Op--Ed: Manufacturing USA: Remaining a Step Ahead of the Competition

Sep132016

OPINION EDITORIAL
Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Growing up in a family that made everything from railroad tank cars to medical equipment, I was raised with a deep appreciation of the American manufacturing tradition.

Today, as Secretary of Commerce, I have the opportunity to not only see firsthand the modern reality of our industrial base but to partner with manufacturers across the country to strengthen this critical sector of our economy.

Whether on the factory floor at SpaceX outside Los Angeles, where I talked to workers who are building spacecraft that may one day take us to Mars about how we can keep our manufacturers on the cutting edge, or at ArcelorMittal in Cleveland, where they manufacture steel and I saw how the Commerce Department’s enforcement of trade laws can protect an industry that forms the foundation of everything from our cars to the bridges they drive on, or at a high school in Dalton, Georgia, where I met a young apprentice who is learning to create the carpets of the future thanks, in part, to our Department’s commitment to expanding training focused on leading sectors in each region.

Over the past three years a Secretary, I have seen firsthand the strength and resilience of American manufacturing.

And I have seen how the ability of manufacturers to innovate, to make, and to sell to the world was critical to digging ourselves out of the recession.

Eight years ago, no one could have predicted the resurgence of manufacturing that we see today. After a half century of steady growth, it took just nine years for the industry to collapse. Our manufacturing sector lost approximately one-third of its workforce. Sixty-thousand factories closed their doors, sending our country into crisis. Many people began to doubt that U.S. manufacturing would ever begin growing again. But today, even in the face of global headwinds, there are 828,000 more American jobs in manufacturing than six years ago, and companies are looking to fill over 350,000 jobs.

To be clear, the last two years have not been easy for many manufacturers. Weaker overseas demand, a stronger dollar, and sharply lower commodity prices have all caused new orders, production, and employment to stall, and companies to draw down inventory. But it is important to distinguish between the short-term trends and the long-term fundamental strength of U.S. manufacturing, and our country’s capacity to innovate is one of the key reasons why “Made in America” remains the best brand in the world.

For the United States to remain a step ahead of the competition and thrive, we need a cutting edge manufacturing sector. Recognizing that American competitiveness is at stake, President Obama created the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI).

The advanced manufacturing institutes in this network break down silos between the U.S. private sector and academia to collaborate on taking industry-relevant technologies from lab to market in the next 5 to 7 years.

In just four years, the network has grown to over 1,300 members and is working on 240 technology development projects.

Today, the network’s members include nearly two-thirds of Fortune 50 U.S. manufacturers and 8 out of the 10 top-ranked research and engineering universities. And more than a third of member companies are small and medium-sized enterprises.

The Department of Commerce runs the network that today consists of nine institutes and will grow to at least 14 by the end of the year.

Through this network, we:

• enable the sharing of best practices to develop new technologies

• manage a supply chain

• introduce new products to market

• attract and retain the talented workforce needed to support 21st century manufacturing.

Our Department also has the sole authority to establish new institutes in technology areas selected by industry — not by government. We plan to announce the first Commerce Department-sponsored advanced manufacturing institute early next year.

As new market technologies continue to emerge from these institutes and industry identifies new areas for growth, we need to ensure that Congress provides adequate funding to make our current institutes sustainable and ensure these hubs keep American manufacturing ahead of the competition.

To see the value of this network, look no further than the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute in Chicago, where researchers are developing an augmented reality-based training system for workers. If you have ever tried Pokemon Go, it’s a lot like that — except instead of catching monsters, you point your camera at a piece of machinery, and the screen shows you exactly how to operate it.

With the incredible success of this initiative, it deserves better branding.

I don’t know about you, but as far as acronyms go, NNMI is not the catchiest. I am thrilled to announce Manufacturing USA.

With our new name, Manufacturing USA captures the geographic reach of a network that spans our country and is positioned to benefit companies of all sizes from coast to coast.

But more importantly, this name embodies our vision for a unified American manufacturing sector — where the brightest minds and the most innovative companies come together to develop the most cutting-edge technology in the world.

Ultimately, our work to make Manufacturing USA successful is about ensuring “Made in America” is not just one of the world’s best brands but the hallmark of an innovative, constantly evolving industry that builds lasting careers and stronger communities.

From Samuel Slater’s textile mill to Henry Ford’s Model T to today’s 3D printers, we are a country that innovates. A country that makes. A country that sells to the world. By working together to out-collaborate, out-innovate, and out-compete the rest of the globe, I am confident that America’s manufacturers — each of you in this room — will continue to spur and sustain our dynamic, growing economy for years to come.

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Last updated: 2016-09-13 17:07

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