Illinois’ higher education, business and political leaders are pledging cooperation for an effort to bring manufacturing jobs to the region.
U.S. Rep. Bill Enyart, D-Belleville, convened a day-long manufacturing summit at Mid-America Airport in Mascoutah. It was aimed at presenting a united front for southern Illinois to compete for manufacturing jobs.
“You don’t get anything done individually,” Enyart said. “And when you look at the folks that came together today, we’re building a team. We’re building a team for southern Illinois, for the region, for the state of Illinois. And that team is designed to focus the brain power on solving these problems and restoring American manufacturing to the prime spot that it once held.”
One tangible example Enyart cited was getting southern Illinois higher education institutions and businesses to form a partnership with the Digital Manufacturing and Design Lab in Chicago. That partnership, he said, ensured stakeholders "from southern Illinois are wholly involved in the institute’s functions.”
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, said that Illinois is engaged in a national competition to land a Department of Defense program to improve advanced manufacturing. He said the statewide effort will include southern Illinois, which could potentially revitalize a part of the state that’s seen hard economic times.
“What we’re setting out to do is to establish a new standard for manufacturing for the 21 century,” said Durbin, who is an East St. Louis native. “I grew up in this part of the world, as most of us have. And I know what it meant for my family and many others. Whether it was transportation or manufacturing, we had the best. And we were proud of it. Many of those companies are gone now. The next generation is waiting for a place to locate.”
The leaders of the University of Illinois and Southern Illinois University pledged to help in the effort. Southern Illinois President Randy Dunn said his university was ready to “take the footprint of central and southern Illinois, grow it, nurture it and build it.”
“And as much as anything, that means jobs and economic development,” Dunn said.
University of Illinois President Robert Easter said the manufacturing push was an opportunity for his institution to further the state’s economic development.
“We are excited to share our resources,” Easter said. “It gives us opportunity to display the talent of the university. But more importantly, it gives us opportunity to employ the talent to the service to the state of Illinois.”