The study's recognition of advanced manufacturing’s key role in reviving the city’s economy was not accidental, but the result of a skillful outreach program to policymakers on the part of the Center for Labor and Community Research and the leaders of the Chicago Manufacturing Renaissance Campaign (Jorge Ramirez, the dynamic president of the Chicago Federation of Labor and co-chair of the CMRC also served on the steering committee for the World Business Chicago study). CLCR has worked doggedly over the years to educate local and national policymakers and elected officials about the vital linkages between a healthy advanced manufacturing sector and economic competitive advantage.
But CLCR is equally committed to driving home to both policymakers and the investment community the role advanced manufacturing must play in redirecting the economy to operate inside the constraints of the earth’s regenerative capacities and in the service of a more just distribution of wealth. “We would encourage people who don’t otherwise have an interest in manufacturing to understand that it is essential to building an economy that is sustainable and restorative,” Swinney explained when we met with him at CLCR’s offices on Chicago’s west side. “We recognize that advanced manufacturing has been presented as a private area of the economy important to investors and people who work for those companies. We think it is that, but it is also a profoundly public issue. If we didn’t have a manufacturing sector those of us who care about social and environmental sustainability would want to start one, just as Father Jose Maria Arizmendi did with Mondragon in Spain. To my mind advanced manufacturing is the most important public policy issue of this decade. In it lies our ability to solve the corresponding challenges of education, poverty, and the environment.”
On our visit to Austin Polytechnic Academy in inner city Chicago, Erica Swinney told us that she sees her work as a former environmental activist continuing in a much more powerful expression as she heads up CLCR’s Careers and Community Programs at the public high school where students are being educated to be the highly skilled, well-remunerated workers and leaders of the next generation of advanced manufacturing. “Yes there is a legacy of manufacturing causing some of the worst environmental problems—contaminating communities from the air, water and ground,” says Swinney. “But the reality is there is no simple solution to the problems of the environment without manufacturing. What we need is a new approach that asks how can we use the tools of manufacturing and industry not for short-term profit but to solve some of the most important technical problems of our time, including energy and climate change. A wind turbine you see along a highway is made up of 8000 metal components. These are parts and gears and pieces that need to be manufactured somewhere.” At Austin Polytech, Swinney explains, students are starting to make the connection that advanced manufacturing is not only a path to a meaningful, well paying job, but to the restoration of their communities and their environment.—Susan Arterian Chang, Project Director, A Field Guide to Investing in a Regenerative Economy