The Rockford Area Economic Development Council (RAEDC) is part of a consortium led by the Nathalie P. Voorhees Center for Neighborhood and Community Improvement at the University of Illinois Chicago. The consortium has been awarded a five-year, $5 million grant through the U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Manufacturing Community Support Program. The federal grant is supplemented by an additional $1.6 million in non-federal funds to support the project.
The focus of the Illinois Defense Manufacturing Consortium and this grant is to create a Center of Excellence Model for casting, forging, and energy storage manufacturers to enhance innovation and increase industrial capacity, and to build a talent pipeline for advanced manufacturing and defense resiliency targeting underrepresented populations.
“Over 75% of the state’s defense manufacturing is concentrated in the northern half of the state. This region represents one of the most concentrated C&F manufacturing bases in the nation and ranks first in both employment and establishment counts in forging and stamping. This grant allows RAEDC to support these companies, our region, and our partners through ongoing workforce development initiatives and by creating opportunities for innovation,” states Therese Thill, RAEDC President.
RAEDC’s goals tie into the consortium’s Center of Excellence goals of strengthening supply chain productivity by introducing innovative technology and digital tools that will, in turn, stimulate market growth.
To expand the skilled manufacturing talent pipeline, the Illinois Defense Manufacturing Consortium will introduce manufacturing careers to high school students, promote employment in manufacturing for underrepresented communities and veterans, and facilitate retraining and employment of displaced workers.
The region’s manufacturing sector has the highest portion of establishments with Department of Defense (DoD) contracts. In 2020, eight percent of all regional manufacturing establishments had at least one DoD contract resulting in approximately $29 million worth of active defense prime contracts in the region.
Partners in the project are the Cook County Bureau of Economic Development represented by Chicago Metro Metals Consortium, Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce, Rockford Area Economic Development Council, Greater Peoria Economic Development Council, and Illinois Manufacturing Excellence Center. These organizations represent 23 counties in Illinois and five counties in Iowa.