Only forty-five seconds elapsed before President Obama addressed American manufacturing in his State of the Union speech to Congress on January 28. The President acknowledged the hard work of the U.S. automotive industry before proceeding to address manufacturing and international trade issues throughout his speech.

Manufacturing Innovation Hubs

President Obama explained that "China and Europe aren't standing on the sidelines" and neither should the United States. He emphasized the opportunity "to beat other countries in the race for the next wave of high-tech manufacturing jobs" that could be achieved through creating high-technology manufacturing hubs around the country. President Obama announced a new hub in Raleigh, North Carolina, which follows the first manufacturing hub started last year in Youngstown, Ohio. Raleigh and Youngstown are the beginning of what President Obama envisions as a nationwide program known as the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation.

The Youngstown hub, called "America Makes," focuses on additive manufacturing, which is more commonly known as three-dimensional (3D) printing. Its mission is to spark collaboration in new technology development and to increase education and training. America Makes participants include companies, universities, community colleges, and non-profit organizations. Benefits of additive manufacturing include shorter lead times, mass customization, reduced parts count, parts-on-demand, and reduced environmental impact.

The Raleigh hub, known as the Next Generation Power Electronics Innovation Institute, brings together universities, industry, and the federal government to focus on technology known as wide bandgap (WBG) semiconductors. WBG semiconductors hold promise in the manufacture of smaller, faster, and more efficient electronic components. A fundamental goal of the hub is to "give U.S. manufacturers a head start in the emerging WBG market," which some estimates indicate will capture an $84 billion share of the international lighting market by 2020. Initial funding for the program includes $70 million over the next five years through the U.S. Department of Energy's Advanced Manufacturing Office.

The President stated that his goal is to launch six more manufacturing hubs around the country in 2014, and he urged Congress to pass legislation to expedite the growth of this program.

Trade Promotion Authority

President Obama briefly addressed the need for Congress to pass "bipartisan trade promotion authority" (TPA). TPA is regarded by many as an essential prerequisite to complete the negotiations with the European Union regarding a comprehensive trade agreement known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP, and a separate trade agreement between the United States and Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam, known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP. Recent Trade & Manufacturing Alert articles on TPA may be accessed here and here.

Manufacturing Job Training

President Obama also designated Vice President Biden "to lead an across-the-board reform of America's training programs." A memorandum issued by the President instructs the Vice President to "identify concrete steps to make Federal workforce and training programs and policies more focused on imparting relevant skills," among other policy goals. An action plan must be provided to the President by July 29, 2014.

Trade And National Security

President Obama also highlighted the continuing risk to American economic and national security posed by "new threats like cyberattacks" and indicated that the federal government would continue to strengthen the country's defenses against such threats.

Trade And Diplomacy

President Obama also discussed the ongoing diplomatic efforts regarding Iran's nuclear program. The President explained that "[i]f John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan could negotiate with the Soviet Union, then surely a strong and confident America can negotiate with less powerful adversaries today." The President cautioned that Iran risked a return to more aggressive trade sanctions if negotiations failed.

In sum, President Obama's most recent State of the Union speech devoted significant attention to U.S. manufacturing and international trade issues.