U of I awarded $5.5 million Department of Defense grant

Dec 16, 2016 03:37 PM

CHICAGO—The University of Illinois has received a $5.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) to support economic revitalization in Illinois communities affected by reductions in federal military spending.

The two-year grant was awarded by the DoD’s Office of Economic Adjustment (OEA) under a program created to assist military-connected communities as defense spending declines due to federal budget reductions and the wind down of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The grant is matched by nearly $775,000 in cash and in-kind contributions from local sources.

Known as the State of Illinois Defense Industry Adjustment Program, the data-driven initiative will fund three primary efforts to help communities retool their economies and foster growth despite the changing defense spending landscape.

“It is my top priority to ensure the state of Illinois thrives at the highest level possible,” Gov. Bruce Rauner said. “This program allows us to take a much-needed look at key parts of the state’s defense industry and explore new opportunities to strengthen the companies and supply chains that are critical to the DoD.”

University of Illinois President Tim Killeen said the initiative will benefit communities, businesses and workers across the state.

“This is yet another example of the University’s commitment to the people of Illinois, using our resources and talents to support economic development across the entire state,” Killeen said. “I’m grateful to OEA and our community partners for helping shape a new defense-sector strategy that will move Illinois forward.”

The initial phase will involve a comprehensive data-collection initiative that will identify the full scope of defense assets across the state, as well as industries that are part of the military supply chain, said Joey Mak, director of innovation and economic development for the U of I Office of the Vice President of Research, which is coordinating the program.

Illinois is home to several active military installations, including the Rock Island Arsenal in the Quad Cities, Scott Air Force Base near Belleville and Naval Station Great Lakes near North Chicago, along with National Guard units in Peoria, Springfield and North Riverside. But Mak said there also are countless businesses and manufacturers across the state with links to military spending, large and small.

He said the first-ever inventory of defense-related assets will provide a clear picture of where the state is vulnerable as defense spending declines, and where there are opportunities to grow by realigning resources to serve the shifting needs of the military or other industries unrelated to defense.

Those findings will then be analyzed and shared with the state and local communities to develop strategic plans, through an effort led by the Nathalie P. Voorhees Center for Neighborhood and Community Improvement at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The study also will provide seed money to fund strategic realignment initiatives, beginning with efforts that are already underway in the Quad Cities, led by the Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce and Moline-based Deere & Company, one of the world’s leading heavy equipment manufacturers.

Numerous elected officials offered letters in support of the grant, including Rauner, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, Illinois Senator Mark Kirk, Iowa Senator Charles E. Grassley, Illinois Congresswoman Robin Kelly (IL-2nd District), Illinois Congresswoman Cheri Bustos (IL-17th District), and Iowa Congressman Dave Loebsack (IA-2nd District).

“As Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, I am proud that Illinois’ defense installations play such an important and dynamic part of our nation’s security,” Durbin said. “This federal funding will support a data-driven study into how we can best utilize Illinois’ defense assets and support the surrounding communities. This information is critical to developing a comprehensive strategy to strengthen our defense installations and support local economic development.”

Kirk said the program would increase the competitiveness of the state.

"Military installations like Rock Island, Scott Air Force Base and Great Lakes Naval Station are critical to our Illinois economy and keep our nation safe,” he said.  “For Illinois companies that rely heavily on DoD activity, the Illinois Defense Industry Adjustment Program has the potential to spur new business opportunities, create local jobs and leverage defense assets in the state.”  

The program builds on other major initiatives, including the Chicago Metro Metal Consortium (CMMC), a network of more than 70 partners in the greater Chicago area focused on strengthening the region’s metals sector.

“Through collaboration with a variety of public and private partners, we identified metals as a critical sector in our economic development agenda. On behalf of the CMMC, I am pleased to see that the federal government’s Investing in Manufacturing Community Partnership program has directly assisted the University of Illinois, a CMMC member, as the recipient of this funding. We welcome this support for our region’s manufacturing sector as our businesses reposition themselves in light of the changing defense spending landscape,” said Toni Preckwinkle, President of the Cook County Board. The county’s Bureau of Economic Development coordinates CMMC’s efforts.

Other organizations expected to participate in the program include the Illinois Procurement Technical Assistance Center Network, a state program that provides assistance to companies seeking to procure federal contracts and the Illinois Chamber of Commerce Military Affairs Committee, which seeks to educate Illinoisans about the importance of the state’s defense assets. Additional community partners will be identified throughout the course of the grant.