Emanuel's plan for improving Chicago and the Austin neighborhood

Investments in manufacturing, building upgrades touted by mayor

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By ELLYN FORTINO

Austin would see more manufacturing jobs and an increased investment in transportation under a new plan being offered by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

The mayor unveiled his economic development plan for Chicago last month.

He says his plan for "Economic Growth and Jobs," is a first-draft strategy designed to lift Chicago out of its economic slump. The focus is on creating more union jobs, rebuilding the city's infrastructure and retrofitting city buildings, among other efforts. The plan would directly impact Austin, said Tom Alexander, the mayor's spokesperson.

The plan calls for an increase in advanced manufacturing jobs in the city, which are ideal professions Austin and other community residents, according to Alexander, who says "These are the jobs of the future."

Specifically, Emanuel wants to scale up Austin Polytechnical Academy's adult manufacturing job-certification program for Chicago residents. The mayor, Alexander said, considers the school - which provides state-of-the-art manufacturing training to students in grades 9-12 - a "great asset" for the city. The school is currently the site of a 44-week manufacturing credential program. About 10 West Side residents are participating in the program, located on the Austin high school campus, 231 N. Pine Ave. The community group, Austin Coming Together (ACT), has partnered with Austin Polytech on the initiative.

"The West Side generally has a manufacturing infrastructure already. You see the empty factories and buildings," said Amara Enyia, ACT's executive director. To Enyia, it makes sense for Austin and other West Side communities to be a hub for manufacturing.

She recalled the West Side having a robust manufacturing industry, but over the last 30 years those jobs left. After those companies moved out, the community changed, she said.

Her organization, along with other community stakeholders, believes manufacturing can potentially build up the middle class in Austin and nationwide.

"If you are talking about the quality of Chicago as a city, we have to invest on the West Side," Enyia said.

Erica Swinney, career and community programs director at Austin Polytech, said the school is excited about the mayor's investment plan, and in its focus on manufacturing as a top priority for the city's economic future.

But manufacturing won't be the only investment in the mayor's plan. More private sector resources will be funneled toward making city buildings, such as libraries, public schools and police headquarters, more energy efficiency, Alexander said, adding that roads and other transportation upgrades are covered under the plan.

"Certain parts of Austin's infrastructure are in dire need of repair," Alexander said. "Hopefully, those will be areas where we will be able to target in these infrastructure efforts."

austintalks.org@gmail.com

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