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Recent Manufacturing Conference Calls Attention to Challenges, Opportunities

On November 15, 2012, Crain's Chicago Business brought together hundreds of firms from across metropolitan Chicago to discuss how the region's manufacturing cluster can stay competitive in an increasingly global economy. As discussed at the conference, manufacturing has long been a mainstay of metropolitan Chicago's economy and helped transform the region into an international center of commerce. Though the recent recession hit manufacturing particularly hard, conference panelists expressed optimism about growth opportunities for the cluster. What separates this current period of manufacturing from the previous five years, according to business owners of regional manufacturing firms ranging from steel to chemicals, is stakeholders' increasing recognition that manufacturing is a vital economic driver of the regional economy. This increased commitment from both the public and private sectors to support manufacturing in the region will be a key opportunity moving forward, but challenges remain. As the conference illustrated, some of these challenges are larger than just the Chicago regional economy. Global factors -- such as financial troubles in Europe, a slowdown in the Chinese economy, and looming U.S. federal fiscal uncertainty -- have a powerful impact on our local manufacturing industry. As part of GO TO 2040 implementation, CMAP is working with partners across the region to better understand the issues and needs facing businesses within the manufacturing cluster. This work will form the basis of CMAP's next cluster drill-down report on advanced manufacturing. As was the case with CMAP's first cluster drill-down on freight, the manufacturing study will also focus on issues that are best addressed regionally: infrastructure, innovation, and workforce. While it is important to know where the region currently stands in manufacturing, it is also vital to promote policies, programs, and investments that support a strengthening regional economy. CMAP's manufacturing drill-down report will conclude with targeted implementation action areas to help utilize existing assets, build off of regional strengths, and overcome key challenges in manufacturing. CMAP plans to launch the advanced manufacturing cluster drill-down report early next year, with relevant data to be added to MetroPulse Jobs later this winter.