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$70M Youngstown hub to spur manufacturing across U.S.

Published: Fri, August 17, 2012 @ 12:01 a.m.




A $70 million vision to revolutionize America’s ability to compete globally and restore some of the millions of manufacturing jobs lost in the last decade will set up shop in downtown Youngstown starting next month.

It’s ambitious:

Sixty-plus partners teaming up, with a projection of 7,200 regional jobs created over the coming years, officials project.

But this is more than just a regional impact, said one top Obama administration official.

“This is not just about putting together hub jobs from Northeast Ohio to West Virginia; it’s about putting together an example for the future of the industry,” said Gene Sperling, director of the White House National Economic Council.

He was among more than 200 industry and government leaders taking part in the announcement Thursday at M-7 Technologies in Youngstown.

“This is a strategy to restore strong middle-class jobs and a strategy for a new era of American manufacturing,” said Sperling.

It’s a lot of money and a lot of organizations that came together for a first-of-its kind pilot program — winning a national competition that started in May and beat 12 national proposals, including those from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Georgia Tech University.

Sperling led a federal delegation to announce its ante: a $30 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense.

That will be merged with $40 million invested by a consortium of more than 60 private and public entities, including nine research universities. All of it is geared toward research and development to cut industrial costs and produce products faster.

Known as the National Additive Manufacturing Institute, it will move into a 12,000-square-foot building on West Boardman Street — an annex of the Youngstown Business Incubator.

The strategy will focus on additive manufacturing, which curbs manufacturing costs and boosts production by using computers to measure and blueprint a part or product.

The blueprint is then transmitted to nearby machinery that builds up an object by adding material, rather than removing it, as in traditional manufacturing.

In May, the federal government issued a request for proposals on how best to go forward with such technology. The more than 60 regional members of the consortium are led by the western Pennsylvania-based National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining, which was joined by Youngstown State University, Case Western Reserve University and Carnegie Mellon University in first writing the grant proposal.

As a result, the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining estimates that, in the long-run, 7,200 regional jobs will be created as part of the new hub.

It will start small though. By next year, estimates for jobs created or sustained in Youngstown range between 10 and 20.

But more importantly, said Eric Planey, vice president of international business attraction for Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, a “trickle effect” will take place for area manufacturers in the coming years.

“Down the road, many area manufacturers will be able to implement this new technology in their shops and spaces,” said Planey. “There will be major support right here in Youngstown, and it will allow the industry here to stay ahead of, or with, the curve.”

The hub is also expected to attract a steady stream of executives and research professionals to the area, as much of the consortium’s testing efforts, market-ready products and research will be conducted and built at the West Boardman site.

Because YSU’s place in being one of the consortium’s earliest partners, the manufacturing hub should greatly enhance its credibility as an urban research university.

“It’s a huge opportunity in terms of educating our students,” said Martin Abraham, dean of YSU’s College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

“It will give us unprecedented access to advanced manufacturing technologies with a great capability to provide first-rate training and work force development.”

Additive manufacturing has its primary applications in the defense, aerospace and biomedical industries. It has been hailed as a key to both national and economic security. Within three years, the pilot program in Youngstown is expected to be entirely self-sufficient and require no federal or state money.

Overall, if the pilot program here proves to be efficient, the federal government hopes to establish up to 15 similar consortiums nationwide.

The incubator was selected as the program’s headquarters because of its experience in commercializing software start-up companies and its proximity to the YSU campus, which Darrell Wallace, a YSU professor of mechanical and industrial engineering, says has a rich history of working with manufacturers of all size.

After years of relative instability in the region’s manufacturing industry, senior Obama administration officials at the announcement said the spotlight would once again be back on the Valley, which they said is uniquely positioned to launch a cutting-edge initiative expected to change the face of American manufacturing.

The country seeks to regain some of the 5 million manufacturing jobs it lost between 2000 and 2010.

“The future is an open book,” said U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles, D-17th. “We’ve been for 30 years, all of our communities, in one way or another, looking for a way forward. I think today we found it. The future is not thrust upon us — we shape the future.”

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