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Economy & Business

New Technology Academy In Belleville Expected To Draw Manufacturers To Metro East

Gavin Becherer and Connor Braasch watch a 5 axis CNC machine carry out their commands as the build a part. The Southwestern Illinois College team are finalists in the Project MFGTM national competition. The event is a skilled trades competition for a chance to win prizes, scholarships and title of national champion.
Derik Holtmann
/
Belleville News-Democrat
Gavin Becherer and Connor Braasch watch a 5 axis CNC machine carry out their commands as the build a part. The Southwestern Illinois College team are finalists in the Project MFGTM national competition. The event is a skilled trades competition for a chance to win prizes, scholarships and title of national champion.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published by the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.

The new manufacturing academy at Southwestern Illinois College is expected to bring more manufacturers to the Metro East, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said at a press conference Friday.

SWIC is receiving $7.5 million to establish the Advanced Manufacturing Center, which will include a 31,100 square-feet lab space. The school will offer industrial electricity and welding manufacturing training.

The college will break ground for the center in 2021, and students will start by fall 2022.

Before manufacturers decide to build factories in Illinois, Pritzker said they reach out to the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to ask how the area will provide a sustainable workforce. A manufacturing academy, like the one in Belleville, “plants the seeds” to grow and sustain a workforce decades down the line, Pritzker said.

“What they always say about Illinois is that we have the right type of labor force,” Pritzker said. He did not share an estimate of how many companies would come to the Metro East or how many local jobs might be created.

Manufacturing output in Illinois increased 34% between 2018 and 2008, according to data from the National Association of Manufacturers.

Along with healthcare and transportation, manufacturing is one of the largest industry clusters in southwest Illinois. The Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity projected an employment increase of less than 1% between 2012 and 2022, from 21,373 jobs to 21,525. Manufacturing is the most concentrated industry cluster in the region. Southwest Illinois’ manufacturing workforce is nearly three times as concentrated as the typical region.

Heartland Community College in Normal is also receiving $7.5 million through the Rebuild Illinois capital plan to establish their own manufacturing academy that will focus on electric vehicles.

Pritzker emphasized the importance of recruiting students underrepresented in manufacturing, including women and racial minorities.

SWIC’s Sam Wolf campus in Granite City hosts an industrial technology center, but SWIC President Nick Mance said the Belleville location is more accessible for people in East St. Louis, Belleville and even St. Louis.

“(The Advanced Manufacturing Center) will provide a quality, high-skilled workforce and create family-sustaining jobs,” State Sen. Chris Belt said. “When families do well, communities do well.”

Megan Valley is a reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.

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