President Baker talks manufacturing innovation in Rockford

Jeff Kaney speaks with Doug Baker and Promod Vohra before the Rockford Digital Lab discussion
Jeff Kaney speaks with Doug Baker and Promod Vohra before the Rockford Digital Lab discussion

Northern Illinois University President Doug Baker was among the leaders discussing the potential impact the new the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute (DMDII or Digital Lab) will have on the Rockford region and throughout Illinois with U.S. Senator Dick Durbin and U.S. Representative Cheri Bustos in Rockford Tuesday morning.

“The revitalization of American manufacturing will be accelerated by the strategic collaboration of government, higher education and business leaders.” Baker said. “We are grateful for the vision and leadership of Senator Durbin, Congresswoman Bustos and the many other leaders who helped make the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute a reality. We look forward to working with all the DMDII partners to facilitate meaningful outcomes for our region, our state and our country.”

According to a press release, the Digital Lab, which will officially open its doors this fall, is a first-of-its-kind manufacturing hub that will bring the future of American manufacturing to Illinois. Supported by $320 million—including $70 million in direct federal investment—the Digital Lab could help create 75,000 jobs over the next five years.

“Today’s manufacturing is much different than that of our parents. Manufacturers must now be ready to take on the jobs of the future—ones that blend traditional hands-on skills with advanced technology and robotics—leading to new innovations,” Durbin said. “Illinois’ Digital Lab will make our small and midsize manufacturers more competitive globally by allowing them to integrate computing capabilities throughout design, testing, and production. But most importantly, the Lab will be a great source of innovation, development, and economic growth in the state of Illinois and position us as a leader in the field for years to come.”

Hon. Dick Durbin and Cheri Bustos discuss the Digital Lab with UIUC President Bob Easter and NIU President Doug Baker
Hon. Dick Durbin and Cheri Bustos discuss the Digital Lab with UIUC President Bob Easter and NIU President Doug Baker

“Our workers are some of the best in the world, and bolstering manufacturing in our region has been a key priority of mine since taking office, and why I urged President Obama in Galesburg last year to bring this promising Digital Lab to Illinois,” said Congresswoman Bustos. “Senator Durbin has been a steadfast advocate for this initiative as well, and I’m pleased that we had this opportunity to partner with community leaders for today’s information session and believe the Digital Lab creates significant promise for manufacturing and research jobs in our region.”

University of Illinois President Robert Easter called the DMDII “an important victory for our entire state that will create jobs and drive economic growth.”

The Digital Lab seeks to establish a common “digital thread” to the entire manufacturing process, from initial concept to system retirement, so that each stage can be accomplished in less time and for less cost. It will help the U.S. regain its dominance in manufacturing by using digital technology to lower production costs, make it easier for small manufacturers to use cutting edge technology, and create high-wage, high-skilled jobs for American workers.

NIU College of Engineering and Engineering Technology Dean Promod Vohra also attended the discussion. He called the Digital Lab “Revolutionary, especially for Rockford’s small-to-medium-sized manufacturers who will be able to have access to state-of-the-art technology. They will be able to produce better products at reduced costs. I am very excited for this partnership, and I hope it brings Rockford to the next level of manufacturing.”

World-class partners from across the country – including General Electric, John Deere, Caterpillar, and Boeing – will work to improve manufacturing efficiency to create new opportunities for businesses and workers, while schools like NIU will equip workers and researchers with the tools they need to revolutionize the manufacturing industry.

“The NIU College of Engineering and Engineering Technology offers accredited programs that are recognized by our partners, and we continue to provide a skilled workforce in engineering and technology for our regional manufacturers,” Vohra continued. “We are excited that we will be able to provide the region with more engineers with advanced skills to be able to make a positive difference in the manufacturing industry in Rockford and northern Illinois.”

Rockford is home to a strong aerospace manufacturing industry with many ties to defense manufacturing, and NIU is among the key partners in growing the region’s aerospace talent pipeline by providing unique opportunities for students through the combination of academic studies and real-work experience with leading aerospace companies in the area. By locating the Digital Lab in Illinois, defense companies, contractors, and manufacturers – even those that are not official partners – will be looking to Illinois for innovation, development and growth.

Doug Baker and Rena Cotsones meet with Transform Rockford Executive Director Mike Schablaske and steering committee members Bobbie Holzwarth and Dave Rydell
Doug Baker and Rena Cotsones meet with Transform Rockford Executive Director Mike Schablaske and steering committee members Bobbie Holzwarth and Dave Rydell

“DMDII is a strategic federal investment and a great vote of confidence for Illinois, NIU, and other partner institutions,” said NIU Director of Federal Relations Anna Quider. “NIU is poised to build on these collaborations which will pay dividends for our region and the nation.”

While in Rockford, President Baker also met with representatives of Transform Rockford, including executive director Mike Schablaske and steering committee members Bobbie Holzwarth and Dave Rydell, to discuss ways they could strengthen collaboration. The organization’s mission is to facilitate the creation and implementation of a strategic plan by the community for the purposes of dramatically improving the social and economic well-being of the community and its residents. The organization is undergoing a visioning process very similar to that in which NIU is currently engaging.

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