With the biannual International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) in Chicago this week, executives from industry and government have been lauding the progress that the U.S. has made in regaining its stature as a manufacturing powerhouse. It was in that atmosphere that U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker not only talked of the push behind cutting-edge innovations and manufacturing workforce development, but also announced Manufacturing USA—the new name for an initiative that was designed to do both.
The National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI) is a collection of public-private partnerships devoted to manufacturing excellence. It brings together companies, universities and federal agencies to co-invest in hubs focused on emerging technologies. It now consists of nine institutes across the country, with six more planned by 2017. With the success it’s had, Pritzker insisted, it needs a name that isn’t such a mouthful. “Let’s be honest,” she said. “It deserves better branding.”
When President Barack Obama announced NNMI four and a half years ago, there were a lot of skeptics, according to Mike Molnar, director of the NIST Advanced Manufacturing Office. But those skeptics have been proven wrong. “We all decided this is clicking,” he said, pointing to more than 1,300 member companies and more than 240 active projects across the nine institutions. “And we need a better way to tell the story.”
Speaking at a reception Monday night at one of those institutions—the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute (DMDII), in Chicago—Molnar echoed Pritzker’s words from earlier in the day, pointing with pride to the reach of the network that is now known as 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,” Pritzker said during her address. “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.”
No one would’ve predicted the surge in U.S. manufacturing eight years ago, Pritzker said, when tens of thousands of factories were closing their doors. “Many people really began to doubt American manufacturing,” she said. “But now, for four years in a row, CEOs from around the world have named the United States the best place to make and invest.”
Developing tomorrow’s manufacturing workforce
Referencing “the modern reality of our industrial space,” Pritzker highlighted the keys to successfully keeping U.S. manufacturers on the cutting edge. “I have seen first hand the strength and resilience of American manufacturing,” she said, noting the country’s capacity to innovate, make and sell to the world.
But Pritzker, who has been instrumental in developing programs geared toward workforce development and training, knows that more needs to be done to train more people for manufacturing jobs and to attract young people to industry. “People and workers are our most important resource,” she said. “But we must prepare our workforce for the jobs of the 21st century.”
The U.S. is focusing on job-driven training for the first time, Pritzker said. Government programs are bringing employers to the table to find out what they need, and they’re working with educators and trainers to make sure they’re providing in-demand skills.
But providing those skills is not enough, Pritzker said. “We must also excite our youth about the potential of a career in manufacturing,” she said, noting that it still ranks last among career choices. “We must change the perception of manufacturing as outdated factories with assembly line jobs.”
Manufacturing Day—the first Friday of every October—is approaching, and Pritzker urged manufacturers to consider hosting an event on Oct. 7, adding to the more than 2,400 open houses, tours and more that took place on Manufacturing Day last year.
Though “our country’s prosperity starts and ends with our people,” Pritzker said, the business climate is also important. Things like a strong rule of law, intellectual property protections, and cheap and abundant energy make the U.S. one of the easiest places to do business.
Pritzker made a pitch for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)—an ambitious free trade agreement among the U.S. and 11 other Pacific Rim countries—and urged manufacturers to be vocal about its benefits to convince the general public. “Globalization coupled with technology is disrupting some of our businesses, and some of them might be feeling left behind,” she conceded. “But that doesn’t mean we should turn our backs on trade.”