in receiving federal funding, according to David Merriman, co-director of the IGPA Fiscal Futures Project.

In the past 20 years, Illinois has contributed more to the federal government than it has received, and 46 states have received more economic benefit from the federal government than Illinois. Merriman also said Illinois ranks No. 48 in the amount of defense funding received from the federal government when divided by GDP.

Merriman also said many of the state’s companies are “footloose firms” that could easily move other places if it becomes economically advantageous.

Chicago

Cities are becoming increasingly important in an ever-changing global landscape, and Chicago is well-positioned to establish itself as a global leader, Merriman said. He said the relationship between Chicago and the University could help establish the University as a world leader, if Chicago is able to maintain its spot.

Nowinski said the goal of UI LABS is to put Chicago at the center and establish the city as a global leader.

Merriman said, while Chicago is consistently ranked as one of the most important cities in the world, concerns about its future place in the world have arisen.

He said that the steady decline of the manufacturing industry has led to a decline in population and personal income growth, in addition to a high unemployment rate in the state of Illinois.

Despite these challenges, he said, “Chicago and Illinois have tremendous potential for growth.

“Like other world class cities, Chicago has the potential to be a central player in economic innovation.”

Johnathan can be reached at [email protected] and @jhett93.