Building Partnerships. Creating Futures.

Testimony for a Cook County Commission on Social Innovation

Testimony for a Cook County Commission on Social Innovation

On April 12, 2016, Dan Swinney, MR’s Executive Director, was asked to address the Cook County Business and Economic Development Committee to provide testimony in support of the formation of the Cook County Commission on Social Innovation. Dan presented the following:

Thank you for the opportunity to testify in support of the proposed Cook County Board Commission on Social Innovation. Being globally competitive in advanced manufacturing is the ONLY way to dramatically reduce poverty in Cook County and to rebuild a broad-based middle class.  It’s about the math.

  • The average wage in manufacturing is $75,000 when you include benefits. The average wage in the service sector is in the low 30s and in retail it is in the low 20s.
  •  Critically important is the job multiplier. Each manufacturing job creates on average 5 other jobs in the economy.  A service sector job creates 1 job in the economy, and a retail job creates ¼ of a job.  Manufacturing is the engine for growth in all sectors.
  •  Today, there are 20,000 manufacturing jobs in our region going unfilled because of the quality of our public education system—a reality that we cannot afford when we have so many youth out of work with no clear future; and companies that can’t compete without an adequate supply of talent. If we don’t solve this problem, we will lose our youth and our jobs.

As we rebuild our manufacturing capacity in this region, we must involve all of our communities, not just a few of them. We must premise our work on social innovation and social inclusion.

How many of you have heard of Mondragon?

Mondragon is a town in the Basque region of Spain. Wracked by the Spanish Civil War, the region was very poor and undeveloped when a young priest, Father Arizmendi, was assigned to serve the area.  Arizmendi understood that its recovery would be through the development of a strong manufacturing sector.

Arizmendi started a small polytechnical school in the 1940s with 20 students. They studied the technical aspects of manufacturing as well as social values. In the 1950s, five of the students purchased a small gas stove company, which they organized as a cooperative: one worker/one vote, and the highest paid didn’t make more than 3 times the lowest paid. The company was very successful, and they started another and another.

Today, Mondragon comprises more than 250 cooperative companies, employing about 83,000 people and representing diverse businesses from manufacturing to banks and supermarkets. Mondragon is the leading edge of the Spanish industrial economy.

Manufacturing Renaissance was inspired by Mondragon in the founding of a public school—initially known as Austin Polytechnical Academy.  Today, we run the Manufacturing Connect program on the Austin campus.

As is the case with Mondragon, our program is not just a vocational program but designed to educate the next generation of leaders in all aspects of manufacturing including production, management and ownership.

As is the case with Mondragon, the purpose of this program is to rebuild the community and to provide multiple pathways of success for our students.  Last year:

  •  One of our graduates made $75,000 as a CNC operator;
  •  Another graduate is now 2nd in charge of a small company, has keys to the factory, just bought a two-flat in Austin and is supporting his wife and two small children; and
  •  Two of our students will attend Trinity College in Hartford, CN to study engineering with full four-year scholarships.

Today, we have 150 students in the Austin Campus that have enrolled in our program and 30 others on a waiting list.  We have 40 manufacturing companies as our partners.  At the invitation of our key partner—Chicago Public Schools, we are now working with 150 8th graders in Northwest Middle School, and are exploring the expansion of our program into other high schools.

This kind of education was the foundation for the development of the Mondragon region into a global leader in advanced manufacturing and social inclusion.  This kind of education needs to be developed in Cook County so we too can become a global leader in advanced manufacturing based on social inclusion.

I applaud your efforts in starting a Commission on Social Innovation that can learn from models like Mondragon as we re-build our region.  We pledge our active partnership with you in this endeavor.

Thank you.

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