$5M grant supports university manufacturing initiative


Lawrence Schook outlines plans for UI LABS at its launch in January 2013. Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin/UIC Photo Services

University trustees on Friday approved a $5 million grant to support a new manufacturing initiative and heard presentations about the university’s work to advance economic development across the state.

The special meeting was held at UIC just hours after Gov. Pat Quinn launched the new Illinois Manufacturing Lab.

In January, Quinn promised $5 million in state support for the Illinois Manufacturing Lab, to be matched by other sources. The university’s grant — from institutional dollars funded by university administration — matches the startup funding for the Illinois Manufacturing Lab, the first program within UI LABS, a nonprofit research technology center affiliated with the university that launched earlier this year.

The Illinois Manufacturing Lab begins its charge to solve manufacturing challenges with 10 pilot projects at small- to mid-sized companies.

“The Illinois Manufacturing Lab is going to help our state remain a national leader in making quality products and creating good jobs,” Quinn said in a statement.

“The Illinois Manufacturing Lab will be a marquee attraction for companies around the globe to come to Illinois so they can work with cutting-edge techniques and technologies to drive our economy forward.”

The Illinois Manufacturing Lab will partner with UI LABS, which is modeled after pioneering research and development centers such as Bell Labs, which developed the transistor and cellular phone technology. UI LABS will be located in Chicago.

“Public-private partnerships like the Illinois Manufacturing Lab are the key to progress and economic growth, forging collaboration that harnesses the university’s research power to help solve real-world challenges,” U of I President Bob Easter said. “The University of Illinois is proud to be a partner.”

UI LABS will provide an opportunity for industry leaders and university scholars to collaborate to drive the state’s economy, create jobs and position Illinois — and Chicago, in particular — as a global technology hub, said Caralynn Nowinski, interim executive director and chief operating officer of UI LABS.

“Industry needs new innovation,” said Nowinski, associate vice president for innovation and economic development. “UI LABS seeks to create a destination for global tech talent in the city of Chicago.”

The university already stimulates development for the state, said Lawrence Schook, vice president for research. In 2013, university researchers received 378 patents for new technologies, began 11 startup companies and received $25.4 million in royalties.

The university added economic development as part of its mission in 2000, Schook told trustees. Since then, it has poured money into the state’s economy through initiatives such as the UI Research Park on the Urbana-Champaign campus, which has a $175 million annual economic impact and employs 1,400 people at 90 companies, he said.

The possibilities for UI LABS provide “a very exciting vision for the future,” UIC Chancellor Paula Allen-Meares said.

“It’s what we exist to do,” she said.

For every research dollar the university receives, it leverages those funds to provide $2 of economic impact back to the state, Urbana Chancellor Phyllis Wise told trustees.

“The University of Illinois has always been a powerful force for economic development for our state, nation and world,” she said. “We are a powerhouse for products, innovation and ideas.”

The UI LABS initiative will help the state become a global leader in technology, Wise said.

“We are truly standing at the cusp of the industrial revolution of this century,” she said.

Illinois faces challenges to its economic growth, said David Merriman, professor in the Institute of Government and Public Affairs. The state consistently contributes more in federal taxes than it receives in federal dollars, he told trustees.

“The challenges, with meager funding from the federal government, present it with a difficult environment,” said Merriman, professor of public administration. “Chicago has tremendous potential to be a source of innovation and growth.”

The Illinois Manufacturing Lab is “just the start” of projects for UI LABS, Nowinski said.

“There are no limits to what we can achieve,” Easter told trustees.

For more information on UI LABS, visit www.uilabs.org


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