Strengthening Local Economies and the Environment Go Hand in Hand

Last week in Chicago, I participated in a series of events as part of the Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership (IMCP). The IMCP works with counties and private and non-profit organizations to advance manufacturing in the U.S. by aligning a range of federal government programs with community goals. EPA has been a strong partner with the Department of Commerce and the White House, encouraging the integration of sustainability, smart growth, and industrial legacy site reuse as part of community manufacturing investment strategies.  The Chicago metro area was one of the first IMCP communities, and they’ve focused on expanding the metal fabricating sector.

The Chicago Metro region epitomizes what the IMCP can do through a coordinated redevelopment approach.   During my visit, I went to Sterling Lumber, which straddles Harvey and Phoenix, two small, economically challenged older inner ring suburbs.  To accommodate his rapidly growing and diversifying wood products business, CEO Carter Sterling relocated and consolidated his business on a brownfields site.  The site already had a large existing manufacturing building space that could be adapted for Sterling and transportation access.  Starting with an EPA assessment grant to the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association (long active in Cook County brownfields efforts) to characterize and quantify the cleanup costs, Mr. Sterling  built partnerships and leveraged considerable support from state agencies and Cook County.  Improvements included upgrading road access and adding a rail spur to the site. He also partnered with OAI (a local workforce training organization and recipient of our Environmental Workforce and Job Training grants) and the Calumet Green Manufacturing Partnership, to hire about a third of Sterling’s new workforce – about 20 individuals – from the community.

Assistant Administrator Mathy Stanislaus and Mike O’Connell, CEO of Sterling Lumber Company

Assistant Administrator Mathy Stanislaus and Mike O’Connell, CEO of Sterling Lumber Company

Next, we visited LB Steel, a leading steel manufacturer that employs around 300 workers.  I toured its 450,000 square foot facility and observed numerous metals products being manufactured for customers around the world. LB Steel is a great illustration of the existing strength in metals manufacturing that is the foundation for expanding metals manufacturing in the Chicago Metro area.

Assistant Administrator Mathy Stanislaus and David Abshire, Vice President of LB Steel tour the LB steel products factory.

Assistant Administrator Mathy Stanislaus and David Abshire, Vice President of LB Steel tour the LB steel products factory.

Before leaving, I addressed the semi-annual meeting of the Chicago Regional Growth Initiative, a bi-partisan collaboration of the elected leadership of all of the counties of the Chicago Metro area (Cook, Will, DuPage, Kendall, McHenry, Lake, and Kane Counties), established to support the IMCP designation under the leadership of Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle.

I noted that I represented the U.S at the G7 earlier this year to advance a circular economy strategy to maximize the recovery of used materials through life cycle-based sustainable materials management. The U.S. has seen a 57 percent increase in new materials acquired (e.g., mining, lumbering); 42 percent of greenhouse gases stem from materials management in the U.S. economy.  Similar statistics were shared by other G7 countries. This led to the adoption of a sustainable materials management/resources efficiency platform built on production and environmental considerations. The G7 declaration noted that global raw material use rose during the 20th century at about twice the rate of population growth. Furthermore, much of the raw material input in industrial economies is returned to the environment as waste within one year.

I recognized that the collaboration of these counties around a common manufacturing agenda is the vision of the IMCP.  I shared the role of EPA in advancing manufacturing, and why EPA is so involved in attracting new manufacturing activity, and attracting new foreign direct investment aimed at industrial production.  What better place to encourage new manufacturing investment than at old brownfields and other previously used sites?  Their location near community centers, transportation and established universities and R&D centers as well as their past industrial uses make many of these sites uniquely situated to attract new manufacturing activities.  I concluded my comments by noting that the Chicago IMPC model is a strong example of how manufacturing can advance economic, environmental and social outcomes.

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