There is one metalworking "community" among the 12 the Department of Commerce just announced as the first in what it is calling its Manufacturing Communities Partnership (IMCP) initiative. The program's objective is to accelerate the resurgence of manufacturing in communities nationwide by supporting the development of long-term economic development strategies that help communities attract and expand private investment in the manufacturing sector and increase international trade and exports. Commerce's Economic Development Administration (EDA) is running the new program. Its announcement was made simultaneously with the appointment of a new administrator of the EDA, Jay Williams. He worked in at the Obama White House and prior to that as the Mayor of Youngstown, Ohio from 2006 to August 1, 2011.
But exactly what the 12 communities will receive in the way of federal help is, well...way up in the air. They will get their identities disclosed on a website, and each will get a designated federal liaison at each of the 11 federal agencies which have economic assistance grants to hand out. But there is no guarantee that any of the 12 communities will get any of those funds, which the Commerce Department estimates at $1.3 billion.
Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker announced the first 12 communities on May 28. Seventy communities applied to the program. They had to submit manufacturing resurgence plans, and compete with other cities before being named as one of the 12 first participants. Besides the metalworking community centered in Chicago, there are mostly aircraft and automotive communities. They are mostly promising to upgrade worker training efforts, in one way or another. Many of those efforts are already underway. So there is some question about what they will be doing additionally as a result of being included in this program, especially since there is no promise of new federal funding.
In order to be included in the program, communities had to demonstrate the significance of manufacturing already present in their region and develop strategies to make investments in six areas: 1) workforce and training, 2) advanced research, 3) infrastructure and site development, 4) supply chain support, 5) trade and international investment, 6) operational improvement and capital access. Later this year, the Obama administration plans to launch a second IMCP competition to designate additional communities, as well as convene the 70 communities that applied for designation to share best practices in economic development planning.
Chicago's Metro Metal Consortium Manufacturing Community will be headed up by the Alliance for Illinois Manufacturing (“AIM”) and Illinois Manufacturing Excellence Center (IMEC). They will work with metal manufacturers to assess business operational capability and identify key areas for improvement. Sustainability efforts will be coordinated by the Cook County Department of Environmental Control with participation from Illinois Sustainable Technology Center and Elevate Energy. The region’s more than 3,700 firms in the metals industry and supply chains employ more than 100,000 people and generate more than $30 billion in revenues.
David Boulay, President, Illinois Manufacturing Excellence Center, notes that Cook County is taking the lead in pulling all the Chicago metal participants together. "They have assembled a great team," he states. "But how this plays out, well, that is always a matter of execution." He hopes the designation as a manufacturing community helps the Chicago metals sector get more federal resources. "But if all the designation does is help us focus existing resources, that is an excellent path in the right direction."
Mr. Barlas, a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C., covers topics inside the Beltway.