Pressing Obama on a manufacturing policy

Posted by mmcmullan on 05/10/2013

For a while now, the Obama administration has been talking up advanced manufacturing as the key to a revival of the larger manufacturing sector. Advanced manufacturing, by definition, utilizes the cutting edge of the trade, and its economic potential is enormous. That’s what makes recent research suggesting that the U.S. has actually lost ground in this field in its home market so worrisome.

Without a straight-up national manufacturing strategy, we’re skeptical of how far the White House’s heretofore piecemeal approach to revive the sector will go.

Nevertheless, we’ve seen hints that the Administration is heading in the right direction on policy. During the last State of the Union address, President Obama trumpeted the recently opened manufacturing institute at Ohio’s Youngstown State University, which focuses on 3-D printing. And he announced that the Administration would press Congress for a cool $1 billion to fund 14 more such institutes.

Well, Congress has been a little slack on funding these institutes (translation: it hasn’t provided any funding at all) so Obama has commendably decided to fly solo: Speaking in Austin, Texas yesterday, he announced plans to create three new institutes by executive order and seek bids on where to place them. Via the Wall Street Journal:

One of the institutes will focus on developing design and manufacturing equipment that can easily share information with suppliers over digital networks. The second will do research on lightweight metals that could be used in such products as wind turbines, medical devices and combat vehicles. The third will seek to develop more efficient semiconductors through use of such materials as zinc oxide and gallium nitride.

Very cool, Obama.

And the Administration has been working on this elsewhere. Consider a project at MIT that was folded into the White House’s Materials Genome Initiative that “is building a massive database of compounds and their properties, aiming to do for manufacturing what the Human Genome Project is doing for the biopharmaceutical industry — providing the data, tools, and understanding that will lead to breakthrough products.”

Here at the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM), we want to see all of the policy stars align so that we can get to the 1 million new manufacturing jobs that Mr. Obama promised from the stump during his re-election campaign. It’s good that the White House recognizes how important the manufacturing sector is to the larger economy – but again, a piecemeal approach isn’t going to cut it. So let’s get that national manufacturing strategy going, Mr. President. You’ll get your 1 million manufacturing jobs in no time.

Read more about Obama's manufacturing institute announcement here. Read more about MIT's totally nifty materials database here.

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