Bustos holds second annual economic summit

Congresswoman Cheri Bustos held her second annual “Economic Summit-Partnering for Illinois’ Economic Future” on campus last Thursday. The summit featured a panel of industry leaders and experts, with the purpose of addressing the future of manufacturing in Illinois, as well as encouraging community collaboration. Jay Williams, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development, was the keynote speaker.
The event attracted an audience of local and statewide business owners, manufacturers, community leaders, media and members of academia.
Moderating the panel discussion was Lawrence Schook, vice president of research at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Schook, who grew up in Detroit, oversees the university’s $900M/annual research portfolio.
Williams, who also grew up in a manufacturing area, Youngstown, Ind., said manufacturing is part of America’s DNA and stated in his speech that the “will of businesses to manufacture overseas is subsiding”.
According to Pew Research Center, during the 2008 recession, the manufacturing sector, coupled with construction, accounted for two-thirds of the 7.7 million jobs lost in the U.S. Many manufacturers went overseas to cut costs. However, the manufacturing sector of durable goods has recovered 1.4 million jobs between the fourth quarter of 2009 and the fourth quarter of 2013.
The struggle to keep manufacturing stateside is aided by the new $320 million Department of Defense Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute in Goose Island, Chicago.
Dean Bartles, executive director of the DMDII, said in the panel discussion that base level participation in the institute requires only a $500 annual membership fee, which allows smaller-sized businesses to be “right there rubbing shoulders with larger and medium enterprises.”
Bustos said during the summit that she envisions the 17th congressional district, which she called the” manufacturing triangle,” building upon its current strengths, which she believes to be the workforce. She said the district has the “best workforce of anywhere. I think we can compete with anybody in our country or anyplace in the world with the kind of workforce that we have.”
Williams insisted that people should stop focusing on certain factors of manufacturing, specifically wages.
Similar collaborative efforts have been implemented throughout the state. Rena Cotsones, associate vice president of Northern Illinois University, helped create the Rockford Area Aerospace Accelerator Project. Although this project focused on aerospace development, its success can be dissected for guidance.
Cotsones noted a focus on branding, innovation, support for entrepreneurs and workforce development during the panel discussion. She said through these efforts, “everybody in the Rockford area now gets how important aerospace is to our regional economy, and people are very much focused on doing whatever we can to support that very important sector.”
Congresswoman Bustos reiterated that “the way we are going to advance in this congressional district, and in our state and nation, is to look for those collaborative efforts, and I think that is the only way that we succeed as a nation.”
Bustos has been campaigning with her Partnering for Illinois’ Economic Future initiative, which was originally launched in 2013. The goal of this initiative is more economic collaboration between Illinois businesses. Bustos will continue to pursue this with her upcoming Regional Manufacturing Roundtable Discussion.
Any questions regarding the summit discussion or goals of the initiative may be emailed to [email protected]