Press Release, 2-26-13

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Rebound of Chicago region's manufacturing cluster depends on innovation, workforce development, infrastructure

Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning releases detailed report describing "advanced manufacturing" trends that present opportunities and challenges for the seven-county region 

CHICAGO, February 26, 2013 -- By meeting industry's growing demand for technical innovations, skilled workers, and infrastructure, the metropolitan Chicago region can excel in a new era of "advanced manufacturing," according to a new report by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP).

Metropolitan Chicago's Manufacturing Cluster: A Drill-Down Report on Innovation, Workforce, and Infrastructure contradicts the common belief that the seven-county region's manufacturing heyday is necessarily in the past.  While manufacturing employment here did shrink by one-third in the past decade, the data-driven report says, productivity has increased as manufacturers have shifted from labor-intensive, lower-value products to higher-value products that require automation and fewer but higher-skilled workers.  Annual manufacturing productivity in the Chicago region is $65 billion and rising, according to the report, and with more than 580,000 jobs, the region has more manufacturing cluster employees than all but one U.S. region.

In addition to its core audience of economic development and workforce development professionals, the business community can also benefit from the report, which is available at  The manufacturing cluster's wages are 27-percent higher than the overall regional average, and factory jobs increasingly offer rewarding career opportunities beyond the stereotypes of manufacturing work as unsatisfying or even menial.

"After years of declining employment in manufacturing due to off-shoring of jobs, good positions are actually going unfilled due to an insufficient supply of skilled workers," said Randy Blankenhorn, CMAP executive director.  "The shift to technology-intensive advanced manufacturing is creating new opportunities for businesses and workers here in metropolitan Chicago.  Our report shows that today's factory jobs often require not only math, reading, and critical thinking, but increasingly also call for workers to understand materials, physics, chemistry, engineering, or computer programming.  As a region, we must bring community colleges and other training providers together with employers to train workers to fill these demanding -- and rewarding -- positions."

To help capture the complex factors of advanced manufacturing, the report presents an Advanced Manufacturing Scorecard that rates various sectors' performance according to three indicators:  Product, Process, and People.  CMAP has developed this "3P approach" to define the following characteristics of advanced manufacturing:

  • Product.  A manufacturing sector is advanced if it produces complex and innovative products not easily replicated.
  • Process.  A manufacturing sector is advanced if it creates and utilizes improved processes to realize new efficiencies and costs savings regardless of end product.
  • People.  A manufacturing sector is advanced if it employs people with specialized skills to maximize product and process improvements.

Firms that excel in all three indicators are the best examples of advanced manufacturing. The region's sectors that rate high in the scorecard include pharmaceuticals and medical supply; chemicals, plastics, and rubber; and fabricated metal products. These regional specializations are "poised to lead" through advanced manufacturing, according to the report. Another area of strength is in the machinery sector, which remains among the national leaders in electrical and industrial equipment, despite decreased activity in automotive and aerospace. The computers and electronics sector scores high, but those industries may not be primed for growth due to the lack of well-developed supply chains compared to competing regions such as Silicon Valley.

CMAP's report includes recommendations for how the region can meet manufacturing challenges by spurring research and development (R&D), workforce development, and transportation investment. It notes that the manufacturing cluster's diversity is a strength, especially compared to regions reliant on a single industry -- for example, Detroit's automobile dependence. But diversity also creates challenges in targeting resources and

establishing partnerships, according to the report, which states that the region "can draw on the same competitive advantages that fueled growth a century ago -- economic innovation, infrastructure assets, and a deep pool of skilled workers."

To reestablish leadership in manufacturing R&D, the report recommends that the region:

  • Increase technology commercialization to bridge the gap between the region's basic research assets and the private market.
  • Develop capabilities in emerging manufacturing technologies such as nanotech to capture the next generation of advanced products and processes.
  • Augment early-stage financing opportunities for the most innovative manufacturers.
  • Provide R&D support, especially for small manufacturers, to better link the majority of the cluster to the innovation ecosystem.
  • Reorient economic development strategies toward the cluster to capitalize on manufacturing's dominant contributions to innovation.

To enhance the competitive advantage of infrastructure, the report recommends that the region:

  • Make strategic investments in the region's transportation infrastructure, implement congestion pricing and innovative financing, and improve freight governance to preserve the region's locational advantage.
  • Encourage infill growth in areas served by existing transportation assets to maximize existing land availability.
  • Phase out Cook County property tax assessment classification on industrial/commercial properties to address this regional discontinuity in taxation.
  • Incentivize the use of combined heat and power (CHP) systems to increase energy efficiency.

And to train the advanced manufacturing workforce, the report recommends that the region:

  • Strengthen and scale-up coordination between industry, educators, and training providers to match skills development to meet industry needs.
  • Increase Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) attainment to link workers with high growth occupations.
  • Improve pathways into jobs and apprenticeships to build trust and experience for lower skilled workers.
  • Plan for the workforce on sub-regional and local levels to tailor services towards local industries, institutions, and workers.

"Less than a generation ago, major American corporations dominated world trade, product marketing, and R&D," said Steve Kase, chairman of the Tooling and Manufacturing Association and CEO of ASK Products, Inc. "Our region has broad expertise at its elite universities and federal laboratories, along with a substantial manufacturing base that has withstood fierce competition. Now we need to create connections between these innovators, job generators, and skills developers to ensure that the region takes advantage of market opportunities presented by advanced manufacturing."

The GO TO 2040 comprehensive regional plan, adopted in October 2010, recommended that CMAP and its partners study certain industry clusters that are important to the seven-county region's economy. By identifying, understanding, and supporting these areas of specialization, the region can build on its strengths to preserve and enhance it competitive advantages. The first cluster drill-down addressed freight and was released in July 2012.


About CMAP. The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) is the comprehensive regional planning organization for the northeastern Illinois counties of Cook, DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Lake, McHenry, and Will. By state and federal law, CMAP is responsible for producing the region's official, integrated plan for land use and transportation. The agency's innovative GO TO 2040 planning campaign develops and implements strategies to shape the region's transportation system and development patterns, while also addressing the natural environment, economic development, housing, education, human services, and other quality-of-life factors. See for more information.