President Obama's manufacturing initiative, centering on regional "hubs" where advanced concepts will be developed, is evoking yawns from Republicans in Congress and only scattered support from business, but it strikes me as an excellent concept and one the business community should rally behind. In fact, this is precisely the kind of collaboration among business, government and academia that manufacturing has been seeking for years.
The "hubs" are the heart and soul of the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI) that President Obama announced in March 2012. To date, the Obama Administration has launched four manufacturing hubs using federal, business and university resources. The first, launched in 2012, is the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (America Makes) in Youngstown, Ohio. I have written before of the promise of additive manufacturing -sometimes called 3D printing - and it is heartening to see a major commitment to it.
Three more have been launched this year. The Next Generation Power Electronics National Manufacturing Institute is in Raleigh, North Carolina. As if to underscore his commitment, President Obama traveled to Raleigh for the launch of the new institute which will be run by a collaboration among 18 private companies and six universities, focused on developing the next generation of energy-efficient, high-power electronic chips and devices that will be used to help make things like motors, consumer electronics and other devices that will help make the nation's power grid smaller, faster and more efficient.
Of course, Detroit looms large in the Administration's manufacturing agenda, as it should. The American Lightweight Materials Manufacturing Innovation Institute in Detroit will help develop advance lightweight materials and technology for use in everything from new hulls for Navy ships to lighter and safer automobiles. It will also train manufacturing workers to use the new technologies associated with lightweight materials. This Institute is expected to create up to 10,000 new jobs in the Midwest in the next five years to support the evolving lightweight metals industry. Another hub, the Digital Manufacturing & Design Innovation Institute, will be in Chicago.
The President is also priming the pump for smaller manufacturers through the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) program to help smaller firms focus on technology transition that requires deep supply chain expertise. He wants to launch Manufacturing Technology Acceleration Centers which would be industry-specific and serve as a coordination point within key supply chains. There can be no doubt the administration is fully committed to the NNMI.
But the President needs and deserves business support which has been scattered and unfocused. This is not about President Obama; it's about us. Manufacturers cannot afford to let this initiative wither on the vine. This is a solid opportunity to achieve our long-held goal of making manufacturing a national priority. To let this opportunity slip away for extraneous political reasons would be a mistake.
Jerry Jasinowski, an economist and author, served as President of the National Association of Manufacturers for 14 years and later The Manufacturing Institute. Jerry is available for speaking engagements. March 2014