UIC’s Innovation Center hosts U.S. Treasury Secretary Yellen, Pritzker, Lightfoot
After U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot toured the University of Illinois Chicago’s Innovation Center, officials highlighted the cutting-edge work going on at UIC as a “shining example” of innovation and collaboration.
The tour by local, state and federal officials came one day after President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address, where he discussed his administration’s agenda to tackle inflation, create an economy for the future and celebrate economic successes over the past year.
At a news conference held after the tour, Yellen spoke out against Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russia’s “unprovoked invasion” of Ukraine and said economic pressure from the U.S. and the world would serve as an important weapon against the invasion.
Yellen said the U.S. Treasury Department and finance ministries around the world have isolated the Russian economy and made it harder to finance Putin’s “war of choice.” Eighty percent of Russia’s banking assets are now under Treasury restrictions, and between Sunday and Monday morning, the U.S., along with its allies, immobilized half the assets in Russia’s central bank. The U.S. is also making it a priority to go after oligarchs and Russian elites backing Putin and is making Russia, “an economic island.”
As she pivoted her comments to the U.S. economy, she said U.S. economic policy can also improve the lives in the U.S.
“As we use economic policy to protect democracy abroad, it is equally powerful to strengthen America at home. The past year has demonstrated the power of strong fiscal policy to keep our economy afloat during the depths of a crisis and strengthen the financial situations of millions of working families around the country,” Yellen said.
She pointed to the dire economic forecast a year earlier at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and contrasted it with today’s economic numbers, saying the pace of the country’s current economic recovery has “exceeded even the most optimistic expectations.”
“Last year our economy grew at its fastest rate in 40 years. Unemployment is now at 3.9 percent — the sharpest one-year drop in the rate ever. Household finances are healthy, and our economy appears to be poised for further growth,” said Yellen, who credited the American Rescue Plan spearheaded by Biden’s administration.
She pointed to Biden’s speech, which outlined his plan to “start building a stronger post-COVID America.” Echoing Biden, she said the way to do that was to build a more inclusive economy using what she termed “modern supply-side economics,” a policy intended to expand economic potential through productivity-enhancing investments to encourage more people to join the workforce.
“To make our economy more productive and to add more workers, modern supply-side economics makes targeted public investments in areas like education and infrastructure, directs resources to underserved communities and workers, and introduces incentives for people to enter the workforce. It is a sharp contrast to traditional supply-side economics we’ve seen, which relies on deregulation and tax cuts for investors to power purported growth,” Yellen said.
Lightfoot said UIC’s Innovation Center is an example of how local and federal entities can work together to advance the future of all people. The impact of the American Rescue Plan as well as the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law “are capitalized” by institutions like UIC’s Innovation Center, which serves to bridge higher education with industry partners to make their creations commercially viable.
The UIC Innovation Center serves as a hub of collaboration, education and development to bridge academic research and real-world instruction with forward-thinking corporations. The space serves as an incubator to develop and deliver ideas, products and intellectual property on behalf of the university and industry sponsors such as Peoria-based Caterpillar, a leading manufacturer of construction and mining equipment.
Lightfoot said federally funded research and development initiatives have long been the key to success in cities like Chicago and pointed to UIC’s record $446 million in research funding last year.
“We are taking things from the laboratories in colleges and universities and bringing it into the business sector with great success,” Lightfoot said. “The UIC Innovation Center is a shining example of the citywide focus. The university itself continues to be a critical partner.”
Pritzker applauded the efforts of UIC Chancellor Michael Amiridis, who will leave UIC this summer to become president of the University of South Carolina.
“I want to thank UIC Chancellor Michael Amiridis for all you do. I want to especially tell you how important the work you’ve done at UIC has been to all of us; we’re very grateful to you. You’ve been running a major institution, at the largest university in the third-largest city and one of the most diverse public universities in the country,” Pritzker said. “I can’t say enough how invaluable your leadership has been.”
He also applauded the efforts of the state and the Illinois Innovation Network, a group of public universities and community colleges that work together to improve the state’s economy through an inclusive approach to innovation, research and education.
Pritzker referred to Biden’s address to Congress and said the work going on at the Innovation Center was the type of collaboration that was needed to expand opportunities, create jobs and lower costs. He pointed to the state’s job growth over the past year, which he said has outpaced neighboring states and exceeded the national average.
“Very important work is being done here,” Pritzker said. “Diverse people coming together to invent and problem-solve and create right here in Illinois. It’s exactly the type of collaboration that will drive the future.”
Anna Ahn, a human-centered design research associate at the Innovation Center, said she is a proud Chicago native and the product of the Chicago Public Schools. She said the focus of the Innovation Center is user experiences and to find partnerships and opportunities.
“Our work is really all about how to build partnerships and creatively find opportunities for a more collaborative future,” Ahn said.
Innovation Center Executive Director Peter Pfanner led the tour and showcased the work being done at the center as Yellen, Lightfoot, Pritzker and Amiridis walked through the site. Pfanner pointed out the designs and prototypes on display, including a bust of a person’s head to show how the technology worked. Students also explained the projects they are working on for clients.
“This is really exciting; this represents the work of over 20 students,” said Susan Stirling, an Innovation Center faculty member who discussed the work being done for the OSF Little Company of Mary Medical Center.
Mark Hallenbeck, faculty member and director of the Caterpillar Lab, said UIC students working on a project for Caterpillar came up with the solution to a problem that was simultaneously being worked on by a team of professionals in a lab in India.
“Long story short, UIC students beat the professionals,” Hallenbeck said.