Building upon the President's Executive Institute for public-private partnerships, the region's manufacturing base and the University's commitment to the community and economic development of rural communities, Western Illinois University has joined the Illinois Innovation Network (IIN). The IIN is a group of hubs across the state that aims to boost Illinois' economy through entrepreneurship, research and workforce development.
The IIN was fully launched at a press conference in Springfield on Wednesday, May 15. It has 15 hubs across the state, including all of Illinois' public universities.
"It is very exciting to see how our state's public universities are working together through the Illinois Innovation Network, and how they are putting innovation at the forefront of their agenda," Gov. JB Pritzker said. "We have so much potential if we just work together, and today's announcement shows me that our universities are committed to that. They are our state's key pillars of innovation and talent production, and I look forward to seeing the even greater impact they can have on Illinois' economy through the IIN."
As part of the INN, Western is utilizing existing resources to establish the Center for Manufacturing and Entrepreneurial Excellence (CMEE) to advance economic development in the University's 16-county service area and throughout the state. The CMEE will include the Community Innovation Center that focuses on technology applications used in rural community planning and the Quad Cities Innovation Center that will focus on advanced and additive manufacturing.
“With advanced manufacturing, ag innovation and defense being key industries for our region, the news today underscores the continued relevancy of Western Illinois University to our Quad Cities business community,” said Quad Cities Chamber President and CEO Paul Rumler. “The Center for Manufacturing and Entrepreneurial Excellence aligns with the work being done by our Quad Cities Manufacturing Innovation Hub, so we are excited to be working alongside WIU to help make it happen.”
"Western Illinois University embraces social responsibility as one of its four core values and serves as a resource for, and stimulus to, educational, cultural, environmental, community and economic development in our region and well beyond," said WIU President Jack Thomas. "Partnerships with the Illinois Innovation Network will advance community and economic development, and Western is proud to be a partner in a network that will have an impact throughout the state, the nation and the world. The Illinois Innovation Network is a critical asset to recruit and retain top talent in Illinois, and our university's participation advances Western's mission of preparing students to lead in diverse and dynamic communities."
Joe Rives, senior vice president for strategic planning and initiatives, serves as the University's liaison to the IIN and, with assistance from the University's steering team, has been engaged in the statewide planning for the launch of IIN and CMME for the last six months. A website to specifically detail CMME plans, results and solicitation for University and community volunteers is in development.
"We are excited to begin recruiting community college partners and those from the public and private sectors to address critical challenges and opportunities in western Illinois and beyond," Rives added.
According to Rives, the Community Innovation Center, led by the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs (IIRA) at WIU, will use data analytics, visualization and artificial intelligence at the community level across Illinois to improve economies, communities and the overall quality of life in rural Illinois. The Quad Cities Center, led by the School of Engineering, will drive innovation, workforce development and economic growth in the region's manufacturing, defense and agriculture sectors by advancing manufacturing needs in robotics, virtual reality and big data.
"We anticipate that Western's nearly $400 million annual economic impact will increase substantially by actively engaging in the IIN," Rives said.
Led by the University of Illinois System, IIN launched last August with its first hubs at the three U of I System institutions and a fourth at the Discovery Partners Institute (DPI) in downtown Chicago. Northern Illinois University joined IIN in September and Peoria, which is home to a regional academic medical center, joined in December.
According to the IIN, these hubs will harness the intellectual strengths of universities and their communities, working in collaboration with DPI to foster research innovation that drives progress and economic growth across Illinois. Hubs will be able to participate in DPI programming and collaborations, while DPI researchers and students will be able to partner with the hubs for educational, research and outreach activities.
"These new hubs fulfill the guiding vision of the Illinois Innovation Network, spreading the power of innovation to every corner of our state through partnerships with every one of our state's public universities and other important regional partners," said Tim Killeen, president of the U of I System. "The growing network will bring together the very best minds to address our most pressing challenges, forging breakthrough solutions that will drive new waves of progress and prosperity for all of Illinois and beyond."
The network of hubs now includes every city in Illinois with a public university presence, and each hub has recruited multiple public and private partners from its region to develop programming with both local and statewide impact. Work at each hub will seek to grow its local and regional economy through education and innovation pinned to the academic strengths of their host university, such as clean energy, healthcare, manufacturing, entrepreneurship and food supplies. All of the hubs are in line for startup funding from the $500 million in capital funds that were approved for DPI and IIN last year by the Illinois legislature, if the funding is re-appropriated in this year's budget.
For more information on WIU's INN hub, contact Rives at (309)762-9481 or J-Rives@wiu.edu.