Job creation? Check. Clean energy? Check. Advancements in education? Check.
Before a joint session of Congress last February, U.S. President Barack Obama touched upon all of the above and more in his annual State of the Union Address, poetically running through a laundry list of initiatives and plans for 2013 while highlighting his administration’s achievements from the year before.
One of those achievements, the President said, was emphasizing the importance and job-making power of American manufacturing, all the while tossing in something of a shout-out to Youngstown, Ohio, for its newest industrial occupant, the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NAMII).
“Last year, we created our first manufacturing innovation institute in Youngstown, Ohio,” Obama said in the nationally-televised speech, much to the delight of U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-13 Ohio, who serves and represents the district Youngstown is in.
“A once-shattered warehouse is now a state-of-the-art lab where new workers are mastering the 3D printing that has the potential to revolutionize the way make almost everything,” Obama said that evening. “There’s no reason this can’t happen in other towns.”
Ryan, now in his sixth term, could not agree more.
“There should not be one NAMII. There should be seven to 10,” Ryan says of NAMII, which focuses on accelerating and integrating additive manufacturing technologies to the U.S. manufacturing sector and increasing domestic manufacturing competitiveness. The hub is likely to produce 7,200 manufacturing jobs in the near future, federal officials say.
Obama later announced in that speech his intention to launch three additional manufacturing hubs, “where businesses will partner with the Departments of Defense and Energy to turn regions left behind by globalization into global centers of high-tech jobs.”
“And I ask this Congress to help create a network of fifteen of these hubs and guarantee that the next revolution in manufacturing is Made in America,” Obama added.
Imagine that, Ryan says. One of the communities he represents being used as a shining example of what’s good with American manufacturing. Given Youngstown’s long history of industrial prominence, he was not particularly surprised.
“It’s a buzz in our community,” he tells Industry Today. “It really helped bring attention to manufacturers that the center of gravity in the additive manufacturing world is now Youngstown, Ohio.”
It’s also just the latest development in a region where the investments necessary for a 21st century economy dependent on manufacturing – and its adjoining wealth and jobs – are well underway.
WHERE 13 IS A LUCKY NUMBER
Ryan grew up in northeast Ohio, in a community centered deep in the nation’s Rust Belt, where industry and manufacturing still power neighborhoods and grow economies.
Raised by his mother and two grandparents, Ryan interacted daily with hard-working manufacturers who built long-lasting careers in the sector and used it to raise families and expand neighborhoods.
His grandfather was one of them, a hard-nosed steel worker who earned more than enough to send Ryan and his brother to college and law school.
“If you worked at General Motors or at Delphi or even in an average steel mill, whether it was Goodyear or some of these other steel mills or manufacturing facilities, you were making sometimes upwards of a hundred thousand dollars per year,” Ryan recalls. “That’s a good, solid middle-class living, one you can use to raise a family on or even have the option of a parent staying home for a year or two while the kids are young.”
He’s also seen the social and cultural consequences deindustrialization and manufacturing decline can have on communities. “I’ve seen the devastation,” he says, pointing to the Youngstown and Akron metropolitan areas, which have thankfully seen some manufacturing jobs, return since its giant steel mills closed in the 1970s.
All of this is why Ryan was so taken back when he learned upon taking office more than a decade ago that there wasn’t a manufacturing caucus of any kind. “There’s a caucus for just about everything, from rock and roll to autism and other things, but there was not a manufacturing caucus,” he says.
He subsequently changed that, co-founding the House Manufacturing Caucus in 2003 to examine and promote policies that help American manufacturers find skilled workers, develop new industrial and manufacturing technologies, operate on a level playing field with foreign competitors, and obtain the capital they need to thrive. The caucus, he says, has been particularly resourceful in mustering political support for tariffs on China and advocating for a direly-needed national manufacturing strategy.
“I really use it as an opportunity to promote manufacturing and also raise the awareness of how big manufacturing is,” Ryan says.
How big? Each and every Congressional District, he says, is impacted by manufacturing. The industry supports an estimated 17.2 million quality jobs nationwide. And American manufacturing generates approximately 12 percent of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product, and two-thirds of its total exports of goods and services.
“A lot of people think today the economy is geared towards computer software, and to a certain extent it is,” Ryan says. “But when you look at that part of the economy, it’s about 20 trillion dollars. Where you have manufacturing, it’s about 130 trillion dollars, with its economic impact. It doesn’t take a Philadelphia lawyer to figure out that we should be creating policies that help endorse manufacturing.”
Ryan adds that he uses the House Manufacturing Caucus as an opportunity to find public policy everyone can agree on.
He adds, “In the last year, we’ve been doing a lot of educational hearings where we’re trying to get staff members aware of what’s going on in additive manufacturing and three-dimensional training. It’s really an opportunity to promote policies at the international level and at the same time raise awareness to help build coalitions to eventually push those policies.”
