Obama Sends $70 Million 'Digital Manufacturing' Grant to Chicago

Obama Sends $70 Million 'Digital Manufacturing' Grant to Chicago

President Obama has bestowed $70 million to Chicago for a new “Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute” program aimed at jump-starting Chicago’s tech manufacturing capabilities.

The program will also come with some $250 million in private funding, but the $70 million in federal seed money will come from the Department of Defense. President Obama has arranged the funding without Congressional action as part of his pledge to go around Congress.

The purpose of this funding is to create what city officials are calling the “UI Labs” – or University and Industry Labs. This new entity will serve as a research and development institute to explore new, science-based ways to manufacture products. With digital design transforming the manufacturing landscape, Obama feels that the government can be a leading force in developing that new technology.

There is no specific focus for the research, however, and the government will be funding a multitude of experiments. Consequently, there is no telling how long it might be before something useful comes out of all the new spending.

Chicago and Mayor Rahm Emanuel are very happy over the award.

“This is clearly, without a doubt, one of the most significant things to secure Chicago’s long-term economic future,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel told the media. “It is the best insurance policy you can buy, which is major research capacity.”

Chicago also wrung several million dollars from a collection of companies like Proctor & Gamble, Rolls Royce, Lockheed Martin, Seimens, and Dow Chemical. These companies will be joining the experimental work and lending financial support.

The President already launched similar “institutes” in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Youngstown, Ohio, and will also announce that Detroit will get one focusing on lightweight metals manufacturing. Like Chicago, Detroit will also get $70 million in funding from the Defense Department.

A main focus for the President and Mayor Emanuel is to devise some way to mitigate the loss of jobs Chicago has experienced. The Chicago region lost 2,600 manufacturing jobs in 2013, a decrease of 0.6 percent in the number of the city’s jobs. However, there is no indication how many jobs these new “institutes” might create.

The President wants to open 45 of these federally funded “institutes” to spur advances in manufacturing across the country, but it isn’t likely he’ll be able to do so without Congress jumping on board.

Illinois Democratic Senator Dick Durbin also praised the federal largess. Durbin said that the initiative “has the potential to revolutionize the way the United States approaches manufacturing.”

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