CHAMPAIGN – During a visit to Champaign on Tuesday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced the creation of two new manufacturing training academies in downstate Illinois.
Community colleges located outside of Cook and the collar counties can apply for millions in grant funds from the state to create the academies that will provide students with 21st-century manufacturing skills. Pritzker said the state has set aside $15 million for the project.
He also fielded questions about the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and the surge in new cases across the state. Half of all Illinois counties are now at warning levels for the virus.
Pritzker spoke at Eden Park Illumination, a Champaign start-up that produces UV lighting. He said manufacturing businesses such as this one are continuing to hire despite the pandemic, but many struggle to find qualified workers.
Pritzker said his administration’s new manufacturing training program would help fill the workforce gap.
“And through this program, we will bring competitive opportunities that will also bring investments where they’re most needed, specifically for downstate communities, where these cutting-edge training opportunities have often not been widely available,” Pritzker said.
He added that training programs like these will also incentivize companies to operate in Illinois.
“Put quite simply, in preparing the manufacturers of the future, we also give CEOs and companies the confidence they need to factor in Illinois for their long-term plans for innovation,” Pritzker said.
Pritzker said the state’s Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) and the Illinois Community College Board would work together to evaluate the proposals and ensure they meet the training needs.
Shortly after Pritzker’s appearance in Champaign, the governor’s office announced that it would impose a curfew on and prohibit indoor services at bars and restaurants in Chicago beginning this Friday, among other measures to mitigate the rise in COVID-19 cases.
Some bars and restaurants in other parts of the state that were previously targeted for mitigation measures promised to remain open to indoor patrons in defiance of the governor’s order.
Asked during his visit to Champaign whether he would consider allowing restaurants to offer indoor dining as the weather gets colder, Pritzker said that’s not something he currently plans to do.
“The studies really don’t show that, you know, gathering inside in large numbers in restaurants and bars can be done as safely as other kinds of service,” Pritzker said.
Restaurants and bars can apply for “business interruption grants” from the state through the DCEO, he said.
“The most important thing we can do for businesses right now, and for bars and restaurants, (is) everybody wear a mask, everybody keep your social distance. Let’s get these numbers down. Let’s get these businesses going again. Let’s get our kids safely back in school,” he said.
Pritzker was also asked whether the state would divide its 11 COVID-19 regions into smaller geographic areas to target mitigation efforts.
But he said the state can’t do that because people often travel from one county to another.
Pritzker also reiterated criticism of the federal government’s response to the pandemic.
“The truth is that we should have had a national plan for COVID. And we haven’t had one from the very beginning. And now we’ve had to fight as states against one another for PPE, for testing, etc. Because there’s no national plan. Within the state, we don’t want to be fighting against one another. We want to be working together to bring down our COVID metrics,” Pritzker said.
He added that he hoped counties would work together to tackle the surge in new cases.
Lee Gaines is a reporter at Illinois Public Media.
Follow Lee Gaines on Twitter: @LeeVGaines