Is it too early to call current movements in manufacturing a renaissance? Maybe not. Forging a revolution in thought, application and process, the expansion policies set into place across the country have spurred a new environment in manufacturing - one which is set to renew what we know of industry, change the way we produce goods and spark innovations of intellect and function across many sectors as well as society as a whole. If there's any other definition necessary for a renaissance, we don't know of one. Industry leader Jason Miller phrased it best at a recent Brookings Institute forum. Manufacturing, he said, "punches above its weight. We're in a period where something is happening."
Indeed, manufacturing has received a lot of attention with the development of manufacturing hubs across the country, leading to an expansion of industry and renewed partnerships and integration across government agencies, manufacturers, universities and regional growth centers. All are focused on new ways of getting things made, such as digital manufacturing and 3D printing.
To bring all of this activity into focus, The John White, Jr. Forum on Public Policy Governance Studies at Brookings Institute hosted a half-day conference on July 9 focused on manufacturing expansion policies, including the Obama Administration’s creation of regional manufacturing hubs in cities such as Chicago, Youngstown, Detroit, and Raleigh, meant to accelerate expansion and adoption of advanced manufacturing technologies.
Panels focused on the impact of the regional manufacturing hubs and other policy initiatives that aim to spur growth of the United States’ industrial economic base.
Among the speakers was Miller, special assistant to the president for manufacturing policy, National Economic Council, who leads policy coordination on manufacturing for the White House, and led the effort on building the government’s manufacturing agenda.
While manufacturing has made progress, adding some 288,000 jobs in the first six months of 2014 – the fastest period of job growth since 1999 – and bringing the total of direct manufacturing jobs to 668,000, it’s still important, Miller said, to put in place policies that ensure that economic growth is shared across the board.
“There is disagreement over the purpose of how to support manufacturing,” he said. “Is it about spurring job growth, building a more prosperous economy? Is it about providing high quality jobs? In reality manufacturing supports all three objectives in different ways.” Manufacturing, he said, supports a broad base of supply chains that also support communities.
“The core reason we should care about manufacturing is because it is linked to the country’s ability to innovate and therefore to future economic growth potential,” he said. “Evidence shows that manufacturing can be soundly justified by the degree at which it creates innovation benefits. It presents 12 percent of GDP and 60 percent of all private sector R&D, as well as a vast majority of exports.”
Since early 2010, the sector has grown at roughly twice the pace of the economy overall, giving the sector a far different personality than it had during the last decades, when manufacturing faced challenges, including the rise of Japan and demographic shifts, Miller said.
Today, surveys of business executives suggest the U.S. is a more competitive location for manufacturing than it has been in decades, and that many are actively considering bringing manufacturing back from China. “That’s an astounding statistic,” he said, adding that the U.S. is today “the top destination in the world for job creating foreign direct investment for the second year in a row, surging ahead of China, Brazil, and Germany.
Miller added that the administration’s agenda is comprised of four pillars:
- Increase competitiveness through tax reform, energy, and infrastructure
- Expanding the country’s innovative edge
- Ensuring there is human capital available at all levels
- Open access to markets while ensuring the country’s trading partners are trading by rules
“We are more focused problems facing U.S. manufacturing than we have been in a long time,” he said.
One of the catalysts of growth has been the creation of manufacturing hubs. Ed Morris, director of the National Additive Manufacturing Institute, known as America Makes, is focused on helping the United States grow capabilities and strength in 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing. America Makes facilitates collaboration among leaders from business, academia, non-profit organizations and government agencies and focuses on areas that include design, materials, technology and workforce.
Based in Youngstown, Ohio, one of the Obama Administration’s designated manufacturing hubs, America Makes is an extensive network of nearly 100 companies, driven by the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining (NCDMM).
The advantage of these hubs, Morris says, is their collaborative nature. In Youngstown, companies have been able to move technology from concept to working model in an operating environment through the participation of many different entities, including some of the biggest defense manufacturers on the planet. Here, the advance of 3D printing is helping to produce more lightweight structures and configurations, which equates to improved product performance and “incredible reductions in cycle time,” Morris said, adding, “It’s a game changer in manufacturing.”
Mike Russo, director of government relations for GlobalFoundries, the nation’s largest semi-conductor foundry based in Chicago, which was also designated as a manufacturing hub, remarked that a key to the future of manufacturing is the use of digital capabilities to integrate supply chains, which must address “the entire spectrum of those involved from one end to the other: workforce development, operations and facilities.”
It will be our ability to produce digital supply chain security, along with the ability to congregate in hubs, that will enable the U.S. to move forward, he said.
“Fast forward to years from now, where hubs are tied into networks and can go about their missions serving customers in respective regions, while being integrated in a true national network where we can learn from each other and we truly are able to leverage national network. That’s really powerful,” he said. “The key will be to make sure we institutionalize the necessary diversity … in supply chain, size, ethnicity, culturally and in education. If we can do that the U.S. will be a force to reckoned with.”