Perspective: ShoreBank co-founder calls expansion of manufacturing sector a “once in a lifetime opportunity”

This year, Manufacturing Renaissance has played a leading role in a national coalition that is advancing an agenda to transform the manufacturing sector in this country. Earlier this fall, the coalition’s efforts reached the national stage when Cong. Jan Schakowsky introduced the Manufacturing Reinvestment Corporation Act in Congress.

Ron Grzywinski has a distinctive perspective on how a social issue that affects many in Chicago communities and around the country can take flight and have a national impact. Grzywinski is the co-founder of ShoreBank, an innovative community development bank that closed in 2010. ShoreBank originally served low-income African-American communities and eventually expanded nationally and internationally.

Grzywinski says he understands the urgency of this moment for many working to expand the manufacturing sector. Like advocates working on a number of issues, they have what may be a rare opportunity to make significant headway because of the current administration’s commitment to this issue. “This is just an opportunity that has not existed In this country for 40 or 50 years,” he says.

In an interview with Manufacturing Renaissance, he shared his views of how social movements that begin with one group or in one community can grow on the national stage.

Theory of Change

Earlier this year, Dan Swinney, founder and senior advisor of Manufacturing Renaissance, wrote Toward a New Paradigm of Development, which detailed the organization’s theory of change. The document informed the bill that was introduced in Congress, and addresses a range of prominent issues, including the urgent need for equity, education and workforce development, industrial retention (related to ownership succession and other issues), and sustainable development in the manufacturing sector that reflects what we are learning about climate change and the environment. The report says that what is called for is the transformation of a whole society in which manufacturing plays a critical role.

Grzywinski says he “strongly agrees” with the report’s argument that we need “to revise manufacturing in this country,” It means educating a different kind of workforce. We as a country need to emphasize things that other places have been doing for a long time.”

He adds that the report and proposed legislation are also about changing an old and flawed narrative – the one that says manufacturing happened in dirty factories and is a thing of the past. The report emphasizes the need for a sector that creates sustaining jobs – and careers. “The public has to be educated – and people who go into new manufacturing jobs have to believe these are prestige jobs,” Grzywinski says. “People want to be proud when they tell people where they are working.”

Seizing the moment

In the last year, Manufacturing Renaissance has partnered with Progressive Democrats of America, the Democracy Collaborative, Democracy Partners, and many other partners for this campaign to shape the direction of American industrial policy. The coalition has met with economic advisors in the White House and informed policymakers about this effort, many of whom support it.

Grzywinski says that while he agrees with much in the report, at this point the focus should be about telling that story broadly and to key audiences – not just policymakers. He echoes that this moment is really about something big and immediate: how the seeds of programs that start in one community and led to this coalition can grow even more – and take hold on a national scale. It’s a story, he says, that has to be told over and over again – not just to partners and advocates who are already on board, but to the larger world.

Making it happen

Grzywinski reflects on his experience starting ShoreBank. “One thing I learned is that there were people I could never have reached, groups I might not be invited into. You have to keep plugging away and making allies.”

That may sound obvious, he says, but he also points to how it can happen and the history of social issues – some of which have been catalyzed in Chicago.

In 1973, Gryzwinski was part of a team that acquired the South Shore National Bank, which became ShoreBank, with a relatively small amount of equity capital and a loan from American National Bank. ShoreBank successfully provided loans to residents in  a range of low-income communities for three decades.

Then, In 1977, Grzywinski was the only banker to testify in favor of the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), which required banks to the meet the credit need of communities -including low- and middle-income residents. Community groups in Chicago, led by housing activist Gale Cincotta, were instrumental in advocating for the CRA, which Congress passed later that year, an act that created a huge market and investment for the banking community.  The banking sector and communities both benefited.

As the year turns, the movement to expand the manufacturing sector – and a new paradigm of development – continues. Grzywinski says that expanding the manufacturing sector in this country is “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. People that really care about this have to come together.”

-Dan Baron

dan@danbaron.com

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