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Foster pushes manufacturing laboratory

Published: Friday, March 29, 2013 5:30 a.m. CST • Updated: Monday, April 1, 2013 3:49 p.m. CST

AURORA – U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, D-Naperville, and Waubonsee Community College President Christine Sobek on Thursday announced a proposal to put a manufacturing laboratory in Waubonsee’s downtown Aurora campus as a way to invest in the next generation of entrepreneurs and innovators.

“Manufacturing is the way a city grows,” Foster said during a roundtable discussion with Sobek, Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner and other business and community leaders. “Kids don’t build stuff anymore. This is an opportunity to get back into that.”

Foster is pushing legislation known as The National Fab Lab Network Act of 2013, which would establish a network throughout the United States. The bill has been introduced with bipartisan support from 15 original co-sponsors, including U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren, R-Winfield.

Fab Labs are state-of-the-art fabrication laboratories where youth and adults can invent, design and manufacture products. Sobek said Waubonsee wants to collaborate with area high schools on the endeavor.

“We are hearing that students don’t have the opportunity to be hands-on,” Sobek said. “We are excited about being able to house it. The challenge we have is funding it. Part of it is trying to communicate what a Fab Lab is.”

The legislation does not provide funding to the network, but seeks to provide the project with the recognition needed to grow and establish new centers throughout the country. Foster said starting a lab at Waubonsee’s Aurora campus could cost about $200,000.

Steven Kase, board chairman of the Tooling and Manufacturing Association and president and CEO of Aurora-based ASK Products, is enthusiastic about the idea. ASK Products is a terminal lug manufacturer and supplier.

“This program has opportunities for students, for employers, for training,” Kase said. “I know WCC is one of the leaders in education that would support advanced manufacturing.”

Weisner also is a supporter of the program.

“Not all students are going into undergraduate studies,” he said. “They need to be prepared to work when they graduate. We are working hard to make sure our young people are prepared for the world of work.”

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