On July 9, the Brookings Institution held a conference entitled "Regional Manufacturing Hubs: A Path to Innovation," which discussed recent manufacturing policies and their impact on U.S. innovation and job creation. Brookings Trustee and Taco Incorporated CEO John White moderated the event, which included keynote remarks from Jason Miller, Special Assistant to the President for Manufacturing Policy, and panelists from M-7 technologies, America Makes, GlobalFoundries, and UI Labs.
Several years ago, the Obama Administration began developing a plan to create a National Network for Manufacturing Innovation. The concept of the project was to bring together industry and universities to bridge the gap between research and development and product development, while concentrating on ways to rebuild some of the United States' core manufacturing capabilities, including by developing regional "manufacturing hubs." The pilot hub is located in Youngstown, Ohio, and focuses on 3-D printing. President Obama announced additional hubs in Chicago, Detroit, and Raleigh in the State of the Union address earlier this year. During the conference, Mr. Miller stated that a fifth institute, focused on advanced composites, will be announced in the fall.
Mr. Miller acknowledged that the project is still in the early stages, but he emphasized that the Administration is proud of what has been accomplished. He said that the manufacturing hubs are just "one piece of a broader puzzle," but one that is contributing to rebuilding some of the capabilities that have been lost over the years. Importantly, the project is helping to re-create networks that make it more attractive to locate and produce in the United States.
A common theme that emerged was the virtue of the collaborative nature of these hubs, which bring together universities, business firms, and innovators of various sorts. The hubs have also had a positive effect on the essential task of rebuilding the manufacturing workforce. Mike Garvey, of M-7, noted that one of the great things about the hubs is that they bring about a "reawakening" of skills sets and that curricula in the colleges are now being developed around those skills sets. It was also noted that "geography matters" and thus regional hubs make sense—they enable feedback from design engineers to the shop floor.
All participants agreed that the hubs are working and recommended more of these institutions to support U.S. manufacturing.