Bustos: Digital Lab will be statewide resource

STERLING – The soon-to-come Chicago-based digital manufacturing lab will be a resource for businesses in the Sauk Valley and the state, Rep. Cheri Bustos said.

Bustos, D-East Moline, was in Sterling on Wednesday afternoon to meet with Mayor Skip Lee and Rock Falls Mayor Bill Wescott about economic development in the area. She also toured Wahl Clipper and met with workers.

Bustos represents the 17th Congressional District, which includes Whiteside County.

Earlier Wednesday in Moline at the Quad Cities Campus of Western Illinois University, she hosted an information session about the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute (Digital Lab), which will be based in Chicago and focus on improving manufacturing.

The lab could open in 2015.

The first-term congresswoman said the distance between the Sauk Valley and the lab, or other parts of the state and the lab, should not limit the benefits of having the $320-million facility in the state.

“Businesses can partner in this venture,” Bustos said after meeting with the mayors. “They can be in on the ground floor. They can learn from research. They can learn about how to get a product from a concept, out the door to the customer faster, more efficient – saving money.

“How you fill in those gaps and learn how to do that is all going to be coming out of this digital manufacturing lab.”

While there are levels of access to the research and projects at the lab, Bustos said, businesses can gain some access for as little as $500 a year.

The digital lab will bring together more than 70 companies, nonprofits and universities, and the U.S. Department of Defense. The focus, Bustos said, will be to use technology to improve the efficiency of manufacturing and prepare workers to use new technology.

She said she didn’t expect the innovations to lead to reduced a labor force.

“[The manufacturing jobs] will change,” she said. “And I would always argue that I would much rather be on the forefront than left behind. And this puts us at the forefront, … at the epicenter of the next generation of manufacturing.”