In and around his district, meanwhile, thousands of manufacturers are learning, via the NAMII, what 3D printing and additive manufacturing entails, how it works, and why it’s so popular. If all goes according to plan, local officials say, Youngstown could become a hotbed for additive manufacturing thanks to the newfound public-private collaboration.
Ryan says he has since taken calls from manufacturers of various industries expressing desires to move operations to the Mahoning Valley and greater Youngstown region. Likewise, Siemens, according to Ryan, donated about $440 million in lifecycle software – cutting-edge computer technology commonly used by NASA – to Youngstown State University.
Essentially, the sector’s initiative to migrate from being the Rust Belt to the Tech Belt – a recently-created name for the manufacturing corridor that stretches between Cleveland and Pittsburgh that has spawned greater manufacturing opportunities in the years since the Great Recession – is off to a promising start.
“We have a smart and skilled workforce that recognizes changes in the dynamics of all local economies,” Ryan says. “We’re also in a very good location, with active port authorities and politicians working well together, and that’s been advantageous in helping to attract manufacturing businesses and retain them.”
He adds, “We’re doing it on all of these different levels, and quite frankly, I think you’re going to see an even bigger explosion because manufacturers are coming to check out the area located next to the NAMII. That has been really significant. The first ones in are going to get the best deals from the local government and the state, so everyone’s trying to get in early so that they can access those incentives.”
But technologically-advanced manufacturing, with automation and robotics playing a key role, generally doesn’t have much use for low-skilled workers doing repetitive monotonous tasks across a plant floor or on an assembly line. Instead, it requires superior intellectual aptitudes, employees and managers who are quick thinkers, analytical, and mathematically oriented – the types of workers manufacturing nationwide generally cannot find enough of.
And that, according to Ryan, lies manufacturing’s greatest weakness.
A DIFFERENT WORLD
It’s natural, even expected, to want a better life for your kids than what you had, Ryan says, especially if you’re a lifelong veteran of old-school manufacturing who started off their career by coming home every night grimy and dirty and blowing soot out of your nose.
But in a dark economic era when the unemployment rate stubbornly will not drop below 7 percent and new college graduates are finding it increasingly difficult to find a job their degree requires, a career in manufacturing should be becoming more and more attractive, Ryan says.
But it hasn’t happened yet. It needs to soon if manufacturing is going to effectively replace its retiring workers in a timely manner.
“There’s a negative connotation as to what manufacturing is, and many seem to think, Well, I want better for my kid, not knowing that manufacturing is, in fact, better for your kid,” Ryan says. “Manufacturing has good-paying wages and a lot of times, when it’s four or five o’clock, and you’ve put in a hard day’s work, you’re done for the day and can go home. You don’t necessarily work long weekends, and the quality of life is exceptional.”
He adds, “You look at the surveys, and I just know from personal experience that a lot of young people are more concerned with how many vacation days they get rather than what their annual wages are. Manufacturing jobs, in many ways, can give them that quality of life that they want with the pay that they want.”
And manufacturing is clean nowadays, he adds. The idea that it’s dirty is utterly passé. “You can walk into some of these factories and eat your breakfast off the floor,” he says. “It’s clean. It’s high end. There is a skilled workforce. You can make good money doing it, and we need to get that message out to parents and school guidance counselors, so that they begin to promote manufacturing as a real job opportunity.”
That’s starting to happen, but not nearly fast enough. Manufacturing continues to have about 600,000 job vacancies nationwide, Paul Kuchuris, President of the Association for Manufacturing Excellence, told Industry Today earlier this year, adding that too many available candidates do not have the required science, technology, engineering, and mathematics skills and experience listed in job descriptions.
Ryan says that’s an alarming figure when taking into account how many Americans – millions, it’s been reported – are badly seeking employment.
But it’s not just that more kids need to be better educated in the fundamentals of math and science. They also need to enjoy it more, Ryan says.
“The other thing is we need a revolution in the education system. We have taken almost every ounce of enjoyment and fun out of the education system,” he says. “It wasn’t all that fun 20 years ago when I was there. Then came standarized testing, and I think that has zapped any remaining fun from school.”
“We need– and the business community needs to be a big part of this – to get Lego blocks in the schools for the elementary kids. We need to get 3D printers into classrooms, implement more cutting-edge computer programming courses, get robotics into more high schools, and get more kids into technology competitions,” Ryan says. “We need to get them excited about making things, about designing and engineering.”
He adds, “I think if you do those things, you’re going to turn the light bulb on for a lot of kids who are going to be very excited about what additive manufacturing is, what three-dimensional printing is, about everything that’s happening in those fields and elsewhere in manufacturing.”
Getting more youthful yet skilled workers into manufacturing, Ryan says, will have a rippling effect nationwide. Service-related jobs, in general, produce two or three spinoff jobs, he says. Manufacturing, on the other hand, triples and sometimes quadruples that figure.
“For every job on the factory floor, you’ll produce seven, eight, possibly more spinoff jobs to support that,” Ryan says. “Our public policy must be more geared toward manufacturing, because it’s where you’re going to get the best bang for your buck.”