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MLC Economic Development Committee gets a glimpse of manufacturing's future, and hears how states can foster growth

by Laura Tomaka ~ August 2019 ~ Stateline Midwest »
The nation’s manufacturing sector has shed 7.5 million jobs since 1980, with 5.5 million of those losses coming since 2000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Yet the sector remains an important regional (and national) source of jobs, wages and output: It is the sixth largest source of U.S. employment; three Midwestern states — Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan — have the highest U.S. concentration of manufacturing jobs; and Ohio has the nation’s third largest number of manufacturing jobs.
During a July tour of mHub, one of the region’s leading innovation centers focused on physical product development and manufacturing, the region’s legislators got a glimpse into the future of how manufacturers will work and innovate.
Located in Chicago’s “Tech Triangle,” mHUB is a prototyping lab and entrepreneurial community where designers, developers, entrepreneurs, engineers and manufacturers create new products in a shared space. With access to equipment, classes, mentors, industry experts and each other, mHUB members can accelerate ideas and designs — from concept to product development.
Tour participants also saw how shared and co-working spaces function and learned about the benefits of individual entrepreneurs working in a shared community. Organized by the Midwestern Legislative Conference Economic Development Committee and held during the MLC Annual Meeting, the mHub tour also included a discussion led by industry experts who discussed the role of state policy in fostering innovation.
Steve Koch, now an mHUB board member and a former deputy mayor of Chicago, said the policy factors that drive manufacturing have not really changed since the 1960s when the sector was at its height. They include public investment in trade promotion, education, and research and development.
“The investment has to come from the states,” he added, because it’s not going to happen at the federal level.
Mark Denzler, president and CEO of the Illinois Manufacturers Association, agreed that public investments are critical, as are public-private collaborations in areas such as education and training. He urged policymakers to focus on improving STEM education (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and to renew states’ commitment to vocational education.
Chandra Brown, CEO of MxD, one of 14 manufacturing institutes nationwide, said the skills and training of the incumbent workforce need to match the higher-tech demands of manufacturing. All training and education, she said, should be tied to real jobs.
The three panelists agreed on three points to advance manufacturing in the region: develop a diversified, agile workforce; embrace new technologies; and ensure that regulations don’t hamper innovation.


Article written by Laura Tomaka, CSG Midwest staff liaison to the Midwestern Legislative Conference Economic Development Committee.