Summit showcases new era in manufacturing strategy

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The region's largest employer is helping to usher in a new era in manufacturing for the Quad Cities.

It's the ground floor for a manufacturing revival.  Inside the Rock Island Arsenal,  the Quad City Manufacturing Lab is part of a new frontier.

"You have to get into the game in order to be a player," said Jimmy Morgan,  Rock Island Arsenal Development Group.

Western Illinois University is joining nearly two dozen colleges and labs.

It's part of a massive $320-million digital lab, based in Chicago, that will take on the future.

It aims to retool jobs and return them to the United States.

"I think we have the competitive nature to identify where we need to be," said Dr. Lawrence Schook, University of Illinois.  "I think we're working together to get there."

Reasons why academic, business and political leaders joined an economic summit at Augustana College on Thursday.  Hosted by Rep. Cheri Bustos, (D-Illinois), it's a way to help local, small and midsize manufacturers to compete in the challenging global economy.

The project originates from an Obama administration directive to energize manufacturing careers.

The digital lab is slated to open early near year near Chicago.  The University of Illinois will coordinate research with hubs like the Arsenal and WIU.

"The legacy of manufacturers will still play an important role," said Assistant Commerce Secretary Jay Williams. "But it is about a new approach."

It's not the best of times for some home-grown companies. 425 employees will go on indefinite layoff at Deere & Company's Harvester Works in East Moline on October 20.  Sales are sluggish for big-ticket items.

The response to a downturn is to innovate for the future.  That includes finding new and different ways to literally build new manufacturing jobs.

The Arsenal lab is one way to restore jobs that were lost off-shore.  At the Arsenal, they're ready to try.

"I think there's a lot of potential," Morgan said.  "We need to push it as much as we can in this community."

It's a community starting on the ground floor and aiming high.