U.S. Deputy Secy. of Commerce, Cook County Pres. voice support for more inclusive manufacturing sector

The Chicagoland Manufacturing Renaissance Council (CMRC), program of Manufacturing Renaissance (MR), continued to spotlight the growing movement for a more inclusive manufacturing sector at a Nov. 3 event that featured U.S. Department of Commerce Deputy Secretary Don Graves. Nearly 150 attended from over a dozen states (and Australia) the event via Zoom, including members of community organizations and nonprofits, faith leaders,  business owners and many others. Recording of the event here.

Deputy Secy., Dpt. of Commerce Affirms Strong Support for Sector

“Manufacturing as a Strategy for Inclusion and Development” hosted by CMRC’s Leadership Committee to highlight the promising role of manufacturing in the recent introduction of a federal bill that emphasizes equity and inclusion in the sector, the Manufacturing Reinvestment Corporation Act. The bill was introduced by Illinois Cong. Jan Schakowsky.

“We at the Department of Commerce are laser-focused on one overarching goal: Improving America’s economic competitiveness so that workers and customers can succeed in the global economy,” said Graves. “Strengthening our domestic manufacturing capacity is central to that goal.”

Graves emphasized in his comments that “we are committed to closing the racial wealth gap, closing federal barriers, and creating policies to invest in minority businesses.”

Graves and others at this event pointed out that manufacturing jobs have a “multiplier” effect on the economy. “For every one dollar spent, another 2.79 jobs are added to the economy,” he said. “That’s the highest multiplier effect of any sector in the country.”

Growing Support for Manufacturing

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle also emphasized the importance of “prioritizing equity and diversity” at the event. Manufacturing, she can, can be “a pathway in our region for greater inclusion in our workforce.” Preckwinkle noted that she has met with program participants in Manufacturing Renaissance’s Career Pathways programs, an example of how local programs reaching underserved communities prepare young adults for manufacturing jobs.

Panelists and participants at this event reflected the diversity of supporters that are working together to promote a more inclusive manufacturing sector.

“Manufacturing has a concrete positive impact on communities in which it thrives,” said Jim Piper, president of Matot, a manufacturing company in Bellwood, IL. Piper sits on the Leadership Committee of CMRC.

Vince Williams, President and Chief Executive Officer at the Chicago Minority Supplier Development Council, said there “continues to be inequity for minority entrepreneurs to access capital and resources.” Williams also pointed to a Pledge for Action to increase equity and parity in underrepresented communities that was stated by the National Association of Manufacturers last year.

Meanwhile, Rev. Tim Wright III, Minister of Justice and Economic Development at UCC Trinity Gary, added that “diversifying leadership” in manufacturing will be key. He added that “From my standpoint as a minister, abundance is not just spiritual – we must also have an abundance of clean water, safe neighborhoods, and decent jobs to raise a family.” Wright served as Commissioner of Economic Development for Chicago Mayor Harold Washington and Director of Domestic Policy for President Bill Clinton. Wright said that the president’s Build Back Better plan can have a significant impact on the manufacturing sector.

Andy Stettner, Senior Fellow at The Century Foundation, has been involved in the growing effort to create a manufacturing agenda. He emphasized the potential role of local manufacturing councils across the country in promoting a more inclusive and equitable manufacturing sector. The CMRC is an example of how these councils can work.

In the Community

Torres Hughes, Program Coordinator for the Young Manufacturers Association of Manufacturing Renaissance, shared his perspective as someone who knew little about manufacturing as a youth – and now works closely with young people who may enter the field. “I graduated from the Manufacturing Renaissance program in the Austin community, and prior to that I had no idea what manufacturing was. Many people of color don’t know these opportunities exists. Many are struggling with things at home. Some will have no funds for transportation to jobs.”

One key, Torres and several participants said, will be sharing key messages about the great potential of manufacturing jobs with young people who are looking for opportunities. “How do we change the stigma that manufacturing is old, dirty, and super-dangerous? We have to say there are options there,” he said.

Marla Sanders, who participated in the Young Manufacturers Association, raised a question for elected officials. “People in my age group don’t know much about manufacturing as a good career option,” she said. “How can we work with elected officials to spread the word about opportunities for training and careers in manufacturing?”

Preckwinkle pointed to the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership and its OpportunityWorks program; Graves cited the Department of Commerce’s partnerships with the departments of Labor and Education on training and education programs. Both acknowledged that there needs to be more outreach to younger people about opportunities in the manufacturing sector.

Next Steps

Graves confirmed the department’s commitment on this issue. “We are headed in the right direction, but we  know that government can’t solve all of these problems alone. We need strong public-private partnerships with all of you. Stay in touch with us at the Department of Commerce so we can be a resource to you and create a more innovative, equitable, and competitive American economy.”

This event was part of a continuing effort to advocate and mobilize support for an inclusive manufacturing sector. “We need herculean scaling of investment across the public and private spectrum so that we can make sure we really meet the needs of companies and communities,” said Erica Staley, Executive Director of Manufacturing Renaissance.  “Together, we can go farther faster. This must be an increasing priority.”

Dan Baron