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USTR Talks Made in USA, Diversity at Illinois’ Aurora Textiles

Aurora Specialty Textiles Group welcomed U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Katherine Tai and Rep. Lauren Underwood (D., Ill,) to its Yorkville, Ill., manufacturing plant this week to tour its state-of-the-art facility and discuss the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and American manufacturing.

The act, one of President Biden’s signature legislative actions, has passed the Senate and is pending a vote in the House. Executives and officials at the event said the bill would include support across Illinois communities for public transit, improvements to roads and bridges, infrastructure for clean drinking water, electric vehicle support, and improved passenger and freight rail programs.

“It was a great event and the discussion was enlightening as we shared the concerns and challenges manufacturers and employees face today,” said Marcia Ayala, president of Aurora Specialty Textiles Group, who hosted Tai with Bruce Pindyck, chairman and CEO of Meridian Industries, Aurora’s parent company.

During the visit, Tai and Underwood held a roundtable discussion that featured women-led manufacturing firms and union representatives from the Illinois 14th Congressional District.

In addition to Ayala, manufacturing leaders who participated in the panel included Patricia Miller, CEO of Matrix 4; Chandler Slavin-Bond, owner Doran Manufacturing;  Gina Lipscomb of RJ Lipscomb Engineering, and Nicole Wolter, president of H. M. Manufacturing. Brian Simmons, Gladys Campos and John Gedney represented regional labor unions and their employees. David Boulay, president of the Illinois Manufacturing Excellence Center, also participated.

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Aurora Specialty Textiles welcomed USTR Katherine Tai and Rep. Lauren Underwood to its Yorkville, Ill., manufacturing plant this week.
Marcia Ayala Courtesy

“We discussed the bipartisan infrastructure bill and other initiatives beneficial to U.S. manufacturers that Congresswomen Underwood and Ambassador Tai are working on,” Ayala said. “It was a great opportunity to give our perspectives on issues currently facing manufacturers and issues specific to our businesses.”

She said Tai and Underwood showed great interest in “the challenges we face running our businesses and to discuss how those problems can be addressed through legislation and trade policies.”

The USTR’s office said Tai highlighted the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to developing worker-centered trade policies that support small businesses, particularly those owned and operated by women and people of color.

Tai and Underwood also highlighted the importance of quickly passing historic infrastructure investments that will help build a 21st century economy “from the bottom up and from the middle out.”

The bipartisan act “is a foundational piece of the President’s Build Back Better agenda that will create millions of jobs, repair our roads and bridges, support domestic manufacturing and help the United States maintain its competitive edge in the global economy,” USTR Tai said.

During the discussion, Tai mentioned she was touring U.S. manufacturing companies to learn what these companies need in the area of trade policy. The roundtable also covered questions and concerns related to infrastructure, supply chain, the lack of a skilled workforce, women in manufacturing, climate change and the post-Covid economy.

Ayala pointed out that women currently account for fewer than one in three manufacturing jobs, although they represent about half of the overall workforce.

“Currently, manufacturing jobs are very difficult to fill and women are a huge potential to help fill the gap, so it is critical to attract them,” she said. “In addition, diverse companies outperform those that lack diversity in their workforces.”

Following the discussion, Underwood and Tai toured Aurora’s manufacturing operations. This featured Aurora’s R&D lab, a tour of Aurora’s inspection area, as well as a visit to the plant’s quality lab.

Aurora Specialty Textiles Group specializes in coating, dyeing and finishing of woven and non-woven fabrics. In 2015, the company invested in a new state-of-the-art, wide-width coating and finishing line, and a new facility, that dramatically expanded its capabilities.