American manufacturing 2.0

“Made In America” is more than a patriotic slogan on a product label for consumers and businesses to consider.  It represents a sector of our economy that is critical to our long-term economic health.  To create jobs and remain competitive abroad, our economy must have an advanced manufacturing sector driven by innovative U.S. companies that make things here.  As President Obama said in his State of the Union address, now is our chance “to beat other countries in the race for the next wave of high-tech manufacturing jobs.”

Congress is considering landmark legislation that would help ensure the United States remains the global leader in advanced manufacturing initiatives and the discovery of new products and technologies.  The bipartisan Revitalize American Manufacturing and Innovation Act (S. 1468/H.R. 2996), championed by Sens. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) in the Senate and Reps. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) in the House, would bring together industry, higher education, federal agencies, and local governments to accelerate manufacturing innovation.

Creating a much-needed Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NMI), the legislation would establish public-private advanced manufacturing hubs that would leverage investments in industry-relevant manufacturing technologies to bridge the gap between innovation and commercialization.  It would provide the right boost at precisely the right moment so the United States can continue driving the innovation that creates thousands of high-paying, high-tech manufacturing jobs.

Last fall, the Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing on the bill during which I had the opportunity to testify as part of a panel of industry leaders in support of the legislation.  We know firsthand how important this legislation would be to businesses like ours as well as to the customers we serve and the employees we need.  We also discussed how these hubs would also help bolster Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) programs with education and training for students in advanced manufacturing, helping meet demand for the highly skilled workforce America needs to remain competitive.

Historically, the government has helped to create an environment where entrepreneurs can succeed, allowing the private sector to successfully develop emerging technologies, which lead to new products and new advanced manufacturing jobs.  Public-private partnerships have also had a big impact on developing many technology-focused aspects of our economy.  For example, Silicon Valley would not have become a global driving force in microelectronics development and manufacturing if not for the Defense Department’s initial investment and support.

Today, smaller companies like mine are fueling the microelectronics industry with new innovations that are making electronic devices smaller, faster, and more powerful.  Emerging technologies such as 3-D printing and a multitude of nanomaterials and nanodevices hold great promise for new American start-ups and existing advanced manufacturers.  This legislation simply recognizes this promise of new technologies without attempting to determine technology winners.  By not prescribing the specific technology solutions, it encourages our business and scientific minds to explore and determine the best and most needed solutions.

The benefits of a strong manufacturing economy are powerful.  Manufacturing supports an estimated 17.2 million jobs in the United States and about one in six private-sector jobs.  Nearly 12 million Americans are employed directly in manufacturing.  In 2012, U.S. manufacturers contributed $2.03 trillion to the economy, which was 12.5 percent of GDP.  For every $1.00 spent in manufacturing, another $1.32 is added to the economy, the highest multiplier effect of any economic sector according to the National Association of Manufacturers.

American manufacturing is ready for a resurgence that will ultimately be driven by the hard work and innovation of private-sector businesses and their employees.  Other countries see the value of attracting the businesses and people that embrace advanced manufacturing to their locations.  Our government should provide the leadership and support needed to coordinate the establishment of advanced manufacturing hubs that embrace diversity in location and technology in the United States.

With support for this bill from the White House and bipartisan leaders in both chambers of Congress, we urge action on this legislation as quickly as possible. Such action would send a signal that our government is determined to keep pace with technology and advances in our manufacturing economy so the United States remains a world leader in innovation.

Brewer is founder and president/CEO of Brewer Science, a leading technology manufacturing company headquartered in Rolla, Missouri.