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Obama Announces $320M Digital Lab For Chicago

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CHICAGO (CBS) – Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Gov. Pat Quinn traveled to the White House on Tuesday, where President Barack Obama formally announced Chicago has been selected as the home of a new $320 million digital manufacturing hub.

The lab, to be built on Goose Island, will provide a top-of-the-line research and development facility for digital technology companies of all sizes, and will be funded by a $70 million grant from the Defense Department, and $250 million in private and state funds.

The Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute will be managed and run by Chicago-based UI Labs – a nonprofit research and development group led by the University of Illinois. The president will make the formal announcement about the lab Tuesday afternoon at the White House, fulfilling a pledge from his 2013 State of the Union address to establish three new manufacturing institutes. The other two will be in Detroit and Raleigh.

The digital institutes are expected to transform high-tech manufacturing across the nation. At Chicago’s facility, researchers from local universities will work together with business leaders; using cutting-edge technology like mobile computing, cloud computing, and supercomputers.

The digital lab will build online communities, and should eventually reduce the time and cost of digital technology manufacturing.

“It’s going to be a center where all the research and development in digital advanced manufacturing is going to occur – so companies like GE, family-owned businesses, and new startups can all use that research and deploy in … creating new jobs, new factories, or expanding existing ones,” Emanuel said on the CBS 2 Morning News.

The mayor said the lab would help create “countless” new jobs, not just through the people who would work directly at the lab, but those who would get new jobs created at high-tech companies thanks to the research and development that will take place there.

“There’s a competition now between Germany, China, and the United States, Japan, [and] South Korea. This research facility puts Chicago at the very center for the United States of the next generation of manufacturing,” he said. “It brings brains and brawn together to secure Chicago’s Economic future.

The staff will include researchers from local universities and some of the biggest corporations.

“We’ve assembled 200 to 300 businesses and manufacturers, and family-owned operations in Chicago, and also the venture capital funding,” Emanuel said.

The mayor believes the facility will keep high-tech companies in Chicago, and attract new ones to the city.

“Companies today, when they look around, they say ‘Where is cutting-edge research being done? We want to have a facility right there on the front door of that opportunity,’” he said.

In making its bid for the facility, UI Labs collaborated with several other universities – including the University of Chicago, Purdue University, and the University of Michigan – as well as major corporations like General Electric and Lockheed Martin.

Governor Quinn has pledged $16 million in state funds for the project. Private corporation donations will cover the remaining $234 million.

Emanuel invited two sophomores from STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) schools as his guests at the White House for the president’s announcements. He said the research lab is their future, and he wants them to be part of it.

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