Advocacy Day: Community Leaders Standing For Inclusive Manufacturing in Springfield

Photo: Representatives of the CMRC and Ministers for Manufacturing Committee in front of the State of Illinois Capitol Building in Springfield, IL, 11/16/22.

A strong message about the need for increased investment in the manufacturing ecosystem was brought directly to Springfield on November 16 at Advocacy Day, which was hosted by the Ministers for Manufacturing, a committee of the Chicago Manufacturing Renaissance Council (CMRC).

Advocates for an inclusive and equitable manufacturing sector traveled from Chicago and around the state to meet with legislators about how manufacturing can be a vital and essential tool for community development in Illinois. Stakeholders included a racially and socially diverse coalition of representatives of faith leaders; educators; economic development agencies; academia and workforce development practitioners who work in low-income, communities of color the Chicagoland area.

The team met with State Rep. Kam Buckner upon its arrival at the Capitol. Rep. Buckner has pledged to draft and introduce a resolution in support of CMRC’s message and its continuing work. Later, participants in the event held one-on-one meetings with key leaders of legislative committees and their staff, departments, and agencies. The group connected directly with Rep. Mary Flowers, deputy leader for training and education; Rep. Debbie Meyers-Martin, vice chair of economic opportunity, and Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford. Key connections with many others, including staff of Speaker of the House Chris Welch and Sen. Don Harmon, will also pave the way for meetings with legislators in the coming months.

“Advocacy Day was a great example of what the manufacturing ecosystem looks like in action,” says Erica Staley, executive director of Manufacturing Renaissance. “It was an opportunity to raise awareness among leaders on key issues to impact the sector and in support of our communities while also building support and relationships within our network.”

For participants in this event, current realities in Illinois communities tell a powerful and immediate story about why investment in the manufacturing sector is so urgently needed. One example: Recent research showed that in one year, more than 50,000 high-skilled jobs were available in Chicago – but companies couldn’t find enough skilled employees to fill them. This reality – often known as the “Skills Gap” – can be addressed by supporting investment in training and education in all communities, and especially those that have long been underserved.

The Renaissance’s Career Pathway Services programs, which reach youth and young adults, show how training that prepares youth for jobs in manufacturing works and needs to be supported. That training works in concert with the Renaissance’s continuing efforts to connect with employers in the Chicago region who are looking for skilled employees.

Participants in Advocacy Day identified a range of keys to strengthening the manufacturing sector in a way that promotes diversity, equity, and inclusion. Priorities include investing in education and training in schools and communities (including Historically Black Colleges and Universities); encouraging minority ownership, and supporting funding for research and product development tied to climate change.

Advocacy Day was held at an especially timely moment, as it built on national momentum to bolster the sector that was catalyzed this summer when the CHIPS and Science Act authorized $50 billion for semiconductor research and manufacturing.

Another key element of Advocacy Day is that it provided a platform for stakeholders whose voice on manufacturing needs to be heard. Public, private, and community stakeholders that came to Springfield represent voices of CMRC, a model for how a diverse council of interests can inform the future of this sector.

Ministers are an especially crucial voice for communities, as they can speak to the wider concerns of their communities.  Rev. Phalese Binion, executive director of the Westside Ministers Coalition in Chicago, was among the ministers who attended the Advocacy Day event and focused on why manufacturing can be a promising pathway for communities that are slammed with poverty, violence, and a dearth of economic development. “I am hopeful that we are making a positive impact,” says Rev. Binion. “We are being heard, and will continue our work to bring greater access to resources and jobs to our communities.”

Jonathan Snyder, executive director of North Branch Works in Chicago, also attended the event. North Branch Works is a 40-year-old membership-supported nonprofit neighborhood organization that has promoted balanced, job-creating economic development along the North Branch of the Chicago River.

“Advocacy Day helped us cement a very strong partnership with Manufacturing Renaissance,” he says. He adds that “there’s a lot of work happening on the local level – many of us are looking to do more at the state level.”

Snyder identified a range of key issues, including making sure that manufacturers have a place to do business in the city, addressing workforce issues, and providing adequate incentives for companies to thrive in the city and state.

“Going down to Springfield was a strong and effective way to meet with elected officials about how we can promote an equitable, inclusive, and sustainable manufacturing sector in Illinois,” says David Robinson, Director of External Affairs at Manufacturing Renaissance. “This was an important step as we move forward on key issues in the coming weeks and months.”

-Dan Baron