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Economic summit focuses on collaboration

Collaboration was identified as a key for future economic growth in Illinois during an economic summit held Thursday at Augustana College, Rock Island.

The second annual “Economic Summit, Partnering for Illinois’ Manufacturing Future” was hosted by U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill. It featured a panel of manufacturing and economic development representatives who spoke to an audience of business, community, school and community leaders from the region.

The summit was moderated by Dr. Lawrence Schook, vice president of research at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Jay Williams, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development, U.S. Economic Development Administration, delivered the keynote speech.

 “Some were quick to write the obits for manufacturing towns like Moline, East Moline and Davenport,” Williams said. “The so-called experts and pundits wrote of the death of these communities.”

He cited the experience of other manufacturing towns such as Gary, Ind., Scranton, Pa., and his hometown of Youngstown, Ohio.

“But they did not realize their grit,” he said of the people of those towns. “These communities continued to breed making things.”

Dr. Dean Bartles, executive director of the new Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute, north of Chicago, said the concept of the facility and program is to fully collaborate with others, and, “not only develop ideas, but to do training and set up small hubs,” he said.

Also discussed was the Partnering for Illinois’ Economic Future initiative launched by Bustos in 2013 to foster economic collaboration in the 17th Congressional District of Illinois.

“Bolstering manufacturing in our region and growing our economy has been a key priority of mine since taking office,” she said. “That’s why I launched Partnering for Illinois’ Economic Future last year. Collaboration across sectors is the key to fulfilling our region’s economic potential. We have the best workers in the world and a strong manufacturing tradition here in Illinois.

“With the Quad-Cities, Rockford, and Peoria as anchors and the dozens of manufacturers in smaller communities in between, this region has the potential to be an even stronger manufacturing triangle,” she said. “That’s what today’s summit was all about, building on our region’s unique assets to fulfill that potential, and strengthening our manufacturing base and economy for years to come.”

Augustana College president Steven Bahls called events like Thursday’s summit a “marketplace of ideas.” He also applauded overall growth in Quad-City region.

“As a board member of the Quad-Cities Chamber of Commerce, I am very excited what I have seen in the Quad-Cities the last few years,” he said in opening remarks.

Michael Baker, manager, Strategic Planning and Grants office of Employment and Training for the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, offered his analysis of Thursday’s program.

“There is tremendous value in this, to call everyone’s attention to the need for more skilled workers to fill jobs that are available,” he said. “Illinois manufacturers are just screaming for more skilled workers. Jobs are there but not enough skilled workers are there.”