The New York Times and other major newspapers are reporting that the United States economy grew in the second quarter of 2012, but at a paltry (annualized) rate of 1.5 percent (first quarter growth was two percent). The concern, of course, is that the economic recovery from the recession is losing some of its momentum. However, the NYT article also cites updated statistics from the Commerce Department indicating that the recession was not as deep as previously thought.
But, being in the shallow end of a recession can be as unpleasant as the deep end; hopefully it just means less energy is needed to pull out. New initiatives recommended by a report out of the White House to support advanced manufacturing may provide some of the needed boost.
The report “Capturing Domestic Competitive Advantage in Advanced Manufacturing,” is the product of the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership Steering Committee of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. The AMP was announced last summer by President Obama when he visited Carnegie Mellon University, and is a “national effort bringing together industry, universities, and the federal government to invest in the emerging technologies that will create high quality manufacturing jobs and enhance our global competitiveness,” says a press release from the CMU event.
According to a fact sheet released by the White House, the US manufacturing sector has grown by 500,000 jobs since 2010, bringing the number of jobs connected to manufacturing to about 12 million. The manufacturing sector is responsible for much more than blue-collar jobs, though. The document also says that 70 percent of all private sector R&D is in the manufacturing sector and that about 60 percent of the R&D workforce is employed by the private manufacturing sector.
The fact sheet says, “… our nation’s ability to make things is inextricably linked to our ability to innovate,” and few would argue. At the recent ICC4-CLS meeting in Chicago, plenary speaker Delbert Day, professor at Missouri S&T and entrepreneur, showed several maps that correlated investment to discovery in his home state of Missouri. The “hot spots” of cities where patents were issued in Missouri from 1975-1999 were cities that have research universities, and similarly, the number of SBIRs awarded was much higher in those same cities. The link is pretty clear: investment begets innovation, which begets spin-off companies and jobs. Day’s spin-off company, Mo-Sci, is a good example. In his talk, Day chronicled the role of sponsored research and SBIR funding that led to a company that today manufactures bioglass and employs about 40.
Innovation is not necessarily a “blank-slate-to-product” process, either, as work by University of Buffalo professor, Sarbajit Banerjee testifies. As we reported earlier, the goal of his work was to adapt existing coating manufacturing processes to the application of novel graphene corrosion-prevention coatings to standard. His research was supported by industrial powerhouse, Tata Steel, and a university research consortium.
The AMP Steering Committee—led by Andrew Liveris, president/chair/CEO of Dow Chemical and Susan Hockfield, recent past president of MIT—recognized that there are many pathways to innovation. The executive summary of the report opens with, “Advanced manufacturing is not limited to emerging technologies; rather, it is composed of efficient, productive, highly integrated, tightly controlled processes across a spectrum of globally competitive US manufacturers and suppliers.” It goes on to say that the growth and health of advanced manufacturing will “require the active participation of communities, educators, workers, and business,” as well as all levels of government.
The 18 member committee is comprised of the top brass from manufacturing business and research universities, skewing a bit toward industry with 16 members from companies like Honeywell, Intel, Procter & Gamble, etc. The committee spent about a year holding regional meetings across the US and consulted over 1,200 stakeholders from industry and all levels of education and government, according to a press release.
The report makes 16 recommendations organized into three categories that it hopes will provide the framework for a national advanced manufacturing strategy. The AMP Steering Committee also endorsed Obama’s $1 billion proposal to establish a National Network for Manufacturing Innovation back in March. The NNMI’s purpose is to “catalyze up to 15 manufacturing institutes nationwide.”
The recommendations, taken from the report, are:
- Establish a National Advanced Manufacturing Strategy: The AMP Steering Committee proposes establishing and maintaining a national advanced manufacturing strategy by putting in place a systematic process to identify and prioritize critical crosscutting technologies.
- Increase R&D Funding in Top Cross-Cutting Technologies: In addition to identifying a “starter list” of crosscutting technologies that are vital to advanced manufacturing, the AMP Steering Committee proposes a process for evaluating technologies for R&D funding.
- Establish a National Network of Manufacturing Innovation Institutes (MIIs): The AMP Steering Committee proposes the formation of MIIs as publicprivate partnerships to foster regional ecosystems in advanced manufacturing technologies. MIIs are one vehicle to integrate many of the Committee’s recommendations.
- Empower Enhanced Industry/University Collaboration in Advanced Manufacturing Research: The AMP Steering Committee recommends a change in the treatment of tax-free-bond-funded facilities at universities that will enable greater and stronger interactions between universities and industry.
- Foster a More Robust Environment for Commercialization of Advanced Manufacturing Technologies: The AMP Steering Committee recommends that action is taken to connect manufacturers to university innovation ecosystems and create a continuum of capital access from start up to scale up.
- Establish a National Advanced Manufacturing Portal: The AMP Steering Committee recommends that a searchable database of manufacturing resources is created as a key mechanism to support access by small and medium-sized enterprises to enabling infrastructure.
Securing the Talent Pipeline
- Correct Public Misconceptions About Manufacturing: Building excitement and interest in careers in manufacturing is a critical national need, and the AMP Steering Committee recommends an advertising campaign as one important step in this direction.
- Tap the Talent Pool of Returning Veterans: Returning veterans possess many of the key skills needed to fill the skills gap in the manufacturing talent pipeline. The AMP Steering Committee makes specific recommendations on how to connect these veterans with manufacturing employment opportunities.
- Invest in Community College Level Education: The community college level of education is the “sweet spot” for reducing the skills gap in manufacturing. Increased investment in this sector is recommended, following the best practices of leading innovators.
- Develop Partnerships to Provide Skills Certifications and Accreditation: Portability and modularity of the credentialing process in advanced manufacturing is critical to allow coordinated action of organizations that feed the talent pipeline. The AMP Steering Committee supports the establishment of stackable credentials.
- Enhance Advanced Manufacturing University Programs: The AMP Steering Committee recommends that universities bring new focus to advanced manufacturing through the development of educational modules and courses.
- Launch National Manufacturing Fellowships & Internships: The AMP Steering Committee supports the creation of national fellowships and internships in advanced manufacturing in order to bring needed resources but more importantly national recognition to manufacturing career opportunities.
Improving the Business Climate
- Enact Tax Reform: The AMP Steering Committee recommends a set of specific tax reforms that can “level the playing field” for domestic manufacturers.
- Streamline Regulatory Policy: The AMP Steering Committee recommends a framework for smarter regulations relating to advanced manufacturing.
- Improve Trade Policy: Trade policies can have an adverse impact on advanced manufacturing firms in the United States. The AMP Steering Committee recommends specific actions that can be taken to improve trade policy.
- Update Energy Policy: The manufacturing sector is a large consumer of energy, and consequently, domestic energy policies can have a profound impact on global competitiveness. The AMP Steering Committee makes specific policy recommendations regarding energy issues of importance in manufacturing.