In President Obama's Tuesday night State of the Union Address, he said a growing economy that creates good, middle-class jobs must be the North Star that guides the nation's efforts.
Hive of activity
"Every day, we should ask ourselves three questions as a nation: How do we attract more jobs to our shores? How do we equip our people with the skills needed to do those jobs? And how do we make sure that hard work leads to a decent living?" he said near the front of the approximately one-hour address to a joint session of Congress in Washington D.C.
In the early 1960s, America's famed author John Steinbeck called Youngstown, Ohio, with its steel mills buzzing, a hive of activity. Over the intervening decades, Youngstown lost its steel industry and the buzz that went with it. Tumbling in population, the perennially poor big city has waited patiently for a new queen bee to fly in and do what she does best, produce more bees and buzz.
A big boost came from President Obama, when he called out the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NAMII) in downtown Youngstown as an example of the kind of collaboration that produces the right outcomes he wants to replicate in other regions in his speech to the nation.
The president talked about the Youngstown experiment maybe because it's brought national and international attention to this down-but-not-out region, which has struggled over the decades as Ohio lost large swaths of its once mighty manufacturing mojo.
Another reason might be that NAMII is a shining example of what can happen when serious partners collaborate seriously, moving from a mindset of competition to cooperation, an attitude whose new dawn may light the path forward. The $70 million project brought together nine research universities, including Youngstown State, Carnegie Mellon and Case Western Reserve; five community colleges, including Eastern Gateway Community College; 40 companies, and 11 nonprofit organizations in the Cleveland-Youngstown-Pittsburgh Tech Belt.
A big feather in NAMII's hat was its inclusion by the Brookings Institution and the Rockefeller Foundation in a Top 10 list of the most innovative economic development initiatives across the country.
At the, Mark Muro, a senior fellow and policy director for the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings, told the Youngstown Vindicator, "It was not only the sophistication of the proposal but also the array of partners who came together for this. That kind of collaboration is the sort that yields good outcomes for the economy."
Thirty million of project costs originated in Washington, through a national competition of manufacturing innovation consortiums, with $40 million coming from the regional participants.
Reports say NAMII is looking beyond the Mahoning Valley, in northeast Ohio, for membership in order to broaden its additive manufacturing and research community. Their success in attracting more collaborators has also added additional revenue, which has expanded the effort to a national scope. Some new helpers are the University of Texas at Austin, the Missouri University of Science and Technology and the University of Texas at El Paso.
Manufacturing, now in 3-D
President Obama talked about the so-called 3-D manufacturing process at work at NAMII, as he called for America's first priority to be a magnet for new jobs and manufacturing.
"There are things we can do, right now, to accelerate this trend. Last year, we created our first manufacturing innovation institute in Youngstown, Ohio, he said, painting a picture of a once-shuttered warehouse that has metamorphosed into a state-of-the art lab where new workers are using 3D printing, an additive manufacturing process he said has the potential to revolutionize the way almost everything is made.
"There's no reason this can't happen in other towns. So tonight, I'm announcing the launch of three more of these 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," he said.
3-D software technology draws up a detailed blueprint, which is then transmitted to a specialized machine that uses plastics, metals or resins to print a product layer-by-layer, cutting out costly material and labor in the process.
He was singing Youngstown's tune Tuesday night when he said, "It is our generation’s task, then, to reignite the true engine of America’s economic growth – a rising, thriving middle class."
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