U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker discussed the importance of innovation and American manufacturing to the U.S. economy during a tour and panel discussion with business leaders and CEOs at the Whirlpool Corporation’s headquarters in Benton Harbor, Michigan. As the world’s leading global manufacturer and marketer of major home appliances, the Whirlpool Corporation has effectively integrated innovative thinking into its core values and mission.
Speaking on a panel titled “The Global Innovation Forum,” and moderated by Doug Rothwell, Chief Executive Officer and President of the Business Leaders of Michigan, Secretary Pritzker explained that one of the key priorities of the Commerce Department’s “Open for Business Agenda” is to strengthen American innovation, with a focus on supporting manufacturing. Secretary Pritzker also highlighted how the Obama Administration and the Department of Commerce are spearheading three manufacturing initiatives to accomplish this objective.
First, Secretary Pritzker talked about the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI), a bipartisan, industry-driven proposal to create a network of commercialization hubs owned and operated by universities and corporations. These hubs will conduct skills training and accelerate new technologies into the market, all aimed at benefiting a region’s manufacturing base, rather than just a single company. In addition, Secretary Pritzker discussed the successes of the Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership (IMCP). IMCP is a federal designation that recognizes communities that should serve as models for the rest of the country – because they each have clear strategies to become magnets for manufacturing, along with coordinated efforts in key areas, like workforce training, supplier networks, research and innovation, infrastructure and site development, exporting, and access to capital. Recent research shows that communities who make these investments in a coordinated fashion experience higher growth in employment, wages, number of establishments, and number of patents.
Finally, Secretary Pritzker praised the Manufacturing Extension Partnership, and centers like the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center, where experts and consultants provide practical advice to local manufacturers, while assisting them in transforming business plans, accessing new technology, and increasing exports.
Innovation in manufacturing is only as strong as the talent base behind it – that is why the Department of Commerce has made skills development a top priority. Explaining that 21st century manufacturing jobs are different from manufacturing jobs of only a decade ago, Secretary Pritzker called on companies like Whirlpool to participate in efforts such as Manufacturing Day, an annual event to be held this year on October 3, 2014. Last year’s Manufacturing Day encouraged 834 organizations – mostly manufacturing companies – to host open houses and events that were attended by more than 35,000 people.
Secretary Pritzker went on to discuss how the Department of Commerce fosters innovation everyday – from the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, which assists inventors and helps them protect their intellectual property rights, to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which produces close to 20 terabytes of data each day that helps businesses make more informed decisions.
On the panel, Secretary Pritzker was joined by Jeff Fettig, Chief Executive Officer of Whirlpool; Bill Weideman, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of Dow Chemical; Kurt Darrow, Chief Executive Officer and President of La-Z-Boy; Kevin Lobo, Chief Executive Officer and President of Stryker; Bill Parfet, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of MPI Research; Fred Bauer, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Gentex, and Jim Keane, Chief Executive Officer of Steelcase.