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Advanced Manufacturing: Cornerstone of an Economy Built to Last

In his State of the Union address last month, President Obama laid out his blueprint for an economy built to last. And that blueprint, he said, “begins with American manufacturing.”

In his State of the Union address last month, President Obama laid out his blueprint for an economy built to last. And that blueprint, he said, “begins with American manufacturing.”

Today, the National Science and Technology Council is releasing a new “National Strategic Plan for Advanced Manufacturing.”  The strategic plan was requested by Congress in the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010, and it builds on the Report to the President on Ensuring American Leadership in Advanced Manufacturing, which was released by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology in June 2011.

Manufacturing has long been a central feature of the US economy and a generator of innovative solutions to national challenges. But in large part as a result of its own creative prowess, manufacturing itself is changing rapidly. The assembly line that Henry Ford invented has gone the way of the Model T, and many of the materials and methods used in manufacturing today did not exist a decade ago.  But as the President noted in his remarks at the Boeing plant in Everett, Washington, last week, “America is a place where we can always do something to create new jobs, and new opportunities, and new manufacturing….”  That is what the National Strategic Plan for Advanced Manufacturing is all about.

Created through a collaborative interagency process that was chaired by representatives from the Departments of Commerce, Defense, and Energy, the plan documents the fundamental importance of advanced manufacturing to the economic strength and national security of the United States.  It reveals opportunities to improve Federal policy in order to accelerate development of this vital sector, and points to challenges that will have to be addressed to maintain the sector’s health over the long term.

The strategic plan sets forth five objectives for Federal policy:

  • Accelerating investment, especially by small- and medium-sized manufacturers;
  • Making the education and training system more responsive to the demand for skills;
  • Optimizing Federal advanced manufacturing R&D investments by taking a portfolio perspective;
  • Increasing total public and private investments in advanced manufacturing R&D; and
  • Fostering national and regional partnerships among all stakeholders in advanced manufacturing.

This last objective is especially important.  Advanced manufacturing needs to be a team sport.  The United States will not succeed unless its big and small firms, research universities and community colleges, labor unions and professional associations, and Federal, state, and local agencies all work together.

This new advanced manufacturing plan, together with the ongoing work of the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership, provides a solid foundation on which to erect a Federal policy that will enable the United States to—as Commerce Secretary John Bryson has put it—“build it here, and sell it everywhere.”

David Hart is Assistant Director for Innovation Policy at OSTP